9.10.2021

Double Feature: Candyman (1992) & Candyman (2021)

DIRECTED BY

Bernard Rose


STARRING

Virginia Madsen - Helen Lyle

Tony Todd - Candyman

Xander Berkeley - Trevor Lyle

Vanessa Estelle Williams - Anne-Marie McCoy

Kasi Lemmons - Bernadette “Bernie” Walsh

Gilbert Lewis - Det. Frank Valento

Ted Raimi - Billy


Genre - Horror/Supernatural


Running Time - 101 Minutes



PLOT

The Candyman (Tony Todd), a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student (Virginia Madsen) researching the monster’s myth.


REVIEW


Considering the 2021 reboot/sequel has been released to a ton of buzz [no pun intended], I figured it was the right time to revisit CANDYMAN. A movie from 1992 that’s now considered a modern horror classic, CANDYMAN was one of the first notable horror films with a story and villainous character that catered to people of color at the time. The film did well enough to produce two 90s sequels that aren’t as good as the original, as well as remain in the mind of one Jordan Peele to make him want to produce a modern version to remind everyone how important the Candyman lore is to a certain demographic of people who might not feel seriously represented a ton in the genre. With the new film being successful, I’m glad it gave me a chance to go back to a film I hadn’t watched in two decades. And surprisingly, 1992’s CANDYMAN holds up quite well even with its flaws.


During the 1990s, where horror was either self-referential or downplayed into procedural narratives so they could be classified as thrillers rather than the H-word, CANDYMAN went into a whole different direction by focusing on social and political issues that were big during the 1970s. While not making its social commentary as blatant as the 2021 film, the race and class issues do bubble underneath the surface ready to pop by the film’s end. This is pretty funny considering the source for CANDYMAN - a short story called The Forbidden by Clive Barker - took place in Liverpool rather than in Chicago. But the move to America heightens the tension between the character of Helen Lyle and the residents who respect and fear the Candyman legend, who judge her on her gender and especially her skin color. Even Helen’s friend, Bernadette, is seen as an outsider due to her good clothes and education, even though she’s black. The perceived privileged people are seen as egotistical and selfish, as they feel they can just use the resources from a perceived lower class location for their own gain, not considering the feelings of those who lived the Candyman legend. While Helen is considered the film’s protagonist, watching it again makes you question that entirely considering her skepticism creates all the trauma that plays out in the film, making everyone a victim alongside her indirectly.


This question is strengthened by the fact that the Candyman character has a ton of depth and character, making you feel justified for his actions more often than not. Unlike his horror contemporaries like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, Candyman carries himself with a sense of majesty that strikes both respect and fear in people. His backstory is super tragic, as he was punished for falling in love with the wrong person in the late 19th century, tormented with a hook hand and bees stinging him to death. In a way, Candyman is just a tool in how victims are chosen, as he has to be summoned by someone by saying his name in a reflection five times. If people would just keep their mouth shut and believe in silly urban legends and superstitions, all of these events could be avoided like the people in Cabrini-Green would like it to be. I never felt that Candyman was a villain like most horror villains are. He’s intelligent and only sacrifices people because idiots call out for him. Even when he kidnaps a baby as a sacrifice, it’s definitely for a specific reason. Sure, he does bad things like stealing kids and killing animals and humans. But in a way, it feels partly justified because it’s his revenge on how people had treated him while he was alive. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but you can understand where the character is coming from with his actions.



The only other character of note is Helen Lyle, who is researching the myth of Candyman for a thesis. At first, she just thinks the story is nonsense, feeling amused by the trepidation of many when it comes to Candyman. She even jokingly says his name five times, thinking it’s an urban legend like Bloody Mary. But as she digs deeper into her research, she realizes that she may have stepped into something she won’t be able to get out of, leading to a lot of unnecessary tragedy that could have been avoided if she had just left enough alone. While also intelligent, her school smarts blind her to the truth because she needs things to be proven in order to believe them. Her struggle for knowledge doesn’t mix well with the struggle of the Cabrini-Green residents who have to fight for money and food in order to survive. Helen opens up a form of Pandora’s Box, unleashing the truth about a myth many tried to keep hidden - especially with how she’s personally connected to the Candyman. 


