1.10.2021

Absentia (2011)

DIRECTED BY
Mike Flanagan 


STARRING

Katie Parker - Callie Russel

Courtney Bell - Tricia Riley

Dave Levine - Det. Ryan Mallory

Justin Gordon - Det. Lonergan

Morgan Peter Brown - Daniel Riley

Doug Jones - Walter Lambert


Genre - Horror/Mystery/Thriller


Running Time - 92 Minutes



PLOT

Tricia’s (Courtney Bell) husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister Callie (Katie Parker) comes to live with her as the pressure mounts to finally declare him ‘dead in absentia’. As Tricia sifts through the wreckage and tries to move on with her life, Callie finds herself drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house. As she begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances, it becomes clear that Daniel’s presumed death might be anything but ‘natural.’ The ancient force at work in the tunnel might have set its sights on Callie and Tricia - and Daniel might be suffering a fate far worse than death in its grasp.


REVIEW

While he had directed some independent films prior to this film, 2011’s ABSENTIA was Mike Flanagan’s breakthrough film into the mainstream success he has now. I’ve known about this film for a while, but never took the chance to sit down and actually watch it despite all the praise it has received the past 10 years. In fact, I haven’t watched much Flanagan stuff at all besides 2013’s OCULUS [good] and 2019’s DOCTOR SLEEP [loved] - as well as his 2016 Haunting of Hill House Netflix series that I enjoyed. So it was cool to see where the director started from before given a real budget to really showcase his vision that he’s known for now.

ABSENTIA is a real slow burn of a film, taking its time to build a supernatural psychological thriller that honestly presents more questions than answers by the film’s final second. The slow pace obviously lets the two lead characters, pregnant and mourning wife Tricia and her addict sister Callie, carry the film with emotional and dramatic beats as they deal with the events of the narrative. Both try to use religion to deal with their grief and demons, which doesn’t exactly work all that much by the end. Tricia tries to move on from the fact that her missing husband has been gone 7 years and can be declared legally dead by getting involved with the lead detective for the case, even getting pregnant by him. Callie also comes across strange, malnourished people inside a tunnel minutes by Tricia’s home, leading to strange happenings inside of Tricia’s home. Things take a turn when Tricia finally has a first date with her detective lover, only for her missing husband to return the moment she leaves the house. This should be a joyous occasion, except that the husband is malnourished, confused and acting weird to the point that he doesn’t seem himself anymore. Things just get weird after that, but I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t watched.


While the slow burn and ride from beginning to end is never boring and actually contains some creepy moments, I feel like the film never really tells you anything. Yes, we see people grieve over their missing loved ones, struggling to move on thinking they’ll never return after so many years. We also see people sacrifice their own well-being to help another person who is struggling, only for it to bite them in the butt when past demons are used against them. There are a lot of human elements here that work and the drama is well written and presented nicely. But we never really learn why people in this particular area of town have gone missing for decades. We see glimpses of the culprits but never really learn who, or what, they are. And while the ending is a bit sad and unsettling, it doesn’t really answer anything either. I guess sometimes it’s good not knowing what the real deal is, but an audience should be given something tangible to chew on in a standalone feature. A film or a story shouldn’t leave one with more questions than answers.


I also thought the characters weren’t the most interesting or deep. Considering there are only a handful of main characters in the film, I would know or even care more about them. Tricia mourned her missing husband, but when there’s nothing about their relationship that makes me want to invest in this subplot beyond the mystery behind it, that’s kind of an issue. There are other moments where opportunities arise for more depth to happen, but the film would rather keep things on the surface than to get any deeper than that. Maybe it was a budgetary issue. Maybe it was just average writing. But mysteries should be explored and I feel ABSENTIA didn’t do that enough for me.

As for Flanagan’s directing, the first thing that should be said is that ABSENTIA is not a pretty film to look at. Considering the film was only made for $70,000 from Kickstarter funding, you’re not expecting a polished, studio looking film that will wow audiences with its cinematography. The film is very muted and has editing issues at times. But then you get flashes of what Flanagan does really well, such as the use of monsters hiding in the background, smart choices of sound design, and a great use of shadow and light. Considering the budget, the malnourishment look for the missing people look pretty damn good, even presented as kind of creepy at appropriate times. Not all the jump scares work, but the camera tricks accomplish more than they don’t. It’s easy to see how Flanagan became a bigger name in the genre because he definitely has a style that stands out.


The acting is good for the most part. ABSENTIA is carried by the two lead actresses - Courtney Bell and Katie Parker. Parker, in particular, is really good as Callie. She’s the film’s guide in figuring out what’s going on and believably deals with aspects of the mystery, while Bell is doing more of the emotional beats but doesn’t get to do as much as Parker. But the two actresses share nice sibling chemistry and play off of each other very well. The other actors are decent-to-good, while frequent Flanagan collaborator Justin Gordon probably hams it up a bit too much as a skeptical detective who feels like he should be in another movie. And it was a nice coup to get Doug Jones to appear in a short role, considering Flanagan wasn’t a huge director yet. 


