Review 91: The Strangers (.5/5)

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The Strangers

Directed by Bryan Bertino

Starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman

Released on May 30, 2008

Running time: 1h 25m

Rated R

Genre: Horror…?

So I hadn’t seen The Strangers up until this point, but seeing that the sequel was coming out, I figured I’d have to watch the original. Or, well, the movie that plagiarized the French-Romanian horror film Ils (Them), a movie that I don’t even like. That was a really bad sign, because fans of The Strangers continue to scream from the rooftops about how terrifyingly original their precious movie is to this day despite the fact that their precious movie is just a ripoff of another European movie that I didn’t even like. And that hype surrounding the first film is only increasing now that The Strangers: Prey at Night is coming out.

So I figured I’d check out the orig – no, the first Strangers movie.

And after watching it, I have come to the conclusion that the people who think that this movie contains even the slightest inkling of quality are idiots.

Because not only is it a shameless copy of Ils, but it also decided to rip off a few elements from Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (Austrian or American version? Take your pick, they’re both excellent, just like Haneke himself).

For this review, I watched the unrated version, which is three minutes longer than the theatrical one. Apparently the three minutes they cut from the unrated version were too intense for theaters. Yeah. Right. Uh-huh.

Fun fact: I was going to review this a long time ago. I had taken my notes and had even written the first few pages of my review when the Great Hard Drive Crash of June 2016 happened. I lost my notes and partial reviews of The Strangers, The Purge, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and several other movies, as well as plenty of music compositions I was working on. I would have made another attempt to review The Strangers at a later date, but I was still so salty that I had lost so much that I just kept putting it off. But finally, I sat down to write this review, at long last. As for The Purge, I’ll try and release a review sometime between the end of June and July fourth. I have scrapped my BvS review, but I will be replacing it with a Justice League review whenever that comes out on DVD.

So here we are. Teh Strnagrs. The Strange-O’s.

So the movie opens up with, of course, some super-spoopy narration read by either John Larroquette or an obvious John Larroquette stand-in. Why is that so important? Because John Larroquette was the ominous, deep-voiced guy that narrated the opening crawl in the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which, if you don’t already know, is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. And The Strangers is trying with all their might to replicate it, as if it views itself as on par with the original TCSM. I reviewed the original TCSM back in December 2015. It’s my seventieth review, and probably one of the best pieces of written work I have ever created. Oh, and the extremely intrusive electronic soundtrack is trying way too hard to be skurry. It’s almost as if director Bryan Bertino tried to replicate those old grindhouse flicks from the seventies and failed miserably.

The narrator reads,

NARRATOR: What you are about to see is inspired by true events.

There’s your problem. What do you even mean, “inspired”? So there were two corpses found in a house in the country. That happens all the time. So two people were found dead, and Bryan Bertino decided to write a story around what he thinks might have happened. But he’s gotta make it feel like a soopur skurry horror movie that feels like it’s from the seventies. So yeah. The events described in this movie are all bullcrap. See, the vast majority of scary movies that plaster “based on / inspired by actual events” at the beginning or on the cover do it in order to create that extra level of immersion-by-dishonesty and paranoia-by-fraud. Typically, whenever you see a scary movie that says “based on / inspired by actual events”, your reaction should be somewhere in between taking it with a grain of salt and disregarding it entirely.

NARRATOR: According to the FBI, there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year.

There’s another problem. At the end of 2007 (because The Strangers was released in 2008), the population of the United States was 301.2 million. If there were 1.4 million violent crimes happening each year, then the likelihood of such a crime happening to you is just about 0.465 percent. And just like that, whatever fear you might have felt has pretty much disappeared, because everything that the fear derived from watching this movie was based on was the idea that the events of The Strangers could happen to anyone at any time. But the likelihood of being the victim of a violent crime, from a mugging to a robbery to a rape to a murder, is so damn small to the point where the chance of such a thing happening to you this year is not even one percent. In fact, in 2016, according to the FBI, the number of violent crimes committed in America has gone down by 12.3 percent from 2007 (to 1.2 million), and that’s with the USA’s population going up by just shy of twenty million. The likelihood of you being on the receiving end of a violent crime has dropped to 0.371 percent. So now, realizing that being besieged by a trio of masked psychos in and around your home is merely a freak occurrence, any fear you might have had is now almost gone. Why only almost gone? I’ll explain later.

The narrator explains that on the night of February 11, 2005, the two main characters, Kristen (Tyler) and James (Speedman), left their friend’s wedding reception and went to James’s family’s summer home.

NARRATOR: The brutal events that took place there are still not entirely known.

Spoiler alert: they die. So how the crap is Bryan Bertino recounting these events? He has no idea how these events, if they ever actually took place, actually played out. In other words, it’s all BS! I wouldn’t mind this so much if Bryan Bertino and the people who made this movie weren’t so goddamn insistent that these events actually happened.

For the next forty seconds, we see a handful of shots fading in and out, showing houses passing, as if being watched from inside a truck. I say it’s a truck because we can hear the truck’s engine running. Ooh so scary. I wonder if the crew even bothered to get permission to film those houses. Oh nose! Look at those random houses they’re driving past! That means they could be anywhere! That means that they could be stalking you. They could be stalking me! They could even be stalking JOHN CE

And then we hear a 911 call from two boys freaking out about what they have found in a house out in the country. They try to tell the 911 operator about what they’ve found, but all I hear is that they went into a house and found some bodies, and that there’s blood everywhere. All the while, we see some shots that will obviously mean something when they are shown again at the end of the movie. A car with a big hole in the windshield with two boys in the background. The two boys walking in. A record player with the needle having gotten to the center of the record itself. A wedding ring box and rose petals on the floor. A bloody knife. A splatter of blood on the wall. A shotgun on the counter. Gotta have that flash-forward to totally spoil the events of the movie. Awesome.

We’ve spent just over two minutes engaging in pointless narration, pointless shots of houses, and a pointless flash-forward. Gotta pad out that piddly runtime somehow.

We meet the morose Kristen and James, driving to James’s family’s summer home from a friend’s wedding. These…are our leads. Prepare to have even your lowest expectations not be met. Witness the movie refuse to tell us anything about who they are, let alone why we should care for them. Feast upon a delectable main course of terrible acting, a side dish of nonexistent chemistry, a lovely glass of being-so-desperate-to-have-the-audience-feel-for-them-despite-having-no-reason-to, and a dessert of moronic decisions. I do hope you enjoy your meal. That’ll cost you twenty-one dollars, or the cost of two movie tickets.

See, this movie purposefully doesn’t develop its characters because it totes gotts 2 up da realism. But it’s intentional, so that means it’s ART! I fully believe that Bryan Bertino was just too stupid to realize how much sharper the other side of that two-edged sword was. That’s how the rest of the fear derived from watching The Strangers disappears. How am I supposed to be scared if I’m not emotionally invested? And how can I be emotionally invested if the characters are blank slates giving off blank stares?

And also, why is the camera shaking? Why is this being shot handheld? See, some movies do this to give the impression that the camera is a character in the film, and the camera’s being shaken in order to disorient. Paul Greengrass is a director that does this fairly often. Horror movies sometimes use handheld cam in order to give the impression that either this is a POV shot of a character or even a killer or beast, or to imply that you yourself are eavesdropping. And this only ever works if the movie itself is good. When it’s not, it just looks like Bryan Bertino was such a cheapskate that he couldn’t even afford a tripod. For a good example of non-horror handheld cam, watch United 93. For a REALLY TERRIBLE example of handheld cam, watch Jason Bourne. Actually, don’t. You WILL puke. Coincidentally, both United 93 and Jason Bourne are directed by Paul Greengrass.

Anyway, the two arrive at James’s family’s summer home. Much of the inside is covered in rose petals (the couch, the floor, the bed), and the table is set for two with a bottle of expensive-looking champagne. Why? Because at the wedding reception, James tried to propose to Kristen, but –

MICHAEL SCOTT: NO, GOD!

he failed miserably.

I guess even the tub has rose petals in it. Kristen decides to take a bath. The water is brown and disgusting, but she takes a bath in it anyway. James calls his friend and tells him to come pick them up (he’s giving Kristen the car they took out there). It’s a long way, but things didn’t exactly pan out the way he intended tonight.

So why did you head out to the summer house, anyway? “Yeah, we may not enjoy it, but let’s head over there anyway. We can get drunk on some expensive champagne, if you want to.”

We spend just over a minute and a half flashbacking to the wedding reception and the failed proposal. I’ll spare you the details, because it’s just more crappy padding.

James sits down at the table with a bucket of ice cream. Mind passing me a spoon? I have to review this movie, after all, so do you mind sharing?

The clock chimes four, and Kristen sits at the table. James and Kristen take a swig of what must be pretty strong liquid confidence. They start moping about how tonight ended badly. Kristen just wasn’t ready yet. Though they may be feeling like crap, they decide to just have sex anyway. Unfortunately, James just barely finishes the initial penetration before a knock at the door is heard.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Budweiser. Budweiser who? Budweiser mother taking her clothes off!

JAMES: What is it, like, four in the morning?

Yes, show the clock. We can’t just listen and believe, we have to show the clock.

James answers the door.

BLONDE GIRL: Hi. Is Tamara here?

ME: No, she’s not. Now if you don’t mind, it’s four in the morning, and I’d like to get back to sleep.

James says no, and the blonde leaves.

BLONDE GIRL: See you later.

Ooh, foreshadowing. Plot twist: they’re both named Tamara and they get killed for being lying assholes.

I guess…sexy mood ruined? No sex? Nothing? Dammit.

After a few more minutes of sitting and moping, Kristen mentions that she’s out of cigarettes. James goes to get some more, despite Kristen saying that he doesn’t have to. This clearly shows that Kristen and James aren’t just stuck at this house. They can leave at any time. Either that, or Bryan just needed a reason for Kristen to be alone for the next few scenes.

You know what, it’s four in the morning. Unless you work the freaking graveyard shift like I do, you should be sleeping. At least until your friend gets there.

James lights a fire in the fireplace for Kristen, wastes the rest of that super-expensive champagne and leaves. I’ll light your fire if you know what I’m talking about. Heh heh heh heh HE

HERE LIES SOME BEAN GUY

1997-2018

HE USED THE WORST PICKUP LINE EVER AND THEN DIED

Anyway, now Kristen is alone in the house. She starts listening to some really annoying Joanna Newsom and tries on the ring James gave her. She plinks some notes on the piano. She sits and mopes. She drinks some beer. And then another knock at the door is heard.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Buster. Buster who? Buster cherry. Is your daughter home?

This time, as Kristen goes up to the door, some creepy music plays. The same blonde asks for Tamara, and is turned away.

The wind chimes are heard outside, obviously being rung by somebody. Then Kristen turns around and sees smoke billowing out of the fireplace. Wait, if the fire’s been going for this long, how has it not filled the house with smoke already? Did James just not open the chimney flap, or did somebody plug it up roofside? If it was the former, the house would be filled with smoke already. If it was the latter, then Kristen would have definitely heard a ladder hitting the side of the house and footsteps on the roof. Kristen tries to open the chimney flap, but the smoke alarm goes off, so Kristen just unscrews that. Another knock at the door is heard.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Dewey. Dewey who? Dewey have to use a condom?

I guess the fire just fixed itself.

But Kristen is super skurred by this point. What is she scared of? A woman that’s tinier than she is? Instead of trying to call the police, she tries to call James, but her phone is dead. See, this is why the “cell phone not working” cliché exists in horror movies: ever since cell phones were invented, people aren’t truly isolated from the rest of the world anymore, unless you’re in a third world country. The last time I saw a horror movie actually handle this cliché surprisingly well was the remake of The Hills Have Eyes. It made sense for the characters’ cell phones to not have service – they were in the middle of the goddamn desert.

So Kristen puts her phone on its charger, but

Knock knock. Who’s there? Little boy blue. Little boy blue who? Michael Jackson.

So Kristen just uses the landline to call James (and doesn’t even think about calling the police), and she tells James about the situation with the most underacted concern ever. But then the line gets cut. But this doesn’t concern Kristen at a – hey, you still have a smoke left!

So Kristen just stands there in the kitchen, looking in the same single direction. And then a masked guy silently glides into frame in the opening of a dark hallway. He just stands there, watching her, eerily silent, as she walks into the kitchen to get a glass of water. She looks out the window, and then turns around. And the guy is gone. Kristen then hears a door close.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Jenny Tull. Jenny Tull who? Jenny Tull warts.

Normally, this type of scene would be freaking terrifying in another movie. But here, it actively works against the movie itself. If this movie was based on actual events, then how did the characters know that one of the titular strangers did that? And even if it wasn’t, then how did Kristen have so little sense of her surroundings that she couldn’t tell that there was some big masked guy moving through her house completely silently, and watching her from the cover of darkness? The sequence lasts for literally forty-five seconds before the man goes away.

This also displays the fact that if the titular strangers really wanted to kill Kristen and James, they obviously have the upper hand. So the titular strangers are really just trolling them all night. Also, there are multiple scenes in this movie in which neither of the protagonists even notice the titular strangers snooping about or sneaking up behind them as if they’re going to do something violent before the camera cuts away and then back to them, but they’re suddenly gone. If neither of the protagonists see them, then who are they trolling?

Speaking of which, throughout basically the whole movie, the titular strangers play the game of “Now I’m here, now I’m not! I totally disappeared when the camera wasn’t looking at me! Where’d I go? I’m so scary!” By the way, these titular strangers are not supernatural. They’re very clearly human. That means that whenever the camera cuts away from them, they’re running for a hiding place. “Tee hee! Look, I disappeared! That means I could be ANYWHERE.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen (because there are only two genders {source: basic human biology}), is the entire goddamn movie. The entire movie is just the titular strangers trolling them all night and occasionally showing their faces before supernaturally disappearing. They are many, many steps ahead of Kristen and James, could very easily kill them at any moment, and could have killed them as soon as the blonde first knocked on the door.

This freaking movie spends so much time thinking that it’s building tension or mining for atmosphere that it forgot to develop the characters.

Kristen grabs a knife and starts searching the house, but there’s another knock at the door.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Khan. Khan who? Khan-dom broke, hope you’re on the pill!

Kristen looks down to see that someone put the smoke alarm on the chair! Oh NO! But then there’s another knock at the door, followed by some scratching sounds.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Tanaka. Tanaka who? Tanaka you up!

Get it? The movie’s being super repetitive, so I’m doing it too! Ha ha ha ha HA! Okay, that’s at least the end of the terrible knock knock jokes.

Kristen then discovers that her phone is gone, so she starts cowering in a corner, freaking out. What is she scared of? Apart from the smoke alarm, what have you seen? Maybe you just misplaced your phone. Maybe you put the smoke alarm on the chair and just remember it wrong. Maybe you were hearing things when you heard the big guy close the door. Speaking of which, how’d he get in the house without making a sound?

The door shakes some. A clanking sound. Again. A grating sound.

You know, this would be so much scarier if the antagonists were actively trying to kill them rather than just troll them all night. If all the strangers are doing is trolling them until the end of the movie, then where’s the threat? They’re clearly not going to kill you yet.

Kristen does the typical dramatic slow walk to the window, because that’s the smart thing to do in that situation, and dramatically reaches out and pulls the curtain aside. Aaaaaaaaaand jumpscare! The masked guy is there, and he slams his open hand on the window.

Kristen screams and starts backing away. The record player starts skipping over the same 1.5 seconds of a Gillian Welch song. Did the masked guy switch out the records without making a sound and set the needle to the exact right spot? Does the masked guy like Gillian Welch music?

The door opens a crack, and Kristen feels like she needs to look through the crack. Because that’s smart. Don’t just go run and hide or anything. See, I told you. The blonde chick jumpscares you and you shut the door. And NOW you run and hide in your room.

KRISTEN: GO AWAY!

MASKED GUY: Why?

Okay, that didn’t happen.

For some reason, she grabs the lamp off the nightstand and sets it hard on the floor. Somehow that cuts her hand. At least the annoying record cuts out. She hears steps coming toward her. It’s going to be James, isn’t it? It is! Of course! That’s not cliché at all. And he doesn’t believe what he’s telling her! That’s also not cliché at all! Also, I can’t help but notice that he doesn’t notice the ring that’s still on her finger.

I would be much more scared if these actors didn’t suck so bad. Seriously, Liv Tyler is supposed to be scared out of her mind right now, but she can’t summon a single tear.

I’m going to be super OCD in pointing out the clichés that the plot uses. Why? Because Bryan Bertino was super insistent that in writing his script for The Strangers, he tossed out all the typical horror clichés. He is super insistent that his movie is not cliché. He said it in an interview about his film.

BRYAN BERTINO: To me, it was really important to strip away what I feel are some of the…genre clichés that’ve kinda built up. I mean, I think horror goes in cycles and horror goes in waves, and soon all the films look the same, and all the vibes are the same.

Yeah, you’re really trying to avoid using clichés. You’re really trying to break the rules. You’re really trying to toss out the typical genre conventions. You really want to disrupt the system.

James picks up a knife and goes to search through the house. KNIVES DON’T MAKE SHINGING SOUNDS WHEN THEY’RE PICKED UP. Hey, at least he and Kristen aren’t splitting up…yet. The two go into the bathroom. They pull the shower curtain aside and WHY WOULD OPENING A SHOWER CURTAIN MAKE A LOUD SHINGING SOUND LIKE A KNIFE BEING SHARPENED?

They go into the living room, where James looks in the direction of the fireplace. Kristen’s cell phone is in the fire, burning up. Somehow, neither Kristen nor James smells the burning plastic or even sees the phone at all, because even though the actions of the actors and the movement of the camera would cause you to believe that this means that they saw the burning phone, what the director thought it was doing was saying the opposite, because there are two entire sequences of dialogue involving Kristen’s missing phone later.

Kristen and James look out a garage window and see the masked blonde in the middle of the street. James suggests that he go out and talk to her, but he’s quickly shut down by Kristen. But then James realizes that – OH NO – he left his phone in the car! That’s not cliché at all. Kristen tries dissuading him from doing so, citing that someone came in here and took her phone. Despite the fact that they’ve almost certainly smelled that burning plastic and James definitely at least looked in the direction of the burning phone, James is still insistent that no one has come in at all. Kristen could have brought up the smoke alarm on the chair or the switched out records or the sound of the door closing when the masked guy left, but no. They look back to the window, but the masked blonde is gone. OH NO! She ran off when they weren’t looking! That means she could be ANYWHERE! That’s not cliché at all.