While some of the characters have depth and the social and class subtext definitely adds atmosphere and tension to the movie, the screenplay also has to fall into Hollywood tropes that aren’t as interesting compared to everything else going on in the film. The main one is this subplot involving Helen and her professor husband, who just comes off so pretentious and snobbish that you wonder why a woman like Helen would want to be with him. Things are made worse when you see that he has a wandering eye for younger students and seems indifferent to his wife. My issue is that Helen’s relationship is the least interesting thing about CANDYMAN and only seems to be at play because of the film’s final scare. Helen’s friendship with Bernadette is more interesting because of their banter and the chemistry they share. There’s no chemistry at all with the husband character to the point where I actually forgot this subplot was even in the film.


Speaking of romance, there’s a subplot involving Candyman’s obsession with Helen, which may be linked to something in his past. While Helen does share more chemistry with the villain over her own husband, there’s no real development of their relationship and why it’s so important to Candyman. I mean, you understand why he’s so focused on Helen and you’re given enough story to figure it out. But it happens way too late in the film and it never really gets going because it’s straight on to the finale once the revelation pops up. It’s a shame because it’s an interesting story between the two characters that never gets its due for whatever reason.



Speaking of the finale, I think it’s kind of a mess honestly. Without spoiling things, I do feel certain moments and elements of what takes place do click very well. But it feels rushed and it’s not given enough time to really be fleshed out and given a chance to be more powerful than it’s unfortunately portrayed. I’ll say the same for the new film, but I feel both versions should have been longer movies. It would have allowed more breathing room for the finale and allowed it to build up to the interesting conclusion, instead of making it all feel rushed and forced. And that last jump scare is kind of silly in retrospect as well, even though I do enjoy the karma part of it. It’s a decent ending but it should have been a better one considering how strong the first two acts are before it. 


Bernard Rose does a wonderful job in both his writing and direction. He never shies away from the social commentary where it contains class and race issues, using them as a subtext to build up the Candyman legend and giving reasons as to why some fear him while others respect him. Also portraying an interracial relationship during a time where it was still considered taboo strengthens the story and commentary that goes with it.


As far as the visuals, Rose brings a lot of style and atmosphere to CANDYMAN. From swooping overhead shots, to moments where characters step through a hole that’s really the mouth of a Candyman mural, and to a great use of shadows and reflections to unease audiences, Rose nicely brings his script to visual life. There are standard jump scares here and there, but certain moments remain memorable nonetheless - including that bee scene where Candyman and Helen make out while the bugs are in their mouths. And there are some nice gory moments, including a decapitated dog and victims gutted by a hook. And whoever designed Candyman, with his coat and hook for a hand, deserves kudos. Just a nice looking film that creates a genuine mood. 



The acting is fine as well. Virginia Madsen does well as Helen, making us like her even though she has her flaws. She’s always an active character and remains resourceful to the very end, even when things are going badly for her due to her skepticism of the Candyman legend. Xander Berkeley, Vanessa Estelle Williams and Kasi Lemmons do well with their respective supporting roles, bringing out different elements of Helen’s personality. But the real star here is Tony Todd as Candyman, who gives the film’s villain a level of majesty and power that a lot of horror villains have no chance matching. His deep voice and towering presence makes Candyman a formidable and commanding foe who is still embraced after all these years. While you’re afraid of Todd in his mesmerizing performance, you’re also kind of rooting for him considering the tragic events of his past sort of justify his actions in a macabre way. Tony Todd is a horror legend for a reason and it’s mainly because of this movie.




DIRECTED BY

Nia DaCosta


STARRING

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II - Anthony McCoy

Teyonah Parris - Brianna Cartwright

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett - Troy Cartwright

Colman Domingo - William Burke

Vanessa Estette Williams - Anne-Marie McCoy

Rebecca Spence - Finley Stephens


Genre - Horror/Supernatural


Running Time - 91 Minutes



PLOT

Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. After a chance encounter with an old-timer (Colman Domingo) exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence.


REVIEW


One of the surprise successes during the pandemic box office has been this 2021 reboot/sequel of CANDYMAN. Produced by Jordan Peele and directed by Nia DaCosta [the first African-American female director to have a #1 movie at the box office], it was a heavily anticipated feature since the trailers were released. Unlike the two sequels that came after the original in the 1990s, this version of CANDYMAN seemed closer to the original in terms of the lore, atmosphere and tone. Having to wait for this film’s release for over a year [thanks COVID] was pretty rough, but once it was released, I was totally there for it. And while I did enjoy this new version of CANDYMAN, it still left me with conflicting feelings even now. 


