When Wrestlers Act: Doom (2005)

Andrzej Bartkowiak

Karl Urban - John “Reaper” Grimm
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson - Asher “Sarge” Mahonin
Rosamund Pike - Dr. Samantha Grimm
Richard Brake - Dean Portman
Deobia Oparei - Roark “Destroyer” Gannon
Ben Daniels - Eric “Goat” Fantom
Raz Adoti - Gregory “Duke” Schofield
Al Weaver - Mark “The Kid” Dantalian
Dexter Fletcher - Marcus “Pinky” Pinzerowski

Genre - Horror/Action/Science Fiction/Video Games

Running Time - 113 Minutes [Unrated Director’s Cut]

As a lot of movie goers know, the process of adapting a video game property into a feature film [and vice-versa] hasn’t had the greatest percentage of succeeding. Ever since 1993’s SUPER MARIO BROS., Hollywood has struggled to capture what made the video games so popular into a live-action film format. While each adaptation may have a highlight or two within their respective films, only a few adaptations can be considered good. 1995’s MORTAL KOMBAT is a fun and cheesy flick that, at least, managed to adapt its source material as much as possible for the time. 2001’s TOMB RAIDER is a pretty solid action flick and turned Angelina Jolie into a huge star. The RESIDENT EVIL series, as divisive as they are, proved that audiences will latch on to a property if there’s enough fun things going on within it. 2006’s SILENT HILL is actually a pretty solid and atmospheric horror film that still works. And 2019’s POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU proved that not straying away from the source could reap some huge rewards commercially. 

Unfortunately, the major of video game adaptations are either really bad, or just extremely disappointing due to its unfulfilled potential. I feel 2005’s DOOM fits under this criteria - an adaptation of one of video game’s most important and influential first person shooters that didn’t appeal to many despite casting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a lead role. It’s also surprising the film didn’t do better considering one of the franchise’s most popular entries, Doom 3, was released a year prior to great success. But with a $70 million dollar budget, the film only made about $56 million at the box office - not only making DOOM a box office bomb, but continuing a trend at the time for one Dwayne Johnson, who was struggling with maintaining his supposed star power. 

I hadn’t watched DOOM in about 13 years, not remembering it fondly and considering one of Dwayne Johnson’s biggest flops in his movie career. Even Johnson himself dislikes this film, feeling it never lived up to its potential. But my interest in rewatching DOOM comes at a time where the video game franchise has gained a lot of strength and good will in the last few years, especially with Doom Eternal being considered one of 2020’s Most Anticipated Games. Netflix is even streaming a quasi-sequel to this film, DOOM: ANNIHILATION, that isn’t considered to be any good but is at least praised for capturing the essence of the source material better than this film did. Considering all the negativity surrounding it, is DOOM really that bad? Were we expecting too much out of this adaptation fifteen years ago? Or does it deserve to be destroyed by a BFG for good?

A team of space marines known as the Rapid Response Tactical Squad, led by Sarge (Dwayne Johnson), is sent to a science facility on Mars after somebody reports a security breach. There, they learn that the alert came after a test subject, a mass murderer purposefully injected with alien DNA, broke free and began killing people. Dr. Grimm (Rosamund Pike), who is related to team member Reaper (Karl Urban), informs them all that the chromosome can mutate humans into monsters - and is highly infectious.

Rewatching DOOM again after so many years, I didn’t hate it as much as I had previously. In fact, I can tell there’s a good film in DOOM somewhere if it had been written and executed better in its final form. And while the film does have some positive things going for it in hindsight, DOOM still remains a heavily flawed film and a video game adaptation that could have and should have been better on so many levels.

Let’s get the positives out of the way first. The highlight of DOOM, which many who have seen the film will probably agree with, is during the final act where we see the recognizable first-person Doom point of view as Reaper shoots and dodges creatures trying to kill him. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak shoots the scene pretty close to the style of the video game, giving us five-to-seven minutes of hope that someone on the production team actually cared about using the source material to cater to fans of the video games and put a smile on their faces. The Unrated Director’s Cut is the way to go when it comes to this scene, as this edition adds more of the first-person-shooter aspect and makes us wish more of this aspect had been implemented throughout the rest of the film during the action scenes. It stands out against the rest of the standard and generic visual presentation, still holding up pretty well and proving that video game adaptations could be fun if you just gave the fans what they want.

Speaking of the visual presentation, I also liked the Universal opening logo using Mars instead of Earth, which is a nice touch. I wish more films with certain themes would do that more. And the closing credits with the first-person-shooting isn’t as good as the one within the actual story, but it’s still cool that the producers knew enough to use it. It’s not too hard to cater to the fan base while making the material more Hollywood, as long as it’s not forced or overdone.

I thought that while the creatures didn’t look as cool as their video game counterparts, at least there seemed to be a focus on making them look good. The monsters seemed more practical than CGI for the most part - maybe besides the Pinky monster - and I liked their designs. They looked threatening and stood out enough to make an impression. I also didn’t mind the futuristic set designs and the gory moments that thankfully pushed DOOM into an R rating. Cool monster bites on necks, vicious wounds, and multiple severed body parts compensated for other things that lacked in this film.

I also didn’t mind much of the acting in DOOM. A lot of the actors don’t get a whole lot of dialogue, especially good dialogue. But the main actors try to make good with the material given, even if they’ve done better work on other projects before and since. Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike struggled with their accents at times, but I liked their performances as both Reaper and Dr. Grimm. Urban is great at brooding and always looks believable when performing action scenes, so I thought he fit well here. Pike is mainly there to be the token female and say science things that drive the plot, but she does it like a champ. I found it funny, though, that Urban and Pike shared a more romantic chemistry than a sibling one, which made watching DOOM pretty uncomfortable at times. There was an interesting vibe there. I also liked Raz Adoti as the flirtatious and loyal Duke, sharing some genuinely cute and funny moments with Pike. It presented a nice change of pace from the rest of the film. And I enjoyed Richard Brake as Portman, playing up his trademark unhinged performance that he’s perfected ever since this movie, especially in his appearances in recent Rob Zombie movies. A lot of the actors weren’t allowed to display any sort of personality since they were directed to play gruff soldiers. But Brake seems to enjoy hamming it up as a lunatic and it more than worked for me.

Now we get to the things that aren’t so good about DOOM. And it pains me to put him here since he was the draw at the time. But Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson just seems off in this film and I don’t fully blame him for that either. I’m not saying his performance is terrible because it isn’t at all. He does a commendable job playing Sarge and shouting orders like you’d expect a drill sergeant would. But this man is one of the most charismatic movie stars in the world and for whatever reason, he’s not allowed to display any sort of fun or swagger in this acting. It’s not sure if Andrzej Bartkowiak directed him to play the role straight, or if Johnson’s agent and/or manager at the time convinced him to be less “Rock” and more “Dwayne” - wanting him to a more serious actor by not playing up to the persona that made him a star to begin with. Johnson just seems checked out, even when the twist happens. Johnson, himself, has stated a few times that DOOM is his least favorite project for various reasons. Judging by his lacking, yet competent performance, I can see why.

And then we get to what really brings DOOM down - the script itself. There are a lot of issues with the story here. For one, this is a pretty loose adaptation of the source material. Instead of fighting demons invading space from Hell, DOOM is nothing more than an ALIENS ripoff mixed with what studios felt worked in the RESIDENT EVIL film series at the time. Doing any film resembling 1986’s ALIENS is automatically going to make that movie look inferior, especially when the most you know about the characters are their nicknames. And it sucks that the demons from Hell were replaced by infected zombie-like people from a Mars lab. At least I think it was Mars, since we barely see anything outside of the lab. The switch was probably due to budgetary reasons, but it just turns DOOM into another zombie film influenced by the much more popular RESIDENT EVIL films. The characters saying scientific stuff, as if the actors playing them knew what the hell they were talking about, is unintentionally hilarious at times though. I hear the new DOOM film caters more to the demons from Hell deal than this one does. It’s kind of disappointing. 

And I like I wrote earlier, the characters don’t have much depth really besides nicknames that pretty much tell us a certain personality trait or their job within the squad. Sarge just shouts at his troops and wants to have things his way by any means necessary. Reaper is haunted by his parents’ death and is the group’s best sharpshooter. The Kid is the Rookie. Portman is the token crazy member. Duke is the flirt. Goat is the religious one. And Dr. Grimm probably has the most character as she’s the smart scientist with a tragic past with connections to several members of the squad. Even when a certain character turns to the dark side, there’s no real reason for it to happen besides the film needed a human antagonist besides the zombies. Unlike the films DOOM is trying to emulate, the characters don’t share a ton of chemistry with each other because they’re not really allowed to. Regardless of how you feel about those RESIDENT EVIL films, at least they have the characters form some sort of relationship with each other to build character and enough depth for audiences to care enough to sit through six films. You don’t really care about what happens to these people because you’re really not supposed to. It’s not like the video games have deep protagonists anyway, since you’re mainly just a shooter who travels through corridors and bases to shoot demons until you beat the game. But DOOM could have at least tried harder, since you feel disconnected as if you’re watching someone play the game rather connecting to it if you were playing it yourself.

And while some of the direction is decent, especially in the film’s final act, there is a lot to be desired visually for majority of the film. For one, why is DOOM so freakin’ dark? The color scheme within the corridors of the Ark are nice, with blues and reds. But these scenes are barely lit, making it hard to see the monsters or whatever action is going on when the characters are walking inside of this location, which is more often than not. It’s not like the creatures look terrible, because they don’t. And maybe at the start, using darkness could build some tension and anticipation for what we’ll eventually see. But I shouldn’t have to squint during a film to figure out what I’m seeing. It was frustrating and made me wonder how anyone believed this was a good idea. Gritty is a mood, not a lighting scheme. 