So James goes out to the car to get his phone. Because that’s the smart thing to do. Don’t, like, take your girlfriend with you or anything and just drive away while you still can. But somehow, the strangers got the car started, left it running, slashed the tires, and smashed the windshield and all four windows without either Kristen or James hearing it. James searches the car, but the phone is gone. Maybe you shouldn’t have left it in your car. That’s not cliché at all. But as James is searching, the masked blonde reaches out and jumpscares him – I mean, touches his neck. And she’s disappeared by the time he turns around. Wow, two clichés in one! Dammit, Bryan. James gets out of the car, hearing running noises, a few bangs, and a dog yelping. He looks down the street to see the masked blonde staring at him from about ten meters away. Another stranger runs by to James’s side. Kristen quietly insists that James get back inside. I’m amazed he hears her from there. But James looks back at the road and the masked blonde is gone. Again. That’s not cliché at all. He takes a few steps down the road, hearing a creaking sound in the nearby woods. He walks into it a little ways, then, instead of getting Kristen and running to the neighbors’, walks back to the house. But as he opens the door while facing out toward the woods, Kristen grabs his shoulder, jumpscaring him. Not only a jumpscare, but a fake one as well. Wow, Bryan, you’re really breaking the rules of conventional horror.

They bicker again about Kristen’s missing phone, with James again insisting that no one took Kristen’s phone, and Kristen underacting her concern. James insists that they checked the whole house, despite them having only checked the bathroom, hallway, and living room. James chooses now to bandage Kristen’s bleeding hand. James gets up and sees his phone sans battery on a shelf, yet decides not to be concerned at all.

They decide to head for the car, despite the tires being slashed. If your tires are slashed, you’re going nowhere. They pull out of the driveway, but a truck comes screaming around a corner. Its driver is a masked brunette. It pulls up behind them. And in front of them is the masked guy. The truck rams into the back of the car. James and Kristen make a break for the house, the strangers deciding not to pursue them.

They finally decide to adopt a smarter plan: grab a gun and make a break for it. They stop by the bedroom, where they see the word “hello” written all over the inside of the bedroom window in lipstick. When the hell did the strangers do that? Clods of mud that sound suspiciously like gunshots (the sound designers needed to be fired) hit the window and Kristen and James run to the closet, where they look for bullets. James comically fumbles around with the gun, letting slip that he has no idea how to load or use a gun. He even lied to Kristen about going hunting with his dad as a child. That’s why every kid needs to learn gun safety. Learn how to operate a gun, learn how to safely handle one, and learn when and when not to use one. James eventually figures it out.

James takes Kristen back to the front door, telling her to run for it. But jumpscare (that’s not cliché at all), the masked guy starts taking an ax to the door. He’s back! The man behind the mask! James conveniently forgets that he has a freaking shotgun. That’s not cliche at all. James and Kristen block the door with the piano, apparently forgetting that the strangers can get in through windows or any of the other ways they got in while the front door was still locked. Morons. Dammit, Ax-man, you’re busting up that piano! James eventually remembers, “Hey, I have a gun! Let’s use it!” and shoots the hole in the door where the masked guy is. Of course, James takes so long to shoot that the guy easily dodges the blast without getting hit or grazed by a single pellet. That’s not cliche at all.

They finally decide to adopt their smartest plan yet: just hide in the closet and shoot anything that gets near. Offscreen, the strangers open the door, move the piano, and start up the record player, which is now playing some Merle Haggard. All right.

By the way, we have less than thirty-five minutes till the end.

And as soon as James’s friend pulled up outside in his truck, I immediately predicted his fate. I’ll let you know when it happens. So this random Guy, despite getting a freaking brick thrown through his goddamn windshield, and rather than drive off and get the police, actually gets out of his car,

GUY: Huh, dere’s dese two busted caws out here. Dat’s weird.

walks up to the front door, doesn’t notice the holes in the door, opens the door, at least grabs a weapon (by the way, the masked blonde’s reflection shows up on…uh…something), enters the house, doesn’t even think to call for James or Kristen, sees all the busted stuff around the living room, starts walking down the hall toward the closet, doesn’t notice the obvious masked guy behind him who obviously does nothing besides raise an ax (if the characters don’t see them, then who are they trolling?), and gets right next to the freaking closet before getting out half of a hello before James blasts him in the face. MORON. Mmm, whatcha sayyy, mmm, that’chu only meant welll, well of course ya diiid, mmm, whatcha sayyy, mmm that it was for the beeest… And of course the masked guy has disappeared. Wow, two cliches in mere seconds. And they try to play it up all emotional, like we’re supposed to feel sad for this random Guy that we met five freaking minutes ago.

JAMES: He was my best friend.

Yes. And you killed him, you MORON.

So there’s no one else coming for Kristen and James except the strangers. Since Kristen and James decided to wise up for once by just hunkering down in the closet and shooting whatever comes by, maybe they’ve turned the corner. What are they going to do now? Are they going to

  1. Realize that now that Guy is dead, there’s no one else coming for them save for the strangers, and stick to the original plan,
  2. Search Guy’s pockets for a cell phone, call the cops, and stick to the original plan until the police arrive, save them, and possibly arrest the strangers if they haven’t fled the premises,
  3. Take the gun and make a break for one of the neighboring houses,
  4. Take the gun and make a break for the soon-to-be-mentioned radio in the barn in the woods,
  5. Take the gun and make a break for the nearest town or police station, or
  6. Take the gun, go outside, yell for the strangers to come get them, and take them down in a badass display of gory vengeance?

If you expected one of these answers, then your expectations for these moronic bastards are still too goddamn high!

They straight-up abandon the plan and go for the stupidest plan ever: SPLITTING UP. That’s not a cliché at all. But before they can do that, James opens the curtains to see the word “killer” written on the window in lipstick. Did the killers do it just now and run away, being all “tee hee” about it, or did they just write it up there in case James and Kristen actually did kill Guy?

So James tells Kristen that he’s going for the aforementioned radio, and that Kristen is to wait here. Either Bryan knew he was inserting a cliché into his movie, or he didn’t know and just needed a reason to separate Kristen and James. Despite Kristen insisting that she come with (which would actually be a pretty splendid idea), James has her stay at the house.

James, of course you’re not going to find keys in the strangers’ truck. Stop looking.

James sees the masked brunette outside the barn, and points the gun at her. Okay, now shoot her while you have the chance. But then the masked guy runs up and knocks him out. You didn’t shoot her while you had the chance.

Kristen is losing patience, waiting on the back porch for James. But OH NO, the masked guy is coming up slowly behind her! Wait, how’d you get back to the house so fast? Are you an omniscient god? Are you like Jigsaw or something? But Kristen inexplicably decides to make a run for the barn at a full sprint. But because she sucks so bad, she trips over her own two feet, busts up her ankle, and underacts her pain. That’s not a cliché at all. So she starts crawling. But OH NO, the masked brunette is coming up behind her! But when she turns around, the masked brunette is no longer there! Again, if the characters don’t see them, then who are they trolling?

Kristen makes it to the barn, having a significantly easier time than James did, but James isn’t there. Yes, movie, of course the masked guy got his ax from the barn. I assumed that as soon as the barn was mentioned. Also, Kristen, yes, whirl around with your flashlight and bang into every object there, making it extremely obvious that you’re in the barn. Kristen looks for and finds the radio, but she can’t get a signal. When she does, instead of speaking clearly, she speaks in a whispery, trembly voice that no one on the other end of a CB radio would be able to hear, let alone understand. But the masked brunette starts making noises. Though Kristen does manage to make contact, before she can get any information to the other end, the masked brunette hacks up the radio with an ax. Well, that’s what’s supposed to be happening, but all I see is sparks flying and no damage to the radio.

Kristen starts crawling back to the house, having somehow escaped the masked brunette. Why is the masked brunette not following her? She hides after seeing the masked guy walking away and the masked blonde on a swing. Jumpscare – the masked brunette has at long last exited the barn.

So in any other scene in which one of the strangers is trolling Kristen and James, what would the other strangers be doing if the camera was on them? Would they be just chilling, taking a break somewhere else, and eating a sandwich or something? That reminds me – just imagine the movie from the strangers’ perspective, and all of a sudden, the movie becomes a pretty hilariously black comedy. Can we get a remake of this movie but from the killers’ perspective? Or maybe a bonus feature for the real movie made up of POV shots of the killers experiencing the highlights of the night?

Anyway, Kristen sees that her car is on fire and that the masked brunette and blonde have vanished from their respective locations when they were off camera. She crawls back to the house.

I should mention that we’re in the last fifteen minutes of the movie.

Kristen starts making her way through the house when the power goes out. If only the entire movie was shot with this sort of lighting, with every shadow being something that one or more of the strangers could hide and lurk in and jump out of. Kristen hears the same notes she plinked out on the piano earlier, but they’re a half-step lower. I know this because I have perfect pitch. The masked guy walks into the room, somehow not freaking noticing Kristen, who’s right freaking there. That’s not cliché at all. Either this is just more trolling, or he’s a goddamn bonehead. As he goes down a hall, Kristen backs up and hides in the closet. That’s not cliché at all. The masked guy walks back into the room and over to the couch, where he takes a seat. He obviously knows that Kristen’s in the closet, but doesn’t go after her because trolling. It would be super funny if the masked brunette brought out a pair of sandwiches, sat down with the masked guy, and started talking about how much fun it’s being to be trolling Kristen and James all night. But the masked guy gets up and walks away. Kristen dramatically leans toward the slits in the door, and the masked blonde jumpscares her, bangs on the door a few times, and walks away. WHY?! That’s not cliche at all. The masked blonde walks over to the table and examines the wedding ring box. Instead of running away or trying to talk to and reason with the masked blonde, she instead says that James is going to kill her. The masked blonde twirls a knife around, drags it on the table trollingly, and starts slowly walking toward Kristen. Kristen then grabs a measly little butter knife.

The masked guy throws James into the room. James tells Kristen to run, and she does so. She goes for the nearest door, but the masked brunette is there. She goes for a different door, but the door behind her opens up. There’s nobody there. She chooses to go back the way she came. WHY?! That’s not cliche at all. As soon as she goes through the doorway, the masked guy grabs her, throws her against a wall, knocks her out, and drags her to where James is. The finger on Guy’s corpse twitches. Kristen is dragged offscreen and screams.

We are now in the final five minutes. The movie’s basically over.

So the strangers re-dress Kristen in the dress from the wedding offscreen and tie her and James to chairs. The sun has come up now. So are we supposed to be feeling anything right now? I get that making the protagonists to be blank slates was intentional, but if I don’t know jack diddly squat about these characters, then, as I have said in many reviews since the very beginning, I’m not going to care. And when I don’t care about the characters, I can’t get invested in the movie. And when I can’t get invested, I’m not going to be scared. That is fatal to any horror movie.

KRISTEN: Why are you doing this to us?

MASKED BLONDE: Because you were home.

That’s not cliché at all. I can only imagine how devastating Bryan Bertino thought that that line was. Unfortunately here, it’s only slightly amusing.

Also, is the masked blonde supposed to be the ringleader here?

James turns Kristen’s hand over, seeing the ring on her hand. They affirm their love for each other. Totally not cliché.

So now the movie turns a complete 180, meaning that the characters see something that we don’t this time. The strangers remove their masks. Okay, now we’re gonna kill you. Most inefficient murder ever. The masked guy stabs James twice. The brunette stabs James once. And the blonde stabs Kristen three times, twice offscreen. The strangers leave, despite the fact that all three of them left fingerprints on that knife and on a crapload of other things on the property. How they plan to get away with this, I have no idea. Also, the protagonists dying at the end of the movie is totes not cliché, like 4 reals.

Despite being stabbed three times (once in the abdomen and twice in the chest), Kristen is still alive, and hears a cell phone ring. It belongs to Guy, and Kristen starts crawling to Guy’s corpse. She tries to answer the phone, but the call has been dropped. She starts dialing a number, but a fourth stranger appears (seriously, that is not either of the strangers from earlier) and takes the phone, leaving Kristen for dead.

The two boys from the beginning of the movie show up, walking up the road. Now, in the credits, the boys are credited as Mormon Boy 1 and 2, despite the fact that Mormon missionaries are at least eighteen or older (used to be nineteen) and wear name tags, do not address potential converts as “sinners”, and typically don’t carry around pamphlets labeled “Christian Living”. So I’m going to assume that these kids are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The strangers stop their truck by the Jehovah’s Witness boys, and the blonde gets out.

BLONDE: Can I have one?

JEHOVAH’S WITNESS BOY 1: Are you a sinner?

BLONDE: Sometimes.

The blonde gets the pamphlet and gets back into the truck. Yeah, I’m not sure that’s going to save your soul. After all, you’ve just been involved in a double murder.

BLONDE: It’ll be easier next time.

Easier?! You were trolling them all night! Damn near everything you did had nothing to do with anything and served no purpose at all! You could have killed Kristen and James at the beginning of the movie! Speaking of which, how do you plan to get away with the murders? The Jehovah’s Witness boys clearly saw your faces. When they inevitably discover the corpses and call the police and have their statement taken, they’re going to describe the faces they saw. The strangers are going to be found, arrested, charged, convicted, and imprisoned for the murders of Kristen McKay and James Hoyt.

So the movie shows those shots from the beginning again. See, it’s reincorporation! This movie’s SMART!

The boys enter the house and are beholden to the carnage from last night. The corpses lie dead upon the floor. The second Jehovah’s Witness kid squats down by Kristen’s body. And just because Bryan Bertino really wants to break the rules of conventional horror, the still-alive Kristen reaches up and grabs the boy’s arm, screaming, in a final jumpscare.

And after about FOUR AND A HALF MINUTES OF CREDITS, the movie sans credits and the pointless garbage at the beginning comes out to less than seventy-nine minutes. I see why the movie had all that padding at the beginning and in the first third: it had to pad out the runtime by any means necessary to be feature length. Pathetic.

The sad thing is that this is a genius concept for a horror movie, but its execution is so predictable and lifeless and unscary.

What a waste. As if Bryan Bertino had any talent anyway. Spoiler alert: he still doesn’t, not even ten years later.

How do people find things to praise in this movie? How did people take this seriously? How did people find this scary? There is not even one good thing about this movie at all, and the fact that people compare it to classics like The Shining, Alien, and Halloween is insane to me.

It’s not as if I could get invested in the movie with such flat and intentionally undeveloped characters. Yes, I get that this is supposed to make it feel like such a horrific thing could happen to anyone. But the only reason presented for us to identify with the characters is that they are young and attractive. Even stereotypes need some sort of depth in order to be worthy of audience investment. Did Bryan Bertino operate under the idea that audiences don’t want character development and just want to get to the terror? I mean, that’s true for teenagers and twentysomethings, but not for anyone else, let alone me. Speaking of just getting to the terror, is it just me, or does the trolling and eventual ridiculous payoff resemble something not unlike foreplay? And when you look at the actual statistics and learn that being besieged, attacked, and killed like that is nothing more than a freak occurrence, the laziness of this movie really starts to show. And the movie also spends so much time thinking that it’s mining for atmosphere or building tension that it forgot to give me a reason to care.

Not only are the characters vacuous and uninvesting, they are about as stupid as can be, having absolutely no sense of survival instinct. Jigsaw could test them, and they would fail so spectacularly that Jigsaw might just give up his brutal crusade. And when they die, I feel no sense of loss because of how either boring or infuriating they were. The movie is parading itself around as if the events in the movie actually happened, but the realism is taken away by the moronic, cliché decisions. Let’s go out to this secluded cabin where no one can hear us scream. We could have left at any time before the car got destroyed, but we decided against it. Oh, these people are trying to get into the house? I’m not going to call the police – I’m going to call my boyfriend. Let me leave my cell phone in the car so the strangers can steal it. Instead of sticking together when I go out to my car and just getting the hell out of there while I still can, let me leave my girlfriend in the house, making us both easy pickings for the strangers. Even when we decide to grab the gun and make a break for it, when the strangers start taking an ax to the door, let me conveniently forget that I have a gun and just wheel the piano over and block the door, also conveniently forgetting that the strangers could get in through a window or through whatever entrances they used to enter the house before, and when I finally remember, “Oh yeah! I’ve got a freaking shotgun!” and shoot at the stranger, I take so long to shoot that he successfully dodges the shotgun blast. And when we actually adopt a good plan – hiding in the closet and shooting whatever gets near, our stupid friend comes around, doesn’t immediately peel outta there or call the police, ignores all the busted crap, goes in the house, and doesn’t even think of calling for us or even saying hello until he’s right outside the closet. So of course, we accidentally shoot him in the freaking face. And even though no one else is coming for us save the strangers, we don’t just get back to hunkering down in the closet or even go back to our previous plan of taking the gun and making a run for it. No; we decide to go for the radio in the barn. Even better, instead of taking my girlfriend with me, we split up again. I take the gun and go for the barn, leaving my unarmed girlfriend back at the house. I even see the masked brunette and have her in my sights. I don’t shoot her when I have the chance; no, I have to wait just long enough for the masked guy to come up and knock me out. I lose patience waiting for my boyfriend and make a break for the barn. Despite tripping over my own two feet and messing up my ankle, I have an easier time of reaching the barn than my boyfriend. And when I find the radio, I don’t bother speaking loud and clear. I whisper in a trembly voice. Because I wasted so much time, the masked brunette takes an ax to the radio. When I get back to the house, of course I hide in the closet. And after my boyfriend is tossed back into the house and he tells me to run, I run for an exit, but instead I turn around and go back the way I came. And of course, I get captured. Too bad, we’re dead.

Theoretically, the last thing I would do in a situation like this would be to leave my girlfriend behind. I’d be having her by my side all damn night, because two people fighting against three strangers are better than one. I would be bringing her with me, making sure she’s armed with the two biggest knives in the kitchen. Well, if this was actually my house that was being besieged by a trio of armed masked assailants, we’d both be armed to the teeth with scoped, silenced assault rifles and silenced sidearms and combat knives and stun guns and mace. We would not be taking any risks. They would have no chance to get us whatsoever. Also, if my girlfriend told me that she saw somebody and saw her cell phone in the fire, I would freaking believe her, and I would call the cops. The last thing I would be saying would be “No, you imagined that you saw someone, and you probably just accidentally dropped your phone in the fire.”