I think the biggest takeaway from 2021’s CANDYMAN will be the film’s social commentary. Like with the original film, topics about class and especially race are brought up and play strongly within the crux of the narrative. However unlike the original, the commentary is so in one’s face that I’m not surprised some people criticized the film for being “too woke”. Now, I’m not in the “too woke” camp since the whole Black Lives Matter movement continues to be relevant, while gentrification of cities has been a major issue for many for years. I would think a movie like CANDYMAN would want to focus on these issues, considering most of the characters are people of color and have realistically dealt with this stuff. And a lot of the story involving the return of the Candyman character occurs because of these issues without the characters really realizing it. 


While it’s great that CANDYMAN is about something and has something important to say, I do think it becomes a bit too much by the film’s end. Police brutality and the corruption of power some police have over certain groups has been well documented and unfortunately still happens today. And gentrification has really changed what cities used to be by forcing lower-income people out to bring in those with better finances to boost the city’s economy, becoming a big issue for many. Candyman grows as a legend because of these incidents, becoming a mythical figure people fear and admire because it represents a certain time and topic that can’t be escaped or ignored. 


The final moments of the film seem too focused on the commentary, rather than just having the narrative flow organically to arrive at the same result. I don’t want to spoil things since the film is still fresh, but there is a moment involving a white police officer and a character of color that left me feeling uncomfortable - but not in the way the filmmakers probably intended. Instead of me thinking that it was a messed up situation [even though it was], it just felt really forced and unnecessary since the film never hides the subtext. It actually felt kind of desperate in a way, as if the ending wouldn’t have been strong enough without it. I just felt hammering the message when it didn’t need it was a detriment to an interesting finale that promises cool things to come. Considering the success of this film, I think those things are definitely on the way.



Speaking of the ending, the entire final act was way too rushed. It was jarring how it went from the second act to the third, as you felt that there was something missing in between for things to escalate as quickly as they do. I honestly felt that I had blinked and missed something because the transition didn’t really connect for me and certain things went down without a logical explanation for them. I usually wish films were shorter, but CANDYMAN [like the first film] is a movie that should have been 15 minutes longer just for things to make more sense.


As for the rest of the story, there’s more good than bad. I like the main characters since they come across as instantly likable, if not a bit naive to the legend that eventually haunts them. I really enjoy the scenes involving the art world, as it’s not only a throwback to the cool murals of the first film, but really conveys the commentary of the film without feeling forced. Anthony is inspired by the history of Cabrini-Green and the gentrification that changed the town, using his art as a way to express race and class issues. However the art critics see his work as trite and cliche, feeling Anthony is too literal with his so-called “dated” expression. The interesting part is that the critics aren’t people of color, ignorant to the fact that these issues haven’t gone away and somehow have gotten worse in the last few years. But since it doesn’t affect them directly, they don’t appreciate what Anthony is trying to sell. But when bad things go down after his art is displayed, Anthony becomes the talk of the town and the critics are interested again because death and macabre obviously sells. The art world represents how society plays out in the real world, which is a nice touch.


Even though the characters who chant “Candyman” because of Anthony’s exhibit are idiots for doing so, I like the events that play out because of it. Instead of the previous Candyman, who took his time with punishing his victims out of vengeance, this new Candyman instantly murders these idiot characters in vicious ways as punishment for the gentrification and social inequality that has grown since his last time being a force. This time around, the character seems to only hurt those who seem to deserve it on some level, letting others live in order for his message to be spread to gain power as some sort of balance. It’s an interesting take and makes Candyman more of a folk hero rather than a vengeful villain to many.


The body horror aspect is also well done, as it gives an excuse as to why there may have been multiple people who have been “Candyman” for various generations. When the character who is becoming Candyman learns of their true past [due to a cameo from a character in the first film], they understand why they were chosen for the role. I have a feeling another film may explore this new take a bit more, but I liked that maybe the Candyman that we know and love was just one of many to take over the role. While the body manipulation was probably painful, being chosen is a sign that this person was worthy to continue the revenge on those who continue to be socially unjust. 


