Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Neon Demon

* spoilers *

The Neon Demon is a beautiful, surreal film from Nicolas Winding Refn. Every piece of set, clothing, makeup, and lighting is carefully designed and oftentimes surreal. The film is a feast for the eyes, finding beauty in the mundane as well as in the high fashion world of modelling. The real world scenes tend to move the plot forward and the eerily beautiful fashion scenes slow the film to showcase the gorgeous images. The fashion plateaux are sometimes completely still until we see the full scene and then the action starts up. The pace is deliberate and slow. The sparse dialogue and basic story allow the visuals to take precedence. Along with the visuals, the music also plays a significant role. The opening credits of the film feature neon colors and Cliff Martinez's synthetic 80's inspired score. It's very effective in setting the tone of the film.

Jesse, a fresh faced southern girl, comes to LA alone with big dreams. She immediately books job after job with photographers and designers, much to the chagrin of more experienced models. Her wide eyed, innocent look along with her striking beauty cause others to be attracted to her, jealous of her, or inspired by her. Elle Fanning portrays Jesse as vapid, without much personality, but it works since others project their own wants and emotions onto her. Her journey through the film is her transformation from innocent ingenue to self aware powerhouse. Early on, her power is symbolized by a cougar breaks into her room. She fears it at first, but that changes over the course of the film. At the beginning, she relies on agents, photographers, and designers to validate her talents and beauty until she's chosen to close the show of a famous designer. She realizes that their desire and envy of her looks can be used to her advantage. This transformation is symbolized with a lengthy scene of Jesse in the finale gown faced with a trio of blue upside down triangles. At first, she looks scared and meek, but then they turn red. Her entire demeanor changes. Her eyes take on a cunning light and she presents herself as more sexual. She realizes she has all the power in this situation and recognizes her capacity for greatness.

Unfortunately, Jesse never gets to take advantage of that power. At every turn, various men in positions of power have the opportunity to exploit or abuse her. These situations are teased over and over, but never come to fruition. The photographers and designers are inspired by her, but treat her decently. Keanu Reeves as the motel manager also seemed creepy and definitely had anger issues, but he just wanted to run his motel and say rude things to people. The real danger comes from the women around her. Ruby is the first person Jesse meets in LA and they become fast friends. However, when Ruby tries to force herself on Jesse and is soundly rejected, she joins forces with the other two models who hate Jesse: Gigi and Sarah. Both of them were rejected and humiliated by industry professionals while being compared to Jesse, which is even more insulting because they all look very similar: blonde, fair skin, and blue eyes. (Even in the marketing, I mistook the other actresses for Elle Fanning.) Although they were quick to blatantly show their animosity, I didn't recognize them as a true threat maybe because their behavior is expected or my own unconscious sexism. This shows how the young women in the fashion industry aren't only under threat of those in power, but those that could benefit from their fall and those who can't stand becoming obsolete over newcomers.

The last part of the film is where the true horror is. One particular scene had people walking out, which is graphic and disturbing. While I thought it was largely unnecessary, we see how lonely Ruby is and how unhinged she is at that point. Right when Jesse is at the apex of her journey, the other girls attack her and consume her, showing physically the much less violent actions of those trying to stay relevant in looks based industries. I'm disappointed this was done offscreen. We see the aftermath as they are all washing off the blood. With Ruby, it comes off as an Elizabeth Bathory bath, but with Gigi and Sarah, it seems more like a bad softcore porn scene with blood added. The next day, Gigi and Sarah go to a photoshoot where they are treated just like Jesse. This is a hint of supernatural as they absorbed Jesse's magnetism and power by consuming her. Sarah thrives and revels in the attention while Gigi can't handle it. Gigi's meltdown scene is darkly humorous and disgusting, but shows how not all can stomach the cutthroat nature of the fashion industry. Ruby, on the other hand, cleans up the mess, digs a grave, and then menstruates everywhere? This baffling scene could mean anything. My inner reading says she does this to women periodically over the years in order to stay young and beautiful since she had the Elizabeth Bathory imagery earlier in the film. It also meshes with the overall theme of the fashion industry as a machine that uses and abuses women, pitting them against each other for supremacy.