THE FINAL HOWL

ABSENTIA is the film that got Hollywood in noticing director Mike Flanagan, making him a force in the horror scene today. The film itself, done with a $70,000 budget, is a good piece of moody and atmospheric mystery-drama with those horror flourishes that Flanagan has made a staple in his direction for the past decade. It has a nice use of shadows and light, creepy people hiding in the background when you least expect it, and camera tricks that succeed more than they don’t. The narrative itself is bleak - dealing with loss, addiction, and the struggle to move on from the demons that continue to haunt. It’s too bad that the mystery is never really solved or explained in a way that’s satisfying by the film’s end, leaving one with more questions than answers. Also, while the characters are relatable on the surface due to the premise, there’s not much to them depth wise which makes it harder to care about what happens to them in the long run. Thankfully, lead actresses Courtney Bell and Katie Parker bring their “A” games to their roles, carrying the film as best as they can. And the film’s slow burn keeps one invested, rather than turned off, as new things are always presented. It won’t be for everyone, but ABSENTIA is worth a look if you’re in the mood for something downbeat and thought-provoking for 90 minutes.



SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4



12.20.2020

Black Christmas (2019)

DIRECTED BY

Sophia Takal


STARRING

Imogen Poots - Riley Stone

Aleyse Shannon - Kris Waterson

Lily Donoghue - Marty Coolidge

Brittany O’Grady - Jesse Donovan

Caleb Eberhardt - Landon

Cary Elwes - Professor Gelson

Madeleine Adams - Helena Rittenhouse


Genre - Mystery/Horror/Thriller/Slasher


Running Time - 92 Minutes



PLOT

Hawthorne College is winding down for the holidays, yet one by one, sorority girls are being picked off. Riley Stone (Imogen Poots), a girl dealing with her own trauma, begins to notice and tries to save her friends before they too are picked off.


REVIEW


2019’s remake [if only by title] of the 1974 Bob Clark slasher classic BLACK CHRISTMAS is a film I had been avoiding since the announcement of its existence was made last year by Blumhouse. While another remake after the not-so-great 2006 version didn’t make me excited, most of my disinterest came from the trailer that pretty much revealed the entire film from beginning to end. Why would I want to pay fifteen dollars for a movie ticket for something I pretty much watched in two minutes for free? The negative reviews once it was released didn’t help interest either, as many disapproved of the film’s use of its feminist themes while criticizing the lack of horror throughout the movie. 


Yet, I knew I was eventually going to watch this remake because I’m the kind of person who likes to see how much the premise of a 1970s movie is changed to remain relevant for a 2019 audience. I got a free digital code for BLACK CHRISTMAS earlier this year, but waited until the holiday season since it felt fitting. And while I don’t think this version of BLACK CHRISTMAS is the worst thing ever [like so many had claimed it was], it’s definitely a film I probably don’t plan on watching again due to its extremely flawed presentation in terms of narrative and even visually as a so-called horror movie.


Let me just get the good stuff out of the way since it’ll take the least time to put it all into words. I think the best thing about 2019’s BLACK CHRISTMAS is its cast. A lot of the actors don’t get a whole lot to do besides play archetypes and recite language to spread a message that I’ll get more into later. But the actors do give it their all and I appreciated that. Best actor is, without a doubt, Imogen Poots as Riley - a sorority sister who, after three years, is still struggling with being sexually assaulted by a frat brother who a lot of the college looks up to. Poots plays with the seriousness of this vicious act believably. She struggles with enjoying the activities her friends get up to because she’s still fractured. Poots convincingly shows fear and insecurity whenever she sees her attacker, struggling to find that inner strength to gain back her power and move on while making everyone know what a scumbag this one dude is. And she’s the only one really aware that there are strange things going on at her college, using all the knowledge she’s attained to make things happen and stop things from escalating to a point of no return. I really enjoyed Poots’ performance and while she had some choice dialogue I wasn’t a fan of, especially in the last act, she carried the film with her easy presence. She made you like her character enough to make you want Riley to get that justice. Aleyse Shannon had a sassy performance that I enjoyed whenever she appeared as Riley’s best friend, Kris. I’ll get more into her character in a bit, but I thought she acted it out in a believable way. And if there’s another actor that I liked, it was Cary Elwes as misogynist professor Gelson. He’s not in the film a whole lot, but his proper English accent reciting a bunch of sexist stuff was kind of a hoot. Elwes seemed to be having a blast playing a creep perpetuating what was going on at the school. It’s a nice cast that elevates this remake.


I also thought some of the visual shots by Sophia Takal were quite nice. The film looks polished. Some scenes do have a bit of much-needed tension. And there was one extreme long shot with a character returning to the dorm and looking for her cat [nice homage to the original film] where there’s action going on but the camera never moves. I thought that was a nice touch to build some suspense, knowing you’re watching something off. It also concludes with a scene that’s pretty much taken from a classic moment from 1990’s EXORCIST III, which I thought was cute.



As for the film’s message on feminism, female empowerment, the #metoo movement and so on - I respect the hell out of BLACK CHRISTMAS for focusing on these topical themes in a horror film like this. I’ve seen some reviews knocking the film for even presenting these issues, wishing that the filmmakers would keep social issues and politics out of their horror movies and just focus on scares and blood. Real horror fans wouldn’t even be saying these things because the genre has always been a hub for social and political topics. The film definitely wears its message on its sleeve. And while I may have issues with how it’s executed for the most part, at least this remake is about something. And I can definitely respect the filmmakers for wanting to make some sort of social statement about our current society and how it treats men different than women, especially in terms of power and status. I wouldn’t mind more films doing more of this, as long as they’re told the right way.