And when there wasn’t any action happening, the vibe of the film just fell flat. There wasn’t a whole lot of energy when the characters would interact with each other via dialogue. A lot of action films usually have decent pacing because even the non-action moments buzz and build to the next action sequence. You don’t really get that with DOOM. At least the dialogue scenes lead to other scenes, unlike a lot of video game adaptations, but I wish they grabbed you more.

And the soundtrack is pretty much nondescript. You get a remix of a Nine Inch Nails song and a generic nu-metal type score. I barely remember it as I type this, to be honest with you. Solid…

DOOM is not the worst video game adaptation to have ever been presented in a live-action film format, but it’s not a good adaptation either. The film is lit too dark, the characters have no depth at all, and it’s barely based on the games themselves besides a few names, the concept, and some of the weapons. And Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of the most charismatic personalities in any media, acts as if he doesn’t want to be in the film and gives one of his flattest performances against Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike, who clearly outshine him here. But the film does look polished, has a great video game moment with that awesome first-person shooter sequence near the end, displays cool creature designs inspired by the games and above average acting from most of the cast [especially Urban, Pike and Richard Brake]. And the silly dialogue has its unintentional moments of entertainment that elevate a film that could have and should have been better. A lousy video game adaptation, but an average ALIENS meets RESIDENT EVIL rip-off.

2 Howls Outta 4


Original vs Remake - Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) & The Grudge (2004)

Takashi Shimizu

Megumi Omina - Rika Nishina
Misa Uehara - Izumi Toyama
Misaki Ito - Hitomi Tokunaga
Yui Ichikawa - Chiharu
Takako Fuji - Kayako Saeki
Yuya Ozeki - Toshio Saeki
Takashi Matasuama - Takeo Saeki
Yoji Tanaka - Yuji Toyama
Kanji Tusda - Katsuya Tokunaga
Shuri Matsuda - Kazumi Tokunaga

Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts

Running Time - 92 Minutes

Takashi Shimizu

Sarah Michelle Gellar - Karen Davis
Jason Behr - Doug McCarthy
KaDee Strickland - Susan Williams
William Mapother - Matt Williams
Clea DuVall - Jennifer Williams
Grace Zabriskie - Emma Williams
Bill Pullman - Peter Kirk
Rosa Blasi - Maria Kirk
Ted Raimi - Alex Jones
Takako Fuji - Kayako Saeki
Yuya Ozeki - Toshio Saeki
Takashi Matsuyama - Takeo Saeki

Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts

Running Time - 92 Minutes

With the latest remake/reboot of THE GRUDGE starting the 2020 movie season, I figured I would look back at the 2002 original Japanese film and its first remake from 2004 - both films that seem to look like bigger successes than the current film that’s been released if the critical and commercial response is any indication. With films like 2016s TRAIN TO BUSAN and even 2019’s PARASITE prove, Western audiences are willing to enjoy horror films from an Asian market without an Americanized adaptation to boost name recognition for some Hollywood studio. That wasn’t always the case, as a bunch of Americanized remakes of Asian horror films were constantly released in the 2000s to varying success. Obviously, the most successful and probably best remake to come out of this era is 2002’s THE RING, a well-made American version of 1998’s RINGU. In fact, I think THE RING is a slight improvement over RINGU, taking what made the original film good and expanding on it a bit to great results. And considering how lame many of the remakes that came after THE RING ended up being, it’s pretty safe to say that the 2004 remake of 2002’s JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, THE GRUDGE, is the second best Japanese-to-American remake of this era. Both films were huge hits, creating many tropes and visuals that would get copied into other horror films dealing with the same subject matter even today.

It had been about fifteen years since I had sat down to watch either JU-ON: THE GRUDGE or THE GRUDGE, even though I pretty much remembered the many similarities and some differences both versions of the same story [directed by the same director no less] had. And it was interesting to see why audiences were so gravitated to these films, as they felt fresh and narratively original at the time - but feel very dated today. Even though neither film holds up all that well in my opinion, I still think they were important in the history of the horror genre and are both worth a look. The question is if I would have to recommend just one of these films, which one would I choose? Let’s see the pros and cons of both of these films.

In Tokyo, multiple characters enter a so-called haunted house where a terrible murder-suicide took place between an angry and jealous husband and his wife, which unfortunately included their young son and family cat. In Japanese culture, this type of hateful act creates a vengeful spirit known as The Grudge, possessing and imprinting on those who step foot where the scene of the crime occurred. Whether inside that very house or outside of it, the spirit will spook its victims, creating mysterious deaths while passing on its curse to anyone who has entered that home. Figuring out what’s going on, characters attempt to break the spell before the curse spreads across multiple victims.



With the huge success of 1998’s RINGU and its American remake, 2002’s THE RING, it’s not surprising that JU-ON: THE GRUDGE was as successful and an easy target for its own American version. What many probably don’t know is that JU-ON: THE GRUDGE was actually the third installment in that series, with the first two films being made for television. I guess those films were successful enough to warrant a theatrical release for the third installment, which helped build its brand since on a worldwide level.

It’s easy to see why JU-ON: THE GRUDGE appealed to so many. While it did take aspects of RINGU, especially when it came to a curse being passed through some means and a dark-haired spirit haunting people, JU-ON: THE GRUDGE forged its own path to stand out from a lot of the other Japanese films coming out at the time. While the scare factor is probably not as strong as it was almost 20 years ago, it’s obvious that director Takashi Shimizu was more focused on creating this haunting and sinister atmosphere rather than telling a memorable narrative. The visual presentation is still JU-ON: THE GRUDGE’s strongest aspect, still managing to creep you out somewhat with its creepy visuals and tension building scenes. While meme’d and parodied since, those moments where the vengeful spirit Kayako crawls down the stairs with a creaking sound that’s still very effective today are so well shot that it brings a sense of unease most modern horror films lack. The little boy, Toshio, is also presented well, as he’s always hiding in a window, a corner, under a table, or in a closet with a wide-eyed stare that’s unsettling. The meowing is a bit silly, even back then, but it gives Toshio character and presents something most mainstream audiences hadn’t really seen in a film. There are barely jump scares with loud noises, which strengthen the film’s power, letting the tension build enough to turn those lights on while watching. I also think Takashi Shimizu films the Tokyo interiors and exteriors so well, bringing something foreign even to people who live there. In a lot of ways, I think JU-ON: THE GRUDGE is a better directed film than Hideo Nakata’s RINGU, as I get a sense of fear more out of the former than the latter.

Unfortunately, style over substance is a risk that could either elevate or bring down a film. And JU-ON: THE GRUDGE does suffer from the lack of a linear narrative that tries to explain things out of order, but doesn’t really. While we’re given title cards at the start of the film explaining how the curse of the Grudge is created within Japanese culture, not much is done with that other than knowing the cause of the creation of this curse. We never learn why this curse spreads to other people, strangers even, who seem perfectly happy with their lives and had nothing to do with the situation. It doesn’t help that the story is told through segments rather than some sort of linear structure. You’re watching Act E before you’re watching Act B, but Act C will play out before you even get to Act B. It’s kind of a mess because you’re not really sure how each segment connects to the other besides the curse itself. And when you do figure out how each segment fits with the others, you just wish it was told in a somewhat linear way so it would flow better and actually build a lot of tension and suspense as the film nears its end.

This fragmented storytelling also hurts character development, as there never seems like there is a main protagonist throughout the entire film. This creates lack of depth for every one of the victims, as we soon learn that they’re just there to react to some evil spirits haunting them before killing them. That may work in a slasher film, but a ghost movie needs more substance in its narrative for audiences to really care what’s going on other than what they see visually. The closest we have to a main hero is social worker Rika, whose entrance into this home is the catalyst for the rest of the scenarios that are displayed out-of-order to let us in on what’s going on. But we don’t spend enough time with her to root for her and she isn’t as proactive in her actions after the fact to make her a hero. The segments themselves are perfectly fine and each have great storytelling moments within them. But JU-ON: THE GRUDGE has too many characters and when you do start to know them, they’re quickly disposed of. By default, the only characters that get some development are the Saeki family. Even then, we only know about what happened to them and why they all became evil spirits. And even their haunting and scaring people starts to become tedious two-thirds into the film. At least the actors are all solid and help elevate a weak script. Otherwise, this film would be worse off.


As for the 2004 American remake, most of the film is pretty much shot-for-shot the same as the original film. Considering it’s the same director, the film doesn’t tread too far from what made the original a success. You have similar characters who are dealing with the same vengeful spirits who meow, croak, etc.

However, there are some differences that do make THE GRUDGE a worthy companion to JU-ON: THE GRUDGE. Since the film is mainly cast with American actors in a Japanese world, the story has to change a bit to accommodate them. The main character, Karen, is our Rika substitute - playing a fish-out-of-water social worker who enters the haunted home and never leaves it the same woman. But instead of being tossed away for majority of the film and not doing much of importance like how Rika was portrayed, Karen actually has enough depth for us to care about what she’s doing. She has a boyfriend who supports her and cares about her very much. Even though she’s out of her element in a foreign land, she seems driven to be a caring social worker. And when she’s confronted by Kayako and clan, she actually decides to research the house, what happened to the family that had lived there, and investigates in how to stop the curse from hurting others. This edition to the plot actually helps drive the film to its inevitable conclusion, giving the audience more substance to chew on when it comes to this ghost story. It also helps us side with Karen, as she’s willing to do anything to stop the insanity, which is more than I can say for her counterpart.