That being said, certain characters don’t get enough depth for us to really care about them. And while certain backstories are introduced for the main characters - backstories that deserve exploration since they continue to haunt the present day - they’re either given exposition later on the film, or not brought up again like it didn’t matter in the first place. It almost felt like these subplots were edited on purpose for a Director’s Cut or deleted scenes for a blu-ray release. Again, CANDYMAN should have been longer than it was. 



Nia DaCosta does a great job visualizing the story she co-wrote with Jordan Peele, making one forget those other sequels and remind audiences why the Candyman character resonated to begin with almost thirty years ago. The film is super polished and given a lot of style. DaCosta focuses a lot on mirrors and reflections throughout the film, wanting the audience to see if Candyman will appear when you least expect him through the use of light and shadow. The elevator that was made of mirrors was a really nice touch that created a creepy atmosphere that I appreciated. The death scenes are surprisingly taking place mostly offscreen, despite the first film having no issue showing the violence. We get hook stabbings and bleeding people being dragged across floors by an invisible force. We have one person, in an extreme long shot, thrown against a penthouse window while being murdered by someone invisible. And a cool moment in a school bathroom involving the murder of schoolgirls seen underneath a toilet stall as a waterfall of blood meets the floor. I still think the ending is rushed, but the visuals that take place during the final act are nicely shot and save it from being a total fail. And I loved the pop-up animations that recalled the events of the first film and Candyman’s past history. I thought those scenes were extremely cool. I look forward to seeing what DaCosta does in the future.


The acting is probably the best thing about the CANDYMAN reboot/sequel. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has had quite a career in the last few years and he continues to be fantastic as Anthony. Dude is incredibly charismatic and conveys Anthony’s struggle in a very human way while living in a supernatural world. He starts off as cool, calculated and effortlessly confident. But when the events of Candyman begin to haunt him in ways he doesn’t understand, his performance becomes more manic and paranoid. I believe him all the way and his performance elevates a script that has a lot to be desired. Teyonah Parris is also very good as Brianna, doing the best that she can with what she’s given to do. Her character is very interesting and Parris plays it to the best of her ability. But the script kind of forgets her along the way until the last act, where she becomes a very important part. She’s too good to be on the sidelines. Same goes to Colman Domingo as William Burke, who does what he can with his interesting character but doesn’t get a whole lot to do until the very end. He’s mainly there for exposition but Colman does it so well that you’re invested in what he’s saying anyway. It was also nice to see Vanessa Williams back, even though her appearance was much shorter than I had expected considering her billing. And I thought Nathan Stewart-Jarrett was fine as Troy, who was mainly used as comic relief. Plus, it’s always great having Tony Todd back in any capacity. It was a really cool cast, but the script wasn’t developed enough to give the actors more to do.


THE FINAL HOWL


I enjoyed both the 1992 and 2021 versions of CANDYMAN, flaws and all. While the 1992 film has its share of problems, especially in its final act, the Candyman character is so iconic due to the performance of Tony Todd that it’s easy to see why many consider the film a modern horror classic. Bernard Rose’s writing and direction are very strong, creating atmosphere and crafting an interesting lore from Clive Barker’s short story. And I appreciated the use of social commentary on class, race and economic issues that aren’t in one’s face all that much, letting it remain subtext for a cool narrative that kind of loses its way near the end.


The 2021 film isn’t as good, but it’s still mostly solid in what it’s trying to accomplish. While I don’t think it’s a “woke” film like many out there, I do feel the social commentary on race and gentrification [which I appreciate] tends to overshadow the horror narrative at times, especially at the end where the message felt forced and left me feeling a certain way because it wasn’t necessary. And the film is too short to allow characters and their backstories to be explored and given much needed depth to make the return of Candyman feel more powerful. That being said, it’s great having the horror icon back and the return is done pretty well through the use of body horror and camera tricks that create creepy moments and a nice atmosphere throughout. Nia DaCosta’s direction is very confident and strong, adding her own flavor to what’s been presented before with interesting uses of art, shadows, light, and mirrors. Out of the two films, the acting is strongest in this film - with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II continuing his strong career as the troubled Anthony. He elevates a script that should have been better, keeping us watching from beginning to end with his captivating performance.


Overall, I think both films are definitely worth a watch. The first one is a must for any horror fan, while the 2021 film is definitely better than any of the sequels and feels like a rightful continuation of the original story. 