And that’s where BLACK CHRISTMAS fails - it’s so heavy handed with its message that it quickly loses its way towards the finale. It tries too hard to hammer its social themes to the point where it starts getting a bit preachy and annoying. The idea of feminism isn’t bad at all. The original 1974 film was pretty feminist in its own way when it came to its female characters. They were strong, opinionated, proactive and stood up for themselves when they weren’t being surprised by a crazed shadowy killer. When it came to the topic of abortion [even a more controversial issue in the 1970s], Jess was all about “my body, my choice” even when her strange boyfriend Peter was against it even when he was nowhere ready for a responsibility like that. Barb was a character who was open with her sexuality, alcoholism and even stood up to a crank caller tossing nasty slurs at her. And when a sorority sister goes missing, the women are the ones who force the male police officers to do something about it, even when they wrongfully suspect it’s just a situation where a desperate girl runs away with her boyfriend. These were independent women who had to defend for themselves, which is empowering. But unlike this new version, the women weren’t men haters and brought it up any chance they got.


And that’s really a major narrative flaw with 2019’s BLACK CHRISTMAS. I’m all for strong, female characters who don’t need a man to run their lives and defend them. I actually love female characters who can take care of the situation themselves. But the way these female characters are written, I’m surprised anyone would want to root for them. I get that the men in this film are creeps and they, more than likely, probably did some sort of damage to them. But it’s as if the screenwriters are using the social topics of today to generalize the entire male gender as this evil half of society who want nothing more than to keep women in their supposed place and enjoy physically and mentally abusing them as a way to maintain power. Riley, as a rape victim, is more sympathetic in the way she’s afraid of this fraternity and how nonchalant they are about how they treat the opposite gender. She has more of a right to be negative towards these guys. But Kris hates men because she’s written as the token “angry black woman” who wants a professor fired because he’s teaching what’s been always been taught and not something more diverse that caters to her own personal wants. Why doesn’t she just take a different class that caters more to diversity? Or actually work with the school to make change happen rather than trying to fire someone for doing the job he’s assigned to do? There are actual people, both male and female, who are like this and their unwillingness to compromise and change things for everyone instead of themselves makes them pretty unlikable. Kris is also pretty pushy, especially during a dance number where she annoys Riley to the point of singing about her rape in front of the person who did it. Hey, I’m glad the character stands up for herself, but the empowering moment gets a bit lost when she’s pushed to do it to satisfy her “friend” - same friend who films and uploads the clip on the internet, not expecting any sort of push back and legalities from it. Riley deserves better as a struggling character. Hell, Kris deserves better to be nothing but a stereotype when she could just be written as a normal person with thoughts and opinions that push the message of “girl power” in a positive way rather than a way that will push both genders away.


And then we have the male characters in this film. Man, all of them are pretty pathetic in how they’re presented compared to the women. Most of them are jerks and deserve whatever is coming to them. One seems like a cool friend to the girls until he rightfully lashes out at them for all their man-hating and thinking he would just be okay with their generalization of his gender, which ends up pushing him away from the group. And we have another male character who is super nice and supportive, but is treated as beneath the women in terms of power and status. So instead of having a male character be as equal to the women, the men are either evil or weaker compared to the female characters. This is how people write when they don’t know what feminism really is. Toxic masculinity is a thing and more films should address and criticize it. But doing it in a one-sided way isn’t helping the situation and just comes across as sexist towards men, especially those who support strong women and want them to have equal benefits as they do.



The message gets murky during the film’s third act, when BLACK CHRISTMAS decides it wants to stop being a slasher and more of a supernatural feature where this black tar is turning all the men into women-hating jerks. Apparently, the villains use this substance to brainwash men into bringing back the old days where women were the weaker sex and were obedient to men in every way. They’ll leave obedient women alone, while target and kill women who stand up for themselves. So what is this film trying to tell me? Are men bad as a nature or nurture thing? Or are men bad because some alien goo is brainwashing them in wanting to keep strong women in line? I think a feminist horror film is a great idea. I think having a redo of the whole “pod people” concept is a great idea. But if you can balance the narrative and express either one correctly, you just a failure of a story. If you have a message you want to say to people, say it with confidence and take whatever praise or criticism comes your way. Adding a supernatural element to lessen the blow to make audiences possibly like the [now] convoluted message is a cop out. The supernatural aspect only takes the supposed evil men off the hook because we have no idea how they would have acted otherwise. It’s a script that wants it both ways without earning either one.


And while I liked the look and some of the shots by Sophia Takal, I think her handling of a PG horror film is really lacking here. I’m not sure if this was her doing, or if Blumhouse wanted her to tone it down for a bigger audience, but BLACK CHRISTMAS plays out more like a Freeform network drama and less of a scary movie that will be remembered for all the right reasons for years to come. People die, but we don’t see any of it play out on screen. We barely get a cool aftermath at times, which is a shame for a slasher. I think the moments leading to the kills in this movie are pretty well structured and have some level of momentum. And the action in the final confrontation has enough horror violence to please some people. But this film honestly feels like an edited television version of a violent horror film, saving all the nasty stuff for an unrated home release that never came. Considering how serious [maybe too serious for its own good] story is, the film could have really used more visible slasher and horror elements to boost the fun factor that’s seriously lacking.