More storytelling differences? Less characters, as a segment wasn’t repeated in this version. I actually enjoyed the scenes with the school girls in the original, but it wouldn’t have added much in this remake. We also learn more about the man Kayako was apparently in love with - a college professor who she started to crush on, but was only one sided as he was a married man. This crush led to the deaths of the Saeko family, eventually leading to some bad things for the professor as well, as he entered the house after-the-fact to discuss Kayako’s feelings and let her down - only to find their corpses instead. And probably the biggest difference is that the storytelling takes a more Hollywood approach, crafting a more linear series of events rather than a narrative that’s all over the place. Some flashbacks do take place like in the original, but it only happens when it wants to explain why certain characters are behaving as they are. If the remake has anything that trumps the original, it’s that the story and plot are much more assessable for audiences and actually help elevate the story into something more sensible. I think the tension and suspense are allowed to build much better in the remake, which is a definitely plus.

That being said, while Takashi Shimizu directs his remake as much confidence as he does the original, the power he visually displayed is lessened the second time around. Even if you don’t watch both films back-to-back, there are things that visually work for another culture that don’t work for an American one. The original film has a more quiet presentation when it comes to the scares, never really alerting the audience of danger until you hear that creaking sound that sends chills down your spine. In the remake, those loud audio cues to make the audience jump are here, making the same scenes feel less than. Also, Shimizu edits a few of the scenes, giving less time for these moments to cook, which takes away some of the impact. But I will say the film looks a lot better than the original in terms of cinematography, looking extremely polished and making Japan a beautiful place we would love to visit. It also flows better due to the story structure being stronger. And while the film does have questionable CGI at times, I don’t think it looks all that bad honestly. I’ve seen effects a lot worse than THE GRUDGE during this time frame, and I feel the use of CGI ghosts doing cool things adds to the visual presentation. I really liked that severed jaw bit and some of the faces that morphed into other things. 

The acting is also pretty decent. THE GRUDGE was meant to make Sarah Michelle Gellar a movie star after her memorable run on Buffy The Vampire Slayer had ended in 2003. She does well enough as Karen, giving us someone to care about as she tries to figure out what’s going on. I think she’s an odd fit at times, as her acting could be a bit stronger when bad things happen. But her name value at the time allowed audiences to root for her and she seems invested in the role enough to take it seriously. I’m surprised the success of this film [and her previous television work] didn’t place Gellar on the A-list. She’s not bad here. 

The rest of the actors had less to do, but filled their roles adequately. Jason Behr, fresh off of the original version of TV’s Roswell, plays Karen’s boyfriend Doug. Considering the two worked together on an episode of Buffy and hung out in the same circles, Behr’s chemistry with Gellar feels natural and you can buy them as a couple trying to figure out Japan. I wish he had more to do, but at least he helped add depth to Karen and had a decent presence in the film’s final act. The other two actors of note are Clea DuVall and Bill Pullman. DuVall doesn’t do a whole lot either, but she does the best that she can in her short role. And Pullman is always a welcomed presence in any project he’s a part of. He was given more to do than both Behr and DuVall, getting to believably create a bit of depth to his college professor character. His reactions of fear were nicely convincing, so I appreciated him here. Also, shout out to Ted Raimi. Again, small role but I like that guy, so win. 

JU-ON: THE GRUDGE was a critical and commercial success, while its 2004 American remake may not have been as big of a hit with critics but made a ton of money at the box office at the time. Both films have their pluses and their minuses and you’re probably better off watching both of them if you’re interested in this franchise for whatever reason. But if you only have time for one, it depends on what kind of moviegoer you are. If you’re willing to sacrifice a more understandable and linear plot for a more effectively creepy visual effects and sound design with really good acting, stick with the original. But if you’re willing to deal with a lesser creep factor and a more Hollywood presentation of horror for a stronger story with deeper characters with logical motivations, 2004’s THE GRUDGE is for you. I personally feel both films are two sides of the same coin, each side depending on what you look for in a horror film like this. And considering what I’ve been hearing about the 2020 reboot for this series, you’re probably better off watching either one of these two films anyway. 

JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002) & THE GRUDGE (2004)
2.5 Howls Outta 4

JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002) Trailer

THE GRUDGE (2004) Trailer


Lunar Cycle - December 2019

Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention. Expect these Lunar Cycle posts once per month.

INTO THE DARK: POOKA! (2018) - **1/2 out of ****

Directed By: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Nyasha Hatendi, Latarsha Rose, Jon Daly, Dale Dickey, Jonny Berryman, Bryan Billy Boone, Caden Dragomer

Genre: Horror/Thriller

Run Time: 83 Minutes

Plot: A struggling actor gets a holiday season job as a Christmas character in a plush suit to promote the hottest toy of the year, Pooka; he slowly develops two personalities - one when he’s in the suit and one that’s outside it.

Continuing through Hulu’s Into the Dark TV-movie anthology series, I decided to watch last year’s Christmas episode POOKA! - one of last season’s most talked about episodes. Using the holiday as more of a backdrop than as a true focus like PILGRIM did for Thanksgiving, POOKA! still manages to use the idea of toys during the holidays to push its narrative along. Not knowing much about the film, I figured POOKA! would just be like a CHILD’S PLAY clone with some evil dolls would become sentient and cause chaos during Christmas. But I wasn’t expecting this deep and serious psychological thriller about a struggling actor who is hired to be a popular toy’s mascot, only for him to use this new persona to satisfy his more evil side. Maybe that’s why POOKA! doesn’t work fully to the story’s premise, as it’s trying to be a lot of things at once.

POOKA!’s make focus is on main character Wilson, who has moved to a new city for a brand new start. The holidays seem to be especially hard on him for some reason, but he forces himself to audition for some mystery acting gig that leads him into becoming the global mascot for a Pooka doll - pretty much a Teddy Ruxpin talking doll that records certain phrases and has a nice and naughty meter that changes occasionally - blue light means nice, red light means naughty. The Pooka doll is the Christmas toy sensation, with Wilson having to dress up as a life-size Pooka doll to promote the toys. Things seem to be going his way. He’s made friends with an eccentric neighbor. He’s met a beautiful real estate agent who is also a single mom, starting a relationship with her. Plus with the toy’s success, he’s making a lot of money. But strange things seem to happen, especially when the Pooka suit is on. Wilson starts getting violent and angry, lashing out on others. However, there are times where Wilson isn’t wearing the suit, watching the Pooka hurt people as an outsider. So is he having a split personality? Is someone else in the outfit? Is it all in his head? What’s the deal?

Even though these questions are answered by the film’s end, I do feel that the journey getting there could have been a lot better and more assessable to a certain portion of the audience. I’ve never seen director Nacho Vigalondo’s other films [I’ll probably get to some of those in 2020 as catch up] but I’ve heard he thrives on non-linear storytelling like POOKA! So I can’t compare how this matches up to his other projects. For the most part, I thought the story was well written and quite compelling. While I wish hints were given along the way about what was really going on, I was pretty invested in the film, constantly wondering what was the real deal and how it would all be resolved. I would think the film was going one way, when it would take a stranger direction that made me question what I was watching. I’ve read some people claiming they felt the last act was predictable, but I honestly didn’t see it coming. Even then, I still had questions though and wondered about the film’s narrative time and space. As a strange character study of a man conflicted by seemingly two halves of his personality, I think it’s an interesting one to see play out. But I’m not sure if it worked to its fullest potential since I felt a bit unsatisfied by the film’s end and wish POOKA! was told in a more linear way where the hallucinations and different perspectives would ground the story more and give audiences a more conclusive narrative that would provide enough answers that could keep the mystery intact. I respect that screenwriter Gerald W. Olson made POOKA! feel surreal and dreamlike from beginning to end. But being too vague sometimes will turn people off, especially when the final few minutes tell you what’s going on, but at the same time don’t really. Interesting story, but I think the execution could have been a bit tighter and more easier to digest. I felt like POOKA! explored a lot of things about past trauma while not exploring them enough for me to feel like I got my 90 minutes worth. There shouldn’t be new questions made during the film’s resolution.

I’m also sort of torn on how I feel about how the Christmas aspect was used in POOKA!. On one hand, I’m glad that we see Christmas trees, lights, and even media craze over a popular toy like I used to see all the time on the news back when I was younger. But I wish more was done with it, because I honestly feel POOKA! could have taken place during any other holiday besides Christmas and not much would have changed. I think Christmas is the right call if you want to really explore past trauma, since it’s a family holiday. But it just felt like it was more of a backdrop than a holiday that actually plays into much of the film’s narrative. I do feel it did more with the holiday than FLESH & BLOOD did with Thanksgiving. But besides objects and mentions of it, POOKA! didn’t really feel like Christmas to me for much of the film.

I do think Vigalondo directed a nice film here visually. The film is well paced and Vigalondo maintains a good creepy tone throughout. The use of colors would make Dario Argento proud, with his use of reds and blues flooding the screen at times, depending on Pooka’s mood. It creates a ton of atmosphere and a surreal feeling, as if you’re watching reality turn into some colorful nightmare or mind f*ck that could only happen in someone’s unstable mind. I also thought the use of blinking red and blue lights, resembling an emergency siren, were a neat touch considering what the colors would represent later in the film. The film also looked really polished and I loved the commercials and news segments looking different from the rest of the film. I haven’t seen any of Vigalondo’s V/H/S’ segments or COLOSSAL, but if his direction is supposedly better on those, then I’m definitely going to cover those in 2020. I dug his style a lot.