This would be slightly more palatable if this movie didn’t star terrible actors and pay them to read terrible dialogue. At times, they forget to act and just announce their lines.

For such a short film, damn near every cliché is shoved headfirst into the plot. And by this time, I don’t think I need to point them all out again.

This movie will only ever scare you if you’re mentally ill, have brain damage, or you’re Amish. The fear that this movie is trying to generate is relying entirely on the claim that the events in the movie actually happened and could happen to you. But every shred of realism is taken away as soon as the scene with the masked guy silently watching Liv Tyler in the kitchen plays out. If this was based on actual events, how did Tyler’s character know that that happened? How could she not tell that the masked guy was there? People can sense stuff like that in the back of their mind. And whatever realism that was left is further stripped away with every scene in which the strangers troll the protagonists without the protagonists seeing them and then supernaturally disappear when the camera isn’t on them. I’ve said this ad nauseam throughout this review, but if the protagonists don’t see them, then who are they trolling?

And every scene that is trying to be scary or suspenseful has obviously been ripped off from something else from Ils to Halloween to elements of Scream to even a little torture porn thrown in at the end.

And even the titular strangers themselves aren’t scary, because they pose no threat until the very end of the movie. The strangers as characters have no motivation save for just being psycho. Hell, they’re not even physically threatening. There’s one guy that’s maybe just under six feet tall and medium build, and two skinny five-foot-nothing broads. I think that if Kristen and James just ran outside with the gun, screaming for the strangers to come get them, I think they could take them so long as they had the gun, and, hell, maybe even without it. Actually, you wouldn’t even need the gun, though you might want to take it along to make things easier. You could gently poke the two broads and they’d crumple like paper, and then you’d just have to deal with the big guy. I think a healthy, strong, young man and woman could take on the big guy and win, especially if they had the gun. The masked guy could be taken down by two competent adults pretty easily, and he certainly isn’t getting up from a shotgun blast to the chest or anywhere on the body, really. Even if you just managed to shoot him in the arm, he’d be writhing on the ground in pain, bleeding all over the place (James could show him a little mercy and bind his wound as Kristen goes and grabs Guy’s phone and calls the cops). Shoot him anywhere else, and he’s either dead or out of commission. Shoot him in the leg and he goes down, and he won’t be walking on that leg anymore. He might even die if you shot him in the thigh if a pellet or two hit the femoral artery. Shoot him in the abdomen, chest, or head, and he’s deader than that coyote corpse that I drive by on the way to work every night. Kristen and James could have ended the night alive and as badasses, but no. They had to mess it up by being stupid morons.

Anyway, the first scene with the masked guy silently watching Liv Tyler in the kitchen clearly displays the fact that if the strangers really wanted to kill Liv and Scott, they very obviously have the upper hand, as well as ample opportunities to do so. Throughout the night until the end of the movie, the strangers are engaging in nothing more than trolling. Plus, it makes me laugh whenever they disappear when the camera’s not on them, because when they’re off camera, they’re running for a hiding space. “Tee hee, you can’t see me now!” The movie would be so much scarier if the strangers were actively trying to kill Kristen and James rather than just troll them all night. If all the strangers are going to do is troll you all night, then where’s the threat? They’re clearly not going to kill you yet. And how did they know their exact locations throughout the entire night? Don’t question it – they’re omniscient gods. Plus, the movie would have been over in less than twenty minutes if it even remotely tried to approach its story with even the tiniest bit of believability.

Every scary scene involves a character facing a particular way or going in a particular direction, one of the strangers comes up behind them as if s/he’s going to do something violent, the camera cuts away from the stranger, and when it cuts back to where the stranger was, the stranger has disappeared. Rinse and repeat until the movie is almost over. Much like David Sandberg’s approach to horror, when the scary sequences in The Strangers, Lights Out, and Annabelle: Creation are as repetitive as they are, it makes the movie feel predictable and monotonous, and therefore boring. It’s stupid garbage like this that takes all the realism away. I wouldn’t mind the violations of realism as much if Bryan Bertino wasn’t so adamant that the events of this movie actually happened.

I also would have been much more scared if the actors actually knew how to do their job. They are supposed to be scared out of their minds, but it’s really not clicking in these actors’ heads that their characters are supposed to be in mortal peril. The sexy as hell Liv Tyler is wasted here in a role that asks her to act and react like a stupid child.

I also would have been much more scared if it wasn’t so obvious that Bryan Bertino was shaking the camera because he thought it would come off as stylistic.

The biggest problem with this movie is that nothing happens. The entire time. It’s nothing more than “Three masked individuals troll and mess with a couple over the course of several hours until they, at long last, finally decide to capture and kill them”. Somehow, it takes just shy of seventy-nine minutes to tell this story that might have made a slightly better forty-minute short film.

I just realized this. The Strangers and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games are polar opposites. Funny Games was created to make a statement on violence in movies and how if you watch it, you are complicit in it. It was full of intelligently given social, cultural, and cinematic commentary with 1) Paul occasionally turning to the screen and breaking the fourth wall and letting us know that he’s deliberately upending the rules of the typical Hollywood thriller, and even picking up the remote control and rewinding the movie at the climax because things went awry, 2) Peter occasionally pointing out the rules that typical thrillers follow but not breaking the fourth wall, and 3) even more subtle visual cues, such as at random moments, the movie will flash black for a few frames, as if it’s being shown in the eyes of the viewer and the viewer is blinking. Funny Games was full of satire of the movie genre of torture-as-entertainment, specifically how such movies either are or seem to be glorifying the horrific violence portrayed onscreen. Though the few moments of violence onscreen are indeed graphic, they are portrayed in a non-glorified manner.

The Strangers is the polar opposite. Rather than criticize the entertainment value of torture in film, it revels in it. The Strangers is so attracted to graphic violence, killing for the sake of killing, and nihilism that I’m fully convinced that subtlety is a foreign concept to Bryan Bertino. He strips down the narrative to the extent that the stalking and trolling and murdering is the centerpiece of the film, completely forgetting to allow even a hint of quality for the most important aspects of a movie – the story and characters. If The Strangers hadn’t been shot with professional equipment or been distributed by actual Hollywood-based distribution companies, it would have earned categorization as a snuff film. It seems that Bryan just heard about a random killing out in the country somewhere and attributed it to masked psychos, and wrote a bare-bones script about what he thinks might have happened, clearly trying to emulate the Manson family murders. Nobody with two brain cells to rub together thought that this movie was actually based on real events, and no one should. It’s as faithful to real life as movies like Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and those movies don’t market themselves as true to real life. But those movies are something that The Strangers is not: good. And scary.

I’m not going to act like I’m not a hypocrite for criticizing The Strangers for reveling in violence for the sake of entertainment when plenty of films I enjoy do the same, but at least a good amount of other films in its genre weren’t this lazy.

But audiences ate it up, and even now, almost ten years after its release, it is still looked at by many as one of the scariest movies of all time. And that’s ludicrous.

I’ll be seeing The Strangers’ sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night, out of belief that Johannes Roberts (you know, director of such movies as The Other Side of the Door and 47 Meters Down) can make something that’s a little better than the garbage Bryan Bertino tried to pass off as a movie.

But I’m not getting my hopes up.

Final Verdict: .5 out of 5 stars.

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Review 90: XX (.5/5)

Image result for xx movie

XX

Directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama

Starring Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey, Breeda Wool, Cristina Kirk

Released on February 17, 2017

Running time: 1h 20m

Rated R

Genre: Horror, Comedy

 

No, not because two Xs next to each other are spoopy, but XX as in the chromosomes that make you a woman. See, the reason behind the creation of XX as a movie was the idea that there are not enough wamen directing movies nowadays, specifically in the horror genre. And yes, that is very true (wait, I thought gender was supposed to be a social construct). There are very few prominent female directors compared to male ones period, let alone in the horror genre, let alone ones who actually possess talent. I mean, just try to think of a few. Yeah, there are a handful of obvious ones, but typically, each one has directed less than five, and most no more than one.

There are so few talented female horror directors at all, so I’ll give them all shoutouts here. There’s Jennifer Kent, director of the amazing The Babadook. Kathryn Bigelow, who is most known for directing such films as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, actually got her start in horror, directing Near Dark, a vampire movie starring the late Bill Paxton that is on my watchlist. Mary Harron directed the darkly funny American Psycho. Leigh Janiak recently treated us to the awesome Honeymoon. Ana Lily Amirpour directed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is also on my watchlist. Kimberly Peirce directed the criminally underrated Carrie remake. Claire Denis directed Trouble Every Day, which is also on my watchlist. Veronika Franz directed the amazing Goodnight Mommy. Julia Ducournau gave us the great Raw this year. And Karyn Kusama, director of The Invitation, is one of the directors that made XX.

But do you want to know an area where women are actually somewhat overrepresented in horror movies? Lead roles. See, the reason that more women than men tend to star in horror movies is the fact that women are generally physically weaker and more vulnerable than men are, and thus we feel more scared for a female protagonist than a male one. A woman playing the main character of a horror movie has been a feature of so many fantastic horror movies over the years, from Cat People to Psycho to Rosemary’s Baby to Suspiria, Halloween, and Alien to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser to Scream to The Others and Ginger Snaps to The Descent to The Babadook, It Follows, Last Shift, The VVitch, and Raw.

And I’ve become a huge fan of several young actresses that recently got started starring in horror movies, such as the amazing and super-hot Anya Taylor-Joy, who starred in my favorite horror movie of 2016, The VVitch, and grew even more famous in Split. Others include the also amazing and super-hot Annalise Basso who got her start in Oculus and grew even more famous in Ouija: Origin of Evil, the amazing Lulu Wilson who was also made famous in Ouija: Origin of Evil, the amazing and super-hot Chloe Grace Moretz, who started off in such horror movies as the Amityville Horror remake, Room 6, Wicked Little Things, and The Eye remake, and the also amazing and super-hot Garance Marillier, who rose to fame as the star of Raw.

And many bigger-name actresses also got their starts in horror. While the also amazing and super-hot Jane Levy didn’t start out in horror, it was the Evil Dead reboot/sequel and Don’t Breathe that really made her a star. While Leprechaun was a terrible movie, it did introduce audiences to Jennifer Aniston. Movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sometimes They Come Back…Again introduced us to Hilary Swank. Patricia Arquette’s very first film role was in Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Dario Argento’s movie Phenomena introduced audiences to Jennifer Connelly. And who could forget Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose roles in I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2 were a large part of what led to her fame as Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Neve Campbell didn’t start out in horror, but her roles in The Craft and the Scream movies shot her to stardom.

Back on topic, the creators of XX believe that female horror directors are typically passed over whenever horror anthologies are made, so they decided to just make one of their own. Hence the tagline on the cover: Four Deadly Tales by Four Killer Wamen. Though, if you’ve seen such recent horror anthology movies such as the disappointing Trick ‘r Treat, the only okay Southbound, the very hit-or-miss V/H/S trilogy and ABCs of Death duology, and the abominable Tales of Halloween and The Dark Tapes, you’ll know that having directed a segment of a horror anthology movie is not exactly something you’d want to put on your resume. The marketing behind this movie was all about how this movie was a collection of four short horror films directed by and starring wamen. Now, I don’t consider myself a feminist at all – I mean, men have no rights that women don’t also have, and women are even favored in the legal system, so feminism is no longer necessary – but this was something I could get behind. The intentions behind making XX are respectable, even admirable.

Unfortunately, now that I’ve seen XX, I can say without a shred of doubt that the creators of XX were so focused on fighting the patriarchy and showing the world that wamen can direct a horror anthology too that not only did they forget to make a good movie, but they completely forgot to make an actual, you know, movie.

HOWEVER: I am NOT criticizing this movie based on the gender of the people who made it. I could not care at all what gender a director or actor is. All I care about is that the movie is good. And XX is about as far from good as a horror anthology can get. Plus, it’s not entirely the fault of men that there are few female horror directors at all, let alone ones that have talent. Women tend to take on more relaxed, cushier, less stressful positions. Like acting. Because as a director, damn near everything relies on you. I’m serious. It’s like how we don’t see too many female CEOs. Women typically do not feel particularly inclined to take such time-consuming, stressful jobs.

Wow, have I really gone on this long? I’m supposed to be talking about a movie, not engaging in a feminism-themed rant. So, uh, XX.

So this movie starts and ends with, as well as showcases in between each of the four short films, some spoopy surreal stop-motion animation that lasts for a few minutes each time. Though the animation is pretty cool and it would be legitimately interesting to see an entire short film featuring it, unfortunately it has nothing to do with anything here. It has no bearing on or connection to the short films and is simply just there. It’s just a bunch of trippy noise using the excuse that it’s in a horror movie to brush off the fact that it lacks any meaning or depth. It’s so unfortunate because the animation itself is actually pretty decent. I’d be slightly willing to accept that I just “didn’t get it” and that I should just enjoy it for what it is, but I can’t. I’m not even going to bother describing it at all.

The first short film is called “The Box”, and it’s based on a story by Jack Ketchum. This short lasts just over twenty minutes. It’s directed by a no-namer called Jovanka Vuckovic. She’s directed three short horror films. That’s it.

It starts out with a mother and her two kids on the subway heading home. We hear some narration that has little to do with anything. The son just now notices that he’s sitting next to the middle-aged lovechild of Robin Williams (RIP) and Jeff Daniels. He’s dressed in a black trench coat, black hat, and black gloves, and he’s holding a present wrapped in red paper. I presume this man is supposed to be threatening, but he actually looks like a rather nice guy. The son asks him what’s in the box. While his mother tells him to stop being so nosy, the man lets the son have a peek. The son is initially eager to see what’s in the titular box, but when he sees what’s in there, his smile quickly fades. We do not get to see what’s in the box, but apparently whatever was or was not in the box is what I assume is supposed to be driving the story. Unfortunately, the story itself just plods along at a painfully slow pace, and it hurts even more when the acting is putrid, the characters are insufferable, and the cinematography is flat and boring. We see a second title card. Uh, why?

The family gets home, the father having just finished cooking dinner. The daughter asks what was in the old guy’s present.

SON: Oh, nothin’.

I can’t tell whether the movie means for us to think that the son is just brushing it off, it was nothing important, or if it was literally nothing. And the question just gets even more aggravating as the short goes on.

The family sits down to a lovely-looking meal of chicken, corn on the cob, green beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy. And as soon as I saw the meal, I realized how hungry I was, and ran downstairs to make myself some lunch. Anyway, though the rest of the family are eating heartily, the son seems to be refusing to eat. When the father asks him about why he’s not eating, he says he’s not hungry. Ehh; it happens. The son is excused. However, I personally would be slightly concerned if my son decided not to eat dinner. I’d wonder if it might have had something to do with the shifty man on the train. I’d also want to make sure he eats a nice big breakfast tomorrow morning and have one or two more things in his sack lunch when he goes to school. This is purely hypothetical, as I don’t even have a girlfriend (gee, I wonder why), let alone have a wife and have kids. As the scene ends, I found myself wondering what uncultured swine would eat mashed potatoes like it was ice cream (I personally find potatoes disgusting except when they’re made into gnocchi).

That night, the family watches the original Night of the Living Dead together. Good taste, but personally, I wonder what moronic parents would show their children, both of whom look like they’ve only just exited elementary school, the original Night of the Living Dead. That movie contains not only a good amount of violence, some of which is a little graphic, but also a naked female zombie. Also, XX, way to refer to a better movie in your own terrible one.

The next morning, the mother hands her kids two freshly toasted poptarts as they leave the house, but not only does the son refuse his, he also tries to walk out the door without his lunchbox. He takes it after the mother reminds him to take his lunch. The mother seems to not be even the slightest bit concerned by the fact that her son has now skipped two meals in a row. Why? If I were that mother, I’d be calling the school, saying that I was concerned about my son because he had just skipped two entire meals in a row, and that someone at lunchtime was to make sure that my son was eating, and that if he refused to eat, that I’d be talking with him that night and making sure he ate dinner.

That night, the family has a lovely-looking meal of BBQ ribs, baked potatoes, coleslaw, and rolls. Awesome. But again, the son seems to be refusing to eat. The father asks why again, but the son again says that he’s not hungry. And the father is barely concerned at all. What? If my child hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours, I would refuse to let him leave the table until he had eaten at least a double portion of ribs and two rolls, and I’d be scheduling an appointment with a child psychologist as soon as possible!

The next evening, the father mentions to the mother that their son refused to eat his lunch again that day. But the mother is not even slightly concerned, and even when the father asks if they should schedule an appointment with the family doctor, the mother just brushes it off, saying that it’s probably just some stunt he’s pulling to get out of going to school, and that they shouldn’t worry about it. She even says that it might just be a fever or the flu. Yeah, I’m pretty sure a fever or the flu doesn’t make you refuse to eat for almost three whole days. And the father just lets the subject drop. You morons, your child has not eaten for almost three days straight. The fact that the father is more concerned than the mother is in this situation, let alone the fact that you haven’t even considered hospitalizing him until he starts eating again is effing astounding. Let me tell you: if my probably ten-year-old son hadn’t eaten for almost seventy-two hours, I’d have taken him to the freaking emergency room.

That night, the family has a lovely-looking dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, and salad. Awesome. As you’ve probably noticed, the director really wants you to know what the family is having for dinner every night. The dad is showing legitimate concern now, but he’s not being even the slightest bit insistent that his son eat. And when the mother asks the son why he didn’t eat his lunch today, he just says that he didn’t feel like it. And the mother’s response? She shrugs, and brushes it off. WHAT?! Are you kidding me?! This is your son! Your flesh and blood! The moment you decided to have children, you made it your purpose in life to care for them! Your children are people who you love unconditionally, even more so than your husband! The fact that you are not even slightly concerned for your son’s well-being when his very well-being is being threatened shows that you do not care! You do not care about your child! You do not deserve to be a mother! You are disgusting! How does your husband stay with you when he can clearly see that you do not care about the well-being of your child? The very least you should be doing now that your son has not eaten for three days straight is take him to a goddamn hospital! What is wrong with you?! If, as a child, I had refused to eat for three days straight, my mother would have had me put in the hospital with a tube down my gullet with food being shot through it directly into my stomach, with me being watched at all times to make sure I didn’t make myself puke it up! Anyway, the father starts insisting that the son loves spaghetti, and thinks that his son might be coming down with something. The daughter thinks that it might be the chicken pox. No, young lady, it most certainly is not chicken pox. The son say that he feels fine, just not hungry. And the mother is completely okay with it. AAAAAAH!