SCORE


CANDYMAN (1992)

3 Howls Outta 4 

(8/10)


CANDYMAN (2021)

3 Howls Outta 4

(7/10)




7.17.2021

Army of the Dead (2021)

DIRECTED BY

Zack Snyder


STARRING

Dave Bautista - Scott Ward

Ella Purnell - Kate Ward

Omari Hardwick - Vanderohe

Ana de la Reguera - Maria Cruz

Tig Notoro - Marianne Peters

Theo Rossi - Burt Cummings

Matthias Schweighofer - Ludwig Dieter

Nora Arnezeder - Lily

Hiroyuki Sanada - Bly Tanaka

Raul Castillo - Mikey Guzman

Garret Dillahunt - Martin

Richard Cetrone - Zeus

Athena Perample - The Queen


Genre: Horror/Action/Crime/Zombies


Running Time: 148 Minutes



PLOT

Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble: venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.


REVIEW


ARMY OF THE DEAD
, one of 2021’s most anticipated films, had a lot of things going for it while it’s release was hyped. The main one was director Zack Snyder, who many felt was disrespected by Warner Bros. over his JUSTICE LEAGUE build and how it all turned out. With personal reasons and Joss Whedon causing a media controversy over the handling of the project, many supported Snyder and wanted to see his version of the film. Over many months of questioning whether The Snyder Cut even existed, Snyder himself confirmed it and released his 4-hour version of JUSTICE LEAGUE in March 2021 on HBO Max. It was a drastic improvement over the theatrical version, making many who disliked Snyder over his recent films turn around on their opinion as they rooted for the guy when it came to future projects.


One of those projects ended up being ARMY OF THE DEAD - a sort of return to roots for Snyder since his first big success was 2004’s remake of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Starring Dave Bautista and getting an exclusive deal from Netflix to stream to millions of homes, there was a lot of goodwill when it came to the film’s release. Unfortunately, the praise for JUSTICE LEAGUE didn’t extend to ARMY OF THE DEAD. While some did enjoy the film, a majority have been in the middle or just have a dislike for the film. Personally, I’m on the fence when it comes to this movie, as it has some really cool things going for it. But I do have major issues with the film as well, mainly when it comes to Zack Snyder himself.


Let’s get the good stuff out of the way. The premise for ARMY OF THE DEAD is pretty great. Mixing a zombie movie with a heist film is a cool combination and actually creates some genuinely tense moments in the final half of the film. Characters have a purpose in confronting these zombies, considering they’ll earn millions of dollars if they’re successful with the heist. And there’s obvious drama due to outside forces hoping to make sure the heist doesn’t happen as it was planned. This kind of plot might make for a better video game than a movie, but I liked that Snyder wanted to freshen things up within the genre considering a ton of zombie films just want to rehash the popularity of The Walking Dead.


I also appreciated this story element involving these Alpha Zombies. Apparently, these are members of the undead that have survived long enough to evolve into intelligent creatures who have super strength and agility to fend off foes. There’s even an Alpha Tiger guarding their territory. The Alphas also created their own kingdom, even crowning a King and Queen to lead them. While I wish the film had done more to explain how they came to be and done more to make them a bigger deal until the final act, I really liked this new lore. I think these characters are receiving their own film or special later in the year, so I’m looking forward to learning more about their story.



I thought some of the shots were nice and/or interesting, while the action and gore aspects were done well. ARMY OF THE DEAD has a lot of violence going on, including gun fights, zombie biting, explosions, objects impaling various body parts and even decapitations. And the zombie make up looked really cool, similar to the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. I liked that some of the zombies looked different from others, including the return of a zombie fetus, as well as a zombie cyborg which I wanted to see more of. There was obvious thought put into the creatures, which I appreciated.


And I didn’t hate the acting either. Dave Bautista continues his winning streak in a lead role, using his charisma and easy presence to remain a captivating wrestler-turned-actor to watch. I thought Omari Hardwick was a bad ass as the enforcer of the group, while Matthias Schweighofer was more hit than miss as the comic relief safe cracker. Even Theo Rossi and Garret Dillahunt were very good as the love-to-hate characters who had their own cruel agendas. And I thought Snyder did a seamless job replacing Chris D’Elia [who was fired over sexual assault accusations] with Tig Notoro. The fact that none of the actors really interacted with Notoro since her parts were added after the fact is pretty amazing. I find it more interesting than the film itself and Snyder and Notoro should be commended for doing a great job when it came to that. Overall, I think there may have been too many actors and characters in this film that weren’t zombies, but the actors were fine in their respective roles.