The acting is also quite good. But the real star here is Nyasha Hatendi as Wilson, portraying so many emotional layers in a quick, yet believable span. You root for him. You fear him. When you learn the truth about his situation, you feel conflicted. It’s almost a commentary on a man suffering from mental illness due to his past haunting him in ways he’ll never recover from, which Hatendi plays perfectly subtle. I enjoyed seeing him playing both sides of his personality - good and evil - slowly deteriorating by the film’s conclusion. Without Hatendi’s strong performance, POOKA! wouldn’t have worked.

Overall, POOKA! is a decent Christmas Into the Dark installment. Nacho Vigalondo’s direction is pretty solid, greatly using colors to create a bit of surrealism to showcase the dissociative state of a fractured mind during the holidays. Nyasha Hatendi’s performance as a man who is slowly losing his sense of reality while trying to rebuild his life in a new place is fantastic and keeps the film’s narrative strong. While POOKA! has a compelling story that twists and turns towards a somewhat logical conclusion, the non-linear structure getting there doesn’t work as well as it should. Plus POOKA! has one of those endings that answers the mystery while creating another one, leaving you both satisfied and unsatisfied at the same time. I preferred both Thanksgiving stories over POOKA!, but POOKA! is worth a watch if you’re a fan of this Hulu series and need a bit of Christmas terror in your December viewing cycle.

INTO THE DARK: A NASTY PIECE OF WORK (2019) - *** out of ****

Directed By: Charles Hood

Starring: Julian Sands, Dustin Milligan, Angela Sarafyan, Natalie Hall, Kyle Howard, Nico Greetham, Molly Hagan

Genre: Horror/Thriller

Running Time: 78 Minutes

Plot: A mid-level corporate employee finds out he’s not getting the Christmas bonus he was expecting, but his boss invites him to earn a promotion by beating his professional rival in a violent competition.

Review: One of the better installments of Hulu’s and Blumhouse’s Into the Dark series and slightly ahead of last year’s POOKA! episode, 2019’s A NASTY PIECE OF WORK doesn’t really celebrate the Christmas holiday all that much, but the film carries its influences really well to give us a story that will probably continue to resonate with some people for many years to come. Instead of focusing on Christmas, the film is more focused on class differences and the idea of capitalism having to destroy morality and ethics for one to get ahead in life. This theme of class politics seems to have been a common one in 2019, especially when you have films like KNIVES OUT and READY OR NOT really using it to give their respective stories substance. 

The same can be said for A NASTY PIECE OF WORK, which uses the idea of workers not getting a Christmas bonus [influenced by NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION] to persuade them into hurting and even killing each other to get a promotion at their workplace that the bonus will go to. The story takes three couples - the manipulative boss and his unfulfilled wife, the main character and his wife [who both have morals] and the main character’s elitist rival and his trophy wife - and brings them together to subject them in embarrassing and revealing situations that will force the two male employees to hurt each other for a job. Or maybe the boss and wife are just having fun at the expense of two couples they see lesser than them because they don’t own nice things or have power of any kind that matters to them. In a way, the film pretty much showcases the reality of working in a competitive profession - having to step on others to get ahead in terms of status and salary, creating a “survival of the fittest” environment that creates a lot of drama. 

I won’t go into major details about things that revealed by all parties involved or give hints as to how it all ends, but A NASTY PIECE OF WORK tells its story in a very satirical way that sort of makes fun of the situation at hand, while also criticizing the selfishness that comes with capitalism. Both employees try to one-up the other, first with their brains until they realize that none of them will get what they want unless physical violence comes into play. The use of shotguns [that may hold blanks or not], large hammers, and other objects give way to some decent gore and death sequences that push forward the agenda of the movie. And when things start to unravel, you start to realize that maybe no one is the good guy in this situation. It’s well written in a black comedy sort of way rather than a horror film, still managing to make you cringe at points because of how messed up this all is.

If I did have issues with the story, it’s because there are plot points introduced that don’t get enough attention to really mean much. There’s this deal where a story comes up about someone living within the walls of the boss’ mansion, leading to situations where someone is peeping on the characters through holes in the wall. But it never really goes anywhere, wondering why you wouldn’t do more with such a creepy plot device. There’s also a thing where murders also happened at this mansion, but we’re never really given any information about those. I’m guessing it has to do with other people competing for some sort of promotion, but nothing much comes out of it. But the twists and turns the story takes are quite fun and definitely worth investing in.

I think the one thing POOKA! does have over this film is the visual style of the film. While POOKA! used a lot of colors and had strangely surreal visual cues that made you wonder what you were watching, A NASTY PIECE OF WORK is a pretty simple one-location type of set up that feels like a TV movie rather than some sort of cinematic experience. Charles Hood does a good job presenting the story in a simple manner that we can all follow. But I felt like the film could have been more tense and suspenseful visually. It’s well framed, shot, and even uses the violent portions in an entertaining manner. But the film could have used a bit more flash, considering how grounded the premise was. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, but a bit of style every now and then wouldn’t have hurt. 

The acting is also pretty good. All the actors play their roles well - like Kyle Howard’s kiss-ass, yet moralistic Ted and Angela Sarafyan who plays his supportive wife Tatum. Dustin Milligan isn’t too bad as the douchey Gavin either. But the film definitely belongs to both Julian Sands and Molly Hagan, as the boss and his bothersome wife. Sands, the friggin’ WARLOCK, is always an awesome presence in any film or television show he appears in. He brings so much class along with him, giving us a boss character that you want to hate but can’t help be charmed by. He plays the role very seriously until you see a certain gleam in his eye that makes you see how much fun he’s having being the bad guy. Hagan, who Sands has great comic chemistry with, is more boisterous in her performance as a seducing and alcoholic wife who enjoys tearing down her husband and his employees every chance she can get. While Sands is more matter-of-fact, Hagan is more playful and livens up the film quite a bit. Hagan made me laugh quite a bit, making me understand why all the characters were pretty annoyed with her behavior.

Overall, A NASTY PIECE OF WORK is one of Hulu’s Into the Dark’s best segments. While it could have used the Christmas holiday more to create a certain atmosphere, as well as tie up loose ends that are brought up but never addressed much afterwards, the film still manages to be a fun black comedy that satirically looks how the class warfare still affects many especially in the workplace. The twists and turns of the characters’ personal information unraveling to elevate the drama between them is well done. I also thought the more horror-thriller aspects of the film were handled well, despite Charles Wood’s a-bit-too-simple direction. The actors make the story fun, especially the always awesome Julian Sands and Molly Hagan, who embrace their devilish characters and show how much fun they’re having being bad. Not as good as similar films this year like KNIVES OUT or READY OR NOT, but still very watchable and worthy of a look for those interested in this anthology series.

ANGEL HEART (1987) - ***1/2 out of ****

Directed By: Alan Parker

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Stocker Fontelieu, Brownie McGhee, Dann Florek, Kathleen Wilhoite, George Buck

Genre: Mystery/Horror/Satanic/Voodoo

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Plot: Down-and-out private detective Harry Angel is ordered by the mysterious Louis Cypher to go on a mission to find a mission person. His routine failure soon leads to a bloody spar with himself, as he goes on a supernatural journey into his own soul.

1987's ANGEL HEART is a film I watched quite frequently for a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as my late uncle was a huge fan of the film. While I remembered a couple of things that happened, the adult storytelling and themes went way over my head. I had been wanting to watch the film again for a while, seeing it pop up on streaming sites for the last few years. Before 2019 was over, I decided to take the plunge and see why my uncle enjoyed this film so much and why I barely had a recollection of it besides the voodoo stuff.

As a child, ANGEL HEART won’t grab you on a narrative level, even if it might visually at times. But as an adult, I have a whole new appreciation of this film and really get why my uncle and so many others praise it so highly. In a way, ANGEL HEART is a pretty underrated horror-noir flick that doesn’t get a whole lot of discussion. But it absolutely should since it has a lot going for it in terms of direction, mystery and especially the acting.

Getting too deep into the story would spoil things for people who haven’t had a chance to watch ANGEL HEART. But what I will say that while the mystery is pretty obvious [especially now that I understand the references as an adult], the screenplay is still well constructed and builds onto the film’s shocking [not shocking?] climax that poses new questions that never get answered. It captures the neo-noir feel well and as detective Harry Angel continues along his investigation within a supernatural world of voodoo to uncover the truth, you stay interested and committed to the film’s narrative. The characters all have dimension, like the charismatic yet haunted Harry Angel, to the dark and mysterious Lou Cypher [how did I not see who he was right away as a child?], and the captivating and sultry Epiphany. The deep characters help build this bleak universe in the 1950s where there is more than meets the eye, leading to answers that not only satisfy the viewer, but damage the characters who are blindsided by the conclusion they’re given. It’s an intelligently written film that’s truly meant for mature audiences who will get all the hidden meanings and adult subject matter that encompass this world. ANGEL HEART could have been cheesy, cheap and shocking for all the wrong reasons. But the story has class and wants to legitimately entertain the audience it’s appealing to.