The next night, the family has a lovely-looking meal of pepperoni pizza, chicken wings, carrot and celery sticks, and root beer. And of course, the son is not eating, even though pizza is his favorite. And the mother, again, is not fazed at all, and at this point, I don’t think I need to explain why this pisses me off. At least the father is more forceful tonight, refusing to let the son leave the table until he eats. He even yells at his son and slams his fist down on the table. The son says he’s not hungry, and the mother says

MOTHER: Okay. Then just go to bed.

Okay? Okay?! OKAY?! I DON’T CARE THAT YOU’RE NOT HUNGRY, SON! YOU ARE NOT GETTING UP FROM THIS TABLE UNTIL YOU’VE EATEN AT LEAST HALF OF THAT ENTIRE PIZZA! I AM NOT LETTING MY CHILD BECOME AN ANOREXIC EVER, ESPECIALLY AT YOUR AGE!

The son goes to bed, and then the mother does perhaps the most infuriating thing I have seen in a movie since Eli Roth’s Knock Knock. She grabs a celery stick and starts to eat it.

YOU. You WORTHLESS MOTHER. YOUR SON HAS NOT EATEN FOR FOUR DAYS STRAIGHT, AND YOU’RE NOT JUST GOING TO LET IT SLIDE, BUT YOU’RE GOING TO EAT WHILE YOUR SON STARVES? YOU DISGUSTING BITCH! YOU SICK, STUPID MOTHERFU-

 

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Sorry. I lost my cool there. But look. Son. If you want to starve yourself to death, then you do it when you’re a freaking adult in your own house. Because if you do it now, while your parents are still your legal guardians, you will not only rip apart your family, this will look really awful to CPS to the point where I am fully convinced that they will take your sister away and place her in a foster home with a mother that actually knows how to parent.

And now, after their son has not eaten for five entire days, the family finally takes him to a goddamn hospital. The son has noticeably become skinnier and bonier. At least, there are dark circles around his eyes and his cheekbones are more prominent. And when the parents tell the doctor that their son hasn’t eaten in five days, I like to interpret the long, awkward pause in between lines as the doctor thinking, Crap. If these parents are that bad at their job, then I need to call CPS and get these kids into a family with parents who actually know how to take care of their kids. The doctor talks to the son alone and asks him why he’s not eating. The son says that he’s not hungry. The doctor tells him that he has to eat, and the son asks him why, as if he’s never heard of the importance of eating. And the reason I’m giving my answer to the son’s question as well as the doctor’s is because the doctor gives the son the exact wrong answer for this situation. My answer would be: Son, food contains nutrients that give your body energy, which is the key to your body’s functionality. If you do not regularly take in nutrients, your body will not have the energy to function, and you will waste away and die. It’s not necessary that you consume actual food, but for you to survive, you need to at least be taking in a healthy amount of nutrients per day. If you want, I can have some people make a sort of nutrient paste that you can ingest a healthy amount of daily. It won’t taste pleasant, and I certainly wouldn’t call it food, but it contains the right amount of nutrients that you need for your body to function. Shall I do that? But the doctor’s answer is this: there’s people starving all over the world, and somebody could have eaten that food you wasted. If you don’t eat, eventually you’ll die.

SON: So?

Oh, so this son is starving himself to death? Time to hospitalize him and make sure he’s getting a healthy daily intake of nutrients, right? Time to put him through counseling until he no longer feels that way about himself, right? Time to talk to him and his parents and figure out what events caused such deep depression, right? Right? Right?

WRONG! After the doctor asks the parents why they didn’t bring their son in sooner, the parents say they don’t know, the doctor recommends a therapist, and the parents scoff at such a suggestion despite the fact that their son has not eaten for five whole days, the doctor lets the parents take their son home. How the hell is does this doctor still have his license? He did take the Hippocratic Oath, right?

DOCTOR: If he’s not [eating], don’t push him.

Yes, push him! Shove a tube down his throat and shoot food down that if you have to, but make sure he eats!

That night, the family enjoys some Chinese takeout without their son. The mother relapses into her smoking habit out of nowhere. She catches her kids talking about something, but they refuse to elaborate, and they even fall silent when the mother suggests that the kids are talking about why they’re not eating. The mother, after a brief pause, lets it drop and has her kids go back to bed.

The next morning, the daughter refuses her poptart, and the mother barely bats an eye.

That night, the family has fried chicken, potato wedges, mac and cheese, and coleslaw. Awesome. And the daughter doesn’t even show up to the table. Again, the mother is not even slightly concerned, and again, at this point, I don’t think I need to tell you why I’m beside myself right now. And when the father asks if the mother is taking any of this situation seriously, she responds with the most uncaring, unfeeling line ever, delivered in the most uncaring, unfeeling manner possible:

MOTHER: Of course I am. I’m their mother.

First, no, you’re not. Second, no, you’re effing not. Any woman that would let her own children starve themselves while she eats heartily does not, cannot, and will never deserve to call herself a mother.

It turns out that the father agrees with me for once, and calls her out on her BS for eating while their children are starving. And as if I thought that the mother couldn’t get any more despicable, she sees fit to one-up herself.

MOTHER: Well, I have to eat, don’t I?

The father, taken aback, leaves the table. Exactly. For once, that’s how a normal parent would react. If my children decided to start starving themselves, I would refuse to sleep or eat until their issues had been resolved.

And then, when the father walks upstairs to talk to his son, the mother one-ups her own hideousness again. She waits about ten seconds, and then picks up a chicken leg and starts eating it.

I have derided this mother before, and I’ll deride her again. This woman is one of the worst people I have ever seen in my entire life. The only reason she isn’t the worst is because unlike Chaos from Chaos and Bel and Genesis from Knock Knock, at least this infernal woman has no malicious intent. But this woman is the most uncaring, unfeeling, cold, callous, heartless, apathetic person I have ever come across. How the woman who adapted this story from Jack Ketchum’s original thought that this woman was even the slightest bit likable or relatable or even realistic is beyond me. And if this is the original character that Jack Ketchum created, then he failed so spectacularly at making his story interesting, relatable, or scary by telling it through the eyes of such a horrible person that I find it extremely hard to believe that it wasn’t intentional. I cannot for the life of me imagine how her husband ever even considered marrying, let alone having children with such a sick, twisted bitch.

I was going to turn off the movie at this point, so actually offended was I, but since I watched this on Netflix, I quickly determined that this short had six minutes left to go and forced myself to sit through it.

The father goes upstairs to talk to his son. After pleading with his son to tell him what’s happening, the son whispers it in his ear. We do not get to hear what the son says. We only see … that woman walk by the bedroom door and look in. The father eventually joins that woman in bed. The fact that he’s still sleeping in the same bed with her is insane. That woman asks the father what the son said.

FATHER: Oh. Nothing.

And that woman lets it drop.

That woman wakes up on the dinner table, the flesh and muscle of her right arm and leg being carved up by the father and served to himself and the children. They eat, the children visibly enjoying being cannibals. That woman plasters a smile on her face.

Wow. The first genuinely shocking thing that happened in this entire movie. I’m surprised. Sure, it came out of nowhere, but it was a welcome change in tone. Oh my gosh, look at it. Look at the level of detail that went into this. Holy crap, those practical effects are good. This was clearly meant to be the centerpiece of the short film. Dude, this sequence is freaking awesome.

 

 

How do they f-ck it up?

Randomly cut to Christmas morning. The family is opening presents. And that woman’s arm and leg look fine.

No. Oh no. It was all a dream?! Also, if it was, was the director just so lazy that she couldn’t even film a few seconds of that woman waking up in a cold sweat? Come on! Why was this movie even edited the way it was, with the movie just cutting from the nightmare to Christmas morning? That’s just jarring and confusing. At least the nightmare scene would have been an insane, off-the-wall ending, but it would have been leagues better than what we got.

The family, apart from that woman, have all gotten noticeably skinny to the point where it looks really, really unhealthy. But while they’re opening presents, the son hands that woman a present that looks eerily familiar. But when that woman asks the son what was in that old man’s box, the son just says

SON: Nothing.

When that woman asks the son to clarify, the son just shrugs. That woman asks if the man was playing some kind of joke, or if the rest of the family is doing so. The family doesn’t answer. Clearly, starving themselves to death is not a freaking joke.

And then cut to the family unconscious in the hospital, despite them having started starving themselves at different times. Despite the fact that they are clearly starving to death, there aren’t tubes down their throats inserting food directly into their esophagus. Seriously, the doctors and nurses there are just going to let them die? Didn’t the doctors take the Hippocratic Oath? Also, I thought assisted suicide was illegal!

It is revealed through narration that the son died mid-January, the daughter went early February, and the father croaked at the end of February. That woman now spends her time going back and forth on different subways, looking for the man with the present.

“The Box” is a thoroughly miserable experience. Despite the idea of such a story being interesting, the short shoots itself in the face by refusing to develop anything, boring and lifeless direction and cinematography, wrist-cuttingly slow pacing, pathetic attempts at acting, complete lack of anything scary save the nightmare sequence, the infuriatingly unrealistic decisions made by the characters, and the main character being a revolting, apathetic hag.

Not only are we only twenty-two minutes into the movie, but believe it or not, the second short film is as bad, if not worse.

But first, more spoopy animation.

The second short film is called “The Birthday Party”. This one’s about fifteen minutes long, and it is some of the worst fifteen minutes you will ever experience. I should probably mention that the director, Annie Clark, also makes music under the name St. Vincent. This is her first time directing or writing a script for anything ever. And it freaking shows. Also, it took two people to write this.

It starts with a zoom out from a woman’s ass in a blue dress waking up in what must be the middle of the day. She starts rearranging things for her daughter’s birthday party, even though all the decorations are already up. There’s a random cut to the same shot, but it’s of her taking something out of a cupboard. But some woman in a black dress, who is apparently her daughter’s nanny, walks up to her as creepy music plays, and as soon as the mother turns around and sees the nanny, the soundtrack plays a soft boom sound, indicating that this was supposed to be a … jumpscare? Wh-why? That wasn’t even a jumpscare. Why was there a jumpscare sound there?

The mother notices a cup of coffee in the nanny’s hand, and assumes that it must be for the father. The nanny confirms this, but the mother says that he isn’t here. The nanny says that she saw his car in the driveway. The mother is insistent that he’s not here, saying that he hasn’t gotten back from his trip yet. The nanny says that maybe he’s out for a run, but the mother is still insistent that the father isn’t here. She thinks she would know if he’d come in last night. The nanny gives up. The only reason I went into so much detail is because I found it very confusing as to why the mother would be so insistent that the father didn’t come in last night. Also, I should mention that the camerawork here is so basic. Seriously, the conversation between the mother and the nanny features the same two angles, and we keep flipping back and forth between them. It’s almost as if this short was directed by someone who has never directed anything ever.

The mother tells the nanny to rearrange some stuff, and the two do the sort of shuffling thing when two people are on colliding paths and repeatedly shuffle about in order to not hit the other person but the other person seems to be repeatedly shuffling the exact same way that the first person is. All I can ask is “WHY?” Is this supposed to be a comedy? Hell, the mother comically inquisitorially leans/looks back at the nanny fiddling around with some stuff on the table. The only reason I am going into such painful detail is because this short film is so bafflingly bad that I have to painstakingly explain it to you.

After a laughable half-second cut to black before the next scene which I assume must just be really terrible editing, the mother enters her husband’s study only to have the creepy music build up and quietly execute a jumpscare before we even see anything that’s supposed to be scary.

I know that now isn’t the best time, but one of my favorite jumpscares in recent horror movies was a particular jumpscare from Insidious. No, not the one where Darth Maul shows up behind Patrick Wilson’s shoulder, but another one. In one particular scene, Rose Byrne is walking toward her baby daughter’s bedroom, but as soon as the room itself comes into frame, we see that there’s a ghostly figure standing out-of-focus behind the curtain around the baby bed. The genius of this jumpscare is that it doesn’t happen the instant that we see the figure. Rather, it happens a split-second after we see the ghost guy. It happens at the exact moment when we realize, “Oh balls! There’s a guy!” That’s why I love James Wan’s approach to horror – he can take something as stupid as a jumpscare and really make it work.

Anyway, the mother sees her husband hunched over in his chair. As she complains to the obviously unresponsive husband, I see a really bad edit in which a cut to the same shot cuts off the first bit of a word that the mother is supposed to be saying. And then another cut to her setting something down on a small table covered in liquor bottles next to a closet. Another cut to the mother saying another line. She puts her arms around her husband from behind, feels how cold he is, spins him around, and sees that he’s dead. But then her daughter calls for her. Her daughter, who is black for some reason (never explained), shows up at the doorway dressed in a panda costume, but the mother’s body blocks the daughter’s view of the father’s corpse. The daughter then starts talking like she’s mentally challenged, and tells her mom that she pissed herself. And that’s funny because…kids piss themselves. The mother takes her to find another costume.

After another half-second cut to black because the editor didn’t know how to do her freaking job, the mother has fashioned a ghost costume out of a sheet with some scissors. Initially, the daughter doesn’t like the costume, but she warms up to it and jumpscares her mom. Oh, freaking come on. As the daughter runs off to show the nanny, the mother starts crying. Or, well, fake crying for literally less than two seconds because this actress is freaking worthless. She finds her husband’s prescription bottle in a drawer.

Another half-second cut to black. I want to slap this editor across the face, but only if she gets a sex change operation in the split second before my fist hits her face, because making jokes about violence against women is WRONG! The mother enters her husband’s study, walks over to the father’s corpse, and opens the prescription bottle, finding it empty. Clearly, this is meant to show that the father overdosed, even though death by overdose is far from pleasant or clean. Trust me, I know from experience. Also, this camerawoman needs to buy a freaking tripod. Another jumpscare occurs as the mother sees the nanny in another part of the house across the way. Why jumpscare? How is the nanny a threat? Would she think that the mother killed the father? If so, what evidence would there be for that? Now, if you were in the mother’s shoes, what would be the logical thing to do? Obviously, now knowing that your husband committed suicide, you would call a freaking ambulance or something because there’s a freaking corpse in your house, right? Obviously. But what this mother decides to do is so baffling, so boneheaded, so off-her-rocker that I…I can’t even. This mother, seeing that the nanny is coming, literally picks up the body, carries it into the closet, and hides in there with it. WHY? Also, this soundtrack makes me want to scoop out my eardrums with a spoon. So the mother hides herself and the body in the closet just in time. The nanny enters the room, walks over to a desk, and pulls a bag of markers out of a drawer. But the mother makes a noise in the closet. The nanny dramatically slowly reaches toward the closet doorknob, but she’s jumpscared by the daughter bursting in, asking if she’s found the markers. The two leave, and the mother and father comically fall out of the closet. You idiot; you could resolve this entire situation by calling a goddamn ambulance.

The mother drags the corpse out into the living room, only to be interrupted by a doorbell and a friend of the mother’s walking in. The mother quickly spreads a blanket over the corpse, because that will totally hide it. The friend sees her but not the corpse, and the mother stands up and goes to greet her. The friend asks what she’s got behind the couch (jumpscare shot of the corpse), suggesting that it’s something big for her daughter’s birthday (ooh foreshadowing). The friend starts talking about nothing important (rich people stuff) and basically invites herself to the party while the mother maneuvers her toward the front door and passive-aggressively gets her to leave.

After another half-second cut to black because I want to jump out in front of a bus, the soundtrack kicks back in as the mother reaches into the corpse’s suit coat pocket and pulls out his flask. I know. At this rate, I’ll be downing an entire bottle of bourbon by the time this is done. But then the doorbell rings again. I’m not kidding, this feels like a comedy sketch. She answers the door only to see a boombox at her feet playing raplike percussion. A guy dressed up in a panda suit jumps out of nowhere and starts reciting a poorly written birthday-themed rap. The mother stops the boombox and offers the guy two hundred bucks for the suit. The guy takes off the head, revealing that the casting director got a Chris Hemsworth lookalike to play the rapping panda. The guy refuses the deal, but the mother keeps haggling until she’s offering him a thousand bucks and two ounces of medical marijuana (from the mother’s knee surgery, if you’re wondering {do they actually prescribe medical marijuana for a knee surgery?}). And believe it or not, the doofus actually gives her the costume.

So after another half-second cut to black because I want to jump out of a plane without a parachute, the mother dresses up the corpse in the panda costume. She starts carrying the corpse through another part of the house, but she hears the doorbell ring and her daughter calling for her. The daughter almost sees them, but the mother pulls the corpse out of the way just in time, and the daughter runs off. The nanny also almost sees them, but again, they get out of the way just in time.

I swear to God, this had to have been originally thought up as a comedy sketch. Seriously, just play some comedic music over these scenes and insert a laugh track at the right moments, and this could actually be pretty funny. The mother being a giant moron would have been excusable, because that would have been the joke. Unfortunately, this short film is in a horror anthology. Sure, a horror black comedy would be fine, but I can’t for the life of me find the horror. Or comedy, because this short film is taking itself so goddamn seriously. The fact that this feels like it was originally supposed to be a comedy sketch makes the tone of this anthology as a whole feel inconsistent.

The rest of this movie plays out in slow-mo, accompanied by an electronic soundtrack that makes me want to cut my wrists. So, after another half-second cut to black because I want to shoot myself in the face with a tank, the nanny opens the front door, welcoming the guests to what apparently is a costume party. Apparently, the mother has seated the now panda-costume-clad corpse at the head of the table, across from her. The guests enter the room. The friend from earlier says hi. In full view of everyone, the mother empties her husband’s flask into her drink cup. Honestly, as stupid as she is, I don’t blame her. Mind sharing? It’s about now that the slow-mo feels like it’s going on waaaaaaay too long. The nanny brings the cake out and sets it on the table, but accidentally nudges the corpse, and it falls mask-first into the cake. The nanny pulls the head back and removes the mask, revealing the dead face of the father. And the guests instantly start screaming (the faces on the children are nowhere near scared). But wouldn’t it make more sense for the guests to realize over the course of a few seconds that the father is dead and then start screaming? You stupid, stupid woman, this crisis could have been averted had you just called an ambulance.