The Neon Demon is a visually gorgeous film that moves slowly and methodically. It has shades of Black Swan, Suspiria, and Starry Eyes but stays wholly unique. Refn's singular style sets it apart and all of the performances are dedicated no matter how crazy or subdued the actions are. It's not a perfect film as some aspects are slightly disappointing. However, The Neon Demon is one of the most unique films in theaters. It pushes boundaries and frankly won't sit well with mainstream audiences with its slow pace and extreme ending. I recommend seeing it in theaters, especially if you want to see more out of the box horror in the future.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hardcore Henry

Henry was killed and then revived by his brilliant wife Estelle, but he has no memory of his life and can't speak. Just as she and her team are about to install his voice, Akan, a telekinetic psychopath, attacks and claims Estelle's research as their own. They make a daring escape, but she is kidnapped after a fiery crash landing. Henry vows to rescue her from Akan's disgusting clutches with the help of Jimmy, another enemy of Akan's with many copies of himself.

I wasn't expecting a lot from Hardcore Henry. The first person point of view looked interesting, but I fully expected a fairly mindless action film. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this film is well constructed and has everything I enjoy. It had me at the beginning credits where slow motion attacks are shown super close with a variety of weapons and their bloody aftermath. There's no preamble or explanation to the situation or world in the film. We know just as much as Henry knows which isn't much. Although he doesn't remember anything from before he woke up, he makes split second moral decisions, choosing to only attack those attacking him and trying his best to minimize civilian injuries and casualties. The villains are countless, led by Akan, a very easy to hate, disgusting, evil villain. The film goes breakneck speed with tons of violence, blood, gore, explosions, and tons of guns. The first person view can be disorienting, but it puts the audience right in the middle of the action.

Many of my favorite parts of the film are thanks to Jimmy, a paraplegic genius. He made numerous robot copies of himself that he controls, but he imbues with different personalities: nonviolent hippie Jimmy, punk rocker Jimmy, homeless drunk Jimmy, secret agent Jimmy, guerrilla warfare Jimmy, proper English World War II colonel Jimmy, coke and women enthusiast Jimmy, computer nerd Jimmy, and Frank Sinatra-esque Jimmy. He gives us a strong character to follow and a lot of the humor that Henry can't give us because we can't see him and he can't speak. In the middle of this tense situation with countless goons and violence, he breaks out into song and dance with his various avatars. He made me laugh a lot even before that, which breaks up the gloom and doom of the main plot.

I saw Hardcore Henry two times, one day apart in the theater because it was the most fun I had in the theater all year. All of my questions and concerns about the plot are addressed in the film except for one: how Akan got his power. This is covered in a graphic novel prequel. I can't stress enough how well made this is. The action flows seamlessly and the film is fast paced. You will never be bored and the ending is incredibly satisfying. This film didn't do well in the box office, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a cult following in the future and maybe a sequel (although I think it's a good stand alone).

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Movie Mini-reviews: The Nice Guys and The Huntsman: Winter's War

The Nice Guys

Holland March, an alcoholic private eye, is on the case to find a woman's famous daughter Misty Mountains. Actually, everyone knows that Misty's dead, but missing girl Amelia is somehow involved so he takes the case. Jackson Healy, professional hired muscle, was hired by Amelia to get March off her case. He thought it was done, but thugs come to his house trying to find her. He teams up with March to crack the case.

I didn't think I would like The Nice Guys because I'm not usually interested in films set in the 70's or the main actors. However, the trailers were pretty hilarious and the humor throughout the film is surprisingly dark. Russell Crowe is sardonic and more serious while Ryan Gosling is overreacting constantly and hysterical. They make a fun team with their bumbling, poor decision making, and jokes at each other's expense yet somehow actually finding evidence. Over the course of the film, they each improve some aspect of their lives (Holland by cutting way back on drinking and Healy by doing something significant) and become friends. The 70's setting gives the ridiculous opulence of the upper class and the rabid (also ridiculous) indignance of the hippies and college students. The only thing I had a problem with was a few one liners from March's precocious daughter. Some of them fell flat, but other than that, the film was Overall, The Nice Guys is a fun comedy open for a sequel that I hope gets made.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

The Huntsman: Winter's War

Eric and Sara were trained to be in Snow Queen Freya's army. The only rule she had was to never love (including familial, friendship, or romantic). Of course they do and get caught. Eric sees Sara murdered before falling in a river, where he becomes the grumpy guy seen in Snow White and the Huntsman. Seven years after Ravenna's death, he discovers she's still alive and she saw him abandoning her to be imprisoned for years. They have to team up in order to find and destroy Ravenna's evil mirror.