The story is helped by Alan Parker’s direction. Prior to ANGEL HEART, Parker directed some high-profile films like 1978’s MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, 1980’s FAME and 1982’s PINK FLOYD: THE WALL - later he would direct 1988’s MISSISSIPPI BURNING and 1996’s EVITA. The man knows how to create mood and atmosphere, especially when it comes to period pieces. ANGEL HEART is no different, maintaining the look of 1955 with a grittiness and bleakness one wouldn’t expect from that time. Old school New York City is wonderfully created and New Orleans really captures this surreal and sweaty locale that will change many of the characters’ lives. In many ways, Parker doesn’t direct a horror film at all, letting the story itself slowly build tension and fear. Parker is more focused on the drama between the players, giving us glimpses of who they are when they’re alone and especially when they interact with one another. Focusing on Harry Angel makes him an unreliable narrator as we suspect that he was hired for the investigation intentionally, as if he’s meant to find out the truth for his own good as well. But Parker does give us glimpses of the dark side of voodoo, with chicken blood pouring on people during erotic situations, making blood almost sexy in a gross way. And the use of hallucinations and visions only add to the visual presentation, giving audiences a puzzle they need to think about and solve by the film’s conclusion that doesn’t insult their intelligence. And while we don’t see the acts of murder until the very end, the aftermath is pretty gruesome at times. Parker directs a solid mystery-thriller that’s super confident and grounded, despite the themes that inhabit the narrative.

And ANGEL HEART has some solid performances. Mickey Rourke is at his peak here, in my opinion, looking like the epitome of a grizzled private eye who will do anything to find the answers. He’ll sleep around. He’ll bully people for information. And he’ll place himself in situations that will probably do him more harm than good. Rourke takes the role seriously, playing all aspects of the character perfectly. He’s believably cool and charming, while also convincingly haunted and disturbed as he gets deeper into the mystery. It saddens me that he did so much plastic surgery on himself because Rourke was a good looking dude with solid acting chops that should have made him a bigger star. He’s amazing in this film. Robert De Niro also gets to chew up some scenery as Lou Cypher, the man who hires Harry Angel for this particular assignment. It took a lot of convincing for De Niro to appear in this film, as he was originally courted for the Harry Angel role but refused because he wanted a smaller role with less to do. Plus he wanted concrete locations and direction for his character before signing up to do it. Lou Cypher is more of a cameo role than anything, but De Niro certainly makes his presence as this mysteriously sinister figure who seeks answers, even if these answers aren’t meant for him personally, but for someone else. It’s a quieter role than De Niro usually does and it works for the film, especially when you figure out his true intentions. A nice casting coup for Parker - one that worked out very well. The other major actor in the film is Lisa Bonet as Epiphany, the daughter of a voodoo priestess. Bonet is wonderful as a sultry distraction for Harry Angel, who looks innocent but those looks may be deceiving. She shares quiet chemistry with Rourke and their sex scene almost led to ANGEL HEART having an X rating - it’s that intense. While her performance is memorable, it was unfortunately overshadowed by Bill Cosby being displeased with the role and firing her from The Cosby Show at the time, moving her into the spinoff A Different World instead. That’s kind of funny, considering Bill Cosby was far from a saint himself in his personal life. We also get smaller performances from Charlotte Rampling, Stocker Fontelieu, Dann Florek, Kathleen Wilhoite, and George Buck that add nicely to the film and the film’s mystery. 

Overall, ANGEL HEART is one of those underrated horror-thrillers from the 1980s that still holds up extremely well after all these years. While the mystery is probably fairly predictable, the storytelling is still strong and well-written enough to bypass that. The characters are fleshed out, the universe they live in is given depth, and the build up leading to the climax flows extremely well and feels mostly satisfying. Alan Parker’s confident direction helps create an awesome neo-noir thriller with interesting imagery and moody set-pieces that would fit right in the genre. And the acting from Mickey Rourke [especially], Robert De Niro and Lisa Bonet are wonderful, bringing the script to life in a believable way and makes you empathize with some of the characters when the mystery is solved. As a child, I had no idea what was going on with this film besides the voodoo aspect of it. But as an adult, I can truly appreciate ANGEL HEART as a classy and thrilling film with a soul that probably deserves more mention than it actually gets.


Lunar Cycle - November 2019

Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention. Expect these Lunar Cycle posts once per month.

ALUCARDA (1977) - ***1/2 out of ****

Directed By: Juan Lopez Moctezuma

Starring: Tina Romero, Claudio Brook, Susana Kamini, David Silva, Lily Garza, Tina French

Genre: Horror/Thriller/Satanism/Vampires

Running Time: 74 Minutes

Plot: A young girl’s arrival at a convent after the death of her parents marks the beginning of a series of events that unleash an evil presence on the girl and her mysterious new friend, an enigmatic figure known as Alucarda. Demonic possession, Satan worship, and vampirism follows.

Take Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS, add some of THE EXORCIST to it and sprinkle a bit of CARRIE, and you get 1977’s infamous Mexican horror film ALUCARDA. ALUCARDA is a tough film to review because I feel my reaction to it will be wildly different to someone else who stumbles onto this one. This movie is so many things at once that I’m still processing whether this is a good film or not. But damn if it isn’t memorable!

While the main premise of ALUCARDA is pretty linear and straightforward with its Satanic corruption arc and attempt of some sort of redemption of our main characters, it’s obvious director Juan Lopez Moctezuma had something to say when it came to institutions of religion and the idea of good versus evil. Is ALUCARDA a film criticizing the Church and how they practice Catholicism? While the nuns and priests in this convent seem to be on the side of good in the first and last acts of the film, it’s that middle portion that doesn’t paint them in a good light at all. Nuns whipping each other? Priests forcing exorcisms on people, eventually leading to grave circumstances without much remorse, wanting to hide the truth? It’s not a pretty picture and it’s no surprise this film created a lot of controversy at the time. Then again, the fact that the Church does try to stop evil from winning in the end makes me wonder if Moctezuma still had faith in some sort of religion or higher power? The Satanists aren’t portrayed as good people either, manipulating and seducing girls into joining their cult to destroy the words of God. Moctezuma shows us that good nor evil is black or white, both sides having bits of grey that reveal their flaws in their arguments. It’s a provocative film that will upset many.

The strength of ALUCARDA is due to the two main characters, Justine and Alucarda. Two orphans who quickly befriend each other out of nowhere [the film is only 74 minutes, so relationships need to develop quickly], we’re never given really time to question their fast friendship since they’re corrupted as soon as possible, leading to them destroying the convent their living in from within. The powerhouse performances by the actresses playing these characters really drive the film, making it one to watch. Tina Romero is captivating as Alucarda, giving us a performance that feels more like a force of nature than actual acting. Quiet and aloof, she lingers in the darkness and pops out of shadows as if she were a supernatural creature. Romero also gives looks of innocence, while subtly revealing layers of sin and corrupting underneath when bad things occur. It makes you wonder if Alucarda was corrupted by Satanists, or she was already evil from the start [she was born in a Satanic temple, of course]. There’s a power in Romero’s performance that most horror actresses aren’t able to achieve for whatever reason. Even though you know she’s acting, you start thinking otherwise by the film’s end. She’s amazing. Susana Kamini isn’t as powerful in her performance, but she doesn’t need to be. Her more quiet and human portrayal of Justine compliments Romero’s Alucarda perfectly, as Justine starts as the audience’s character in terms of her reactions to Alucarda’s reactions and her eventual downfall. The supporting actors also do their job well in bouncing off of Romero and Kamini to create a dire situation that the audience is curious about and how it will all end up for everyone involved. There are so many layers in the performances, fleshing out the layers in the narrative tenfold, that you’re just going along for the ride even if some of the things that ALUCARDA present can be fairly uncomfortable to watch.

Juan Lopez Moctezuma directs ALUCARDA really well, creating a trippy nunsploitation flick that manages to be a Satanic film that also expresses the debate of science versus religion, while adding a vampire element to the proceedings as well - and it actually works and manages to be fun! The set locations, with the demon looking statues in the temple and giant crosses in the convent, are very nice and add atmosphere to the film. There are also great visual moments - one involving a scene where Justine and Alucarda are being converted to the dark side inside of the convent, as the sky outside changes multiple colors like a Dario Argento film. There’s another moment where a nun is praying for Justine and Alucarda while the two girls are dancing naked with the rest of the Satanists in the other side of the town. The juxtaposition of both scenarios, as both sides effect each other through their respective powers of good versus evil, is so well shot and presented that you’re glued to the screen to see who wins the battle. I also thought the exorcism scene was shot really well, with some nice tension. And the fiery and explosion final act, with nods to CARRIE, displays great action and choreography. The film also flies by due to its quick run time and good pacing. Plus, you get cool undead make up effects, gore and blood, as well as nudity. Sounds like a good time to me! Moctezuma did a great job behind the lens.

Plus - the screaming. Oh geez, the screaming that pretty much takes up like forty-percent of the film. Once it starts, you feel like it never ends. And when the film gets a bit more quiet, you’re just wondering which character is going to start it all over again. I thought that screaming kid from THE BABADOOK was annoying, but ALUCARDA may have proven me wrong. It’ll definitely grate on people unless you’re able to tolerate it, like I did. But it does add a mood to this film not many others can claim to have. It’s… something.

Overall, ALUCARDA is one of the strangest and more controversial horror films in the genre. It’s a cocktail of THE EXORCIST, THE DEVILS and CARRIE all shook up to create this blasphemous film that also manages to be captivating and deep despite its nunsploitation elements. The performances by Tina Romero [especially] and Susana Kamini are strong and carry the film from beginning to end, while Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s eye for the camera is fantastic, visually expressing the nightmarish situation these two girls are placed in and their actions coming out of it. Plus, you have this anti-religious slant going for it while also making the religious people the “heroes” with the help of science, making me wonder what Moctezuma is really trying to tell us. Either way, ALUCARDA left me confused, intrigued, amused and disturbed all at once. Whether one thinks ALUCARDA is a good film or not, they can’t say it isn’t memorable because this is one that will linger for a while. A totally bonkers film that is probably worth a least a watch - and a few screaming spells along with it.