THE FINAL HOWL


While 2019’s reboot of BLACK CHRISTMAS isn’t the “worst horror film ever made” that many claimed it to be last year, it’s still a troubled film that has its flawed heart in the right place. The actors are good. Some of the shots by director Sophia Takal are inspired at times. And I respect the film for trying to express is themes of feminism, toxic masculinity and female empowerment, considering these are topics that should be addressed in our modern society. The film is definitely about something important, which should be commended for a horror film. 


But the film handles it all wrong, being way too heavy-handed for its own good and never having fun just being a horror movie. Films should have strong female characters, but not to the point where they’re unlikable and annoying because the script is more focused on the message rather than developing sympathetic characters we can stand with. It doesn’t help that the male characters are either evil, or just presented as weaker and more submissive than the women, presenting an antagonistic view towards half of the audience without really earning it. It doesn’t help when the film turns supernatural, pretty much destroying the message anyway, making BLACK CHRISTMAS almost moot in terms of what it wants to tell its audience. And honestly, the film just isn’t fun to watch since it takes itself so seriously as a college drama rather than a fun, slasher flick with an important message audiences can think about during and after the film is over. It’s sad because there’s a good film in here somewhere, but either the filmmakers or Blumhouse watered it down to please everyone- pretty much doing the opposite in the process. Stick with the original 1974 classic as it still holds up. And while I’m not the biggest fan on the 2006 remake, at least it’s a fun watch. This remake [in name only] is a missed opportunity for strong storytelling as both a social commentary and a horror film.



SCORE

1.5 Howls Outta 4



11.30.2020

I Come In Peace [a.k.a. Dark Angel] (1990)

DIRECTED BY
Craig R. Baxley


STARRING

Dolph Lundgren - Detective Jack Caine

Brian Benben - Special Agent Arwood “Larry” Smith

Betsy Brantley - Diane Pallone

Matthias Hues - Tales

Jay Bilas - Azeck

Sherman Howard - Victor Manning

Sam Anderson - Warren

David Ackroyd - Inspector Switzer


Genre - Action/Horror/Science Fiction/Crime/Aliens


Running Time - 91 Minutes



PLOT

Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a Houston vice cop who’s forgotten the rule book. His self-appointed mission is to stop the drugs trade and the number one supplier Victor Manning (Sherman Howard). Whilst involved in an undercover operation to entrap Victor Manning, his partner gets killed, and a sinister newcomer (Matthias Hues) enters the scene…



REVIEW


DARK ANGEL
- or as I’ll call it for the rest of the review since it’s the better title, I COME IN PEACE - is a film I first watched during the early 1990s when video stores were still all the rage, getting my mom to rent it because I was a Dolph Lundgren fan and thought the cover was cool. I honestly only remembered certain elements of the film, but I do remember having enjoyed it for what it was. The film never crossed my mind again until several years ago when a blu-ray was finally released for the cult film, giving me the urge to check it out again through adult eyes. Even though it’s not technically a true horror film, it’s a cult favorite with an alien killer - so obviously I wanted to review it.


The issue is that I was saving the post-Thanksgiving portion of 2020 for Christmas horror flicks since I haven’t really focused on these type of films since the Midnight Confessions Podcast ended 3 years ago. Ironically, I COME IN PEACE takes place during Christmas, technically making this film perfect for what I had planned. And I’m glad it sort of fits too, since I COME IN PEACE is a lot of fun and deserves more attention for those who have been meaning to rewatch it or have yet to seen it.


I COME IN PEACE straddles a lot of genre lines, making it accessible to almost every audience member. Foremost, it’s a late-80s/early-90s action film that follows the tropes perfectly to satisfy action fans. The film is also sci-fi/horror with the appearance of two aliens killing humans or trying to hurt each other. There’s also a crime element involving mobsters who are also drug traffickers. And then we have the buddy-cop element between the rough-around-the-edges and anti-authorial Jack Caine and his new FBI partner Arwood “Larry” Smith, who is a stickler for the rules. This dynamic creates a comedic element as well. I COME IN PEACE should fall apart due to all this genre-bending, but the film manages to balance it all pretty well, never failing to maintain its entertainment value for 90 minutes.


While the screenplay [written by Jonathan Tydor but rewritten by an uncredited David Koepp] won’t win any Academy Awards or anything, it provides enough B-movie elements for the unique premise to work better than it ought to. I mean, how many films can you name are based around a space alien who stocks up on human endorphins by injecting them with narcotics with a spear, hoping to use the endorphins as a weapon to conquer worlds? And the fact that the alien’s true mission remains a mystery for much of the film, rather than just giving it right away, is some good writing because it makes us invested in what this stranger is really doing to these humans. It also creates some tense moments and good action sequences as the alien hunts people down to achieve his goal.


And while the film isn’t heavy on character development - which is totally fine for a film like this - the two main characters bring a lot of personality out of each other even on paper. Jack Caine  and Agent Smith [I see you, MATRIX creators] are archetypes to the nth degree, never steering away from what you would expect. Caine is the cool cop, only playing by his own roles and solving cases outside the law. He gets all the girls. He can kick everyone’s ass. And his street edge helps him see things for what they are. This is the complete opposite for Smith, who carries an FBI Handbook at all times to make sure he’s always following the right procedure during his investigations. Instead of following his instincts, he would rather please his superiors hoping it’ll help him climb the proverbial ladder and get noticed for being a good soldier. It’s a buddy-cop trope that has been done to death before and since, which is fine because it’s a dynamic that’s hard to screw up. I actually like it being used in I COME IN PEACE because it grounds a film otherwise known for one alien using drugs to kill people for their endorphins, while another alien is a bounty hunter trying to kill and capture the other alien. It leads to predictable results, sure, but it’s a fun ride getting there because the characters are actually written well and portrayed even better by the actors playing them.