The REAL title of the short is then revealed: “The Birthday Party, or the Memory Lucy Suppressed from Her Seventh Birthday … That Wasn’t Really Her Mom’s Fault (Even Though Her Therapist Says It’s Probably Why She Fears Intimacy)”. Ho, ho. Even though it actually was her mom’s fault.

This is as bad, if not worse, than “The Box”. Though “The Box” made me much angrier than “The Birthday Party”, I feel that “The Birthday Party” was worse, because as angry as “The Box” made me get, “The Birthday Party” left me completely bewildered. Obviously, the story belongs in a comedy, the main character’s decisions left me baffled, the cinematography is so bad and so amateur, the editor should have been fired on day one, it lacks any creativity whatsoever, and its approach to horror is childish and worthless.

But we can relax now: the worst is over. The last two shorts are nowhere near as bad as the first two. Okay, they’re still pretty bad, but they’re not nearly as bad as “The Box”, let alone “The Birthday Party”.

More spoopy animation.

The third short film is titled, “Don’t Fall”. What a terrible title. This one is by far the shortest of the short films, being only about twelve minutes, and it’s directed by another no-namer, Roxanne Benjamin. She has only ever directed the second segment of the only okay Southbound. None of the segments in that movie were what I would call good, but hers was probably the least interesting. Yayyyy.

It’s about now that I should tell you about the lack of originality of the shorts. “The Box” was an adaptation of a short story, “The Birthday Party” was bullcrap, and “Don’t Fall” is a generic slasher. “Don’t Fall” is the story of four twentysomethings that go out to the middle of nowhere and get slaughtered by an evil force.

But as unoriginal as it is, “Don’t Fall” is the second best segment in the movie. That’s noticeable right off the bat, as the cinematography, while not good, is much better than the previous shorts. It actually looks kind of okay, save for a 25% brightness filter over the footage that makes it look much too bright.

Another thing that makes this better: the setting. I think that the desert could be a really cool setting for a horror movie, but I’ve only seen three good horror movies use it as the setting: The Hills Have Eyes, its remake, and Tremors.

So yeah, the four teens hike up some hill into the second title card. Seriously, why two title cards? And then the blonde teen drops the worst line ever written.

BLONDIE: This is so f-cking epic.

I can totally tell that these four teens are just a foursome of ignorant, city-dwelling, hipster millennials. Screw ‘em.

On the way down, the two girls discover some ancient petroglyphs on a rock face depicting four people (one of which has horns), a giant horned being, and three lines. Clearly those were just put up there yesterday and rubbed off a little to make them look old.

That night (that much too bright night), the four start getting drunk/high outside the RV. They hear a sound. One of the teens fakes getting dragged off by a beast before revealing that it was just a joke by jumpscaring the blondie.

POV shot of something watching the camper. Ooh so scary.

The blonde somehow wakes up a ways from the RV. She looks around for a bit, seeing other, more menacing petroglyphs, before seeing a monster rush toward her.

Back at the RV, one of the guys wakes up, sees that the blonde isn’t there, and goes to look for her. He finds her, but she, in a display of some surprisingly decent practical effects, transforms into a monster and moves to attack him. The guy runs back to the RV and starts it up. He starts driving away as the others squabble with him about the blonde, but the blonde/monster appears in front of the RV. Of course, the other guy runs outside to get her. The brunette starts yelling that they’re not leaving without the blonde, but some growling, screaming, and splattering noises are heard outside. The corpse of the guy that ran outside is thrown through the back windshield, covered in surprisingly little blood compared to the amount that the over-the-top splattering noises would imply. The blonde/monster jumps into the RV. The remaining two characters try to escape, but the blonde/monster jumps on the guy with the glasses and starts slashing him up. You don’t actually see the slashings, but blood flies up on the windows. Again, there is surprisingly little blood compared to what the stock squishing effects would imply.

The brunette tries to run off, but she wasn’t looking where she was going, so she tumbles down a cliff and breaks her leg. Ooooh! The brunette fell off a cliff and broke her leg, and the title of this short is “Don’t Fall”! Get it? HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR! But then the brunette looks up only to see the blonde/monster, and it jumps down and kills her. We get one last shot of – HEY! Those aren’t the same petroglyphs as before! Goddammit!

It’s not good. In fact, it’s still crap. It’s the generic story of four unlikable teens that go camping in the middle of nowhere and get killed by an evil force. But at least this one is mindlessly silly and absurd. If all the shorts were like this one, I might have found something to enjoy in this movie.

More spoopy animation.

We’re almost done. The final short film is called “Her Only Living Son”. It’s only about 22 minutes long. This one is directed by Karyn Kusama, the only director with any actual talent, considering that she directed 2015’s well-received The Invitation.

Unfortunately, that seems to have not carried over to XX, as the instant the short film begins, I see painfully obvious ring lights reflected in the eyes of the actors. Also, the lack of originality of the preceding segments carries over to this one as well. I will tell you how later.

A mother wakes up from a dream in which she talks to some guy about fleeing someplace with her son where some other people will never find her. She gets out of bed and looks into another bedroom at her sleeping teenage son. The second title card appears.

The mother is fixing breakfast as she observes her son in the backyard playing with their dog. But then she hears a heavy hitting sound and the dog whimpering. The son comes inside to help her make breakfast, but he gets a drop or two of blood in the eggs. He fishes out one of the drops and eats it.

So it turns out that the young Heath Ledger lookalike is turning eighteen tomorrow. Of course, he’s the typical edgy, angsty teenager that hates his mom. This mother has raised her son all by herself, as her husband is some womanizing actor down in Hollywood that’s totally forgotten that he has a son. The two start to argue about the father, but the son gets up and leaves for school before the argument can escalate. The mother tries to bring up something that happened at school, but the son rides off on his bike before anything more can happen. The mother hears the dog whimpering from the backyard. She goes to investigate, only to find a dead squirrel nailed to a tree.

As she loads up some stuff into her car so she can go to work, the mother is greeted by the kind mailman. The mother and the mailman clearly like each other, but the mother isn’t willing to take the next step while she’s still raising her son, and the mailman is gentlemanly enough to respect her wishes and not push her. The mailman tries to ask her out, but she turns him down. They laugh it off, and the mother goes to work.

Later that day, the mother stops by the school to talk to the staff there about what her son did. It turns out that the son tore some girl’s fingernails off (she had to go to the emergency room), but the school, for some reason, is refusing to even lightly punish him. Why would he do such a thing? Because he felt like it; that’s why. I find the staff’s refusal to punish him to be highly illogical, their insistence that the girl might have provoked him even more so. Seriously, ripping a girl’s fingernails off is grounds for not only arrest, but for being tried as an adult. Section 18 Assault can warrant up to five years in prison. And that’s going to stay on his record for the rest of his life. The staff’s refusal to even give the son a slap on the wrist pisses off the girl’s mother to the point where she threatens legal action before walking out of the room. The staff refuse to punish the son, citing their belief that he is special, he is a prodigy, and that he will change the world.

The son isn’t there when she gets home, so the mother makes a birthday cake. The son gets home later that night and heads straight for the bathroom. The mother hears weird sounds from in there and opens the door, but the son slams it in her face. The son leaves the bathroom after the mother questions where he was, and she sees blood on the floor.

The next morning, her son ignores her and the birthday cake on the table. When her son leaves, she starts cleaning up the blood on the bathroom floor and on the clothes he wore last night. She hangs his clothes up to dry and is surprised by the nice mailman. The mother starts crying, and the nice mailman tries to cheer her up. The mother explains to the mailman that something bad is happening to her son, that he’s not like her son anymore. The mailman then tells her that he never really was, that his real father is coming to claim him soon, and that she should stop fighting it. When the mother tries saying that his father the actor couldn’t care less about him, the mailman refers back to the agreement that the actor father made. Apparently, the father offered up his wife to someone, and that the mailman has been part of a large group of people watching over the mother and her son and preparing for this day. Throughout this entire scene, the mailman has been gradually increasing the volume and cheesiness with which he says his lines to the point where it becomes silly and actually quite funny. The mother runs back into the house, and the mailman says

MAILMAN: Praise His Darkness.

So as you can probably tell, this short film is a painfully obvious follow-up to Rosemary’s Baby. Rosemary’s Baby is not only one of my favorite horror films ever, but is one of my favorite movies of all time. The fact that this is an unabashed sequel is quite irksome to me. The movie was freaking perfect, and it ended exactly where it should have. Leave it the hell alone. That being said, it’s far from the worst that a follow-up to Rosemary’s Baby could have been. At least they got an actress who kind of looks like an older Mia Farrow.

So yeah, Rosemary’s Baby ended with Rosemary accepting that her son is the son of the Devil, the satanic cult offering her the role of the baby’s caretaker and saying that she does not have to join the cult if she does not want to, and Rosemary sitting by the crib and gently rocking it. Despite the fact that she’s raising the Devil’s child, the child is still hers, and she intends to raise it as her own.

In between Rosemary’s Baby and “Her Only Living Son”, Rosemary has fled the cult with her child, taken on the name of Cora and given her son the name Andy, and has raised her son up until now outside of the influence of the cult. I guess Guy left Rosemary behind to pursue his acting career. But apparently the cult has been watching them all this time.

Anyway, Rosemary searches through Andy’s room and finds a shoe box with a bunch of fingernails in it. But she hears Andy arrive home, and she hides in his closet. Andy sits on his bed and slowly takes off his shoes. Apparently his toenails have turned into claws, and the way he breathes is almost animalistic. This is the closest you or I will ever come to being scared in this terrible movie. Andy pulls out a pair of bolt cutters and tries cutting off one of the claws. But Rosemary gasps, and Andy hears. Rosemary retreats farther into the closet, and Andy bangs on the door multiple times before growling and leaving the room.

Andy stands in the kitchen as Rosemary comes out to talk to him. It seems that Andy has encountered people that referred to him as his father’s only living son. Rosemary tells him that they are evil and have an agenda. She tells him that he’s special, but Andy exclaims that he’s more than that. He has psychopathic, homicidal urges. He has dreams of being the king of a miserable hellscape. And he demands that Rosemary kneel before him and crawl to him. She does. Andy says that he wants to be with his father. But Rosemary wraps herself around her son, refusing to let him go.

The room goes dark, the sun apparently being blocked out. A wing flies across the screen. I guess the Devil has arrived? That was really freaking abrupt. But Rosemary holds her son close, telling him about how horrible the pregnancy was, that the two of them are bonded, that the cult must have done something unholy to her, that the cult wanted Andy for their own, and that she fled with him. As Andy struggles in her arms, Rosemary tells him that she chose to raise her child, to love and cherish him despite his hellish parentage. She tells him that through all the drama involved in raising her son, not once did the Devil show up or even consider being a father to him. And Rosemary’s not going to let Andy go. She offers Andy a choice: her or the Devil.

And after a few moments of tearful consideration, Andy refuses his infernal birthright and chooses his mother. They hold each other tight, and they affirm their love for each other. The Devil roars in defeat. Discordant sound builds up, and the sound of shattering bones is heard, and blood drips from Rosemary and Andy’s noses and mouths. It seems that the Devil is killing them out of fury. They collapse to the floor, still holding each other. The sun comes back out, and the dead Rosemary and Andy lie in a bloody puddle on the floor, still holding each other. The camera pans to the cake, and the short ends.

Out of all four of the segments, this one is probably my favorite. Okay, it’s still not even close to good, but at least it’s the only segment about which I can say that I actually have an inkling of emotional connection to the characters. The acting in here is easily the best acting in the movie. Though the director makes some pretty basic cinematography errors, at least I can say that this is the one segment that I actually feel that effort was put into. Unfortunately, this short as a whole lacks anything to do with character building, depth, creepiness, mystery, or suspense. It’s a shame about the unoriginal story, but at least I can totally imagine that that is how the story of Rosemary Woodhouse and her son would end. It’s – dare I say it – even actually a tiny bit tragic. Hey, at least we don’t end the movie on a sour note.

We see one final minute of spoopy animation, and the film ends. Not counting the credits and the spoopy animation, XX is a meager sixty-nine minutes long. Could we not have gotten one more short film? Because having learned that the film’s actual length is pathetically short, I realize that the purpose of the spoopy animation is nothing more than to pad the runtime.

Okay, so if I had to arrange the shorts from my “favorite” to my “least favorite”, I would order them like this: “Her Only Living Son”. “Don’t Fall.” “The Box”. And by a very, very slim margin, “The Birthday Party”.

If XX was intended to be all, “Look! Look at us! Look at the awesome job us female directors can do! Look at how amazing we can be!”, it certainly shot itself in the foot with the ungodly level of amateurism, incompetence, and painfully obvious lack of originality. It serves as a flagrant reminder that people best suited to directing jobs are men. I’m not saying that a woman can’t direct a good horror film, but men are significantly better suited to directing jobs. At least the feminist slant wasn’t all that intrusive. Yeah, it was on the cover and slightly present in the film itself, but it wasn’t enough to detract from the overall experience any farther than, well, everything else.

Everything in this film looks so amateur. It doesn’t help that these female directors have very little directing experience (if any at all) under their belts, but the film as a whole looks and sounds bad. From shot composition, to lighting, to editing, to overall direction, the shorts just look flat and boring, and there are basic errors everywhere. Worse, the directors look like they had no budget and shot on the cheapest professional cameras they could find. The sound design is amateur, but it wouldn’t be so obvious if the actors weren’t so bad and given such crummy direction. The only actors that even come close to caring at all are the actors playing Rosemary and Andy in “Her Only Living Son”.

And the directors can’t even come up with their own original stories. “The Box” is an adaptation of a story by Jack Ketchum, “The Birthday Party” is bullcrap, “Don’t Fall” is a generic slasher, and “Her Only Living Son” is a sequel to Rosemary’s Baby.

And what was even the point of it being an anthology in the first place? A horror anthology is typically a collection of horror shorts that share a common theme and tone. In XX, there is no common theme. There is no thru line. There is nothing connecting the shorts together save for the fact that they all star women. And each of the shorts is drastically tonally different and makes the movie feel inconsistent. “The Box” is meant to be like an episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Birthday Party” is a black comedy, “Don’t Fall” is silly and absurd and a nod to Tales from the Crypt, and “Her Only Living Son” is a slow-burn thriller. At least in the miserable experience that was Tales of Halloween, each of the shorts had differing levels of comedy, but each one was very much horror-oriented, and had a common theme of all taking place on the same Halloween night. Also, I genuinely liked maybe one or two of the shorts in that movie.

XX is one of the worst attempts at a horror movie I’ve ever seen. As I’ve stated before, the female directors seem to have been so focused on fighting the patriarchy and promoting gender diversity that they forgot to make a movie. Yeah, they shot some footage, but the last thing I will call XX is a movie. Making a horror anthology with each segment directed by and starring a woman purely for the sake of doing so is the exact wrong reason to make XX. The reason you make a movie is because you have an inspired story that you want to tell. The intentions were respectable, but when XX was created for the sake of diversity and giving men the middle finger, I can’t say that I’m surprised it sucked. I want to believe that women can make horror movies that are just as good as ones made by men, but trainwrecks like XX are making that very, very difficult.

But it seems that critics ate XX up in a desperate attempt to virtue signal. If you want to see a boatload of critics bend over backward to praise this movie, then go to Metacritic and read some of the most hilarious excuses for labeling XX as a good movie you will ever see. When these silly critics see a feminist-themed movie, do they automatically toss their critical eye out the window and put on blinders, do they just have zero self-awareness, or do they just not have a freaking clue what projection is? A 64 on Metacritic and a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes? Is this real life?

So before XX hit Netflix, Variety held an interview with Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Sofia Carillo, the woman who did the spoopy animation. Strangely, Karyn Kusama couldn’t make it.

In this interview, which you can find on YouTube and watch right now, the ladies talk about how women are typically passed over when it comes to directing segments of horror anthologies, and how they made their own in response. Unfortunately, when it comes to the way they word their talking points, it seems that they blame sexism, rather than anything else.

One thing I do praise, however, was the inclusion of Sofia Carillo. As pointless as the spoopy animation was, it was good, and I want to see her go on to do better stuff.

Another thing of note: Annie Clark actually did intend “The Birthday Party” to be a black comedy, because she’s too scared of horror movies to watch them. Wh – then WHY? Why would you direct a short for a horror movie if you don’t even like horror movies or have even the slightest understanding of the genre?

They then go into quoting a bunch of stats about how though half of film school graduates are women but less than ten percent of directors are women. Apparently this discrepancy is based on sexism rather than the fact that women and men make different life choices and how women are typically better suited to less stressful, more cushy jobs. They talk about how XX is going to be this bastion of hope for female directors, and that because of XX, more female directors will come out of the woodworks and start making movies. I wouldn’t count that chick before it hatches.

Despite their talk about gender equality in filmmaking, the directors then start saying that the crews they hired were almost entirely women. For example, Jovanka Vuckovic’s crew was at least eighty percent women.

They go back into deriding the supposed sexism in the film industry, claiming that the industry is not actually a meritocracy and is instead based on sexism, and the interview wraps up.

My belief is this: talent has no gender. There are talented women, just as there are talented men. How you intend to utilize your talents is entirely up to you. But the women who made XX, if they even have talent at all, utilized their talents very poorly and for the wrong reasons.

I want to see women make good horror movies, but my hope for seeing that happen is going to fade if women keep churning out crap like this.

In conclusion, obviously, there are not enough women directing horror films. But the film industry, more than pretty much anything else, is indeed a meritocracy. Jovanka, Annie, Roxanne, and Karyn, my suggestion to you is that you direct some good movies first. Sorry, ladies, but you’re definitely going to get passed over for directing gigs if you haven’t made at least half a handful of good movies first.

To end this review on a higher note – for all you aspiring female directors out there looking for your chance, I regret to inform you that it is a rare occurrence if opportunity comes knocking. Your chance may seem like it’s just not coming. So I have a suggestion for you. Listen carefully; my advice is this: if you have an original idea for a movie, just get out there, get whatever money and equipment and people that you can together, and make your movie. Submit it to a film festival. In an increasingly (frankly, rabidly) feminist industry, there are going to be a lot of new aspiring female directors looking to rise to stardom, and you’re going to really need to utilize your talents to the best of your ability and make the best possible movie that you can to even just get noticed. But I firmly believe that if you have talent, if you have ambition, if you have determination, if you have vision, you will excel.

In fact, Godspeed.

Final Verdict: .5 out of 5 stars.

A Mostly Quick Look: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (.5/5)

F*ck me. Just kill me already. Whatever minuscule sliver of hope I might have had for Star Wars is now dead. This is the massive effing tsunami that quenches the spark. This finally killed Star Wars for me. Yeah, after the travesty that was The Force Awakens, I managed to halfheartedly convince myself that maybe, just maybe, if they tried to tell an original story in Star Wars 8, that maybe I could maybe hate what Disney has turned this franchise into a little less. But that tiny spark of hope I had was quenched and then some by this … thing. I refuse to call it a movie, because it and TFA are not. They are purely and simply products that bring together all the most marketable bits of Star Wars, cobble them together in a haphazard way, create the barest of story essentials around the thing that is meant to be the next Star Wars movie, make the trailers seem just interesting enough to catch the audience’s eyes, and then show them the finished product. And audiences eat this literal poop like it’s filet mignon. The fact that this is more true now than ever before makes me want to die. And I want to punch the face of everyone who responded to The Last Jedi‘s haters in a belittling, condescending way. EVERYONE.

My experience watching The Last Jedi was thoroughly unpleasant. I can describe it in two ways. One: it’s an almost constant barrage of visual and aural noise, punctuated by the occasional precious scene that didn’t leave my eyes and ears hurting. Two: it’s a desperate attempt to make a darker, more mature, more violent Star Wars movie, but Disney realized that it still has to be kid-friendly; while I initially welcomed the much darker tone and atmosphere, said tone and atmosphere was completely destroyed by painfully hamfisted comedy.

This godawful thing, while only the slightest bit better than The Force Awakens, is an entirely different monster than TFA. While TFA was a hack product that shamelessly ripped off A New Hope, nullified the ending of the original trilogy, and was also a flagrant vehicle to market a flatter-than-paper Mary Sue as its main character, The Last Jedi is merely a total clusterf*ck that fixes exactly one of the issues from TFA: not being a shameless ripoff of The Empire Strikes Back. But that is hardly consolation. None of the questions brought up in TFA are answered, save for a throwaway revelation of Rey’s parentage. None of the characters are fleshed out or even progress as characters in the slightest, save for Rey not being as much of an insufferable hothead, Pussy Darth Vader Wannabe being so desperate to show how mature he is that he goes entirely off his rocker and becomes an absolute laughingstock, and Snoke, having been marketed as more powerful than Darth Vader and Darth Sidious combined, is killed off in a scene that is both hilarious and infuriating. Yeah, great, we get introduced to purple-haired Laura Dern, Asian chick #53928, and Luke, but the movie does so little with them. Why were they marketed to hell and back if they’re barely in the movie? Laura Dern is barely in the movie; she’s just an infuriating bitch so that Poe can have conflict with someone. Oh, yeah, and she sacrifices herself a little before the climax. Asian Chick is at least in the movie, but apart from saving Finn at the climax, she’s basically a throwaway character. Luke is barely in the movie; apart from being there on that one planet with the island of stone huts and Porgs, being revealed to have attempted to murder PDVW before he became PDVW, and showing up at the climax to build up to an epic fight between him and PDVW and then never delivering on its promise and then dying for no reason, he’s barely in the movie. Oh, and Chrometrooper shows up for even less screentime than in TFA, and then they kill her off. Yeah, great, the effects are top-notch. You know, like every Star Wars movie. Oh, and am I the only one who laughed my ass off at Leia being exposed to the vacuum of space for over a minute and then Forcing her way back onto the Resistance ship?

The Last Jedi is a testament to Disney’s disgustingly brilliant business practices. Disney knows exactly how to make a movie that mindless, idiotic audiences will throw money at. And this is what they will continue to do until we, as moviegoers, finally stand up and say, “No. We will not tolerate this any farther. We demand that you focus on making the best movies that you possibly can, rather than on cobbling together cash cows. And until you realize this, we are done with you.”

From this day forward, I cannot in good conscience financially support any movie that comes out of Disney. Out of principle, I will not be seeing Solo: A Star Wars Story or Star Wars IX. I refuse.

Star Wars is dead to me. Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi gets a .5 out of 5.

I don’t want to think about this movie anymore. However, I would be slightly willing to accept that the movie just wasn’t my thing and it just so happened to hit all the wrong buttons.

A VERY QUICK Look: Coco (3.5/5)

Coco. Fantastic animation, great acting, a cool setting, great music, and a really nice message. A pity that the major characters are only two-dimensional, the minor ones are even less so, their motivations don’t always make sense, and the story is predictable to the nth degree. Regardless, I enjoyed this movie, and I’m glad I saw it. I was going to give this a 3 out of 5, but I decided to be generous and raise my score to a 3.5 out of 5, if only for the animation.

 

A Quick Look: Justice League (.5/5)

Okay, I’ve been putting off seeing Justice League for a little while, but I finally got around to it. And it is arguably the worst installment of the DC Cinematic Universe thus far.

I’m going to keep this short, because I freaking hated this movie, and I don’t want to think about it anymore.

I hated Man of Steel (1/5). I hated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (.5/5). I absolutely despised Suicide Squad (.5/5). And I thought Wonder Woman (2.5/5) was simply just fine; not good, not bad, just fine.

But Justice League is the worst, because as bad as the other movies got, at least they had a reason to exist. At least they had a point. While there certainly weren’t actual movies there (at least in BvS and Suicide Squad‘s case), at least there was something there. At least they tried to tell a story. Despite the fact that they picked the worst possible time to start riding on Marvel’s coattails and had no time or way to set up the coming together of the Justice League for the first time in cinematic history, at least they tried to set up something. But with Justice League, there’s just nothing there. Yeah, the Justice League comes together, but it’s not in any way earned.

This is it? This is the movie that all these other crapfests have been leading up to? This? This pointless, soulless, depthless, dull, bland, boring, low-effort cash-grab? This movie in which the fact that no one here cares at all about these characters, these comics, or even the life and fate of the DC Cinematic Universe is so painfully obvious? This movie that is so unworthy of even being called a movie, let alone being called Justice League? This movie that dares to act like it was even slightly warranted? This movie that features a truckload of exposition at the beginning, a crapload of explosions and loud noises throughout the entire runtime, and nothing else? This movie that even tries to stoke a little nostalgia by having the gall to occasionally quote the soundtracks of the 1989 Batman and the 1978 Superman (NO! YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT!)? This movie that features these potentially talented actors who are clearly just phoning it in purely for the sake of their paychecks? This movie that is painfully ugly to look at and listen to? This movie whose action sequences aren’t even the least bit impressive? This movie that isn’t even the slightest bit fun at all? This movie whose plot is so haphazard that even though its premise is childishly simple, I could barely tell what was supposed to be happening? This movie that is just there to do the absolute bare minimum purely for the sake of uniting the Justice League? This movie who tries to bring together these six superheroes without even having given at least one movie to each of them, making the creation of this movie feel so forced and so unearned that it’s so obvious that it’s just there to try and compete with Marvel?

See, Marvel had planned out their franchise years before Iron Man had even graced the silver screen, and had actually put real effort into properly building up to The Avengers, which is such a huge reason why it was a monster hit. Unfortunately, they’ve lost their steam, and I’m officially burned out on Marvel movies. Yeah, I’ll go see Black Panther and Infinity War, but I’m not going to act like I care.

But the DC Cinematic Universe had no steam to begin with, and now it’s dead. These aren’t just average superheroes. It’s not just Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman. This is the goddamn Justice League! It deserves time and respect and effort! But there is nothing here in Justice League. There’s just nothing. No story, no character, no fun, no purpose. Not even a cash cow. Justice League died at the box office, and its critical reception wasn’t much better.

Any hope I had for this franchise has now been reduced to a mere smidgen of curiosity as to what James Wan can do with Aquaman. He hasn’t failed me yet, so maybe it could work.

And before you say anything, you obese, neckbearded, mom’s-basement-dwelling, video-game-addicted, Doritos-and-Mountain-Dew-chugging swine, I AM NOT JUST SOME MARVEL FANBOY THAT ENTERED THIS MOVIE WITH A PRECONCEIVED NOTION TO HATE IT BECAUSE OF SOME STUPID BIAS I HAVE. I DON’T EVEN LIKE THE MARVEL MOVIES THAT MUCH. DO YOU KNOW WHAT PROJECTION IS? Get back to your Call of Duty and your crawling through social media and Internet comment sections spewing communist vitriol. When I went to see Justice League, I expected, at the very least, to see a film. That’s why critics don’t like these movies (except Wonder Woman because they were desperate to virtue-signal). When critics and I go to see a superhero movie, we expect to see just that: a superhero movie. We don’t go to see them out of desperation to justify our obsessions with comic books and action figures. You have absolutely no reason to get angry at us just because we didn’t like your precious superhero movies. We don’t just go to these superhero movies for explosions, loud noises, and attractive actors. We go there expecting to see a display of perfectly utilized talent from actors, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, creators of practical and digital visual and auditory effects, set and sound designers, costume and makeup artists, and composers and musicians. And when a movie cannot deliver in the slightest on any of these points, the movie has failed, and we point it out.

And now I need to go see Thor 3 to remind myself of what a REAL superhero movie can be. And I’m giving Justice League a .5 out of 5.

UPDATE: Saw Thor 3 last night. Not great, but enjoyable and surprisingly funny. It actually tells a story, actually has character, and is actually fun to look at and listen to. It’s quite nice to see Thor and Loki finally set their grievances aside and be brothers once again. Despite some flaws, such as a very uninteresting villain, Thor inexplicably not needing his hammer anymore, some characters that were pointless to include, and the electronic soundtrack getting a little annoying at times, I enjoyed it much more than Justice League. And Thor: Ragnarok gets a 3 out of 5.

Review 89: Temple (0/5)

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Temple

Directed by Michael Barrett

Starring Logan Huffman, Brandon Sklenar, Natalia Warner

Released on September 1, 2017

Running time: 1h 18m

Not Rated (Suggested rating: PG-13 {a high PG-13} for brief sexual content and some violence)

Genre: Uh…horror?

 

I went into this movie thinking that it was just going to be another really terrible, really incompetent, direct-to-garbage-bin horror flick.

I was wrong.

I was absolutely blown away by the fact that my expectations were still too damn high. Because this movie is terrible. It is one of the worst horror movies I have ever seen. I have not seen a movie come this close to giving me literally nothing since Backgammon. It is that bad.

Let’s get right into this stinker.

The movie begins in a forest in the Tochigi Prefecture of Japan as an armed and armored search party comes across a few-day-old campfire and a camera outside of a tiny abandoned Shinto temple in a clearing. There is an ominous shot of some stone or wood statues with the faces torn off before a policewoman opens the sliding door of the temple. She sees a small, dusty old booklet on the floor with some fresh drops of blood on it. A few more droplets fall onto it. The policewoman looks up to where the drops are presumably coming from and lets out a scream.

The opening credits begin. Though a few pages of a Japanese newspaper show up in the background, the movie still shows some English subtitles of some important things that we need to know. You know, if we’re supposed to be gleaning information from these newspapers, why the hell are the opening credits plastered all over? The information to be gathered is this: in October 1968, six young children went missing without a trace. The search for them encompassed a large mountainous area. It is to be presumed that they went missing at this temple. Later, a monk was found dead there, and a murder investigation started. And then we get the subtitle, “If you find cursed temple, will you be ???” I have no idea what that line is supposed to mean. By the way, telling us this info was entirely pointless, as this info will just be retold to us later.

Yeah, great, some kids went missing and a monk was found dead there. How exactly is this temple supposed to be cursed? You will never get an answer. I’m not joking. Yeah, I get that maybe the movie was trying to be ambiguous, but there’s a massive difference between ambiguity and laziness.

Transition to a scene in an eyesore of a hospital-like facility as a man who has been heavily mutilated by the events at the temple is wheeled into an interrogation room just slowly enough for him to see a ghostly little boy run across a hallway. I should mention that the main events of the movie are told in flashback. The movie will cut back and forth at random between the interrogation and the flashback as the movie progresses. Don’t expect these interrogation scenes to go anywhere or have any sensical payoff. A professor and a translator, rather than the police, are the ones interrogating the man. The man’s name is withheld until the end of the movie for the sake of playing a “who is it” game as well as the inevitable plot twist. As the professor asks the man questions in Japanese, the translator translates the questions into English for the man, the man responds in English, and the translator translates the responses into Japanese for the professor, I find the need for the professor’s lines to be subtitled entirely unwarranted save for the exchanges between himself and the translator, as the questions he asks in Japanese are just translated into English by the translator. But then the subtitles get really inconsistent, as they randomly switch back and forth between following my advice and not. The professor then hits the play button of a laptop that faces toward the man. Footage begins to play of one of the main characters, Kate (Warner), addressing the camera. She’s gotten a new camera and is preparing to go to Japan. Why is she going to Japan, you may ask? Two reasons: 1) as therapy for her not entirely mentally stable childhood friend, Chris (Huffman), who lost his brother in a bad accident earlier that year (also, it’s conveniently convenient that Chris conveniently speaks Japanese. How convenient. That doesn’t sound like a pathetic convenience for the sake of convenience at all), and 2) so she can photograph various Buddhist and Shinto temples in rural Japan as part of her thesis in religious studies, specifically in how religion changes myth and vice versa. She’ll be bringing her boyfriend, James (Sklenar), along with her and Chris. The professor refuses to say how he got this footage, and how exactly he got this footage will never be explained.

Cut to five days earlier, as Chris and Kate take a taxi to the hotel that James is at (they came on separate flights from different cities). So these are our three main characters: Chris, the lost soul and third wheel, Kate, the airheaded girl who smiles so often that I want to shoot her, and James, the douchebag boyfriend who’s trying way too hard to be a twelfth-rate Ryan Gosling. They take a brief tour of what I presume is Tokyo as the soundtrack makes me want to scoop out my eardrums with a spoon and where the camera shaking is so bad that I cannot tell the difference between what is handheld camera footage and what is professional camera footage. I repeatedly begged the actors to put their effing camera away. A shot or two shows us that Chris is jealous of the relationship between Kate and James.

I fully understand why I’ve never seen these actors in anything (or anything worth a damn), because their acting is so bad and so bland. It’s clear that these were no-name wannabes that just got plucked off the street so the studio didn’t have to pay them that much. Every time these schmucks open their mouths, I want to die. They are so unconvincing in their roles that it takes me out of the movie. And every time Kate smiles (which is after literally almost every freaking line), I want to shoot her.

The three get train tickets to Oyama the next day.

Random cut back to the interrogation.

The three settle into their hotel room and walk around the city. Just asking, but in the grand total of two times Kate actually addresses her camera, what audience is she filming this for? Is she actually intending to use the footage that is not of various temples on her thesis? We’re only fifteen minutes in, and already I’m sure that I’m going to be forcing the characters to eat the camera by the end. They inexplicably stop at a small store in a narrow street. Why they picked this store to stop in is beyond me. They’re not looking for anything in particular, but the soundtrack inexplicably makes a quiet booming sound when the movie cuts to a shot of the small, dusty old booklet from the beginning. Ooh so skurry. I don’t know what draws them to this booklet, but it has an ink sketch of a small Shinto temple in it when Kate opens to a random page. On another page is a sketch of a statue near this temple (the sketch includes the temple in the background). The statue is of a kitsune. What is a kitsune? It’s a fox. In Japanese mythology, foxes are viewed as wise creatures, and that the more tails it has, the older and wiser it is. Yeah, I’m pretty sure Tails isn’t the oldest and wisest of all foxes. It is also believed that all foxes can shapeshift into humans. Okay, cool. But in Temple, a kitsune is a shapeshifter that is half woman, half fox. Uh, okay. This statue looks like a woman with two heads, one woman, one fox. So the three attempt to purchase the booklet, but the owner is particularly unnerved by the booklet’s contents and refuses to sell it. She even kicks them out of the store. Why was it in her store to begin with if she was unnerved by its contents and refused to sell it? James says that they’ll just find the booklet online. Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.

That evening, Kate refuses to go out partying with James and Chris, citing “jet lag”. I guess we needed a reason for Kate to not be present in this scene, because when they start drinking, they also start womanizing. Chris fails, but James succeeds and starts making out with and feeling up another woman despite not knowing Japanese. You cheating bastard. Why Chris never mentions this to Kate is beyond me. There’s that plot thread dropped.

Randomly cut back to the interrogation with the professor asking the man who the woman is. It was in these few seconds that I predicted who the mutilated man was. I’ll tell you who it is later.

So Chris breaks back into the store from earlier and finds no one there. He sees the booklet, but gets jumpscared by a little boy behind him. The little boy, who is not at all fazed by the fact that a man has broken into his store, allows him to buy the booklet. The movie doesn’t show the boy acquiescing to the transaction, nor how much Chris pays for the booklet. You know, considering just how ungodly short this movie is, it could have definitely used the extra minute.

Chris then enters a bar and gets himself a drink. Wait, where’s James? He’s probably busy banging that Japanese yariman (slut) he picked up at the club. Chris pulls out the booklet and starts to read it. The suited man next to him then points out that he’s at the end of the book, not the beginning, and then addresses the temple as an unlucky place that makes you sick in the head. Wait, Chris is supposedly fluent in Japanese, but he doesn’t know that Japanese books are read right to left? Come on. The suited man tells Chris not to go to the temple before he leaves. Chris asks the bartender, who conveniently used to live in the village nearest the temple, for directions to said village. Chris starts walking back to the hotel. He’s getting around the city quite well on his own, considering that he’s never been to Japan before. He stops at a vending machine. The machine doesn’t accept his coins, and they fall out of the coin return slot onto the ground. Chris bends down to pick them up, but he’s jumpscared by a homeless old woman sleeping in a garbage bag. He is jumpscared again as he hallucinates her face as having had her eyes replaced with bloody sockets. At least, I assume that they’re supposed to be bloody sockets, because she’s just wearing black eye contacts that cover the entire exposed area of the eye, and there’s just dark pinkish makeup goo on the area around the eye sockets. Either the movie forgot to apply the stage blood, or that’s supposed to be really haphazard scar tissue. Chris runs off, but is jumpscared again by a small procession of four chanting people with baskets over their heads. Uh, okay. Is that supposed to be scary? Chris makes his way back to the hotel. He enters the room and walks over to the window to look out of it, but as Chris enters the background, a monstrous clawed hand enters the foreground! OH NO! Insert a jumpscare and few flashes to random things before Chris wakes up the next morning. Oh, so it was a dream? Great.

When pressed on the matter by Kate and James, Chris doesn’t say how he got the booklet, but he does mention that he got directions to the village near the temple. They are driven there by a taxi. At least there’s some half-decent shots of the environment that they’re driving through. They get to the village and start walking through it. They see an old man looking at them. But when Chris walks up to him to ask him a question, he comically backs away into his house. I burst out laughing. They instead ask an old lady for directions to anything that would count as a hotel, and are directed to the restaurant at the top of the hill. An old man calls them to the side of the street, inquiring as to why they are there. They explain that they are here to see the temple. The old man tells some story about this boy named Hitoshi that visited the temple. It showed him visions, and he came down the mountain holding his eyes. Chris makes the covering eyes gesture, but the old man says no. He instead holds a small orange in each hand. This could have been a genuinely interesting moment, but Chris and the others are so freaking stupid that they don’t understand what the old man is getting at. COME ON.

As the three walk to the restaurant, I see a decent shot of mist-covered mountains. Yeah, great, they’re in the middle of a bunch of mountains, and it’s dark and misty, but there’s no atmosphere here.

The three get to the restaurant and are given a room. Chris passes a room in which an old man is sitting down eating, but Chris is jumpscared when the old man looks up, revealing his empty eye sockets. Unless this is another hallucination, I presume this is supposed to be Hitoshi. Wait, why did Chris see the hallucination of the eyeless old woman earlier? He had never even heard of the boy who had his eyes torn out. Was that just the eeeeeeeevil influence of the temple reaching all the way to Oyama because it somehow knew that the group would be coming? And why are said hallucinations only affecting Chris? Seriously, this is ridiculous.

Kate and James go for a walk. Later, the old woman brings blankets to their room, and offers Chris some sake. Awesome. For some reason, Chris brings his camera. He tries to talk about the temple with the old woman, but she only says that when the quarry closed, no one visited the temple anymore. The woman leaves to make the beds, and Chris inexplicably turns on his camera and starts filming the room. A cute dog enters the room, but Chris is jumpscared by the boy from earlier. Apparently, this is where the boy lives. When the boy asks what Chris is doing in his village, Chris tells him that he’s here to see the temple. The boy apparently used to play there as a kid. Right. He even offers to lead Chris and his friends there.

Chris briefly talks to Hitoshi (who conveniently speaks English) about the temple. The events detailed in the newspapers from the opening credits are retold and even elaborated on slightly, as Hitoshi tells Chris that several children disappeared that had been playing up on the mountain. Why the kids had had no adult supervision is beyond me. The search party that went out the next day found a wandering monk living in the temple. He was questioned about the missing kids, and was not believed. So they killed the monk. The kids were never found. Every year, the villagers burn candles and pray that the children will eventually return.

So what is so bad about this temple? What happened at this temple to make it such an evil place? Was it always just a bad place or did something really bad happen there a long time ago? Why are our characters so dead-set on getting to this temple? All these questions and more will never be answered, because the schmucks who made this movie just didn’t care about making an interesting, coherent, scary movie; they just put minimal effort into a garbage script so they could sneak the movie out and hope that a handful of people would buy their product. But they didn’t get me – wait.

And then, jarringly, cut to Chris perving on Kate and James having very unexcited sex. I have no idea why Kate and James thought it would be an appropriate time and place to have sex, especially with another dude in the room. I also have no idea how they don’t see him. But while Chris films their session of porking, he sees a shadow behind the door. The shadow opens the door slightly and runs off, accompanied by a jumpscare, but there’s nobody there when Chris jumps up to try and investigate. James passive-aggressively calls Chris out for filming their boinking session. So really the only point of this scene was to give us a terrible scare sequence.

The next day, the little boy leads the three up the mountain, telling Chris that they must be back before dark. Why the boy is bringing along no hiking supplies is beyond me. Shouldn’t he be bringing along a bottle of water or a sandwich or some rice balls or something? I should probably mention that we’re just barely under halfway through the movie, and we are just barely beginning the hike through the woods to reach the temple.

Randomly insert a few narrated sentences by the interrogated man, saying that the temple knew that they were coming and that they should have gone back.

More shots of them heading to the temple. At least the forest is pretty.

Cut back to the interrogation as the professor asks the man who led them to the temple. The man answers, telling him that the little boy led them there. At this point, I now felt that it was obvious who the interrogated man really was.

The four inexplicably stop by a tree to watch a big spider spin its web. But then the spider jumpscares them somehow. Okay. The “Only a Spider” jumpscare. A tried and true classic. That’ll truly make this movie memorable. That right there just gives me the chills. I should probably mention that we have less than forty minutes left in the movie.

And as the characters make their way toward the temple (which still hasn’t shown itself yet), I find myself thinking, Who are these people? We know what they are (barely), but we don’t know who they are. What are they like? What is each character’s relationship with the other two? Why have there been no scenes of them just being themselves or being friends? Could we not have gotten at least one scene of Chris befriending the little boy? All the scenes they’ve had together that weren’t them trying to advance the plot had very little dialogue shared between them, if there was any at all. There were two scenes of this: the tour of Tokyo and the clubbing scene. But these scenes had so little (if any) dialogue shared between the characters that I find myself unable to get to know these characters. These characters are so flat and underdeveloped that it’s taking me out of the movie. And considering how ungodly short this movie is, the movie desperately needed more time dedicated to character development. And when every character interaction features terrible dialogue being acted out by terrible actors, I find myself unable to care and engaging in yet another session of excessively harsh internal self-abuse for putting myself through this.

Yes, yes, soundtrack. I know you want me to think of the boy as creepy.

The four inexplicably come across a tiny shack on the trail. The sequence involving it was entirely pointless. But then the group comes across an old mine. After a little deliberation, the group decides to check out the mine on the way back.

Almost forty-four minutes into the movie, the group finds the statue. And in case you forgot, it’s called a kitsune, and it’s a shapeshifting spirit that protects the temple. For gosh sakes, Kate, stop smiling after every line. And yes, soundtrack, we know you want us to think that the statue is creepy.

And now, just barely shy of forty-five minutes into the movie and with less than thirty-five minutes to go until the end, the group arrives at the titular temple. And it is tiny. I should also mention that the hike there took so long that it’s already evening. The sun has already gone down. So what does this movie intend to do with this temple? It’s not as if you can mine that teensy setpiece for atmosphere. You haven’t put any effort into the sense of isolation and claustrophobia in the forest. You haven’t even alluded that there is something evil that haunts this temple. There’s nothing that could even remotely be used to really ram home how evil this temple is. Even The Final Project attempted to at least give the Lafitte plantation some backstory. At least the house was big enough so that you could have mined it for atmosphere if Taylor Ri’chard knew even the very basics of moviemaking. But much like Taylor Ri’chard, the makers of Temple don’t even effing try, especially when the soundtrack is simultaneously not foreboding enough and forcefully foreboding.

The little boy finds a little bell, then bids goodbye to Chris after a brief jumpscare in which it took me almost the entire length of the shot to realize that there’s a guy behind Chris wearing one of those stereotypical Asian rice hats. I presume that this is supposed to be the ghost of the monk. But he’s gone in the next shot.

Chris goes inside the temple and observes the various things inside. Kate and James notice the strange little rock piles outside and moronically decide to stay the night. As Kate films the rock piles, something runs past the camera (the professional one) accompanied by a jumpscare. Chris hears something rattle in the temple. Kate then decides that she doesn’t want to stay the night after all, and goes with James to get Chris. One of the rock piles falls over as the two walk toward the temple. Chris starts pointing his camera at the floor, as if there’s something under the floorboards. James calls to Chris, who stands up. But then a hand reaches up from under the floorboards and pulls him through. Jumpscare.

COOL CAT: OH NOOOOO!

Chris is knocked out by the eight foot fall, and James jumps down to get him. Chris wakes up, and James and Kate get him out offscreen. James decides that the three will be staying the night at the temple after all. Why? If Chris just got pulled through the floor by something, then staying the night at the temple is the last thing the group should be considering!

Things have finally gotten real, and we have less than thirty minutes left in the movie.

Randomly cut back to the interrogation.

And then cut back to the three outside of the temple around a campfire. It’s dark now. James decides to take a walk. Every horror junkie groans. I’ll be right back”. Kate and Chris start talking. James watches them from afar. Kate confesses to Chris that she is pregnant with James’s baby. She plans to tell him when they get back to the States, but James jumpscares her and Chris, butting in on their conversation and accusing them of talking behind his back. This results in James and Kate arguing offscreen and Kate implying that she came clean about her pregnancy. In response, James decides to head back to the village. And there’s that plot thread dropped. Kate then goes to get more firewood. I’ll be right back.

James gets creeped out by the statue. Kate collects sticks, but her flashlight dies. And I’m amazed that nothing attacks her, despite there being a jumpscare revealing that the ghosts of the disappeared kids are around her. Brief shot of James. Kate brings Chris into the cabin, where they try to sleep next to each other. But some sort of creature outside the temple growls and walks around the temple. Chris wakes up.

Never mind, this is when things actually get real, with less than twenty minutes left in the movie. This is also the entrance into the barely existent third act, by the way. James, still walking around, comes back across the statue, seeing that the fox head is gone. The rest of the statue then disappears. James turns around to see a terrible CGI beast with a humanoid body and two fox heads. He is attacked by the beast, and his cry wakes Kate. So instead of sticking together, Kate leaves James in the temple to go get her boyfriend. He tries to go after her, but because he sucks so bad, he trips over his own two feet and falls down the stairs like a goober. Apparently he injured his leg when he got pulled through the floor, and him trying to run after Kate just exacerbated his injury.

James runs through the forest, pursued by the beast, but because he sucks so bad, he also trips over his own two feet, also like a goober. Chris is jumpscared by the ghost of the monk, which starts walking toward him, but Chris gets inside the temple and shuts the door, apparently stopping the monk’s ghost. James is basically down for the count, and the beast grabs his face with its clawed hands. We don’t see James’s death. Well, we are in the last fifteen minutes of the movie; it’s about damn time people started dying. But I know that even the deaths of the characters are going to be unsatisfying, because not only do we not see James’s death, we know that the only other person that is going to die is Kate. After all, one person needs to survive in order to be interrogated. The maximum body count is two.

Kate somehow finds her way back to the old mine and hears cries coming from it. She thinks that it’s James, and goes in. That’s totes a smrt decision, like 4 really reals. I have no idea what she even expects to find, but I really don’t care. Also, this mine is creepier than the effing temple. She spends two and a half minutes looking at freaking nothing before we cut back to Chris. The six ghost children climb up out of the hole in the floorboards. Cut back to Kate in the mine. The cries have turned into the sounds of a child whimpering. After a little under a minute and a half, we get one shot of the beast, but Kate doesn’t see it. Cut back to Chris and the ghost kids. The kids apparently have empty sockets for eyes and mouths filled with long sharp teeth. Admittedly, that’s a pretty creepy visual. They accost James who doesn’t even bother to fight back, and we hear some stock squishing sounds. Kate wanders around in the mine for nearly another minute before coming across James. But James looks up, revealing his eyeless sockets. Kate starts running back through the mine, screaming for help. Yeah, somebody’s totally going to hear you. Save your breath. You’re only going to alert the beast to your location. She gets to the entrance, but it’s blocked with tons of rocks and boulders. She falls to her knees and starts crying.

KATE: It’s a dead end.

Thank you, Captain Obvious, for pointing that out, in case the audience is too stupid to use their eyes. Maybe you shouldn’t have gone into the mine. Cut back to Chris , whose silhouette is just writhing around with no ghost kids on him. Okay. Back to Kate: the beast starts moving toward Kate, and…

We cut back to the interrogation. This movie is so tame that it couldn’t even give us a satisfying, brutal death of an aggravating character. The professor and translator tell the man that they can’t find Kate’s body. The mutilated interrogatee is revealed to be Chris, who apparently survived his brutalization by the ghost kids. Because the interrogatee could have totally been James. Odd, as there were multiple events that happened in these flashbacks that Chris was not present for. Chris asks the translator why the little boy (who I totally forgot was in the hospital-like facility at the beginning) (also, his name is apparently Seita despite never being addressed as such) is here at the facility. But the professor and translator tell Chris that there was no boy. It was just one of the ghost kids. He was never actually there. Ur nur, I totally didn’t see that coming. Ooh.

At this point, the movie can end one of multiple ways: 1) despite his pleadings and insistence that he is innocent, Chris will be put on trial for the murders of Kate and James, be found not guilty by reason of insanity, and be placed in an institution for the rest of his life, and the movie will end with a final ominous shot of the temple; 2) Chris, realizing that not only is he off his rocker but that he may have killed Kate and James, falls to his knees and screams in anguish, and the movie ends with an ominous shot of the temple; 3) The events play out in much the same way as option two, except when Chris realizes what he has done and just how off his rocker he is, he rears up out of his chair, grabs the pen out of the professor’s hand, and takes his own life, and the movie ends with an ominous shot of the temple as the audience realizes that the spirits of Chris, Kate, and James will spend eternity haunting the temple; 4) the movie will pull some silly, laughable twist out of its ass and throw the entire plot of the movie into question and also end on an ominous shot of the temple; or 5) the movie can end with one of the four aforementioned options but tack on a really cheap jumpscare before cutting to the credits.

If you think that the movie is going to end in one of these five ways, then your expectations are still too goddamn high.

What the movie actually does is this: while it does choose option four, the twist it pulls out of its ass is so out of nowhere, completely lacking in foreshadowing, and so insultingly bad that it singlehandedly destroys the movie.

The professor and translator continue to ask where Kate is. They then reveal that they know that Chris killed James. WHAT? WHEN WAS THAT? Apparently there was footage on Chris’s camera of him killing Chris that we never saw. But how was Chris there when he was busy back in the temple getting brutalized by the ghost kids? (shot of the little boy in the hallway having empty eye sockets)

So, according to the ass-pull, nonsensical, out-of-nowhere BS twist, there were no supernatural goings-on at all that night? It was just Chris going crazy? All that talk about ghost kids with their eyes torn out and a fox-woman monster was all just total BS? This was all just the result of Chris’s insanity that was built up to by his brother’s death, his unrequited love for Kate, and his hatred of James, and then brought to a boiling point by the talk of spoopy things at the eeeeevil temple? He somehow killed James, dragged his corpse into the mine, imitated James’s cries of pain and the child’s whimpering, made James’s corpse stand up and made it so that it would look up at Kate at the exact right time, somehow blocked the entrance to the mine with tons of rocks and boulders, caused Kate to run back to the blocked entrance, killed her, made sure her corpse would never be found, and then dug his way out of the mine, all while not just having a badly injured leg, but having been brutally mutilated by what must have been himself because him being ripped up by the ghost kids was just a vision in his imagination? This all was just the rantings and ravings of a homicidal madman, despite the fact that the ghost boy, the hallucinations of people with their eyes ripped out, and the shapeshifting fox-woman monster was just a figment of his imagination long before he had ever even heard of the disappeared kids, the ripped-out eyes, and the shapeshifting fox-woman monster? REALLY?! OKAY.

So upon learning that the events of that night were just him killing his companions and making up stories about evil spirits and monsters to cope, Chris goes ballistic, leaps out of his chair, grabs a pen, and shanks the translator in the neck, fatally wounding him. Why? In the commotion, he escapes the interrogation room. WHY WAS IT NOT LOCKED?

Brief sequence in which the old woman at the restaurant lights a candle in front of her picture of the missing kids, one of which is revealed to be the ghost boy.

One last ominous shot of the supposedly spoopy temple.

And to end the movie, we get a POV shot of the monster (Chris, apparently) as it walks up to Kate and prepares to kill her. But before it can do that, we cut to five minutes of credits. That means that when the closing and opening credits are cut out of the movie, the movie itself comes out to a not just insulting, but criminal seventy-one minutes. Wow.

I hate this movie. I thought that it was just going to be some really terrible, really incompetent, direct-to-garbage-bin horror flick, but my expectations were still so bewilderingly lofty compared to what I got.

What were the makers of this movie even trying to do? There’s just nothing here. Yeah, I saw a series of images onscreen and had emotional reactions to them, but there was nothing there. I haven’t seen a movie come this close to giving its audience literally nothing since Backgammon.

What about this idea did Temple’s makers find so interesting, unique, or scary? And if they thought of their idea as such, how did nothing interesting, unique, or scary make it into the movie?

While it’s just another generic story of a small group of American tourists arbitrarily visiting a foreign place and deciding to poke around a haunted location despite the vaguely unfriendly villagers’ unsuccessful attempts to dissuade them from doing so, Temple takes that concept and ramps up the incompetence meter to eleven.

I was tentatively going to place the blame on the director, Michael Barrett, and the writer, Simon Barrett (no relation between the two). Michael Barrett is the cinematographer for a slew of comedy movies from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to Ted. But the vast majority of Simon Barrett’s writing credits include the vast majority of director Adam Wingard’s treasure trove of truly terrible travesties, including such gems as You’re Next, The Guest, the 2016 Blair Witch sequel, the worst segments of V/H/S 1 and 2, and the laziest segment of The ABCs of Death. The only credit of his that isn’t awful is his first writing credit, Dead Birds. I was going to call out Michael Barrett for having no idea what he was doing, and Simon Barrett for slumming it. It’s not as if Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard actually had any idea how to make a good movie, but I was in total disbelief that Simon Barrett could have been this lazy, as Temple’s script just felt like a really dreadful first draft.

But then, after some research, I discovered the truth. Simon Barrett posted a detailed article on Medium about how he wrote a script for Temple, but the script he wrote was not the one that ended up in the actual movie. Whether or not this is true, I’m going to give Simon the benefit of the doubt, because even he writes better scripts than the one in Temple. Here’s what happened: in 2010, Simon Barrett was asked by filmmaker JT Petty to write a draft for a project for him called Temple. For those who don’t know, JT Petty is not just a film director, having made such underrated gems as S&Man and The Burrowers, but he’s also an accomplished video game writer, having written Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and both of the Outlast games. Barrett finished his final draft in 2012 and sent it off to the producers. Not only was Barrett not paid the full amount for the script (only $1500 out of $2500), but the project fell through. Barrett and Petty never heard why the project fell through, but they wrote off the loss as a learning experience. Temple was entirely forgotten about until 2015, when the project was announced with Barrett’s name still attached, and not being directed by Petty. Barrett had no idea why his name was still on the movie’s script, which could have undergone serious overhauls and rewrites, and he confessed in his post that you know more about the movie than he does. After all, his concern about the project was limited, as by then he had moved on to other projects.

And now I must apologize to Simon Barrett. I still think he’s a hack writer (Blair Witch was one of the worst movies of 2016), but I must withhold blame when it is not warranted. I now place the blame entirely on the movie’s producers. They just grabbed a script that a hack writer wrote, overhauled it and made it as awful as possible and then some, attached some no-name director and actors to the project, and sold it as a legitimate horror flick that could have actually had some quality because it was allegedly written by a now-well-known horror scriptwriter. And it’s painfully obvious that any quality that Simon Barrett might have brought to his treatment was completely ripped out by the hack producers.

While it certainly does at least attempt to bring a handful of ideas to the story in an attempt to make it not feel as pathetically empty, it does nothing with them. Nothing is ever fleshed out, let alone even close to a satisfactory degree. For example, occasionally in the movie, the movie hints that Chris secretly is in love with Kate (the movie is so bad at putting this idea forward that I didn’t even notice it until my second viewing). I would, of course, expect this in a story about three mildly attractive twenty-somethings going on vacation. But in the two or three times this movie even slightly hints at this, instead of fully committing to the idea, the movie just backs off, making it feel like not even an afterthought. Another example is the slight implication of a potential rivalry between Chris and James. James seems to be play-acting being intimidated by Chris, but no other facets to this rivalry even exist or even rear their ugly heads past the twenty-minute mark. Another example is the scene in which Chris discreetly films Kate and James having sex. This could have been an interesting wrinkle in Chris’s character, a character that has heretofore displayed no inklings of sexual desire/frustration, but I quickly realized that this scene was nothing more than just a vehicle for another spoopy sequence. Another example is the scene in which Kate reveals to Chris that she’s pregnant. The potential to introduce a little drama is there, but aside from an implied argument with James, the movie just forgets about it altogether. Other examples include Chris’s tragic past and inexplicable love of Japan, Kate’s interest in the relationship between religion and myth, or the scene in which James cheats on Kate. But the most obvious and egregious example is the temple itself. I’ve seen this movie twice now, and I cannot for the life of me tell you what happened at the temple to make it such an evil place in the first place. As I stated earlier, there is a massive difference between an attempt to be ambiguous and obvious laziness. There are potential ideas and themes that are either introduced, barely introduced in the slightest, or needed to be introduced, but there is no exploration of said ideas and themes. And the movie desperately needed this, because all I’m left with is a pathetic exercise in how not to make a movie. Worse, the movie doesn’t even try; the characters’ actions and nonexistent personalities are nothing more than just a vehicle to get three twentysomething Americans to encounter horrors in a foreign location. It’s so easy for me to imagine any even slightly competent director exploring such themes and ideas as the ones I have mentioned or even just making a negligibly better movie, but musing on what a talented director could bring to such a movie as Temple is a lost cause.

We spend forty-five minutes waiting to get to the titular temple, and by the time we actually get there, there is only thirty-five minutes left. Meaning that we have no time to settle into the location, get the bejabbers scared out of us, and end the movie on the right note. And the leadup to the events at the temple itself is slow and uninteresting, and falls into the deep, well-worn ruts in the road that countless other better movies have traveled on before. Before we even reach the temple, the movie has gone through well over half its runtime. And by the time crap has hit the fan, we’ve gone through nearly all of it. We spend so much of the movie sluggishly building up to the spoopy events at the temple, watching our characters spout throwaway dialogue as the movie barely hints at the characters questioning their true feelings, as well as each other’s loyalty to the others. It’s just a pathetic way to inspire hope in the viewer that the filmmakers are actually trying to make a good movie. Could Temple not have just taken only five more minutes to tell a story, develop some characters, showcase some potentially quality cinematography, or even just do something as simple as creating some atmosphere or building some tension? Plus, what was even the point of telling the story in flashback? And by the time we get to the actual spoopy scenes, they are so poorly put together that it feels like they were made entirely from footage off the editing room floor. Things just go completely off the rails, and I have no idea what is supposed to be happening. Character fates are left hanging, backstories are nonexistent, the movie can’t decide if it wants to be about haunting or insanity, any expectations for a sensible plot have long since gone out the window, and when the end finally comes, it feels so abrupt and out of nowhere, yet at the same time I’m happy it’s over. The movie doesn’t end so much as stop, and it all leaves me with more questions. What exactly happened in that old temple in not just its scary origins, but in the stories told to us by the Japanese villagers? Why are all the ghosts missing their eyes? Why is there a kitsune statue? Why does this movie exist? Why am I watching it?

In the recent Turkish horror film Baskin (which you should see), in which a group of police officers respond to a distress call coming from an abandoned building and stumble upon what I presume must be the entrance to Hell itself, we don’t even get to Hell until the final forty minutes of the ninety-five minute movie. But because the story has been engaging, the characters have been interesting, the buildup has been executed particularly well, and the movie is giving off a vibe of something being very, very wrong, it feels more than worth it.

Slow-burn horror can work, but perhaps the most important thing a slow-burn horror movie needs is interesting characters that I can root for. Temple has no such thing. The characters are so shallow and embody such obvious horror character archetypes that when the spoopy things actually happen, we just don’t care. Even in the most bottom-of-the-barrel horror trash, I can at least be counting down the minutes until the insufferable assholes die. But the characters in Temple are so bland and flat that I can’t summon any emotion. Especially when they are dropped into the situation without adequate setup, and are so determined to meet their doom at this supposedly evil temple despite the multiple attempts to dissuade them from going there. Apparently neither of these characters have seen any horror movie ever, because after hearing the litany of warnings about how evil the temple is, they never once think, Maybe visiting this temple might be…a bad idea. What a novel concept. First, when Chris attempted to buy the booklet, the shopkeeper freaked out, refused to sell it to them, and kicked them out of her store. Second, the guy at the bar recognized the temple and told Chris that it’s an unlucky place that makes people sick in the head. Third, the trio go to the village and hear a story from an old man about a boy who returned from a visit to the temple holding his eyes in his hands. And fourth, when Chris is pulled through the temple’s floorboards, injuring his leg, neither he nor the other two even think, Maybe it’s time to nope the hell out of here. It’s not enough that they’re stupid, I can’t even label them as characters because I know nothing about them. I know that there are supposed to be relationships between these characters, but apart from being occasionally mentioned in a handful of lines, they are nowhere to be found. I want to be shown these relationships, not just offhandedly told about them. James makes no sense, despite being a sleazy nobody. Why would such a character be attractive to Kate? Why doesn’t James trust Chris around his girlfriend but simultaneously trust Chris to not blab about blatantly cheating on Kate right in front of him? Kate wouldn’t have been much better of a lead character, but she would have at least been better than Chris, who has no character whatsoever.

And even the Japanese villagers embody the most clichéd and cringeworthy exotification and stereotypification of Japanese culture to the point where even I think it’s racist. Yeah, this movie doesn’t exactly treat rural Japanese culture in a realistic manner. But when has being a little racist ever stopped filmmakers from mining the corrosive mixture of mythology and actual xenophobia in order to continue patronizing American audiences. If you want to be brutally tortured to death, go to Eastern Europe. If you want to get the absolute crap scared out of you, go to Japan. “Oh, look how scary it is when Americans leave America and intrude on other cultures. I’ve never seen a horror movie before where a group of ignorant, idiotic twentysomething American tourists ignore a series of flagrant warning signs and get killed either by supernatural forces or other people.”

And while the fear in this movie was indeed not as filled with Jumpscare Porn as I expected, but whatever possibly invokable fear there is that doesn’t rely on terrible jumpscares hinges entirely on the fear of being in a foreign place. Every scary sequence results in a terrible jumpscare or a false start. And even the monster at the end is made of terrible CGI. I love how none of the villagers, in all their crazy stories about how evil the temple is, have anything to say about the Jim-Henson-wannabe CGI shapeshifting fox-woman monster or the eyeless monster kids that belong in a Canadian toothpaste ad from the ‘80s.

And when there’s nothing happening, no character development or even any actual plot, it is thoroughly draining to not even have good dialogue being adeptly acted out by talented actors. On the contrary, the actors have so little idea what they’re doing. I’m going to assume that this was partly the first-time director’s fault. The actors just confusedly wander about the scenes, more often than not just announcing their lines, asking obvious questions, and making pointless observations. The acting in general is frustratingly unconvincing, with the actors portraying Chris and Kate being particularly bad. The guy playing James is at least trying, but his character is an asshat. The actors clearly had no time to get to know their characters. Also, Kate repeatedly smiling after almost every line makes me want to shoot her.

At least the cinematography is okay, but it’s all for naught. While the cinematographers try to capture some atmosphere of rural Japan with shots of misty mountains, thick forests, and supposedly creepy locations, making rural Japan look nice is easy as ABC. And when the only thing I have to enjoy in Temple is a handful of pretty pictures, it’s damn near impossible to grant it even the slightest bit of leeway.

And with all that combined together, Temple as a movie feels incomplete, with a truncated story, characters in name only, idiotic plot twists, and very lazy attempts to frighten. With such a tiny runtime, the movie just resorts to just glossing over every aspect that could have been interesting. Almost the entire movie is spent just waiting for something to happen. Every scene brings with it the hope not just that the action will finally kick in, but that something, anything, will actually happen. And aside from the last fifteen minutes, almost nothing does. It takes forever to get to what is ostensibly the centerpiece of the movie. Multiple times during the movie, I was so uninterested and disinterested that I was repeatedly distracted for several minutes at a time by the fact that my siblings and cousins were upstairs binge-watching Stranger Things. I could have been watching that. But no. I was watching Temple. It’s better than The Final Project and Backgammon, but only slightly. The movie as a whole is nothing more than just a ton of painfully boring buildup to an infuriatingly ludicrous and unearned twist ending. It’s just a one-dimensional, haphazard miscellany of interpersonal drama that goes nowhere, flashbacks that go nowhere, police procedurals that go nowhere, and scary scenes that don’t just go nowhere, but don’t even try. And these things cannot possibly hope to mesh together. So they all just happen, sit there, and shrivel away and die. And it almost succeeds in making the please-let-this-be-feature-length runtime feel merciful. Almost.

Making a terrible horror movie is not hard to do. Hell, it’s really freaking easy. It’s so easy that every time I go on Amazon, Hulu, or Netflix, I have to dig through piles and piles of bargain bin crap just to find something good. But making a horror movie that is this bad is a goddamn accomplishment.

There. I did it. I reviewed Temple.

I don’t want to think about this movie anymore.

Final Verdict: 0 out of 5 stars.

UPDATE: TEMPLE WAS ON NETFLIX THIS ENTIRE TIME?! I DIDN’T HAVE TO SPEND MY HARD-EARNED MONEY TO RENT IT ON AMAZON AFTER ALL?! NO! NO! NO! NO! NOOOOOOO! F*CK! F*CK! F*******CK! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! 

*dies*

 A Quick Look: Murder on the Orient Express (2/5)

So I saw Kenneth Branagh’s new movie Murder on the Orient Express, and I was pretty disappointed.

First off, I have yet to read the book, but I don’t feel like I should have to read the book in order to enjoy the movie. The entire point of a film adaptation of a book is so that the movie can stand on its own, independently from the book. And since I have found this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famous novel to be lacking, my interest in reading the book has very much dwindled.

Branagh has always managed to deliver in the visual department, and this movie is no different. I love his establishing shots of the train traveling through the snowy mountains. I love how he creates such a good atmosphere of being on board a cramped train (which he proceeds to ruin every time he cuts away from out of the train) He always has such an eye for costumes and makeup and how to frame his shots.

And while not having the best ability in casting the right person in for each role, he certainly knows how to direct the actors he chooses. And each of the actors, while not always fitting the role they were given, actually do pretty well. I love Judi Dench in everything she’s in. I love Johnny Depp as a sleazy, slimy, no-good mobster. Willem Dafoe needs to work on his fake Austrian accent, but he plays his part well, despite not fitting it at all once his true identity is revealed. And even Daisy Ridley, who I hated in Star Wars VII because she spent every moment onscreen hyperventilating with her mouth hanging open exposing her clenched teeth and her eyes as wide as dinner plates, does all right here. Penelope Cruz, despite a good amount of sex-filled roles in the past, slips into the role of Christian missionary with ease and even dignity. Even Josh Gad, who I normally find painfully annoying, does all right.  And Michelle Pfeiffer is surprisingly good as the mastermind behind the murder. And Kenneth Branagh plays a great Hercule Poirot.

At first, I kind of liked it. The opening scene at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem was a great introduction to Branagh as Poirot. He’s a massive control freak, a funny stickler who demands perfectly cooked eggs, lightheartedly complains about their unequal size, and then doesn’t bother eating them. When solving the mystery of the theft of a priceless religious artifact, he sticks his cane in the Wailing Wall, as if he supernaturally knows who the actual thief is and where he will run in his attempt to escape capture. And then events play out exactly as Poirot predicted. This was fun and actually pretty funny.

But that’s where my liking of the film stops, as the opening scene does the exact opposite of setting a precedent. While I really like Branagh as Poirot, it is much to the detriment of the rest of the cast that Branagh focuses too much of the film on his character and not nearly enough on the rest of the cast. Though I love Judi Dench, she has nowhere near enough screentime to leave an impression. Her lady in waiting fares far worse, and the count with a hair-trigger temper and his wife barely exist. Up until the climax of the film, I was constantly asking myself, “Who are these other characters whose roles are all supposed to be pivotal to the story? What are they like? How are they reacting to being cooped up on this train for a few days? Are any of them not the least bit claustrophobic? What is each character’s relationship with the next?” Because when none of them save Poirot are given nearly enough screentime, I don’t have a reason to be invested in Kenneth Branagh’s fulfilled personal fantasy of being able to play Hercule Poirot. And when I am unable to get invested in the movie, it just becomes very, very boring. This movie desperately needed an extra thirty to forty-five minutes to develop the other characters, rather than focusing on Poirot’s surprisingly fast but simultaneously plodding solving of the case or the handful of shoehorned in, poorly filmed action scenes. And when it is revealed at the end of the movie that everyone in that particular train car murdered Mr. Ratchett/Cassetti, I found myself thinking, Yes, I get it, we’re being told each character’s motivation to murder Cassetti, but we weren’t shown their motivation. When I see people who wouldn’t normally resort to murdering someone engage in a brutal murder, I want to understand why. I don’t want to be told why, I want to be shown why. And each of the characters seems to have drastically changed. They felt like entirely different people, and not in a good way. Though I could tell throughout the movie that they were hiding something, the movie gave no inclination whatsoever that they were hiding something this dark. This ruined the movie for me. I guess the character development and transformations were probably in the book.

And the overall mystery could have been interesting, but I’m completely taken out of the movie when several pivotal clues are seemingly pulled out of thin air by Poirot. For example, I cannot for the life of me tell you how Poirot came to the conclusion that Mr. Ratchett was actually this other guy named Cassetti. Can someone help me with this? Don’t answer me with info from the book; I want your info to be gleaned from the movie, because the movie is supposed to stand on its own. And by the time we get to the big reveal at the end of the movie, it just doesn’t feel earned. I just felt like, Oh. That’s the big conspiracy, huh? They all killed Cassetti? Okay. The buildup to this could have been so much better. And I get that the moral lesson at the end was kind of the right thing to do, but the series of hoops one must leap through to arrive at such a conclusion are damned exhausting.

There are events transpiring, but much of the movie feels like nothing is really happening. Yeah, Poirot is working feverishly to solve the mystery, but when I can clearly tell that Kenneth Branagh just wanted to make a movie starring himself as Hercule Poirot, I have no reason to root for him. I’m just sitting there captive until the movie is over. And when so little plot is transpiring that I’m just desperately looking to the acting or the dialogue to entertain me, I cannot help but notice the occasional kick to America’s shin or some very distracting virtue signaling, such as at least one or two characters having to correct another offscreen about the other’s opinions of Josef Stalin (who, by the way, made Hitler look like Mother Teresa), or Willem Dafoe’s character being racist. No, really, I burst out laughing when his character refused to sit with the black doctor because he claimed that mixing the black and white races ruins them both. He then tried to make an analogy to mixing red and white wine, but Daisy Ridley just poured her glass of red wine into her glass of white wine. Watch this scene; it’s hilarious in all the wrong ways, most notably how fully it derailed the flow of the movie.

Also, I found it very distracting to the point that it took me out of the movie that the twelve stab wounds to the torso of Johnny Depp produced surprisingly little blood. Gotta keep this movie PG-13.

And can we talk about the big beast of a fuzzy grey caterpillar that is Poirot’s mustache? Whenever I see it onscreen, I can’t help but be slightly amused. This freaking thing steals every scene it’s in, and thinking back on it, I can’t help but chuckle to myself. And the silly little soul patch on his chin. Way to distinguish yourself from every Poirot that has ever been and ever will be, Mr. Branagh.

Overall, Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express looks nice and is acted well, but there’s just nothing else there. That’s why I’m giving this one a 2 out of 5.

I’m not planning on seeing this one again any time soon, but for those of you who haven’t seen this yet, just do what I’m doing. I’m going to go watch the 1974 version.