INTO THE DARK: FLESH & BLOOD (2018) - *** out of ****

Directed By: Patrick Lussier

Starring: Diana Silvers, Dermot Mulroney, Tembi Locke, Lavetta Cannon, Krystin Goodwin, Heidi Sulzman

Genre: Horror/Thriller

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Plot: Doting father Henry tries to help his teenage daughter, Kimberly, who suffers from agoraphobia and has not left the house since her mother’s still-unsolved murder; a year after the death, Kimberly begins to suspect that she is in danger in the house.

Continuing my journey through Hulu’s & Blumhouse’s TV-movie anthology series, Into The Dark, I decided to check out the series first Thanksgiving episode, FLESH & BLOOD. Unlike the first Halloween episode, THE BODY, which is tonally all over the place since it wants to be many things at once and has no idea how to balance it all, FLESH & BLOOD is your straightforward family drama/thriller that seems to know what it wants to say and how to say it. 

FLESH & BLOOD is pretty much a claustrophobic affair between a grieving father and daughter, whose relationship starts to deteriorate around Thanksgiving due to the matriarch of the family having been murdered the prior year, with the murderer still on the loose. The daughter, Kimberly, is an agoraphobe, constantly having panic attacks at the thought of or attempt at leaving her home. She has a visiting therapist struggling to get her treated, while the drugs she takes tend to make her feel numb and cold to things. Kim’s father is too busy renovating the house and spending long hours out of the house to really give her the attention she deserves. It’s not until she watches a news story about a missing girl, who wears a very similar necklace that her father recently gifted her for her seventeenth birthday, that Kimberly starts suspecting that maybe her father is a murderer. This mystery leads to a ton of tension between the two characters, making the Thanksgiving holiday a much harder time to process in the long run.

Unlike THE BODY, where you had multiple characters with different motivations and were written in ways that made you wonder whether you’re supposed to laugh or feel scared by what you’re watching, FLESH & BLOOD plays things as seriously as possible, crafting a mystery that leads to a predictable conclusion if you’ve seen a thriller or two in your lifetime. While generic and maybe stretching the narrative longer than it probably needed to, FLESH & BLOOD at least manages to be a less frustrating watch and entertaining little family drama with solid performances and simple twists and turns that start to build to answers that we expected, but are logical at the same time. The film tries to make Kimberly an unreliable narrator, since her medication had side effects of mood swings and delusions, making you wonder if her feelings on her father’s connections to the missing girls [and even her own mother’s murder] were legit or just all in her head. Her father’s erratic reaction to it all also made you question whether he really was a crazy murderer, or just frustrated with his daughter’s current mental state and feeling helpless that he couldn’t make her get better. The story takes all the cliche steps towards the film’s violent conclusion, but at least you understand how and why the film gets to where it’s going. Unlike THE BODY, which was all over the place, FLESH & BLOOD is extremely linear in design and more satisfying because of it. We understand the characters before the questions start to build and we understand once it’s all revealed. Both Kimberly and her father change through the course of ninety minutes, yet still maintaining the many layers they revealed prior to the shit hitting the fan. Maybe the story has some filler and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but at least I could connect to it and enjoy it all as a spectator.
The most surprising about FLESH & BLOOD is that it is directed by Patrick Lussier - the man behind really stylish and crazy visual-heavy films like DRIVE ANGRY, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D and DRACULA 2000 [and its sequels]. This Into the Dark installment strips all the style, rather focusing on simple visuals that prefer the actors and the script to be more of the showcase rather than the direction. That’s not to say the film looks terrible or anything. It’s a visually nice looking film that contains all the professional editing and shots needed to make the storytelling mostly a success. And the panic attack scenes aren’t fresh, but the distorted visuals and crazy pans and tilts do give off the desired effect. Maybe the pacing is a bit off due to some filler and scenes going a bit too long at times, but overall it’s a solid Lussier directorial film. The violent stuff at the end is shot pretty well - it’s not as bloody or as gory as THE BODY - while Lussier manages to create a nice level of tension and suspense due to the claustrophobic nature of the story as the film only takes place inside this one house. While Lussier’s stylish flashes help the other films he has directed, I kind of liked the simplicity this time around. Maybe the budget was lower and he had less to play around with, but I think it helps makes FLESH & BLOOD stand out from the rest of his filmography.

What really sells this film are the two main performances. Diana Silvers, who was the main female protagonist in 2019’s MA, does a solid job as Kimberly. She gets to play with a whole lot of emotions for ninety minutes, going from stoic, to panicked, to confused, and to vengeful all convincingly. Having lost my mom a few years ago, I understood her pain and lack of enthusiasm in terms of the holidays. Her anger and confusion over her mom’s murder is justified, with Silvers believably portraying that, continuing once she learns the truth and becomes a stronger person because of it. I don’t think she’s done much film work yet, but I could see her doing big things if she continues to pick the right projects. And then you have veteran actor Dermot Mulroney as her father, stealing the show with his colorful performance. As he bounces off of Silvers, his acting is quite fun to watch. He plays the loving and understanding father at one point, slowly creating a more coy performance that slithers into something more sinister and malicious by the movie’s end. Mulroney’s acting reminded me of Dennis Quaid in this year’s THE INTRUDER, but with better material and actors to work with. Mulroney is not really known as the antagonist, so seeing him play against-type was a treat. I thought he was super solid and he shared nice father-daughter chemistry with Silvers. The cast really elevated the material and made FLESH & BLOOD a good watch.

Overall, FLESH & BLOOD is an improvement over the previous installment, THE BODY. The film  has a more confident tone and linear narrative that bounces between drama, horror and psychological thriller. While predictable, cliche and probably not feeling as fresh as the film would probably like, it’s still told well enough to care about what’s going on and what the main characters are going through within the story. Patrick Lussier’s direction is solid enough, even though some of his style feels a bit lost due to the simple story and probably the lack of ability to play with more things due to a lower budget than he’s probably used to. But he lets the narrative and actors be more of the focus, which is the right move since both Diana Silvers and Dermot Mulroney are excellent in their roles as daughter and father respectively, portraying multiple layers of human grief and trauma very well. Once the mystery starts to peel away, both actors really go at it against each other, leading to a fun watch. I wish the film had more to do with the Thanksgiving holiday - it’s just a backdrop really - but I still dug FLESH & BLOOD for the most part.

INTO THE DARK: PILGRIM (2019) - *** out of ****

Directed By: Marcus Dunstan

Starring: Reign Edwards, Beth Curry, Kerr Smith, Antonio Raul Corbo, Peter Giles, Elyse Levesque, Taj Speights, Tessa Goss

Genre: Horror/Slasher/Home Invasion

Running Time: 80 Minutes

Plot: Based on a shocking true story: In an attempt to remind her family of their privilege and help them bond, Ms. Anna Barker invites Pilgrim re-enactors to stay with them over Thanksgiving. When the “actors” refuse to break character, the Barker family learns that there is such a thing as too much gratitude.

Another Into the Dark review, this time for the newest entry in the series - PILGRIM - an entry that has gained a ton of buzz due to the fact that us horror fans don’t have many Thanksgiving horror films to really go to during the holiday season, making PILGRIM one of the few horror films that actually uses the holiday to its advantage and makes it quite chilling. Unlike last year’s FLESH & BLOOD, which only used Thanksgiving as a backdrop and not much else, PILGRIM goes all in on the holiday, while also providing a ton of social commentary that will surely make its audience wonder how truly grateful we all are in our current society.

The commentary is really what PILGRIM has got going for it in terms of a narrative. The villainous pilgrims that terrorize the Barker family and their community believe in the old ways of doing things, feeling that everything will be alright as long as people are grateful for what they have around them. And by old ways, I mean raping, pillaging and corrupting the lands of the Native Americans who tried to show them hospitality - trying to force religion onto them and killing them with disease and probably by physical means. The lead character, Cody, even acknowledges that the holiday was built upon something sinister, which the rest of her family just brushes to the side with denial and ignorance. Then again, we’re talking about a society that believes Thanksgiving is just about family eating turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies at a large dinner table giving thanks, while quickly eating and running to the nearest mall to buy the latest item during a Black Friday sale. Speaking of commentary, PILGRIM uses the Pilgrims to show how reliant we are on technology, as it slowly has led to a lot of us communicating less in person and disassociating ourselves from other people in our own living space. Cody would rather be on her iPhone and laptop. Her father is too busy on his phone looking at the stock market to be aware of what’s going on in his own family. Cody’s step-mother doesn’t use the Pilgrims to bring her family together like in the old days, but rather as some social status in the neighborhood she can probably post about on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The only one who actually wants to learn is young Tate, who is too young to become cynical through the use of technology. While the Pilgrims are obviously the villains here, they don’t hide the fact that they’re hurting people to spread their agenda. The Barker family are hurting each other by not spending time or caring about what’s going on in each other’s lives outside of social media. If we’re ignorant to what has happened before our time, isn’t that how history repeats itself?

Honestly, the Pilgrims are the more interesting characters in this film because we, as an audience, know right away what their roles are and who they are as characters. When they show up and appear to be actors who are putting on this kind performance as people from the 1600s, we still know right away that there’s something sinister underneath it all. And they do a lot of things we would expect from Pilgrims. They try and push Christianity on people. They build property, decorate places and force their presence where they have no right to. There are also a lot of sinister moments where the lead Pilgrim, Ethan, is way too close to a young child that borders on pedophilia. He also gets in the personal space of lead character Cody as well, intimidating and worrying her. Ethan’s wife, Patience, is no better. She’s mostly quiet, but her stoic and cold face stay a lot about how she feels about modern citizens. There’s nothing ambiguous about the antagonists. We know who they are and we know we shouldn’t like them.