The Huntsman: Winter's War is both a prequel and sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. I know it didn't do well in the box office, but I found it to be an entertaining fantasy film. It took everything I hated from the first film (Snow White/ Kristen one expression Stewart) and added a Snow Queen sister for Ravenna. The film has a lot going for it. The plot is pretty standard: quest for evil mystical item, rekindle the love between Eric and Sara, and then the final battle between good and evil. All of the actors in the film are pretty stellar. They ham it up when needed and give emotional gravitas when needed. Chris Hemsworth is endearing and charismatic as the lead. Charlize Theron reprises her role as the deliciously evil Ravenna. Emily Blunt is Freya whose story is tragic and powers are formidable. The visuals are beautiful and well done. The costumes in particular are gorgeous and I would watch a ton more movies just to see more gorgeous evil queen dresses. The only part I found lacking was the goblins. Their design defied logic and the scene went on a bit long. Other than that, the film was fun. Don't go in expecting something profound and you won't be disappointed.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Lobster

The Lobster features a bizarre dystopian world where being single is banned. The police are constantly vigilant in seeking single people to send to the hotel to be rehabilitated back into a relationship. given 45 days to fall in love or they will be turned into the animal of their choice. They have the opportunity to extend their stay by tranquilizing renegade loners on the run and bringing them back to the hotel. The rules are specific and the punishment for not following them proves to be surprisingly brutal. Some rules require attendance at awkward dances and viewing of pro-couple propaganda skits, showing how life as a single person is awful. Other rules ramp up the sexual desire without release to torture the residents into getting into a relationship. The only consequence we see for an infraction is when a man is forced to put his hand in a toaster and hold it there. It's only the beginning of the unexpectedly horrific aspects of the film.

Enter David. He arrives at the hotel with his brother, who went through the same program and was turned into a dog. After a while, he decides to lie as much as required to get an appropriate mate and leave, but it doesn't turn out exactly as he expected. I didn't like David through the first half of the movie because he was a sad sack person and didn't help a woman who literally told him she was going to commit suicide if she didn't find someone. He didn't have to date her, but maybe tell someone about it before it was too late. Everyone in the film finds one thing to have in common with their partner even if it's imagined. The idea that people can have different interests or more profound connections than being near-sighted or getting nosebleeds frequently is unheard of. I understand the lying because who wants to be turned into an animal? However, he really chose the wrong person. This woman is heartless and makes no apologies for it. She cleverly games the system by being the best at tranquilizing singles and keeps adding days to her stay. He pretends to be just as heartless, but regrets it when she commits a horrific and violent act to test his heartlessness.

When their relationship ends, David flees to the loners in the woods. Although they are on the outskirts of society and live in the wild, they also have their strict rules that have severe consequences. We only see the consequence of one relatively minor infraction and it's not pretty. Like the hotel, the loners have their required uniform. Unlike them, loners can stay as long as they want, take part in solitary activities, and dig their own grave since no else will do it for them. Their main rule is to never fall in love, but of course David falls in love with a woman who is also short-sighted. They build a relationship of adorable wordless communication in an effort to keep their relationship from the others. Both factions are incredibly toxic by setting rigid rules and take away choice from their members.

The Lobster is a hilarious black comedy that has some sharp things to say about our couple obsessed world. I laughed out loud many times, but the film turns a sharp corner into the very uncomfortable and disturbing a few times. It even borders into horror territory at times, especially a particularly tense scene at the very end of the film. The earnest way and flat way everyone speaks is the cherry on top of the absurdist sundae. The film adeptly changes tone when needed. The humor doesn't in any way lesson the horror.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Square Root of Summer

Margot (Gottie) Oppenheimer has lost a lot lately. Her mother died soon after her birth. Almost a year ago, her hippie grandfather Grey died and at the same time, her first relationship with Jason ended as well. She's been isolating herself from just about everyone and is just starting to reconnect. Coincidentally, her childhood friend Thomas is returning to live at her house after a falling out with his father. Gottie doesn't know how to feel as the anniversary of her grandfather's death looms and her friend who never wrote her is set to return. Then Gottie notices that she's losing time as she slips into past memories and then returns sometimes hours later with no memory of what she did in the present. What's happening?