The main issue with ARMY OF THE DEAD really stems from the screenplay. Personally, I found the film to have too much going on for its own good, making the movie feel like three different films in one for no real reason. We have the character drama, especially between Scott and Kate Ward’s father-daughter feud. We have the heist subplot that ends up being really predictable if you’ve seen ALIENS, which a lot of the narrative was based on. In fact, this took away a lot of tension from the film. We also have the Alpha Zombies stuff that needs to be explored more. It felt like Snyder crammed a trilogy in a 148 minute film when you could have honestly spread this out and done three cool films that all felt different from the other. The first film could have been the start of the zombie apocalypse itself, which would have helped build characters and defined their relationships. The second could have been the heist and Alpha Zombie deal. And the third could have been the aftermath, which ARMY OF THE DEAD seems to set up with its final reveal. This would have helped the pacing. This would have helped the story. This would have helped the budget, as less to focus on would have made the movie look way better than it does.


For example, Kate Ward is a really annoying character and seems to be inserted in the heist plot line for unnecessary drama that could have been saved for something else. She hates her father, but uses him anyway to get what she wants. She doesn’t mind risking lives of others to save a trio of women who abandoned their children to escape the quarantine area for a “better life”. And when she goes rogue to save these women during a heist that has to be done in 90 minutes because a bomb is going to drop in the area, she gets people killed for her selfishness. All she does is play the moral police, when her morals don’t matter during a zombie apocalypse. 



There’s also the Martin character, who is appointed by Bly Tanaka [the man ordering this Vegas heist] to join the team as a liaison inside the area to make it easier to find the safe with the millions of dollars. A character hired by a suspicious rich person to join a group of soldiers to lead them to success - what can go wrong?? Not only is he predictable as a foil, but there’s really no tension or suspense when it comes to reveal as he quickly reveals himself to certain team members to create drama. His plan is also pretty dumb because Martin has his own specific orders that don’t involve the rest of the team, not realizing that he doesn’t have a way to get back to safety once he accomplishes it away from the others. So what’s the point of all this? I didn’t mind the character all that much, but his motivations were pretty weak and lacking in terms of advance planning. 


In fact, a lot of the characters don’t have much motivation besides getting money from this heist. Relationships are briefly established but nothing is really done to make the audience care. I had no idea Scott and Maria were an item until she vents about it near the end of the film. I just figured they had a platonic relationship, but the film proved me wrong. Kate’s loyalty to finding Geeta is empty because nothing in the film suggests that they’re best friends, lovers, or anything substantial that would make Kate risk her life and the lives of others to find this woman. Maybe she was triggered by abandoned children [due to her feelings of abandonment by Scott], but that feels like a real stretch to deal with zombies over. I thought the Alpha King and Queen had a more fleshed out relationship and all they did was growl at each other. And I thought Vanderohe and Ludwig Dieter had one of the better relationships, as it organically grew from two people who didn’t care for the other into a respectful friendship between two men who used their respective brawn and brains to try to survive this heist. It makes what happens in the final act mean a bit more. The film could have used more of that, instead of just having characters bicker at each other while just walking around a casino for minutes on end.


I also had issues with the look of the film. For a movie that costs about $90 million, it looks pretty cheap. It was like looking at actors doing their thing in front of a green screen and not in the good Robert Rodriguez sort of way. It wasn’t until after the fact that I learned Zack Snyder himself was both the director and cinematographer of ARMY OF THE DEAD, which probably explains a lot about the film’s visuals. While some shots looked cool and the action was filmed well, it seems like Snyder had too much on his plate with this one. He probably should have let someone else take over the cinematography to make this film look a little better. I’ve seen worse looking films obviously, but this is probably near the bottom in terms of Synder’s films on a visual level. 