I wish I could say the same for the so-called protagonists. Got to be honest - most of them are so unlikable, you really don’t care what happens to them. This even implies to the lead character, Cody. While smart, tough and proactive, she has too much of a bad attitude for much of the film. This stems from her parents divorcing during Thanksgiving when she was young and making a wish to bring her family back together someday on a wishbone [which indirectly led to the Pilgrims arriving into her home], but she’s a young woman now and just brushes people off besides her younger brother Tate and her boyfriend. While usually right on things, she judges situations way too quickly, giving people an attitude when things don’t go her way or don’t see her perspective. You can fault this on being young, but it’s grating to watch someone you want to like and root for behave so pessimistically. You can be smart and treat people with some level of respect. Cody never gives anything a chance because it’ll affect her alone time during a family holiday like Thanksgiving, which is pretty selfish. Plus when she realizes how bad things are, she never goes for help deciding to do it herself. She becomes a better character in the final act, thankfully, making us care about her again. But it’s a rough time getting there.

The other characters are a bit of a struggle too. Cody’s father only cares about the stock market and how much money he’ll make from it, not noticing what’s going on around him until it’s too late. His priorities are all out of whack. Cody’s stepmother brings the Pilgrims in as a way to get attention within her neighborhood and group of friends [who talk about her behind her back], but it does seem like she cares about bring her estranged family together even if it’s for the wrong reasons. The neighbors, who also have to deal with this mess, are either too focused on fulfilling their carnal desires or not appreciating what they have around them, wanting something more and different. The only likable character is young Tate, who is too young to understand why there is so much danger and tension around him, while having enough smarts about him to hide away from the villains when they start looking for him. I’m not saying these characters are the worst ever written because they have to all be flawed in order for the commentary to work. But give them some sort of likable trait of us to want them to survive. Luckily the final act saved the characters from being total failures once they banded together, but a lot of viewers may not even bother getting to that point if the characters don’t relate to them on some level. I was torn on how to feel about any of them, and that’s a problem.

The direction by Marcus Dunstan is actually pretty damn solid. The writer of the later SAW sequels and FEAST films, as well as director of THE COLLECTOR series, builds a lot of tension towards the final act with a simple and quiet visual style until the film’s bonkers last half hour, where Dunstan goes for broke and just lets it all out on screen. He displays his love for Sam Raimi with oddly framed close-ups and zoom ins, as well as people puking blood as if they were a fountain. He’s inspired by Tobe Hooper with a dinner scene that’ll interest you to the point where you’ll want to see where it goes and how it’ll all end. The use of a creepy choir during the violent scenes just creates a surreal and humorous vibe that helps the audience laugh a bit because the situation itself is so creepily strange that it’s funny. The death scenes and gorier moments are shot really well, although they’re not as graphic as one would think considering the man behind the lens. Plus the film looks good and is paced really well, as it’s only 80 minutes long. The tone of the film is horror mixed with a black comedy and it works better than it has any right to. I really liked Dunstan’s work on this.

The acting is very good as well. While I wish her character was more likable, Reign Edwards was solid as Cody. Her attitude was convincing and I bought her tough, smart girl act by the end. Peter Giles was fantastic as Pilgrim Ethan, bringing a menacing vibe to the film with his method acting and sinister screen presence. He stole the film any time he appeared on screen. Elyse Levesque was also very good as Patience, playing a cold Pilgrim who wanted her ways of life to continue in the modern world by any means necessary. While Giles intimidated through words, Levesque did it via body language and a lack of facial expression, showing a woman who was mostly calm in how she lived her life and made things happen, even if it ended a person’s life for not being grateful enough. She was also very good in READY OR NOT earlier in the year playing a similar character. And it’s nice to see Kerr Smith still acting after all these years, even though I wish he did more in the film. He was cool in that final act though.

Overall, PILGRIM is a solid entry in Hulu’s Into the Dark series. The use of the Thanksgiving holiday is wonderful here, finally giving us a horror film that’s worthy of watching during this particular holiday. Marcus Dunstan does a solid job behind the camera, filming a quiet and simmering two-thirds until going all out with his bonkers final act that flipped the film on its head with crazy visuals and homages to Sam Raimi and Tobe Hooper. I wish the protagonists were more likable - the villains were cool - but they got better by the time the final act started and the actors involved [especially Reign Edwards, Peter Giles and Elyse Levesque] were all solid and helped sell the commentary of an older generation trying to teach gratitude to a newer one disconnected from personal interaction [thanks technology!] and unappreciative of what they already have by forcing upon their values by any means necessary. PILGRIM is no BLOOD RAGE or THANKSKILLING, but it’s still worthy of stuffing your face with on Thanksgiving.

A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016) - *** out of ****

Directed By: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Roland Pembroke, Celia Imrie, Adrian Schiller, Ivo Nandi, Tomas Norstrom

Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/Mystery/Thriller

Running Time: 146 Minutes

Plot: An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps but soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem.

A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a horror film that probably ought to be better than it actually is while being more hit than miss. The film was director Gore Verbinski’s follow-up to his failed 2013 adaptation of THE LONE RANGER after so many successes with the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, the 2002 THE RING remake and even 2011’s animated hit RANGO. A CURE FOR WELLNESS didn’t come close to lighting the box office on fire - there was barely a spark actually since barely anyone watched this film or even talks about it - but there’s something oddly old-school and appealing about this film that it probably deserves a look if you have 150 minutes to spare.

I think the most positive aspect of A CURE FOR WELLNESS is how well-made it is. The film looks absolutely beautiful from beginning to end, obviously influenced by the gothic style of other horror films directed by James Whale, Stanley Kubrick, Guillermo Del Toro and even Tim Burton. The film constantly looks washed out, with whites, grays and blacks taking up prominence to reflect the narrative’s haunting tone and atmosphere. The exteriors always look dreary, while the interiors of the “rehab center” are mainly all white until you go underground, leading to a more shadowy and darker colors. The film was shot in Germany and Switzerland, with Verbinski showcasing the beautiful landscapes, as well as turning the rehab castle location into its own character by using the interiors to their fullest extent. Some of the film’s shots are just beautiful, especially when characters are submerged in water, creating this surreal dreamlike fantasy that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Hammer horror film. Verbinski has always been great in creating visual art as a director, giving his audience a ton of polished style to feast their eyes on, even if the storytelling varied in quality. My only issue with the direction would probably be the pacing, as the film does drag a bit and feels longer than it should. But he was trying to create a slow-burn psychological thriller here, so it sometimes comes with the territory. But I think the film could have lost twenty minutes and still managed to maintain what Verbinski was attempting to visualize.

I also thought the acting was fine as well. Dane DeHaan is a hit-or-miss actor for me, either being the highlight of the film [CHRONICLE] or feeling miscast and doing nothing for me [THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2]. DeHaan is pretty good as Lockhart, our main character who arrives to this rehab to bring his company’s CEO back home, only being trapped there and having to deal with some of his personal demons. I’ll get to issues with his character in a moment, but I felt DeHaan did everything that is asked of him and did it well. He has an interesting and quiet charisma about him, fitting right in a film like this both physically and his acting. Jason Isaacs is also very good as the local doctor who claims he’s curing his patients, but obviously behaves in such a shady way that you know he’s doing some sinister stuff behind the scenes. They usually involve water and eels, not necessarily in that order. Plus he has this creepy fixation with a young woman who lives at the center, which Isaacs plays up once the truth slowly gets revealed and becomes creepier than you’d expect. The man makes for a good antagonist and it’s no different here. The only other actor of note is Mia Goth, probably best known for her roles in both Lars von Trier’s NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. II and Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of SUSPIRIA. I honestly think she’s the best actor in the film, only because she has such an unique look about her and she plays her mysterious role so subtly and quietly that you’re captivated by her every action. Goth plays her character of Hannah with such childlike innocence at times that it starts to surprise you when she does weird things that come across as strange and awkward. She’s an interesting young actress I’d like to see more from because she brings something unique to every role she plays.

Where the film falters, besides its too-long running time, is the narrative. Personally, I enjoyed the first half of the film compared to the last half. The first half was building the film’s universe and slowly building a mystery of this town and the castle used as a hospital/rehab center, giving the audience nice looks into the characters and making one wonder whether all the strange things happening were all in their heads, or were really happening. I wanted to know what this supposed “cure” was and why it seemed to brainwash a majority of the patients inside. Creepy hospital staff and eels appearing out of nowhere just continued to create this nightmarish scenario that questioned whether Lockhart was an unreliable narrator or not. After all, his father had committed suicide right in front of him when he was younger and his mother was mentally ill, so who’s to say the visuals were all delusions Lockhart was struggling with?

The second half is more exciting since there’s a lot more action, violence, and investigations leading to answers going on. But I felt a lot of the detective stuff was extremely repetitive. Lockhart would sneak into a room, get caught and then get tortured. He would do it again, same result. This happened a few times within a small time frame and got kind of tedious. Plus while I liked the HOUSE OF WAX inspired ending, it was never really explained all that well and left me wondering what the deal was. It’s sad that I found the more disgusting sexual angle more intriguing. And the very end of the film is a total letdown, considering all the time it took to build a decent mystery for over two hours.