Speaking of the aliens, the evil Tales is menacing and almost Terminator-like, not stopping until he’s completed his mission and destroying anyone or anything in his way. Sure, he looks like a Christopher Lambert stand-in for 1995’s MORTAL KOMBAT, but there seems to be a lot about him that’s either subtly revealed or kept a mystery for a sequel that never happened. He’s a formidable villain. The good alien, Azeck, doesn’t do a whole lot unfortunately but shoot at Tales and explain to the main characters what the real deal is in the form of long exposition. But he makes for a nice distraction and builds on the fact that Tales is so dangerous that he needs to be taken out.


If there’s anything that’s lacking in the script, it has to do with a few of the characters. Diane, pretty much the lone female in the film and Caine’s love interest, is nothing more than an archetype that doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Diane comes across as a knowledgable coroner who seems independent at first. But she’s written as a woman who gives in to Caine so easily, that you wonder if she even had a spine to begin with. She comes across as clingy and gullible,  as the romantic subplot isn’t all that strong to begin with.


The other issue is the inclusion of the “White Boys”, which is the name of the drug trafficking gang that Caine and Smith also have to deal with. Not only is their name a problem for politically correct 2020, but they feel like third-rate villains that are only around as a plot device to give the main characters a purpose. It also doesn’t help that they’re written like cartoon characters, which takes away any sort of tension or danger these goons should be having. Honestly, they could have gone away after the set up for the aliens and the film wouldn’t have been all that different.


I also wish the film played more with the Christmastime atmosphere. The holiday is sort of in the background but it’s never really brought up or used much at all for the story. In fact, I COME IN PEACE could have taken place during any other time of the year and nothing would be different. Usually when a film has its story take place during the holidays, it’s at least given a bit of a spotlight to set up a mood or atmosphere. But it never happens here and it’s a shame since it could have added another element to the narrative.


I COME IN PEACE is directed by Craig R Baxley - the man behind 1988’s ACTION JACKSON and 1991’s STONE COLD - two action cult classics still beloved today. Baxley, a former stunt coordinator, obviously knows how action should be handled and how it should look on film. And even though this film isn’t the biggest budgeted action extravaganza ever made, Baxley takes what he’s given and creates as much mayhem as possible to satisfy his audience. This film is never boring because so much is happening visually, despite its standard 80s action presentation. You want explosions? You’ll get a bunch of them. Gunfire? A whole lot of it. People getting speared? Car chases? A compact disc flying around like a frisbee slashing people’s throats? It’s all here. Hell, we even get Dolph Lundgren performing some sweet kicks in the final act. I COME IN PEACE isn’t a flashy movie but it’ll get your action adrenaline pumping.



The acting is also pretty damn good, considering what kind of film this is. The acting could have been amateurish and I think audiences still would have had fun with I COME WITH PEACE. But we have some fine actors in this film that elevate the material. Dolph Lundgren is pretty much still at his peak here, capturing the swag and cool factor as he portrays the breaking-all-the-rules cop Jack Caine. Lundgren also gets some great one-liners that he had fun reciting, no doubt. Brian Benben, best known for starring on HBO’s Dream On, did well matching up against Lundgren as Agent Arwood “Larry” Smith. While Lundgren played it cool and suave, Benben played the opposite as the uptight FBI agent who follows all the rules and clashed with Caine. Lundgren and Benben had a nice yin-and-yang chemistry that worked well throughout the film. Betsy Brantley didn’t have much of a juicy role that she probably deserved.  But considering what she was given to do, Brantley handled it well and had cute chemistry with Lundgren. Matthias Hues almost steals the film at times as Tales, the evil alien. He has a presence about him, especially with his white hair look, and even made the words “I come in peace” menacing. We also get Sherman Howard, DAY OF THE DEAD’s Bub the Zombie, as the leader of the White Boys, although I wish he was given more to do. But it was nice seeing him!


And I really enjoyed Jan Hammer’s [Mr. Miami Vice himself] score. It’s dated as hell, but it captured the mood of the film so well and boosted action scenes. As for the hair metal songs, I really liked those as well. I’m a hair metal guy, so the music in the film is right up my alley.


THE FINAL HOWL


I COME IN PEACE
/DARK ANGEL is a fun cult sci-fi/action movie that still holds up pretty well after 30 years. Thanks to some script revisions by David Keopp, we get an entertaining buddy-cop flick that’s more focused on alien drug dealers and human goons causing trouble for the heroes rather than any sort of major character development - which is perfectly fine for a B-movie like this. Despite some important characters not getting much to do, as well as the film not really exploring the Christmas holiday it takes place in, the pretty typical presentation is highlighted by cool action sequences and cool explosions thankfully done with practical effects. Craig R Baxley uses his stunt coordination knowledge to visualize a fast moving and well choreographed movie that remains timeless. The actors - mainly Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, and Matthias Hues - seem to be enjoying themselves and create a fun dynamic that gets better as the film goes. And with a cool Jan Hammer score and cheesy hair metal on the soundtrack, I COME IN PEACE/DARK ANGEL is definitely worth getting your endorphins stolen over.



SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4



11.07.2020

The Babysitter (2017) & The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)


DIRECTED BY
McG

STARRING

Samara Weaving - Bee

Bella Thorne - Allison

Andrew Bachelor - John

Judah Lewis - Cole

Robbie Amell - Max

Hana Mae Lee - Sonya

Emily Alyn Lind - Michelle

Leslie Bibb - Mom

Ken Marino - Dad

Chris Wylde - Juan


Genre - Horror/Comedy/Slasher/Satanic


Running Time - 85 Minutes



PLOT

When Cole stays up past his bedtime, he discovers that his hot babysitter is part of a Satanic cult that will stop at nothing to keep him quiet.


REVIEW


I had 2017’s THE BABYSITTER sitting in my Netflix queue for three years without watching it, or even thinking of its existence until the film’s sequel was released a few weeks ago. Considering how hot Samara Weaving has become in the genre scene within the last few years, you’d think I would have watched this sooner. But I figured Halloween time was the perfect opportunity to check it out to get some use of that Netflix subscription. And while I was expecting another film using 1980’s nostalgia to please fans of that era rather than a good story and good scares to give it some substance, I was pleasantly surprised by how fun THE BABYSITTER was. Sure, it has an 80s aesthetic, but it doesn’t focus too much on it and tries to be a genuine horror-comedy that mostly works.


I won’t get too much into any plot details since it’s a film that deserves to be seen without knowing all the twists and turns that pop up. But THE BABYSITTER is more focused on entertaining its audience with a fun ride rather than scaring its viewers. This trend has been very popular within the last few years with films like HAPPY DEATH DAY, WARM BODIES and THIS IS THE END. The horror elements are all in place, but these films are more comedic than anything else. This makes THE BABYSITTER a harder film to review since comedy is really subjective. I don’t think all the jokes and gags work in this film, but it did make me laugh more than I was expecting. In fact, THE BABYSITTER doesn’t hide its 80s coming-of-age teen comedy inspirations with teenage crushes, bullies, bro jocks who don’t mind giving life lessons and kids just want to be understood within an adult world. The comedic portions have been done to death since the 1980s, but they remain to have a certain charm and appeal due to the actors and the characters they seem to be having fun playing.


Since THE BABYSITTER wants to be a modern John Hughes or Chris Columbus type of film, the horror aspect becomes as bit of a sacrifice as the victims of this Satanic cult. While the death scenes are visual highlights, the whole idea of the Satanic theme isn’t as developed as one would hope. Certain characters explain why they’re willing to sell their soul to the Devil, but none of it is really fleshed out for it to feel substantial. But this subplot allows tension and suspense to build within the last half of the film, as well as amuse the audience with how the consequences of the antagonists’ actions play out. For those expecting any sort of demonic activity or some Hellish fun will be severely disappointed.



The strength of the story derives from the characters - all archetypes of this type of genre, but still really well-written ones for the most part. Cole is your typical nerdy character who gets bullied, feels smothered by his parents and is growing smart on things in life. He begins the film as insecure with low self-esteem, but gains inner strength when he has to deal with this cult alone. He also shares a strong connection with his babysitter, Bee, who while physically gorgeous, is just as much of a savant on geek culture as Cole is. In other words, Bee is charismatic, smart, and just all around perfect - which in a film like this means that it may be too good to be true. The other characters aren’t as strong, but they’re still pretty fun. Sonya is a goth chick who enjoys the macabre. Max is a total jock that would fit in perfectly in a fraternity. Allison is a cheerleader who is conceited and ditzy in everything but what she sees on social media. And John is the wisecracking friend who things he may be in a bit over his head when it comes to worshipping Satan. There’s also Melanie, who is Cole’s best friend and neighbor that has a crush on him. But the real strength is the bond between Cole and Bee, which becomes strained when Bee is revealed as the leader of the cult and that she’s been pretty much been using him to get further ahead with sacrifices without his knowledge. Since their relationship pretty much takes over the film’s first act, it helps create emotional beats throughout the rest of the film until the very end, exploring the change in their relationship as Cole quickly grows up before our eyes. It’s nice to have a horror-comedy where you can care for some of the characters and tolerate the others due to how genuinely funny or weird they are.


THE BABYSITTER is directed by McG, a very popular music video director during the last half of the 1990s who would later direct the original CHARLIE’S ANGELS film series [as well as the not-so-good TERMINATOR: SALVATION]. McG is a very visual filmmaker who loves style over substance, which is probably why he gets a lot of dislike from cinephiles that I’ve encountered on the internet. But McG is working with a decent script here, allowing to reign himself in to create a really nice looking film that is quick paced and never leaves you feeling bored or lacking for some action. It definitely has an 80s look without it going full retro, keeping the story in modern times. There are also random title cards that pop up, giving this sort of grind house feel that I kind of dug. I think the best stuff visually is obviously the death sequences. None of them are innovative or anything, but they’re really well shot and well built, creating a bit of “ooh” and “ahh” when they pop up. You get daggers through the skulls, a fiery explosion, a hanging, people getting shot, heads exploding and even a car running someone down. And these moments are usually done in an upbeat manner in almost a black comedic way. I actually like McG’s music video work and I don’t mind his work on CHARLIE’S ANGELS, so his direction worked for me here. It had a lot of energy and created a fun atmosphere that I appreciated. Sorry, Christian Bale.