THE FINAL HOWL


Despite being hyped up for this one after enjoying his version of JUSTICE LEAGUE months prior, I ended up feeling disappointed by Zack Snyder’s ARMY OF THE DEAD - a film that has a lot going on and nothing going on all at once. While having a great heist premise and some cool story elements like the idea of Alpha Zombies ruling a territory, the rest of the narrative seems rushed. The film doesn’t allow much character development beyond the archetypes, as a lot of the plot elements could have been spread into two or three films rather than crammed into a 2.5 hour movie. And while some of Snyder’s shots are cool and interesting, the overall look of the film looks cheaper than would be believed considering the movie’s $90 million budget. However, the zombies look and act cool. The gore and action are definitely highlights and will keep audiences somewhat invested. And I had no real issues with the acting, carried quite well by a game Dave Bautista. And that great use of CGI in replacing Chris D’Elia [due to sexual assault accusations] with Tig Notoro was pretty seamless, as I didn’t even notice it until after the fact. Zack Snyder fans and probably most zombie fans will get a kick out of ARMY OF THE DEAD probably for the majority of the visuals alone. But if you’re looking for a story with likable characters and George A. Romero social commentary to elevate a standard zombie action flick, these two-plus hours might not be worth investing in unless you have a lot of time to fill.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4




7.10.2021

The Dead Don't Die (2019)

DIRECTED BY

Jim Jarmusch


STARRING

Bill Murray - Chief Cliff Robertson

Adam Driver - Officer Ronnie Peterson

Tilda Swinton - Zelda Winston

Chloe Sevigny - Officer Mindy Morrison

Steve Buscemi - Farmer Frank Miller

Danny Glover - Hank Thompson

Caleb Landry Jones - Bobby Wiggins

Rosie Perez - Posie Juarez

Iggy Pop - Male Coffee Zombie

Larry Fessenden - Danny Perkins

Tom Waits - Hermit Bob

Selena Gomez - Zoe

RZA - Dean

Carol Kane - Mallory O'Brien

Sara Driver - Female Coffee Zombie


Genre: Horror/Comedy/Zombies


Running Time: 104 Minutes




PLOT

In a small peaceful town, zombies suddenly rise to terrorize the town. Now three bespectacled police officers and a strange Scottish morgue expert must band together to defeat the undead.


REVIEW


2019’s THE DEAD DON’T DIE was a film I had been eager to watch for the past two years since I watched the trailer in theaters. The vibe of the trailer reminded me of a quirkier version of ZOMBIELAND, just with a mega all-star cast that only made me anticipate the project more. However when the reviews started coming out, it was a really mixed bag leading towards more negative than power. After that, I sort of put the film in my mental queue to watch it whenever I had the chance. With the film leaving HBO Max, I decided to finally check it out and see if it was worth the wait. While the film has its moments and is well made, I unfortunately couldn’t help but feel disappointed by this zombie-comedy overall.


As a fan of Jim Jarmusch’s 2013 vampire flick ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, I was kind of expecting that kind of storytelling but with zombies. Instead, I got a film loaded with social and political commentary told through meta-jokes that felt like random skits tied together by a zombie subplot. Having commentary in a zombie movie is nothing new. And zombie comedies have been around for a long time with varied success. But the way THE DEAD DON’T DIE presented it was head scratching because the social commentary didn’t land as hard as it should have. Plus, the film was at times amusing but never really laugh-out funny. And sometimes the jokes would land but then keep going with lesser impact for whatever reason. 


For example, there’s this scene where the first zombie victims are found by the local police. The sheriff enters first to see the corpse and has a bad reaction to what he sees. Then his deputy shows up, looks at the body and makes a dry comment about how disgusting it is. Then their female partner enters last and pretty much gags at the sight. Why not just have them all see the body at the same time and react to it the same way at the same time? The impact loses its power after each time. A lot of the jokes tend to do that in this film, as if to fill time rather than tell a story.


Another example is Sturgill Simpson’s “The Dead Don’t Die” theme song. I’m not sure how many times the film plays the song, but it’s so many times that I ended up disliking the song by the time the film was over. It works the first time it’s played because the song is extremely meta. But then characters continue to play it as if it’s the only song in existence and loses all of its power. Not sure what Jarmusch was thinking here.



We also have zombies who rise from their graves and utter random words, like “wifi”, “free cable”, “coffee” and “Xanax”. This is an obvious social commentary on how we, as a society, are totally reliant on technology or any time of pill or drink that will keep us functioning. The first time the zombies say these things, it’s cute. But it continues and it’s like - I get it. You can stop now and just tell a narrative that will make me want to keep watching. This commentary on our materialism isn’t new anyway. George A. Romero did it better in 1978’s DAWN OF THE DEAD because it was subtle. The zombies, in that film, roamed back towards the local mall because they wanted to be in a familiar place from their living years. The characters have like a five minute conversation about it and move on. Romero didn’t try to hammer it into our skulls because he let the story explore it in an organic way. THE DEAD DON’T DIE doesn’t have any of that.


Same goes with political commentary, which is a wasted opportunity in so many ways. One of the characters wears a red cap that reads “Keep America White Again” - obviously a jab towards the past few years of Trumpism. But nothing is really done with this aspect because the character is never given an opportunity to. He’s best friends with a black person, which I guess is supposed to be ironic and hypocritical. And then later on, a black zombie invades his home and this character blows his head off with a shotgun, commenting on how weird that was. It’s like, what’s the point of this red cap deal if you’re not going to go all the way with it. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable topic and it will definitely piss off half the audience. But it’s barely a gag and not even a real character trait. It left me wondering what was the point of it all. 


That being said, I thought some of the meta jokes were pretty funny. Adam Driver’s character having a STAR WARS keychain is cute, due to how that franchise made his career. Adam Driver constantly telling everyone that “It’s not going to end well,” is funny because he later reveals he read the script while clueless Bill Murray, not knowing how the film would end, gets upset that Jim Jarmusch wouldn’t let him know despite their long working history together. Plus, having Tilda Swinton play a weird character is meta in itself since that seems to be something some audiences and critics criticize her for. So when the jokes work, they really work. Unfortunately, the film seems too up its ass to hit a home run each time.



Jim Jarmusch is a good director for the most part and he visualizes THE DEAD DON’T DIE in a pleasing way. The film is paced well and the edits and transitions between characters dealing with their own zombie crisis is done nicely. The zombies are shot really well, looking pretty cool and similar to The Walking Dead. The death scenes and special effects are also well done. We get the usual flesh eating, a shotgun point blank to the head that creates a cool explosion and a bunch of decapitations via blades or swords. The cool smoky-ash effect after the zombies are taken care of is a nice detail that I haven’t seen done in a zombie movie before. I wish the script was stronger because visually, the film is pretty damn good.


The actors also keep this film afloat. Unfortunately, there’s so many of them that most don’t get a whole lot to do in the movie. It’s nice to see Selena Gomez in a movie, sure. But she doesn’t have anything to do besides be the subject of a slightly racist joke and part of the film’s body count. I can say that about a lot of the cast. As for the standouts, Bill Murray does his normal schtick and it works as the film’s sheriff, while Driver gets to have more fun as the dry deputy who has strange reactions to everything around him. Chloe Savigny is a mixed bag for me, as she seemed to be a hybrid of both the Murray and Driver characters but without the charm or delivery. I thought Tilda Swinton was an oddly charming delight as a Scottish mortician who can handle a samurai sword like no one’s business. And Steve Bucsemi, Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones get their moments to shine when they do appear. And it was definitely cool to spot cameos like Iggy Pop and Carol Kane as zombies. It’s definitely an awesome cast of actors and singers, but most of them are glorified cameos more than anything else. 


THE FINAL HOWL


I was pretty disappointed with THE DEAD DON’T DIE - which I entirely blame on the marketing due to it portraying the film as a ZOMBIELAND type of comedy when it’s anything but. It also doesn’t help that the screenplay feels like a bunch of loosely connected skits that are trying too hard to be funny, only hitting the mark only some of the time. Some of the meta jokes work, especially in the last half of the film. And some of the dialogue and events in the film are genuinely chuckle worthy. But sometimes the jokes run way too long, making them lose all impact. And the social and political commentary is expected, but it was expressed a lot better in George A. Romero films and other popular zombie films that understood how to balance the message within the actual narrative. THE DEAD DON’T DIE has something to say, but does it in the laziest manner possible, which is disappointing.


Besides that, I felt the direction by Jim Jarmusch was mostly well done as the film flowed pretty well and looked pretty polished. The zombie make up looked alright and the gore effects were nicely done and added a much needed punch towards the end of the film. And the acting is great, especially by Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Tilda Swinton. But with so many celebrities in one film, it’s hard for everyone to get a chance to shine. Felt like a marketing ploy to have all these stars in one movie, which worked since that was one of the reasons I wanted to see this. But I’d just stick with RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD or even SHAUN OF THE DEAD for your zombie-comedy needs, unless you’re a Jim Jarmusch fan and want to see his take on a zombie flick. Unfortunately, he made a product that felt as lifeless as the zombies themselves for the most part.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4




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