The characters didn’t help either, especially Lockhart. He’s just not an interesting character at all, despite his flashbacks revealing some cool information about his background and why he came across as so cold and angry most of the time. It’s obvious the film was about capitalism and how it destroys and traps people who aren’t able to play fair and be competitive, leading to disastrous things when the truth comes out. And Lockhart obviously tried to live up to his father and failed since he was involved in a bit of malpractice that would get him in federal trouble. But I never felt his character changed all that much. Sure, he tried to save the patients and especially Hannah when he realized some evil stuff was going down. But he never came across as heroic or apologetic for his previous actions, making me wonder why I should care about what happens to him. Not all characters need to be likable. Some of the best protagonists are jerks. But at least be interesting to watch and if it wasn’t for DeHaan giving it his all, the story would have been a total fail. The doctor and Hannah each had a bit of substance, so their arcs made the narrative watchable. And the other supporting characters had mysteries that kept you watching to see how they would unfold. But Lockhart, especially in the last half, was kind of frustrating to watch. 

Overall, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a stylish throwback to more gothic horror that takes its inspiration from the original Universal horror films, Hammer, and even works from Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro. The film is a stunner, looking extremely polished and beautiful with great shots of the exterior German locations and a wonderful use of the interiors of a large castle that feels like its own character throughout the film’s runtime. However, the narrative is more hit than miss, clearly giving us the struggle of what capitalism and trying to compete in a money hungry world can do to a person both mentally, emotionally and especially physically if you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time. I thought the slow burn mystery building of the first half was solid stuff, but the film became repetitive and lost its way a bit as it neared the finish line [enjoyed the climax of the film though with its nod to HOUSE OF WAX and other classic horror of the same ilk]. While the acting was solid for the most part, the characterization of the main character was a bit frustrating since he wasn’t all that likable or interesting, never really changing too much from beginning to end. And that ending pretty much took the power away from a lot of the things established prior to it, making me wonder why the film didn’t end sooner than it did [the film was a bit long in the tooth to begin with anyway]. Still, A CURE FOR WELLNESS has enough going for it to make it a watch at least once if you’re into this type of Lovecraftian psychological horror-thriller like the much better SHUTTER ISLAND or even EYES WIDE SHUT.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015) - ** out of ****

Directed By: Paul McGuigan

Starring: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Charles Dance

Genre: Horror/Drama/Science Fiction/Thriller

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Plot: Eccentric scientist Victor Von Frankenstein creates a grotesque creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment.

Considering all the negative reviews I’ve heard and read about 2015’s VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN all these years, I was expecting an abomination close to 2014’s I, FRANKENSTEIN. And while VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN isn’t a good movie, it’s still a pretty decent watch to leave in the background to look at while you’re doing something else, I guess. It at least takes a familiar story and gives it a new perspective with some good performances, nice looking set pieces, and a commentary that argues which one should be favored - science or religion?

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN plays out as this romanticized prequel of sorts to the Mary Shelley story you already know. The film is told through the perspective of the hunchback that would be later named as Igor, being abused as he worked at the circus until he’s saved by Victor Frankenstein after Victor learns how savvy Igor is in terms of science and human anatomy. Together, they begin conducting experiments that would bring the dead to life through electricity - first with animals and then with an actual human being. Along the way, they both have to deal with a rival of Victor’s who wants the glory for himself, as well as an obsessed detective who’s so religious, he sees Victor’s act of science as the work of the Devil. The story itself isn’t fresh or all that interesting since we’ve seen this story done much better in many adaptations previous to this film. But having the narrative told through Igor’s eyes is an inspired one, as he sort of plays the role of the audience who sees Victor’s experiments as something he shouldn’t be doing since he’s power hungry and playing the role of God. But while he knows that, Igor gives us reasons as to why he supports his friend, wanting to save him from himself rather than judge or condemn him for the tragedy that’s he about to bring forth onto the world. It gives some character development for Igor, as well as for the other characters he interacts with. Seeing things through his perspective gives us interesting looks at Victor, who just wants to correct wrongs from his past by bringing balance back to the spectrum of life and death. I think it does play it a bit too safe, since it’s a bit biased in terms of Igor’s feelings towards Victor’s, never truly criticizing him. And we’re not really sure about Victor’s backstory or how he interacts with people outside of Igor’s eye, giving us only a small glimpse of the man’s full character. But it’s still a nice storytelling twist that hasn’t really been done for this story, so it gets respect from me for that.

Honestly, the strongest aspect of the narrative is the commentary. Igor and Victor are scientists who live in an era where such a thing is considered demonic and evil [considering the actions taken, there may be a point there], while the supposed good guys [the detectives chasing after them] believe in God so much, they’re willing to break laws and hurt others to make sure good wins out at the end. The debate works because both sides have their merits and their flaws. Victor wants to use science as a way to atone for his brother’s death and prove to his father he’s not a disappointment by bringing knowledge to those who may be ignorant to the subject. He obviously doesn’t believe in a higher power, feeling science holds the answers to life and death. He feels his brother’s death was because of something man did, not God, feeling science could correct the balance if someone was brought back from the dead. On the other side of the spectrum, you have Inspector Turpin - a man who is so obsessed in proving that Victor is a heretic and a vile criminal that he’s willing to put to cloud his moral judgment in order for his own personal beliefs to be the true law and order. Instead of following police law, his overly religious nature will cause him to do anything to prove what Victor doing is sinful, even if his own personal actions to make that happen could also be considered sinful by others. In many ways, their differences make them the same person. Both men are willing to prove the other wrong by doing things many would consider unlawful, feeling it would prove that their respective stances are right in the end. Maybe half of the film focuses on the ideology conflict, especially in the last half where events just blow out of proportion. But it works for a film like this and you wonder why the rest of the movie didn’t focus on this aspect more.

Instead we get this love angle between Igor and Lorelei, a former acrobat at his former circus troop who he saved after she had an accident during an act. While it’s novel to see Igor get some lovin’ from a beautiful and smart woman, it never really works because it’s just bland. It also feels like something a studio would force onto a project to cater to a certain demographic to raise profits, which obviously didn’t work for this movie. The romance subplot ruins the flow of the film, as well as take away a lot of the main focus of Victor’s descent into madness. There’s also many who believe there is a bromance between Victor and Igor that feels like a one-sided love story since Victor gets jealous and angry whenever Igor wants to spend time with Lorelei over him. I could see where they’re coming from, as Victor does seem more infatuated with Igor than vice-versa. But personally, I just saw it as a man who finally found a real friend and partner who believed in him and shared similar interests, not wanting him to spend time with someone else out of fear of losing him. It was more about possession rather than love for me, but I won’t criticize another person’s opinion if there is justification for it. I found the relationship between the two men more interesting myself.

The direction by Paul McGuigan is alright. The direction of the many set-pieces were nice and the creatures that do appear look pretty cool. The undead chimpanzee was less impressive than the actual Frankenstein monster at the end due to wonky CGI, but the Frankenstein monster seemed to be practical effects and looked awesome for the short time he appeared. The film isn’t scary and barely borders on horror really, making it a strange way to tell a Frankenstein story. And it’s not really heavy on action either, even though the film does focus more on that more than the horror aspect. I mean, when MGuigan is using slow motion during action sequences, it’s obvious the studio wants teens to fall head over heels for this film. It’s a nice, polished looking film that doesn’t do anything visually interesting other than that really. It’s fine and nothing more.

The acting is also pretty good, which is not surprising considering who’s starring in this. Even though the film is called VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, the film is more focused on Igor and Daniel Radcliffe is asked to carry the film. Radcliffe, even after all these years, is still trying to shed Harry Potter. But he does a good job here, even if he takes the script a bit too straightforward and seriously. The character feels like too much of a square [that’s screenwriter Max Landis’ - ugh - fault] and could have used a bit more color. Radcliffe didn’t have the freedom to put his personality into the role, which is a shame. But he’s still okay in the role. It doesn’t help that he’s outshone by James McAvoy as Victor Frankenstein, who gets the revel in the sinfulness and craziness of the situation. It’s obvious he’s enjoying the role, smiling and almost laughing throughout at the prospect of playing a mad scientist who won’t take no for an answer. He has a charisma that can’t be denied, managing to be both charming and disgusting at the same time. His manic performance brings life to the film, with McAvoy trying to elevate Radcliffe to his level but not really succeeding. I can see the two actors being a balance for each other, but McAvoy is just so much more interesting to watch that Radcliffe is really no match for him, despite playing the role as well as he could. Jessica Brown Findlay is also pretty solid as Lorelei, even though she doesn’t have much of a character. And I thought Andrew Scott was good as Inspector Turpin, believably growing crazier and obsessed as the film rolled on. McAvoy overshadowed all of them because he had a character he could bite his teeth into, but the other actors were fine.

Overall, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN is a better film than what its reputation may perceive it to be. I'm not saying that it's good or anything, but it has a fair amount of content that makes it worth at least a single watch if you have time. The narrative is generic and there’s a romantic subplot that does nothing for the film really, but the commentary about religion versus science is pretty interesting and allows one to decide which side to take on this particular matter. The direction by Paul McGuigan is fine, as he displays the set-pieces and monsters well [although they don’t appear for too long], but does the cliche slo-mo action sequences way too much. The acting is okay as well, with James McAvoy outshining everyone in the cast including co-star Daniel Radcliffe - who takes the role too seriously to make the audience have fun with the silly premise. I was expecting a lot worse considering many people told me to avoid it for years, but it was fine for what it was. I probably would never watch it again, but I have no regrets giving this movie a bit of my time.

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