Gottie has had an emotional year, spent mostly keeping to herself. She has blocked out her best friend and her family as she does the least possible to avoid thinking about her grandfather and her ex-boyfriend. A few things make her stand out from the typical protagonist. She excels at math and science, which is refreshing. Her father is German, so many German words are bandied about and German recipes are enjoyed. I had to look up some words, but most were apparent in context. Gottie isn't perfect and makes numerous conscious and unconscious mistakes throughout the story. One thing I particularly liked was that she had sex with her ex-boyfriend, but didn't regret it. He was a jerk to keep it a secret from everyone and for the way he treated her after Grey died, but she was in love and doesn't regret her decision. Her relationship with Thomas is sweet and like they picked up where they left off so long ago. After an initial awkwardness, it was easy to get back into their friendship and something more as they caught up.

What I had a problem with is the science aspects. The  She hypothesizes that she's going through wormholes to different realities where certain things happened or didn't happen. The different realities thing seemed to come out of nowhere near the end of the novel. Before that, I thought she was just visiting the past, She tries to explain it with math equations and baking metaphors, but none of it really made sense to me. When I stopped trying to make sense of it, I enjoyed it much more. The pictures and equations kind of went over my head because I'm not a math or science person, but it was nice to get a small taste of what Gottie enjoys.

I expected The Square Root of Summer to be a light fluffy summer read, but it deals with realistic things like grief and loss. I thought the ending was a little too tied up, but otherwise enjoyable. I enjoyed the book and felt for Gottie even when she was making some awful decisions. Worth a read.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Conjuring 2

Janet, a regular little girl, is suddenly plagued with hearing voices and sounds at night. As time goes on, the incidences get more and more violent with she and her sister being thrown around the room. Eventually, the ghost speaks through her and her family feels unsafe staying in the house. Leaving isn't an option since it follows them. First they go to the police and then the church, who employs the help of famous ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren. Unfortunately, they have already been targeted by an evil force.

I hated the first Conjuring movie but I held hope that the sequel would be better. The Conjuring 2 is a mediocre horror film, but miles better than its predecessor. It features a formulaic haunted house/possession horror film. The real strength of the film is in the character building and the acting. I felt for Janet and her family. Her mom is a single parent struggling to provide for her children with no other support other than a neighbor. These supernatural events put great strain on an already stressed family and it was heartbreaking to watch. Ed and Lorraine Warren have a family of their own built on faith and love. The faith part is a bit in your face and obnoxious, but their love is apparent because of the skill and chemistry between Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. They care absolutely for each other and the people they help. Both of these family dynamics are what made the film at all entertaining.

Unfortunately, quite a few things didn't work for me. First and foremost, I have a problem providing exploitative charlatans like the Warrens any sort of positive publicity. I find them morally reprehensible. Their portrayal in the film is well acted, but flatly perfect and boring. Their faith is portrayed hamhandedly instead of as an organic part of their character. The obvious notion that they and the Enfield poltergeist could be fake is brought up in passing, but discredited quickly by having the accusers not be as charismatic or nice as the couple. The writer could have at least given the Warren's credible argument at least for Amityville, but it amounted to "you weren't there" and namecalling. It may not be as entertaining, but I'd like someone to make a movie where they are shown as the frauds they are in reality rather than the perfect ghostbusting couple they are in this film.

The story doesn't bring anything new or interesting. It stays securely in the established tropes of the possession and haunted house genres. The horror aspects are lacking, mostly relying on numerous (I counted 13) jump scares without building up any actual atmosphere or suspense. These cheap scares give the audience an involuntary jolt, which is fine used sparingly with atmosphere or tension. After a few, they lose effectiveness and show that the filmmakers aren't interested in constructing an effective film. The film also relies a lot on CGI creatures and actors with brightly colored contact lenses. Both come off as cheesy and brought me out of the film. The demon nun creature in particular came off as Marilyn Manson in a nun outfit rather than a blasphemous demon. A particular scene with her and a painting started out as a bit creepy and then descended into goofiness. The Crooked Man creature is well designed, but not well created or used. Showing too much of the monsters shows all of their flaws, Some scenes go on way too long and an odd Elvis moment made the pacing drag. The ending is super sappy and completely out of character.