The acting is also a lot of fun. Judah Lewis is fine as Cole, the young protagonist who grows up quickly as he tries to survive this cult. He manages to hit a lot of emotional beats depending on which actor he plays off of, having his best moments with Samara Weaving, creating a believable relationship between the two. Speaking of Weaving, she’s definitely the star of THE BABYSITTER and is the main reason to watch. She has no issue going from cool and sweet to evil and dangerous at the snap of a finger, playing both roles perfectly and being extremely entertaining doing so. Weaving is super talented and it’s great to see her star rise the last few years, as she definitely has a presence and the acting chops to be a major star sooner than later. If I know she’s in a film, I’m definitely watching it because she’s that good.


The rest of the supporting cast do their part as well. It’s nice to see Leslie Bibb and Ken Marino as Cole’s parents, even though they’re not in the film all that much. Emily Alan Lind is also very sweet as Melanie, Cole’s neighbor and friend. As for the cult members, two of the actors really stand out. Bella Thorne is very funny as Allison, an extremely vain and ditzy teenager. Her dialogue is really amusing and Thorne recites it perfectly. She seems to be having a lot of fun playing a stereotypical mean girl cheerleader. And Robbie Amell is great as jock-bro Max. Out of all the characters, he plays the character who enjoys hurting and torturing people the most. Amell plays the role with so much glee and excitement that you can’t help but like his douchey character. He’s also shirtless for much of his screen time, so fans of that will enjoy the eye candy for sure.


And as usual for films going for nostalgia, the soundtrack kicks butt. We have Queen’s “We Are the Champions”, Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy”, Dusty Springfield’s “Spooky” and more. A nice selection of songs to boost those nostalgic vibes.


THE FINAL HOWL


THE BABYSITTER is a fun, trashy popcorn horror-comedy that would rather entertain its audience than scare them with its Satanic slasher theme. While the humor doesn’t always work, the John Hughes & Chris Columbus 80s coming-of-age comedy aesthetic is charming and endearing due to how well written most of the characters are. It unfortunately sacrifices the horror aspect and makes the violence more comedic than scary or disturbing, but the nostalgia is its selling point and it works better than it ought to. McG is a director that divides people, but he does some great work here in terms of pacing and bringing energy to the film. The death sequences are fun, with some being pretty grisly. And the acting is pretty solid, especially by Samara Weaving who pretty much owns this film and elevates it with her captivating and strong performance. I don’t care if she wants my innocent blood or wants to sacrifice me for a bigger goal - Samara Weaving can be my babysitter anytime. Bella Thorne and Robbie Amell are also quite fun in their over-the-top archetypical roles, while Judas Lewis grounds the film as the young teen who grows up very fast during a night of terror. This is one of Netflix’s best horror films because it’s just well made and a lot of fun to watch. A horror-comedy done mostly right.



SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4






DIRECTED BY 

McG


STARRING

Judah Lewis - Cole

Jenna Ortega - Phoebe

Emily Alyn Lind - Michelle

Robbie Amell - Max

Andrew Bachelor - John

Bella Thorne - Allison

Hana Mae Lee - Sonya

Ken Marino - Dad

Leslie Bibb - Mom

Chris Wylde - Juan

Samara Weaving - Bee


Genre - Horror/Comedy/Satanic


Running Time - 101 Minutes



PLOT

Two years after defeating a satanic cult led by his babysitter Bee, Cole’s trying to forget his past and focus on surviving high school. But when old enemies unexpectedly return, Cole will once again have to outsmart the forces of evil.


REVIEW


After enjoying 2017’s THE BABYSITTER, I felt it was a pretty easy decision to check out this year’s sequel. With the original cast and director back, I figured the continuation to Cole’s story would be fulfilling and justified considering the quality of the first film. Unfortunately like Cole at the end of the first film, I realized that I didn’t need another BABYSITTER film if this is the best they could do after 3 years. What a let down!



The biggest culprit is that the screenwriters tried way too hard to capture the magic of the first film. The 2017 film’s strength was due to director McG being reined in by a single screenwriter who captured a lightning in the bottle at the right time. KILLER QUEEN suffers from having too many cooks in the kitchen, with four different screenwriters trying to be “funny” and “edgy” and letting McG do whatever the hell he wants visually. It’s kind of sad since the film starts off pretty well as we follow an older Cole still struggle with being a teenager in high school due to the town disbelieving him about the events of the first film. It plays out like your typical high school comedy until it reveals a really interesting twist that I didn’t see coming at all. That’s when it hits the fan because the film decides that more is more, ruining any potential and logical momentum this sequel previous had.


It doesn’t help that a lot of the characters are pretty paper-thin, even those from the previous film. Cole seemed a lot smarter and tougher in the first film, as he’s now grown up into this naive individual who seems lost by what’s going on. You’d think there would have been a character arc where the character grows into a man - having no problem facing the demons from his past and making sure the people around him are protected. But it feels backwards, as he’s clueless for the most part and it doesn’t make sense as of why. Even the villains that return seem old hat by this point. Max is still shirtless and still has his moments, but we’ve already seen this in the first film. Allison is still a ditz and gets shot in the boob again, so I guess that’s funny? John gets more to do and has some funny dialogue, but he seems like a background player nonetheless. And Sonya is just there, to be honest. Even the return of Bee during flashbacks is unfortunate because she’s one of the big reasons the first one worked so well. And she’s just really a cameo in this film. And the new characters replacing the previous cult members are pretty annoying and are shadows of the originals.



I will say that the character of Michelle is an inspired change in terms of her personality. Unlike Cole, she actually shows growth and is given new things to do that make her the most interesting character in the film. Not sure why or when the change occurred in between films, but the fresher dynamic between her and Cole is pretty great. Phoebe, the new girl, is a nice addition. She has spunk, attitude and sarcasm that makes her attractive to the viewer [and to Cole as well]. Too bad she becomes a bit of a damsel-in-distress in the final act, but I didn’t mind this addition to the story at all. And while it’s good that the parents got a bit more screen time, adding some comedic moments that are genuinely funny, I think their pot-smoking and video game interactions got old really quickly. Especially with Michelle’s dad, whose mid-life crisis act got less funny as the film went on. 


It’s really disappointing because the first film, while not perfect, had a deeper story than expected and felt like a cohesive film tonally. The sequel suffers from trying to top what it had already done before. But with so many cooks in the kitchen, the jokes fall flat and the script feels like it’s trying to justify why this movie even exists. I think a really good sequel to THE BABYSITTER is definitely possible. But when everything is played for gags, and not even successful gags, it just leaves you feeling “meh”.



The direction by McG tries to keep with the over-the-top screenplay, feeling almost forced at times and not as fun as the first film. The film is about ten to fifteen minutes too long, with some odd pacing at times trying to keep up with all the plot points. While McG's visual presentation was more subtle in the previous film, he just throws anything he can visually to make the audience laugh - almost to the point that you need Adderall to keep up with it all. We get a ton of flashbacks, slow motion shots, splatter moments and explosions, and anything else that will compensate for a weak story. I’m not saying the gore and death sequences aren’t fun. In fact, some of them are pretty cool and are well done. But unlike the last film where you cared about the characters and you had tension and suspense built when it came to how the kills would happen, the kills in the sequel happen for the sake of laughs without any sense of real build or care to who will die because the characters aren’t as interesting the second time around. And the CGI looks a lot cheaper this time around for some reason, which is unfortunate. It’s a nice looking film and it definitely has energy, but McG didn’t work his magic the second time around sadly.


The acting is also a mixed bag. Judah Lewis is still fine as an older Cole, but I feel like he doesn’t have enough to really play with emotionally like he did in the first film. He feels like your typical “Final Boy” who has come back to an unnecessary sequel because he was contractually obligated to. Lewis does what he can and tries to bring maturity to a regressed character.  Jenna Ortega and Emily Alan Lind do well with their roles, bringing a lot of sass and spunk to their roles. Ortega has some nice emotional beats as Phoebe, while Lind gets a lot more fun things to say and do in her new character arc, coming out of the film as a major highlight. The returning villains from the last film [Robbie Amell, Andrew Bachelor, Bella Thorne and Hana Mae Lee] give the same good performances as last film, just with less to do. Thorne in still a lot of fun, as is Amell who has the frat-bro schtick down pat. Lee, unfortunately, gets the short end of the stick as she’s just there really. And Bachelor gets more to say and do this time around, but gets sort of grating along the way with his pop culture references. Ken Marino, Leslie Bibb and Chris Wylde also get more screen time, but the writing for them tries too hard to be funny. This is especially in Wylde’s case, who hams it up every chance he gets. And the best part of the first film, Samara Weaving, returns in what’s really a glorified cameo. And in my opinion, she seriously looks like she would rather be anywhere else but in this film. I haven’t seen an actress this disinterested in a sequel since Jennifer Lawrence in DARK PHOENIX. I’m glad that Netflix check was good because I don’t see why else she would have bothered appearing here. It’s a shame because seemed to be having a ton of fun in the last film, but seems really bored here.


And the music here is good again, with songs like Das EFX’s “They Want EFX”, Young MC’s “Bust a Move” and Dead Kennedys’ “Police Truck” playing. Nostalgia shouldn’t be a selling point for your movie, but it as welcomed here because there wasn’t much else to latch on to.


THE FINAL HOWL


I enjoyed 2017’s THE BABYSITTER quite a bit, expecting myself to enjoy 2020’s THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN on the same level or at least close to it. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling disappointed by a sequel that tried too hard to be funny, shocking when it came to its death sequences, and forcing upon its audience why it even exists to begin with. The characters have either regressed since the first one or are written so paper-thin that you have no interest in caring about them. However, there are a couple of characters with interesting character arcs that are well done, but they’re the minority. McG’s direction wants to compensate for a weaker script by being super flashy and stylish to the point it becomes overwhelming and loses it visual luster super quickly because there’s no subtlety to it all. And the acting is a mixed bag, as a lot of the returning characters are pretty much glorified cameos and don’t get a whole lot to do. And Samara Weaving, the first film’s highlight, looks like she wishes she was anywhere but in this film. Cash that check, girl! KILLER QUEEN is just okay and only worth checking out if you enjoyed the first film and care enough to see how it continues. But in my opinion, THE BABYSITTER should have been a one-and-done because this sequel isn’t worth selling your soul for.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4



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