The Conjuring 2 is not quite as bad as the first, but the construction of the film is a mess. The characters are well acted and sympathetic, but the Warrens come off as too perfect. The horror elements had potential, but came off as cheesy and cheap. James Wan had a couple of good films at the beginning of his career. Now, he continues to pump out underwhelming, forgettable films filled with jump scares. I'm happy that horror is thriving as it dominated the box office opening weekend. I just wish that original films that play with tropes and have original ideas were in theaters rather than the same formulaic ones over and over again,

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Green Room

A punk band called the Ain't Rights comprised of Tiger, Pat, Sam, and Reece travel a long way for a radio interview and a show that doesn't earn them much money. As an apology, the radio host gives them the location for another show, but the area is very conservative. They arrive to a crowd of Neo-Nazis and their set actually goes over pretty well. The bar owners try to hustle them out, but Sam forgets her phone in the green room and witnesses the aftermath of a murder. The band isn't being allowed to leave and have their phones taken away at gunpoint. It becomes clear after the police have gone that they will never be allowed to leave and have to fight for their lives.

The Ain't Rights are a pretentious punk band on the verge of quitting. The director captures the world of punk well with this band as they siphon gas, couch surf, and drink their way to each gig. They refuse to have their music recorded digitally or videotaped for online use. They also refuse to have any online presence at all. I appreciate their old school sensibilities, but they also seem to want to actually make money and become relatively famous. With their ideals, it's just not going to happen. At heart, they're all kind of posers that want the best of both worlds. This is also shown in their choice of desert island band in their radio interview. Many of them chose hardcore punk bands, but later reveal their true, much softer choice of band when all of their facades are stripped away as the film goes on. The only band member exempt from all this is Tiger who was honest about who he was and what he liked the entire film. Reece is an angry guy who tried hard to project how tough he was. Pat seems confused about just about everything and Sam just seems along for the ride. Their facades and their eventual breakdown humanize these characters and allow us to root for them.

When the band arrives at the skinhead bar, it's uncomfortable but in a safe way. The band plays for the skinhead crowd, starting the set with Dead Kennedys' Nazi Punks Fuck Off, driving the crowd to shout and throw beer bottles, and then winning over the crowd with their original songs. Everything seems fine until the band witnesses the horrific scene that puts the siege situation in motion. The tension is so masterfully kept up throughout the film that I felt physically uncomfortable and tense myself. This band has to decide what they would do to survive in the face of these experienced Neo-Nazi killers. The band puts up an impressive fight in the face of great odds, but when things go south, the violence is immediate and brutal. There's no time to mourn or even react and it made me jump every time. The unexpectedly gory practical effects are impressive. I could hear the crowd squirming and vocalizing their disgust during the film.

The Neo-Nazis have many resources and men on their side. Men are willing to lay down their lives and kill for Darcy Banker, the head of their gang masterfully portrayed by Patrick Stewart. Although he's reserved in the role, he maintains authority and a sinister air in any situation. They employ pit bulls as effective weapons, but Saulnier takes pains to show that the dogs on their own are not violent. I found it refreshing to show that the dog just wants to please its master rather than being an inherently savage animal. Some defectors that try to help the band with varying degrees of success. Amber, the shattered friend of the girl who was murdered, has little hope of success, but tries her damnedest to beat them. She's the most realistic of the group because she's seen them in action before and knows what they are capable of. Others defecting shows how Darcy's empire and followers aren't perfect.

Green Room is one of my favorite horror films of the year. The tension is masterfully built up and held for the majority of the film. It's what horror is to me: building the atmosphere, creating realistic characters, and making the audience squirm. I had never heard of Jeremy Saulnier before, but I need to watch Blue Ruin and see whatever else he creates in the future. The acting is top notch all around and I can't find a flaw in any aspect of this film.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-reviews: Ava's Possessions and They Look Like People

Ava's Possessions

Ava was possessed for 28 days by the demon Naphula, but she's better now. Everywhere she goes, people hate her, fear her, or mock her. Not only did she lose her job, but also her boyfriend and all of her friends. She's being faced with numerous criminal charges and opts to join a rehabilitation program for possessed people instead of going to jail or paying back all the damage she caused. Ava starts on her journey trying to piece together the last 28 days, figure out why she became possessed, and see why her floor is stained with blood.

I'm not usually a fan of possession stories, but this one is unique in that it takes place right after the possession where most films end. Considering how possessions usually go (attacking people, acting grotesquely sexual, yelling obscenities, among other horrific things), it's safe to assume that the transition back to normal life isn't going to be easy. Ava has no memory of any of the things she's told she did, but her entire world has changed. Everyone looks at her like she's dangerous and so many people have been hurt by Naphula with her face. She has practically no support system left except a court appointed counselor, a lawyer, and her horribly judgmental mother. Everyone else either hates her, fears her, or mocks her and nothing she does can change the damage that's been done. Along with the emotional fallout, Naphula wreaked havoc and racked up quite the list of criminal charges as well. Now, she has to go to what amounts to Possession Anonymous or face the full brunt of crimes she didn't commit.

The film loses a lot of steam near the end with completely predictable revelations and simply underwhelming events. Ava also insisted on making horrible decisions that wouldn't even help her. I liked that the story explored people who like being possessed and even work with their demons as a different perspective not seen in possession stories. The ending was unimpressive and clumsy, but the majority of the film is enjoyable and a different fare than the usual in the genre.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

They Look Like People

Wyatt runs into his friend Christian on the streets of New York City by chance. Wyatt has just been dumped by his fiancee while Christian has decided to improve his life with positive thinking and manliness. They live together for a while happily, dating girls and hanging out together, but Wyatt can't shake that he's convinced people are being taken over by demons. Time will tell if Wyatt is right and he needs to leave the city with whatever people remain themselves or if Wyatt is out of touch with reality.

They Look Like People is a surprisingly good film. The suspense slowly builds throughout the film. The beginning feels uncomfortable because of Christian's awkward eagerness and Wyatt's obvious discomfort towards Christian. After a while, they settle into a groove, but Wyatt knows he shouldn't be in the city at all. Every night he receives phone calls from a distorted voice that tells him how to differentiate between actual people and demons as well as how to properly kill them. For much of the film, day time is relatively normal while the night holds the fear and terror. The last half of the film has that night time feeling bleeding into what passes for his normal life.

The real question of the film is if Wyatt is right or not about demons taking over humanity. Suspense is built throughout the film, playing with the question and keeping the audience guessing until the end. The last scene is incredibly intense with Christian tied to a chair and Wyatt deciding whether to kill him or let him live. I couldn't tear my eyes away from the screen as the events slowly unfolded. The only drawback to the film is Christian as he tends to grate on the nerves with his desperate masculinity. Some may be frustrated by the lack of horror elements as the plot builds, but I thought it was a well done slow burn horror film.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Invitation

Will and Kira are invited to a dinner party by Will's ex-wife Eden and her new husband David. It's been two years since they've seen each other, so awkwardness is expected. What is unexpected is their newfound happiness and serenity with New Age ideals about pain and death. Will suffers as he relives painful memories wandering the same house where his and Eden's son died and where Eden attempted suicide. Are Eden, David, and their odd friends simply enamored with a new way to manage their pain or are they dangerous?

The Invitation is a cult that claims to rewire the brain so grief and death are easier to process and a natural part of life that Eden, Will, and their weird friends Pruitt and Sadie. This sounds basically harmless if a bit odd. A few things lend a sinister undercurrent to the awkward gathering: the mindless happiness of its followers, the violence with which the followers react to the smallest scorn or opposition, the video of the group assisting a woman committing suicide, and the accounts of some of the members. Throughout the film, there's a strong case for either side: the cult is sinister and violent or the cult is weird but relatively harmless. The same goes for Will. At times, he's reasonable and clear headed, but sometimes he's overcome by grief and lashes out, giving his perspective that there's something wrong an irrational undercurrent. The film does a wonderful job building the suspense and keeping the viewers guessing.

I had a few problems with the film. While much of the party held unease and awkward moments, I found them to be drawn out and boring at times. In one particular scene. Pruitt shares his tragic story that involves him killing his wife by accident and everyone is pretty horrified. Clare right afterward wants to leave and Priutt accompanies her out because he's blocking her car in the driveway. No one thinks to protest or say anything after this man just admitted to committing murder and then wants to be alone with someone. The ending is only predictable because it's a horror film and wouldn't be very horrific if Will was wrong. The events are shocking even though I saw them coming plus the ending holds something even more surprising. Overall, it's an enjoyable film with unexpected moments and masterful suspense.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Isle of Blood

A bizarre blood nest arrives at Pellinore Warthrop's house with the power to change people into cannibalistic monsters. It's a creation of the Holy Grail of monstrumology, the Faceless One. Of course Warthrop is going to rush off to find it and possibly capture it along with his new eager apprentice, abandoning Will Henry without a word. After months of absence, Will Henry receives word that Warthrop is dead, but he knows something isn't write. He and a ragtag band of monstrumologists and friends will rescue Warthrop. Then it's a race to get to the Faceless One first before others who would use it as a weapon instead of for study and monstrumological advancement.

Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series is one of the best teen horror series I've ever read. Each book brings something slightly different while all feature fantastical and realistic monsters. This installment takes our heroes around the world: the US, Venice, England, Egypt, and Yemen. The fantastical monsters are horrific and transform people into mutated, cannibalistic monsters with the possibility of passing on the condition to someone else. Infected people may not even know they are sick because even the disgusting blood nest sent to Warthrop can infect people with a touch. These monsters have super strength, extreme bone growth, and insatiable lust for flesh, even consuming their own when they've eaten everything around them. This is a different creature than I've ever seen and it's frightening.

The human monsters here can be just as horrific as the fantastical ones. Throughout the novel, Russian government agents are dogging Warthrop's and Will Henry's every step. They show in no uncertain terms that they are willing to murder to get what they want. Jack Kearns although at times an ally is very unpredictable and could turn around and kill them whenever the mood struck him. Will Henry assumes some darkness of his own. He's abandoned by Warthrop at the beginning of the novel and has to choose between a conventional teen's life or the dangerous life of a monstrumologist. He predictably chooses the latter. The life he's chosen changes him forever in profound ways, first when he's forced to kill humans for survival, but then when hebecomes more willing to kill people for what he perceives to be the best. He doesn't come out of this installment unmarked inside and out.

The Isle of Blood continues an amazing story with pitch dark horror and fantasy, advanture, friendship, danger, and a bit of humor. This installment has the most humor with Pellinore being committed and having his friends pose as his family, ineptly weaving a convoluted story to release him. I'm a little disappointed that there's only one installment left with a very final title. I don't want one of the best horror series ever to end.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-reviews: Kiss of the Damned and Circle

Kiss of the Damned

Paolo is a writer who moved to a remote location in order to focus on his work. He meet Djuna, a recluse with an allergy to sunlight, and they fall in love. After convincing and near death experiences on his part, he convinces her to turn him into a vampire so they can be together forever and then chaos ensues when her little sister Mimi returns from Europe.

Kiss of the Damned doesn't do anything revolutionary in the vampire genre, but it's watchable. It's a typical sexy vampire movie with the same tropes, but there hasn't been many films like this in the last decade targeted towards adults. The romance between Paolo and Djuna was sweet and featured some unexpected moments. I even liked the vampire world beneath our own populated with artists who deny themselves human blood in order to fit in to human society.

The film takes a pretty sharp downturn when Djuna's sister Mimi comes to stay with them. Not only is Roxane Mesquida unconvincing in the role, but the character is simply unlikeable. She seems to be trying way too hard to be evil. Maybe if she had more charisma, she could be the person you love to hate, but she was so bland and annoying. The ending is satisfying after all the chaos she caused. Overall, it's an enjoyable watch that stays in the established tropes of the genre.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins


Fifty random people find themselves in a dark room placed in two circles. If they touch each other, move out of their spot, Every two minutes, a person is killed by a laser in the middle of the room, but the people can vote and whoever gets the most votes dies. All of these different people have to decide who deserves to live.

The concept is intriguing, but the execution leaves something to be desired. The reason for their state is revealed way too early. The horror and mystery are dispelled quickly and it comes off as humorous at times rather than the horror the filmmakers are going for. Even the characters are less and less horrified by the deaths around them. The plot and debates over who should die take on a stereotypical slant with racism and homophobia being brought up as well as whose life has the most value: a child, a pregnant woman, an old person, or a young person. So many of these people came of as caricatures instead of nuanced people. It's obvious that the film is based on Twelve Angry Men, but adding a cast of fifty doesn't allow a lot of time for establishing characters. It was impressive that some tropes were subverted. One of the first people to speak up and organize is that guy in every horror movie that tries to take charge, but he's killed rather quickly. Other tropes were intact and boring.

The main conflict is around if a child or a pregnant woman's life is worth more than everyone else's. One faction fights to have the child and pregnant woman be last to die so one of them can survive. The other faction wants everyone to have a shot at survival. Some noble people sacrifice themselves and the two people being fought over do very little to try to change their fates. The ending is unexpected, but disappointing to be honest. It's worth a watch, but nothing spectacular.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins