A Quick Look: Split (4.5/5)

So I just got home from seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie, Split, and I was blown away by my surprise. This movie is not only really good, but it’s M. Night’s best movie since Signs. I’ve had a decently positive experience with Night in general. Though I haven’t seen his first two films, Praying with Anger and Wide AwakeThe Sixth Sense is one of my all-time favorite movies. Unbreakable is one of the best and most unique subversions of the superhero genre. Signs was a surprisingly heartfelt and personal tale about a family dealing with an impending alien invasion, The Village was heavily underrated, much of the hate for Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender is unfounded and overblown, and I haven’t seen The Happening or After Earth yet. But then The Visit came out, and I really liked it. The Visit felt like a return to Night’s roots, but I wasn’t a hundred percent willing to say that Night was back just yet. I felt that there was a small possibility that The Visit might have been just a fluke. But then Split came out and I was happily surprised. Now that Night has returned to form and is making small-scale, self-contained thrillers on a small budget rather than making massive-scale, overblown action pieces that have significantly larger budgets that Night has no idea what to do with, I feel he can start churning out new and frighteningly original, lovingly crafted pieces of cinema. Better yet, now that he’s working for Blumhouse productions, a studio well-known for churning out low-budget horror flick after low-budget horror flick and clearly know how to utilize as few crew members as necessary, Night has a significantly easier time finding the few people he needs to shoot his movies, rather than asking for millions of dollars from a big-name studio to hire his workers.

By the way, you read that second-to last sentence right. Yes, I said that: original. Split is one of the most original and unique films I have seen in the last few years.

The acting is phenomenal. Well, at least from the two leads, James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. The chick playing the other white chick relied a little too much on using her arms to act instead of her face or the rest of her body. James McAvoy’s performance is amazing. Any other less-talented actor would have either been too bland or too over-the-top, and McAvoy finds the perfect balance. Moreover, he was not just playing one character, but multiple characters. We do not get to see all of McAvoy’s soon-to-be-twenty-four personas, but McAvoy taking on the ones we do see and actually making them as convincing as he does is brave as hell and truly showcases his talent. I love seeing him transition from OCD Dennis to prim, proper Patricia, to playful, immature Hedwig, to flamboyant Barry who has a fantastic taste in fashion, to philosopher Orwell, to diabetic Jade, and, ultimately, to the ungodly terrifying Beast. Keep in mind that his talents were highly misused in 2015’s travesty Victor Frankenstein, leaving McAvoy to give a miserable performance. But Split redeems him and then some, and he is easily the best part of Split. But Anya Taylor-Joy is a close second. I was throughly blown away by her Oscar-worthy performance as Thomasin in The VVitch, considered her to be the saving grace of Morgan, and she is just as amazing here. Admittedly, this comes with some bias, as I have a major crush on her. I also love how her character actually is given a backstory to provide a reason for her survival instincts. Look to Anya Taylor-Joy in Split, feminists. This is another girl you should strive to be like. Taylor-Joy and McAvoy act as, essentially, foils to each other. Taylor-Joy is subtle and still, while McAvoy is showy, showoffy, and somewhat hammy, and they balance each other perfectly.

The camerawork is fantastic. It’s only fitting that Night hired the cameraman from It Follows, another one of the best-shot horror films of the past decade. Much like in It Follows, the camerawork in Split contained many shots with a slow, steady, creeping zoom-in that really helped to escalate the tension. But, of course, Night’s isms are still there. He has a directing style all his own. He knows how to frame shots. He knows how to light shots. He knows how to color shots. He knows how to edit shots well. And for him to collaborate with the cameraman from It Follows is a recipe for a visual feast. Seriously, this one of Night’s best-shot films. The obvious, loving tributes to Hitchcock are there in abundance, and fit perfectly with the flow of the film.

The story is also surprisingly well-written. Admittedly, the second act could have been trimmed down a bit more. This is probably one of Night’s leanest narratives, but it still has an undeniable level of complexity, and it is constantly moving forward, even when the pace slows down quite a bit in the second act. The story itself is a bit of a puzzle. McAvoy kidnapped these girls; what does he want with them? How can they escape? Can they escape? How much time do they have before McAvoy’s twenty-fourth personality, the Beast, arises to dominate the other twenty-three? The other twenty-three personalities are looking forward to the coming of the Beast; what makes the Beast so fearsome? This is Night returning to his roots, directing a slow-burn thriller. It’s always been naggingly tense thus far, but when the climax comes and the Beast arrives, the movie all of a sudden becomes really scary. McAvoy as the Beast is the epitome of menace, and every time he’s onscreen, you feel his presence. Seriously, the Beast is scary. He’s really scary. And the things he does when he arrives are ungodly disturbing.

And no, I’m not going to mention the twist at the absolute end.

I cannot stress how good this film is. Though there are a few bits of the Night people grew to hate, those are almost entirely gone. Go see this movie and behold what Night hath wrought.

It’s wonderfully refreshing to see Night return to form, and I look forward to seeing his future work. I’m giving this one a 4.5 out of 5. Welcome back, Mr. Shyamalan. We missed you.

A Quick Look: Incarnate (1.5/5)

So I just got home from seeing Incarnate. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t good either. It wasn’t memorable, but it escaped being called “forgettable” by a hair. This is another one of those dull, generic, dime-a-dozen exorcism movies that have no reason to exist, but get made anyway, and are all obviously inspired by The Exorcist. The only things that Incarnate has going for it are its scientific approach to exorcism, and a decent performance by Aaron Eckhart. Unfortunately, not only is Eckhart only allowed to show one emotion for the majority of the film (daaaaaarrrk and brooooodiiiiing), but the scientific ideas are not explored nearly enough. Which is a pity, because when I saw the trailer, it sounded like a pretty novel idea. It sounded like a fresh approach to exorcism movies. Aaron Eckhart has his two hipster assistants induce REM sleep in him, and he goes into the minds of the possessed and takes on the demon in there. Unfortunately, the movie barely explains how this method of exorcism by science works. It’s such a pity that such a cool idea was not explored nearly enough.

Though the movie deciding not to explore its sciencey stuff is a major downfall, the main problems with the movie stem from our characters. They have little to nothing to do in this movie. In fact, the only characters that actually have anything to do in this movie are Aaron Eckhart and his assistants. Aaron Eckhart is also the only character that even comes close to being interesting, but that’s just because he’s a much angstier version of Father Merrin from The Exorcist. They both have this feud with this particular demon for various reasons, but it’s Eckhart’s character that is so fully consumed with his desire for revenge, which makes his character seem all the more generic. And apart from Eckhart and the demonic antagonist, none of the characters are memorable in the slightest, except for the fact that Eckhart’s hipster assistants are just that hipster. I don’t remember any of their names, save the name of the demon. I don’t even remember their character traits. I know nothing about the possessed kid save for his daddy issues. I know nothing about the kid’s mother save for her hubby issues. I know nothing about the chick from the Vatican (another problem: there’s, like, less than ten people in this movie.).

A horror movie is only as good as its villain, and the villain is pretty weakly written. This female demon named Maggie (how spoopy) just has nothing to do until literally the last minute or two of the movie, which I won’t spoil. Seriously, when she possesses the kid, she literally just sits crisscross applesauce in a meditative position in the kid’s room for almost the entire duration of the possession. She does literally nothing to make her creepy. Oh, and her voice is clearly just electronically lowered. That’s the reason that The Exorcist, though a great movie,just didn’t do it for me: the demon had nothing to do for most of the movie other than possess Regan and torment people. All she did was showcase scary makeup, make scary faces, spout scary dialogue in a scary voice, and occasionally contort herself into scary positions. Though the demon-possessed Regan was scary, I was disappointed because she didn’t have much to do. A fantastic recent example of a demonic character that actually did something was Bathsheba Sherman in The Conjuring. She was downright terrifying, and the scene in which she possesses Carolyn Perron is ungodly scary. And after Bathsheba possessed Carolyn, she actually had something to do: possess the mother to kill the child, a deliberate perversion of the unconditional love a parent has for her child. That’s scary; nay, disturbing. I typically find that the scariest movie demons have the goal of just tearing apart a family via their evil influence. That’s one of the worst crimes imaginable. But back to Incarnate. I think Maggie’s dialogue made me realize that I was never going to feel any sense of threat from her. See, in some movies such as The Exorcist or even The Exorcism of Molly Hartley, the dialogue that the demon uses is very much in the vein of Hannibal Lecter and HAL 9000. These demons know exactly how to get under your skin. They know what’s in your underwear drawer. They know what’s in your diary. They know your deepest, darkest desires. They know your past mistakes. They know every instinct of the human animal. That’s scary. And when you combine this dialogue with a fantastic performance, like, of course, Mercedes McCambridge in The Exorcist, you feel the vibe of Oh my gosh, I’m hearing the voice of evil incarnate. You know that the being possessing these poor people is very, very evil. But Maggie in Incarnate does not have this. In fact, her lines are pretty shaky.

The overall story’s pacing is kind of off, with us spending the first two acts of the movie moving along at a really fast clip. The third act not only slows down, but the climax itself feels both too long and too short. And the movie could have ended twice before it finally did. The acting isn’t bad at all; in fact, Eckhart does pretty well with what he has to work with. But as a whole, none of the actors give performances worthy enough to write home about or put on a resume. It doesn’t help that the majority of the dialogue is expository. The movie as a whole is shot fine, save for the lighting, which reduces every night scene to a murky gray, and fails to make that monochrome color scheme work.

It’s an unoriginal movie with an undercooked premise. It’s not good enough to be at least average, but it’s not bad enough to be irksome. It’s essentially like being fed a cube of unflavored gelatin. It’s like opening a bottle of Gatorade, taking a sip, and realizing that the factory heavily watered the Gatorade down, like they normally do. And I’m giving this one a 1.5 out of 5.

“The Abstergo Man” by CreepsMcPasta: A Companion Piece to My “Lights Out” Review

The Abstergo Man

Written by CreepsMcPasta


I’m [typing] this more for me than anything else. Just…a place where I can document the details and try to see if there’s a missing link or something I may have missed.

It started about two months ago in the middle of a bleak winter. I was on my way home from the late shift at the local supermarket. I made my way down the side roads that led to my house, the vapors in my cold breath catching my attention every so often. I was nearing the last few turns when I saw a figure. He stood at a point between the streets where there weren’t any streetlights around. The only thing illuminating this section was the night’s moon and stars. I couldn’t make out any detail or anything noticeable other than that he was facing my direction and completely motionless. At the time I probably thought it wasn’t even a living thing, just some shades and shapes that happened to make out the silhouette of a person, which can happen in the misty dew of winter like this one. Even if it was a person, they were probably standing around, waiting for the bus or something remedial like that. Anyway, as you can tell, I didn’t think much of it at all, and carried on home.

The next day, I had another late shift at work, so I started my walk down the usual route in the late afternoon, the setting sun flaring just over the horizon past the thick blanket of clouds that covered the sky, the familiar old town streets blurring in my mind as any sight would that has been seen one too many times. I barely had any thought of the previous night’s experience, as nothing from that incident stood out to be anything of interest, and as I passed where I saw the person, I only just had a thought to check over the area to see if the person was here again or if there was any sign that it was even here at all. I didn’t look long, but nothing noticeable stood out, so I carried on to work where I’d be working until the late evening again.

After my shift ended, I made my way home with some simple shopping in hand. As usual, it was dire cold, so I made my pace brisk with the intention of making it home as soon as possible to settle down with a hot drink and sleep my tiring night away. I came across the same unlit section of road where I saw the shape before, not expecting anything to be out of the ordinary until I saw him again, except this time he was a little bit closer. I stared at him, not sure what I was hoping would happen. What unsettled me was the fact that he wasn’t just standing still, but pretty much almost unmoving. There wasn’t any sense of him breathing. He was static. Usually, when you see a dark figure, the last thing you want is for it to come toward you, let alone move, but I guess I was hoping it would move even just an inch in a human way, to be sure that what I was looking at was okay or even alive. It unsettled me too much to approach him, so I just briskly walked along the other side of the road home to avoid any confrontation.

The next day or two, things were pretty mellow. My shifts were during the day and my walk home was also during the day, which is what I was supposed to be contracted for at work. And during this brief period, I never saw any sign of the person, so I put the incident behind me once again and moved on. But as my luck would dictate, I was called in on more evening shifts. In the shop, things were always busier in the evening, as this was more and more becoming people’s preferred time for shopping. Also, due to economic reasons, a lot of the temporary staff had been let go recently, meaning they needed the remaining team to work on varied times.

After a particularly stressful evening shift, I made my usual walk home in a groggy manner. I was nearing the end of the journey when I crossed into the dark part of the road and saw him again. He wasn’t just off to the side anymore, but noticeably closer, and worst of all, standing in the middle of the road. This posed a problem for me, because that meant I would have to get within a few feet of this weirdo to get past him, and I couldn’t handle that thought. So I backtracked and went through and alternate, more well-lit route. It added about ten minutes to the journey, but It made me feel a lot safer, and it also meant I got to avoid the stranger. It was worth every extra second.

To avoid hassle, I used that route every evening shift from then on. It meant I would avoid the person and get some extra exercise, which I felt I needed anyway, so it wasn’t that much of a bother. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I was finally beginning to think that I wouldn’t see the person ever again, that the turning point happened.

I came home, late as usual due to the longer route home. I placed my bags in the kitchen and settled down. I didn’t feel like doing anything, so I immediately started getting ready to go to bed to sleep the tiredness right out of me. I changed out of my work clothes, brushed my teeth, and went around the house, turning off the lights. When I got to the last one in the dining room before I would head upstairs to bed, I flicked it off and as I turned around, I caught a glimpse of a figure down the end of my garden. It was very dark outside, but my garden is considerably small, so I knew the layout very well, and I definitely knew I saw something there that did not belong. My hand was still on the switch, so I instinctively turned it back on. Nothing. I stared for what seemed like a long time. In reality it was only minutes, but to me, it felt like hour due to the tension in the air. After I was satisfied, theorizing that he must have ran at the sight of me turning the light back on, I turned the light off again. He was there, this time closer. What was I to do? Someone [reading] will probably shout, “Call the police!” but really, what are they going to do? Arrest him for creeping me out? I’m pretty sure that’s not a crime, and technically there is a section in my garden that’s classed as a public path, so he’s by definition not trespassing. So I did what I could do. I made sure the back door and the front door were locked. I even barricaded my bedroom door just in case he tried to get in. Sleep didn’t meet me at all that night.

The day after was my day off, so took full advantage of this by sleeping through the whole day. I was exhausted, and who wouldn’t be? When I woke up, I didn’t have much daylight at all in order to do chores, and most places were either closed or just about to, so I stayed in and did the usual thing most people do at night: watched movies, played games, and generally browsed the Internet. After a while of this, I wanted something to cheer me up, so I went on Netflix and started watching random family sitcoms. Very instant humor and good, wholesome values were just what I needed at a stressful point like this. Halfway through the first series of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, I was thirsty and a bit hungry, so I went downstairs for a snack. I pulled out a can of Pepsi in the fridge and some old popcorn that I never got around to eating from my cupboard, and as I was about to ascend my stairs, I turned off the light. Curious after last night’s events, I humored myself. I walked up to the window facing the garden and peeked outside. There he was, just standing there, motionless as always. I couldn’t believe it. I was more dumbfounded than anything, simply confused as to why this person was stalking me. I rushed back to the light switch, turned it back on, and jolted back to the window in hopes of seeing who this person was, whether it was someone I know playing a prank or a well-known serial killer. It didn’t bother me at this point. I just wanted to know, but even while I was dashing toward the window, not too far away from the light switch, he was gone. I didn’t know how to feel, because what was always happening was not adding up. It wasn’t until I turned the light off in frustration that I made my first startling discovery: it was the lights. It was again there, and closer, only a few feet away from my window. Out of sheer fear, I turned the light back on and proceeded around the house, reaching my hand around dark corners and turning on the lights. I made sure never to turn them off from then on. And after that, things were fine. For a while.

The following week, I made sure only to travel along well-lit roads and never cross into any places of darkness. Doing this, I managed to revert partially back to normal life. My eating started to become more regular, and I was managing to actually sleep at night. Everything was incident-free until one evening, after another lazy day of Netflix and junk food, I went downstairs to refresh my soda supply in the kitchen. To keep out the cold from the kitchen to the rest of the house, I closed the door. I opened my fridge, grabbed a few cans, and just as I closed the fridge, the kitchen lightbulb blew. My head turned to the bulb by instinct, but looking at it, I knew what this meant. My attention was then immediately taken to the other end of the kitchen. There he was, only a few feet away. It was no longer lurking outside my house, but he appeared inside. I could actually see details now. He stood there, rigid as ever. His face bore the contours of age on his skin. His clothes were no different, being measly black rags tattered around his body. In the dark, I couldn’t see his eyes, but I knew they were focused purely on me. I noticed only one of his arms was down at his side. The other hand’s index finger was pushed against his lips like when one is trying to shush someone. Other than being able to see him more clearly, now that there weren’t any walls or windows between us, I could now hear him. Heavy breathing with deep grunts, like an animal excited for the kill. All this information sank in between the time that it took me to panic and open the fridge door for the meat bulb to barely illuminate the kitchen. The cold air from the freshly opened fridge brushed my face as I turned back to see him no longer there.

It took one more similar incident like this for me to go full-blown paranoid. I was walking through the dining room to the kitchen when the bulb went. This completely took away my trust of all my rooms except my bedroom. This time, he appeared so close I could feel his breath roll off my skin. The smell was so putrid when it hit my senses that it didn’t take me long to flinch backwards and throw up. I turned around and scattered toward the door, reaching in a panic and almost pulling the thing off its hinges to get it open. The luminescence from the other room soon filled most of the dining room, and with it, the apparition left.

I’ve done some research in the back end of the internet describing what’s been happening, as hypothetical situations, of course, and the only similarly related lore is the one of the Abstergo, or the Abstergo Man. A myth of a fallen angel that was condemned by the gods to wander the earth in search of the perfect person. If the person he chooses was perfect, then he would be free and allowed back into paradise. It seems he didn’t get a good deal, as to find a perfect person is not an easy task I can imagine. It is unknown what he does to anyone who doesn’t fit this criteria, but I have a feeling I might find out, as the last time he appeared was within breathing distance.

I’m currently in my room with the lights on, and as a precaution, a dozen lamps scattered around the place, all turned on. The TV is also on, and muted purely for the screenlight, and my computer monitor as well. It’s hot as hell in here, but it’s a small price to pay for the security it offers. The door is barricaded so nothing can get in and out of here. The only exception that I leave is around midday, when the sun is at its brightest to resupply food and water. I haven’t been to work in days, either, and I’ve ignored all calls coming through and people knocking on my door. What is there to tell? No one will believe me, and even if they did, they can’t help me. All I can do for now is survive while I research more into this legend. There are a lot of smart kids out there who know a lot about the old days. I’ve even found a subsection of a small forum dedicated to the Abstergo Man and have some pretty interesting context from there. I’ve sent some emails to them, and I’m awaiting reply, so until then, all I have to do is survi-

Review 86: Lights Out (1.5/5)


Lights Out 2016 poster.jpg

Lights Out

Directed by David F. Sandberg

Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Maria Bello, Alicia Vela-Bailey

Released on July 22, 2016

Running time: 1h 21m

Rated PG-13

Genre: Horror


By the time 2013 had gotten underway, the Internet had already been inundated with an inordinate amount of various amateur scary stories and urban legends, such as Slender Man and Jeff the Killer and Smile Dog. Aspiring writers published their assorted works all over the Internet. Most of these were compiled onto the Creepypasta site, where many aspiring writers publish their short horror stories to this day. They still span the entire spectrum from inept to laudable.

On October 31st, 2013, YouTuber CreepsMcPasta posted a video of him reading a creepypasta that he wrote himself called “The Abstergo Man”. It was about a guy dealing with being stalked by a malevolent, scary-looking spirit that is only seen in the dark and disappears when the lights come on. It’s a brilliant idea that was decently creepy in its execution, and though his storywriting is clearly amateur, CreepsMcPasta did pretty damn good for only being a YouTuber who posts videos of himself reading creepypastas.

Then, on December 30th, 2013, David Sandberg premiered a two-and-a-half-minute short film that he and his wife created called Lights Out at the “Who’s There?” short horror film competition. Though the short film was indeed pretty scary for only two and a half minutes, it hit nearly every note that “The Abstergo Man” did. It felt almost like a carbon copy, save for its incredibly short length and switching the genders of both main character and spirit. I’m not accusing Sandberg of plagiarism, because not only was Lights Out released just barely shy of two months after “The Abstergo Man”, but if he did copy “The Abstergo Man”, Lights Out is arguably different enough to fall under fair use. Plus, I’m not sure if David Sandberg even knew who CreepsMcPasta was while he was over in Sweden.

Though CreepsMcPasta at least had a story to tell, it was Sandberg who received offer after offer to make his short into a full-length film. And after much deliberation, the movie got made about two and a half years after the short premiered.

When I saw the trailers for it, I was very disappointed and put off, as according to the trailer, not only did it give away practically every single detail about the plot except how the movie ended, but the movie would be Jumpscare Central.

Then I finally had the opportunity to see it. And when I did so, I discovered, to my utter surprise…that I was absolutely right. On both counts.

Our story begins in some sort of factory in which we see a ton of mannequins standing around and clothes on hangers. Some of the mannequins are in various states of dress. I wish we could have seen some extreme mannequin manipulation action, but I didn’t find it here. Anyway, a dad is calling his son Martin (Bateman). They exchange a few words about the mother’s deteriorating mental state. She’s been “talking to herself”. The dad promises that he’ll be home soon and will get his mother better. You can tell from this conversation this dad is a goner. He’ll be dead in a few minutes. The two say goodbye. Dad’s employee Esther (Lotta Losten, David Sandberg’s wife and star of their short film. She’s even wearing the same shirt she did in the short! And her part in the film is even smaller than her part in the short) tells Dad that she’s clocking out, and starts locking up. She’s in the process of finishing up a bit of inventory when the lights go out. She waves her arms around, the motion sensor picks it up, and the lights turn back on. But a rack of clothes is shaking like someone just shuffled through it. Odd. She goes into the back room and turns off the light. And just like in the short film, a ghost (Vela-Bailey) appears. She’s been changed around. Rather than being naked, she’s simply just a silhouette. And like in the short film, Esther’s curiosity causes her to experiment with the light five times. On the fifth, the ghost appears right in front of her. This moment in the short was accompanied by a quiet jump, but in the movie, eff that! Jumpscare! Esther turns the light back on, and the obvious nod to the short film stops. The movie’s only eighty minutes; gotta introduce us to the ghost’s mechanics somehow. Esther goes back into Dad’s office, interrupting him in the middle of a phone call. Esther tells him that there’s something weird in the back room, but he dismisses it, telling her to go on home. Esther does so, and we never see her again. I’m amazed she gets out of the building unscathed. I presume the rest of the short film plays out back at her place. The dad ends his call and decides to head home. He walks through his factory, keys in hand, before he hears a clattering in the distance. Don’t go and investigate. He turns two corners and sees the shadow person just beyond two lights away from him. Thinking it’s Esther, he calls her name. But with a crackling sound, the ghost stands up. She’s a living shadow monster with wild hair, long, sinewy limbs, a spidery gait, and an almost feral, animalistic physicality. She could have been really freaking creepy had she been properly handled by the story she inhabits. Unfortunately, she’s not. Also, I love how these lights in the building only illuminate a perfect circle and that everything outside these circles are in total darkness. Lights don’t work that way. The lights flick off, Dad waves his arms around, the sensor picks it up, and the lights turn back on. And the ghost is one light closer! He turns around and is startled. The camera cuts to his face and then back to the corridor to show that the ghost has disappeared! Unnerved, the dad runs off, but trips. He stands up and looks at his leg, which has been badly cut. He looks up and sees that the ghost is only one light away. The dad quickly gets the point. The ghost can’t come any farther because of the light. But why can’t the ghost just walk around it? The dad makes a run for his office, makes it, shuts the door, turns on the lights, and grabs a baseball bat that he just so happened to have on a shelf. By the way, on the shelf below it, there’s a little doll of the ghost from the short film. The lights in the factory go out, and a few seconds later, so do the ones in Dad’s office. Dang it. And the movie actually does the next jumpscare pretty well. The doorknob slightly rattles, unlocks, and opens. A few seconds of silence later, the ghost blindsides him from behind and drags him into the darkness. Out in the factory, he plops onto the floor, having been brutally mauled to death. This warrants the film’s PG-13 rating. Nothing else does, by the way. And then, title sequence.

That was the first five minutes. And to be honest, the first five minutes of this film are easily the best and scariest part of the movie. I’m not gonna lie, it was actually pretty creepy. The director did a pretty good job of building some solid tension with a legitimate sense of unease. If only the rest of the movie was this well done and actually scary. Also, another problem – it felt like it was just another iteration of the short film.

Cut to a couple in a crappy apartment on a bed after sex. This is Becca (Palmer) (oh my gosh, that’s why she was so familiar! She was Six from I Am Number Four!) and Bret (DiPersia).  Becca is our main character: she listens to trashy, hard metal music, has a bunch of scary posters all over her apartment, and has nonmarital sex with someone she doesn’t even consider a boyfriend yet. Hey, they’re two consenting adults; I’m not going to stop them. Becca takes a shower. Question: do girls always put their towels on before exiting the shower, or did this just happen so the director could avoid redoing the shot to avoid nudity? I’m not sure he would mind showing Teresa Palmer’s boobs (I wouldn’t mind him doing so), but it would have gotten the movie an R rating. Yes, shoehorn all sorts of violence into a movie and it’ll get a PG-13, but show a boobie and it’ll get rated R. Becca gently kicks Bret out of her apartment. The two clearly have something going on between them.

After a decent transition shot over two individual copies of a photo of Becca and Martin, the next scene shows Martin in bed, hearing a muffled conversation that his mother Sophie (Bello, the best actor in the movie) seems to be having with herself. And the movie clearly tells us that this is a scare sequence. Two in the first fifteen minutes? After checking on his mother, who kindly tells him to go to bed, he exits his mom’s room and heads back to his own. He turns around to see his mother in the dark doorway. A shadowy hand and part of a head peek into the doorway, scaring the bejabbers out of Martin, who flees to his room and closes the door. The lights outside his room flick off, the floorboards creak, scratching against wood is heard, and something grabs the of-course-old-fashioned doorknob and rattles it. The door bangs lightly twice. The bedside lamp flickers. So his mother was talking to the ghost? And what does this mean? Gabriel Bateman as Martin is an okay child actor, but he cannot for the life of me convince me that he’s actually scared.

The next day, Martin is at some elementary school (at least he actually looks young enough). He’s fallen asleep in class for the third time this week. After a failed attempt to call Sophie, Martin suggests calling Becca, who is his older sister. After an awkward exchange between Becca and a CPS agent in which we forcedly learn that the dad from the beginning was Martin’s father and Becca’s stepfather, that Becca’s real father ran off when she was ten, that Becca does not live with Sophie and Martin and left on bad terms with Sophie, that Sophie is on antidepressants, and that Martin fell asleep in homeroom for the third time this week, Becca and Bret take Martin to his and Sophie’s house.

At Sophie’s house, Becca tells Bret to stay in the car. Aww, would Mommy not approve of your boyfriend? Do you even care about her opinion?  Martin clearly wants to stay at Becca’s place, but Becca tries to dissuade him by saying that she has scary posters on the walls. Martin says that he just needs sleep. Becca says they’ll talk about it. As Becca and Martin walk to the front door, Martin mentions someone named Diana. This is the name of the ghost. Oooh, how threatening. This clearly strikes a chord with Becca, who tells Martin that she had the same experience as him after her dad left. She assures him that Diana is not real. Sophie opens the door and invites them in. Martin goes straight upstairs and packs a bag, and Becca converses with Sophie, who admits her refusal to see a therapist or take her meds. I love how neither Becca nor Martin never even mention that Sophie forgot to pick Martin up. Upstairs, another scary sequence happens. After Martin packs a bag, he hears Sophie’s bedroom door open on its own. He investigates only to see a dark figure, Diana, slam the door. Wait, wasn’t the sun shining in that room despite the closed curtains? Three scary scenes in twenty minutes. Wow. Downstairs, Becca plays the “bad mother” card. Sophie tries to counter by saying that it’s hard to raise him without a father and that Becca turned out bad. Becca decides to have Martin stay with her, but he’s already packed his bag. Much to the protest of a distraught Sophie, they go to Becca’s place. What did you expect, Mommy? Your business with Diana has been making you neglect your kid. How dare Becca have the gall to remove her little brother from a clearly unhealthy environment.

Martin settles in quickly. It was about now that I thought, How does a borderline pubescent Martin deal with having a sister with as much sex appeal as she does? Out in another room, Bret tries to call Becca out on alleged BS by asking if Becca’s housing Martin to help him or hurt Sophie. Both, of course. Bret, I thought you were trying to get the approval of this chick. Why are you asking such a crapheaded question? And I know I’m supposed to be paying attention to this conversation, but I can’t help but notice the Avenged Sevenfold poster on the wall. Bret leaves of his own accord.

Becca makes Martin some food and combs his hair. Well, motherly tendencies are a part of female instinct. Martin wonders if his mother’s craziness is hereditary. It’s not, unless it’s some form of mental illness. At least the dynamic between Becca and Martin is a little cute. Unfortunately, with the movie being only seventy-seven minutes long sans credits, it’s too short to build on this bond between these two.

So apparently Becca’s apartment is over a tattoo parlor. Ooookay. I have no idea how she sleeps every night with the sign flashing nonstop into her room. Becca awakes to a scratching noise that stops whenever the sign flashes into the room. Obviously it’s Diana. Becca reaches over to the bedside lamp, but the lightbulb is burned out. Becca sees Diana disappear when the sign flashes. Becca, slow to catch on, slowly gets out of bed to investigate. But Diana notices her. And in the next flash that lasts a second longer than it should, Becca takes the entire duration to realize the situation. The flash stops and Diana is standing up. She lunges for Becca, but the sign flashes again, this time for eight and a half seconds. I counted; the sign normally flashes for only three. Becca lunges for the light switch, and makes it just barely as the flash stops. Good freaking timing. Becca goes into the bathroom, but hears a noise from in the bathtub. She slowly moves over to it, and – you can see the flashlight through the shower curtain. It’s clearly not Diana. Becca opens the shower curtain to see Martin sleeping in it with a turned-on flashlight. How does he sleep with the flashlight turned on?

The next morning, Becca is visited by the CPS agent. And the agent is pissed. She’s all like, “How dare you take your brother from his unhealthy home environment and house him in yours where he’s at least a little safer!” Well, Becca’s his sister! What right do you have to do this? She’s clearly not trying to become his legal guardian! Becca was planning to house Martin for only a few days! Plus, if Sophie is clearly crazy, then as Martin’s sister, Becca is obligated to remove Martin from Sophie’s custody! At least get him out of the house; you can transfer custody when you can! “But she was lucid when I stopped by!” This CPS agent has a point, though it’s not a strong one. Though Sophie is crazy, Becca, according to how her apartment looks, isn’t exactly providing a healthy environment, either. A pair of panties on the rug. Scary posters on the wall. A bong on the couchside cupboard. Oh, noooo, spoopy poasturz and drugz! I also am not sure how good of a guardian for him she would be. Is she employed? Does she make enough to support herself, let alone herself and her brother? And then the CPS agent takes him to school. Isn’t he forgetting yesterday’s clothes? Also, this counselor isn’t even in the rest of the movie. She’s gone off to wherever Esther ran off to. Becca then does some obviously-needed cleaning. And then she notices the scratchings on the wood floor from last night. She didn’t already check those last night? Obviously, it’s going to read “Diana”. She lifts up the rug to see “Diana” and a stick figure carved into the floor. Told you so.

Becca then has a flashback to some arbitrary night when she was a child. She looks a little old to be drawing crappy pictures of her family. Seriously, she’s, like, eight or nine. Grow up. Child Becca’s hair is too light a shade of blonde. Child Becca hears a scratching noise from her closet and looks in that direction. She looks back at her desk to see that her sketchbook is no longer there. She stole my picture! Wait, how was Diana able to take the sketchbook? It was in a lit room! Child Becca looks back at the closet to hear drawing sounds from it. She goes over to it and hits the light switch. How convenient that the light switch was on the bedroom side of the door. The sketchbook drops to the ground out of thin air. She picks up the sketchbook to find the word “Diana” and a stick figure drawn on her picture. Oh, and her dad is blacked out. She ruined my picture! Flash back forward to the present. Literally the only reason that this flashback was there was to show why the name Diana scares Becca. Wow.

For those of you keeping score at home, there have been six scary sequences in thirty minutes. Wow.

One of the best or worst things a scary movie can do is give its evil entity a name. Names hold power. One thing a good scary movie can do is refuse to let you give its villain a name. The idea that you cannot put a name to a terrifying entity only adds to just how unsettling a movie can be. You wouldn’t have known that the name of the demon from The Exorcist was Pazuzu unless you had read the book or had done your research. That’s a big part of what made Pazuzu so scary: his name was either never or rarely mentioned. You didn’t know whether this was just any ordinary demon or the Devil himself. It added an extra level of discomfort. For a more modern example: we still don’t know the names of the red-faced demon or the tall man with the long black hair from Insidious. Because we had no idea who they were, it made them more mysterious as characters. It made them as well as the rest of the ghosts from the Further that much more interesting and frightening. But giving your evil entity a name can work well, too. Bagul/Bughuul (I’ve seen it spelled both ways) from Sinister could have been nameless, letting the mystery surrounding the character add to just how terrifying he was, but learning his name and who he was added an extra level of mysticism to the character, and caused him to become that much more evil.

Becca has Bret drive her to Sophie’s house to find out about Diana. Yes; who is Diana? Becca apologizes for her BS yesterday. Bret initially doesn’t buy it, but a kiss convinces him to drop the whole thing. Wow.

Sophie isn’t home, so they bust in thanks to a convenient key rock. Bret stands guard while Becca searches upstairs. She goes into her stepdad’s study, which is right next to Sophie’s bedroom. In the study, she conveniently finds a picture of Sophie and Diana as young teenagers. Diana conveniently has her black hair obscuring her face like Sadako/Samara from Ringu / The Ring or Kayako from Ju-on. She even finds a litany of medical files about Diana and even tape recordings of her apparent death, all just sitting in this study. How convenient. From what we can discern, Diana had a skin disease that made her extremely sensitive to light. She was a patient at a mental hospital. She was also particularly aggressive toward others and possessive of Sophie, who was a fellow patient there. She was accidentally somehow completely incinerated in an attempted heliotherapy session. Anyway, Becca hears noises down the hall and goes to investigate. Meanwhile, downstairs, Bret is still standing guard. He decides to open a curtain to let in some light, and the camera shows us that Diana is behind him. What, is she going to kill him now? Actually, no. Becca investigates her childhood bedroom and finds the drawing from the flashback. Predictably, the door closes behind her and locks, trapping Becca in the darkness. Though the room is clearly a little bit lit by the light coming through the curtains, Diana appears, telling Becca to stay away. Contradicting herself, Diana tries hanging Becca by her necklace, which somehow doesn’t break, and somehow Becca is still able to scream. BS. I’ve explained why in earlier reviews. Bret bursts in and Diana disappears. Bret tells Becca that Sophie is here and that they need to go. They grab the box of files and go, somehow not getting noticed by Sophie or Martin, who have arrived home.

Sophie apologizes to Martin for being distant, and asks him if they want to have a movie night together. Martin gladly acquiesces. Sophie says that some personal time is good, for all three of them. Wait, what? Also, is it a Friday or Saturday night? A movie night on a school night is not wise. Also, Martin is carrying a bag of sriracha potato chips. I had no idea they came in that flavor. The two get busy watching Auntie Mame. They have a brief disjointed exchange in which Sophie expresses that she misses Martin’s dad and is pissed that Becca left, Martin says that the best thing to do is face your fears, and I find myself not believing that these two are actually mother and son. This gives Sophie an idea: to introduce Martin to Diana. It doesn’t go well, as when Diana rears over Martin, he runs over to the lamp only to find that there is no bulb. When Diana lunges for Martin, Sophie tries to stop her, trying to convince Martin and Diana that the other doesn’t know any better, but Diana swats her aside. Diana goes for Martin, but he gets to a light switch in time and switches the lights on. Diana disappears. Wait, how did she appear in the first place? Those curtains are clearly only translucent, as there is still light coming through them. Having had the bejabbers scared out of him, Martin runs off. In fact, he runs all the way to Becca’s apartment.

You know, if Sophie has had The Diana Problem for years, why has she not been conditioning both Diana and Martin to at least tolerate the other’s presence, with emphasis on Diana? If she had been doing that and Diana been caused to mellow out, Martin and Diana could have tolerated each other’s presence, and eventually been willing to form a happy family. In fact, I kind of wish that that could have happened.

We’re past the forty minute mark. We’re halfway through the movie. And there have been eight scare sequences.

Becca and Bret discuss the situation, but right when Becca’s about to explain who Diana is, omigod there’s a bang at the door! (sorry, Adum) And the movie’s acting like this is a scare sequence. Seriously. It’s gonna be Martin. It’s gonna be Martin. Yup. I told you so. Nice fakeout. Becca sends Bret shopping. Becca and Martin talk, acknowledging that they know Diana is real. Becca shows Martin the files on Diana. It turns out that Becca’s stepdad / Martin’s dad was doing a ton of research on Diana. SO THEN WHY WAS HE SO OBLIVIOUS IN THE OPENING SCENE?

Becca launches into an explanation sequence that isn’t quite as bad as the prologue to Darkness Falls, but it’s still close. Diana was found locked in a basement at the age of thirteen. Her father had killed himself. She had a skin disease that made her extremely sensitive to light, except that she could be out in the sunlight with just an umbrella. Make up your damn mind. People said she was evil and that she could get inside people’s heads and drive them insane. She became a patient at a mental hospital, where she met and befriended Sophie. Becca thinks that Diana screwed with Sophie’s head and made her think Diana was her friend. So that’s why she can’t tolerate Martin or Becca? That’s a really weak reason. How do we know that Sophie and Diana aren’t actually friends? Diana comes around when Sophie is at her worst. If Diana could get inside people’s heads and change them, then why did she only do it to Sophie? Surely she should have done the same with other people. Maybe that’s why they’re making a sequel. The doctors at the mental hospital tried an experiment on her; they exposed her to a crap ton of incredibly bright light. Because that’s smrt. The sequence is even filmed as if the doctors there were filming it. Diana died, because somehow the light incinerated her. The only reason that Diana hasn’t passed on to the other side is because she has some inexplicable psychic connection to Sophie, and if Sophie gets better, Diana will go away. But obviously, it’ll be a cold day in Hell before Diana lets that happen.  Hell, Martin’s dad was trying to break Sophie and Diana’s connection. THEN WHY WAS HE SO OBLIVIOUS IN THE OPENING SCENE? Esther: Hey, I saw someone weird back there. Dad: Cool, all right, see ya. … Ah, I may as well check it out. DEAD. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? DID YOU WANT DIANA GONE OR NOT? YOU CLEARLY KNEW ABOUT HER!

You know, this is a problem with a lot of supernatural and psychological horror movies today: everything has to be explained. Almost every detail is now in plain view (plenty of which were revealed in the trailer), except for the few that actually needed to be explained. Where did Diana get this skin disease? Was she born with it, or did she catch it somewhere? How far did studies on it get, and was it potentially curable? How did she get the ability to go inside people’s heads and screw with their psyches, let alone actually do so? What caused her to be so aggressive toward others and possessive of Sophie? Could they give us a scientific explanation as to how this bright light experiment incinerated her, and how she was able to remain in the corporeal plane through her psychological connection to Sophie? How exactly did she become this special type of ghost? How does her gimmick work? How does a skin disease allow you to go inside people’s heads and become a ghost that appears when the lights go out? If you’re going to explain everything, then you need to go all out. Either that or make the movie that much scarier by withholding information or hinting at what makes Diana tick and/or having a reason to do what she does.

Remember the fakeout scene from earlier? In a way, it sets up this scare sequence. Omigod, there’s a bang at the door! Becca thinks it’s Bret with the food, but there’s no one at the door. How did Diana knock at the door when the hallway is so brightly lit? Becca then hears footsteps going through her apartment and sounds coming from her closet. She hits the light switch and the closet light turns on. How convenient that the closet light switch was on the bedroom side of the door. Becca opens the closet door and Diana is not there. But Diana grabs Martin from under the bed and tries to pull him under. How come nobody noticed that Diana suddenly learned how to teleport? Becca manages to pull him back out. I love how Diana clearly pulls Martin’s shoe off in one shot as Becca retrieves Martin, but in the next shot, the shoe is back on.

So Diana can get at them from pretty much anywhere. There are shadows everywhere; why doesn’t Diana take any and every single little opportunity to kill Martin and Becca? Can she get at them from every shadow fathomable? From under the table? Under a piece of furniture? Under the bed? Under a blanket? There are shadows under there, right? Are there limitations? Do the shadows have to be as big as she is? Do they have to be just the right level of dark? Or can Diana only get them when the plot says so? It doesn’t make any sense!

Becca, Martin, and Bret go to Sophie’s house, telling Sophie that they need to talk. But they make sure to wait until after dinner, of course. Also, don’t even bother to introduce Sophie to Bret. And in this scene, the camerawork gets really shaky. Becca asks Sophie to tell them about Diana. As Becca tries to explain that Sophie and Diana met at the mental hospital, Sophie interprets the situation as Becca trying to take Martin away from her or Becca feeling bad about leaving her on bad terms. Sophie goes upstairs and locks herself in her room. You know, Sophie, if you’re the reason Diana’s spirit can’t cross to the other side, then you need to let her go. You’re hurting her by keeping her here. Let her go.

Realizing the situation, Becca, Martin, and Bret decide to stay at Sophie’s place so they can help her as they can. So they put in some safeguards. They open the curtains. They tape the light switches up. They store flashlights in convenient places just in case. They light candles. Martin asks Becca to sleep in his bed with him tonight. Becca agrees, and goes downstairs to tell Bret. She passes by her mother’s bedroom door, but finds it locked. She talks to Bret, who is all-understanding and intends to tough the situation out alongside Becca, Martin, and Sophie. Good for him. I wish we felt the bond between Becca and Bret, but with the movie’s ungodly short eighty-one-minute length, we have no such luck. Becca goes back upstairs. She stops and knocks on her mother’s door. Sophie answers and seems to be accepting that moving past Diana and getting better is the best thing to do. She decides that come tomorrow morning, she will start over on this whole situation. She secretly puts a slip of paper into Becca’s hand and hugs her before backing up and being gently pulled into the room by Diana. The slip has writing on it that reads, “I need help”. I wish we felt more of the connection between Becca and her mother, but the punishingly short runtime prevents us from doing so. Becca goes into the bathroom to search for her mom’s meds, but the light flickers, and Becca, smart for once, hightails it out of there. She gets into bed with Martin. Good luck sleeping with all that light.

Thus far, I have been feeling nothing for the characters until the forced sentimental exchanges in the last thirty minutes. And it’s too little, too late.

Wait, the last thirty minutes? That means we’re almost at the climax now! What? There has been no buildup whatsoever! We’re also not even an hour into the movie.

After a little while, the power goes out. Why the hell didn’t they think of that? Becca grabs a windup flashlight and investigates. This house seems pretty brightly lit for being at night. That, or unless there’s a ridiculously bright moon tonight. She can’t find Bret. Oh no, Bret lef – oh, wait, he didn’t; he’s outside, and he sees that the power’s out for the whole block. Becca goes down into the basement to check the fuse box. Yes, because going down the steep, narrow stairs into the dark, creepy, claustrophobic basement is the smrt thing to do. She checks the fuse box, and nothing works. Back upstairs, Martin wakes up, briefly freaks out, and grabs a candle. He starts to head downstairs, but he is briefly accosted by Diana. He manages to fend her off with his candle, and he backs away into the darkness downstairs. Yeah, you’re not open to attack from behind at all. In fact, that’s a major problem with most of the characters from here to the end: they never think that they might be open to an attack from behind. But rarely does this attack come. Martin runs to the basement, where he berates Becca for leaving him alone. But the two quickly realize that them going down into the basement was them walking right into a trap. Duh, it’s the basement, and you’re in a horror movie. Diana slams the basement door and locks it, trapping them inside. Bret comes back inside and hears their cries for help, and tries to get the door open. But Diana accosts him, and he fends her off with the light from his phone that displays the words… “scare assault”. Okay. That is, until the phone inexplicably turns off. Diana smashes it and chases Bret out of the house. He runs under the shadow of the roof over the part of the driveway next to the doorway, where Diana snatches him. Hey, Diana learned how to teleport again. But he pulls his car keys out of his pocket and hits the button, turning on the car lights and making Diana disappear. He gets in his car and drives off. HE’LL BE BACK, OBVIOUSLY. Becca tries to tell Martin that Bret isn’t actually leaving, but Martin reminds her that she did. Hell of a time to bring that up. The two decide to find more light, and go down into the basement.

Sophie decides to exit her room with a lit candle that Diana inexplicably didn’t tell her to get rid of. After calling to Becca and Martin and getting no response, she reminds Diana that she told her not to hurt her children. Sophie goes for her pills which Diana had years to get rid of, but Diana swats her away, and Sophie falls and hits her head on her dresser, knocking herself out. Sophie never even tried to take her pills before? As you remember, she clearly realized the direness of the situation, and clearly knew that she had to take her meds. Hell, all she ever had to do tonight was turn on the damn lights. Also, how exactly does taking her meds get rid of Diana?

Becca and Martin set a fire in the furnace. Becca says she’s “working on a plan”. Right. Martin gets out a box. He opens it to find a bunch of Halloween stuff and, conveniently, a big working black light. Becca goes to look around with the black light while Martin stays by the fire. Because splitting up is the smrt thing to do. Becca finds a handprint that shows up under black light for some reason. Did Diana dip her hand in fluorescent ink first? Or lemon juice? Becca even comes across a ton of writing on the walls that must also have been done in fluorescent ink or lemon juice. There are even some mannequins in there, though the faces are slashed to hell. But one of the mannequins turns around. Jumpscare; it’s Diana, who can apparently show up under a black light! Becca runs back a ways, but when she reaches down to grab a shovel, Diana grabs her. Martin shines an actual light on her, and this burns her. The two get back to the furnace. So Diana can show up under black light, and when you’re doing that, you can shine an actual light on her and burn her. What? Somehow, Diana stops the furnace fire. Becca and Martin shout for their mother.

Bret has returned to the house with the police. I told you he’d be back. What exactly did Bret tell the police to get them there? And he brought a couple of expendable extras who will serve as useless cannon fodder just so this movie can have an actual body count! Gotta somehow rack the body count up to more than just one! The police go over to the basement door and break it open.

Upstairs, Sophie wakes up. She notices that all her pills are gone. I guess Diana realized that she shouldn’t let Sophie have her pills even though she’s been able to hide or dispose of them for years. Sophie tries to open her door, but it’s locked. After threatening Diana, she busts open the door.

The police spot Diana. One goes to investigate and is accosted, despite obviously having his light pointed in the direction he was pulled. He tries to shoot Diana, but she disappears whenever a shot is fired, and she kills him. The other officer goes after Diana, but is also killed. Becca gets Martin to Bret while she goes to look for Sophie. She is accosted by Diana, who threatens to do to her what she did to her father. Yaaaaay, more drama. “Hey, Mom, I want to contact my birth father. How can I do that?” “I dunno.” Plus, where was the investigation into this missing person case? Diana throws Becca over the railing and down to the first floor. Diana corners Becca in a corner. Sophie points a gun at Diana, somehow having purchased a gun in the ultra-liberal hellhole of Los Angeles. So where was she the rest of the scene? Drama drama drama, Sophie kills herself and Diana is defeated because of the psychological bond BS. The horror is over. Can’t show any blood or we won’t get a PG-13. Becca mourns her mother and goes out to meet Bret and Martin (why didn’t they go in and help?), the three promise to be a happy family, the power somehow comes back on, a flickering light hints at a sequel, and the movie sort of just stops. From the moment Diana was defeated until the end credits start rolling, the movie resolves in just under two minutes.

And for those of you that kept score at home, the movie has, over a seventy-seven-minute runtime sans credits, executed twenty scare sequences, including the Martin fakeout. Do a little math, and it comes out to one scare sequence happening every four minutes. Wow. So not only is this too many, but there are so many scare sequences that the movie becomes not only monotonous, predictable, and repetitive, but by the end, it’s starting to get boring. That’s right – a less-than-eighty-minute movie sans credits is boring. The movie could have easily been cut to about half its length, and it would have been much better. Worse, not only are the jumpscares here in abundance, but every scare sequence has at least one. Not just one or two or three or four or five or six or seven scare sequences, but literally all twenty scare sequences, give or take maybe one, either end in or feature one or more jumpscares. Not that the jumpscares are fake or unearned; on the contrary, most of them are executed pretty well. But every single jumpscare is the same thing every time. And the sinking dread of predictable and repetitive monotony has set in by the fifth or sixth one. The decently clever crafting of some of the jumpscares is negated, and I was bored by the time I was twenty-five to thirty minutes in. Anticipating an audience for jumpscares that may or may not happen, rather than creating a sensation of ever-building dread, is not making them scared of the evil entity in the movie; it’s making them scared of the jumpscares. But in Lights Out, there is no “may or may not” at all; the jumpscare(s) will inevitably happen. When there are too many jumpscares, the movie loses its rewatchability. Oh, and the scariest moments were all given away in the trailer, including Diana’s inexplicable ability to appear under black light. Remember Hitchcock describing true fear as a group of people sitting around a table, not knowing when a bomb under it is about to go off? Well, Lights Out makes it painfully obvious every time a bomb is about to go off. It’s a far cry from the short film.

Unfortunately, whatever scariness Lights Out might have had evaporates upon the realization that every scare sequence in the entire movie is based around Diana’s one gimmick. This gimmick was used to terrifying effect in the short film. Unfortunately, in the full-length film, the gimmick not only wears off quick, but the filmmakers don’t even try to add anything to it, expand it, or subvert it, except for a contrived reason for it to actually be happening and Diana being able to appear under black light and be burned by real light simultaneously. Diana’s gimmick is an interesting concept, but it is milked completely dry by the time we’re five minutes into the movie. It would have been nice had we gotten a cinematic version of SCP-173 or the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who but with an extra foil added to their gimmicks. You’d think that the basic idea of a ghost that appears in the dark but disappears in the light could lead to various unexpected situations of the lights going out or the ghost finding all sorts of ingenious or convenient ways to put the characters in the dark. But these scenes seemingly happen randomly, and they usually result in the characters splitting up and wandering off on their own and putting themselves in trouble, with barely any trouble happening anyway. Once you’ve seen one scare sequence in the movie, you’ve seen them all. None of them give the movie any sense of pacing, let alone suspense or horror. Though it managed to stay away from a cliché ending, the movie still trips over its own unoriginality one too many times. Worse, it’s not directed or acted well enough to overcome the numerous predictable moments and sequences.

Many of the scariest movies of all time leave a lot to the imagination. We’re given bits and pieces of explanation, but never too much. We’re allowed to fill in the blanks with our own imagination (Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Inactivity don’t count because they ruined themselves by making the characters unlikable). The original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre did this excellently. The VVitch did this beautifully. Lights Out wants to explain everything; hell, the explanation as to what Diana is and what makes her tick is the centerpiece of the whole movie. But if you’re going to explain everything, then you need to explain everything rather than skimp out on the most important questions. By explaining almost everything, Lights Out squanders the one fear it desperately needed to tap into: the fear of the unknown. The fear of the unknown is humanity’s most primal fear. Who is this spirit? Why is she after our characters? Why does she continuously milk her one gimmick? The movie took that away from its audience, leaving them with a predictable story and a litany of jumpscares. This is a problem with a lot of scary movies today: everything needs to be explained.

Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do psychological horror, deciding to just churn out conveyer-belt-type horror flicks that are all just twists on the same theme. For example, Blumhouse Productions. Blumhouse gets a lot of flak for some of their stinkers, with their most recent ones being The Boy Next Door, The Lazarus Effect, Unfriended, Area 51, The Gallows, Paranormal Inactivity: The Ghost Dimension, and most recently The Darkness (I’ll be getting to that one later). But when Blumhouse gets it right, they get it right, with their most recent gems being Oculus, Insidious: Chapter 3, Creep, The Gift, The Visit, Hush, and most recently, Ouija: Origin of Evil.

Elements that this movie needed to utilize were that of total darkness and playing around with the shadows. Lights Out could have been a gold mine of opportunity for the amazing usage of lighting, lack of lighting, and natural lighting. Sinister used that brilliantly. In Lights Out, we are rarely if ever in total darkness. The contrast between lights and shadows was definitely there, but was never utilized correctly. Worse, Diana stands out so prominently from the shadows. She is reliably there every time. The shadows needed to be the prominent character in each shot. The shadows needed to be as dark or almost as dark as Diana was, so she can be borderline unseen, lurking and hiding in them and waiting silently to attack. David Sandberg needed to play around with the shadows and screw with the audience. He needed to introduce the idea of uncertainty as to whether or not Diana was actually standing in that shadow. He needed to make both the characters and the audience unsure. They should be thinking, “Oh my gosh, is Diana there? Is she not? I don’t know! She could be! The shadow is certainly dark enough, but I have no idea if she’s there or not!” That’s scary! For example, one character could be looking at one corner, and the movie could suggest to the character and the audience that Diana might actually be there. And then Diana could blindside both the character and the audience from behind or from the side. Another problem with Diana is that we see too much of her because she stands out so prominently. She needs to be in and around corners or under tables and furniture and beds or on the ceiling or camouflaging herself among the shadows. She should never be standing out in the open. All we should be seeing is, perhaps, a hand, those eyes, or a few strands of hair as she flees around a corner, under something, or into the nearest shadow. The less we see of the evil entity, the scarier it becomes. Plus, there needs to be a hint that Diana’s not the only evil entity living in the shadows.

A scary movie is only as good as its villain: Diana herself. She’s an evil chick that is somehow psychologically attached to the mother of two children, and relies on the mother’s mental instability to survive. Diana’s problem is that she breaks her own rules all the effing time. She could be scary and even ungodly brutal in the opening scene, but be harmless, undisturbing, and shallow for the rest of the film. Sometimes she needs people to open doors for her, other times she can teleport around like a damn god. Sometimes she can appear in somewhat dark shadows, other times she can only appear in total darkness. Sometimes she can get you in a lit room from under your bed, but at other times, she can’t get in a freaking door. Sometimes she can pull you into the dark if you get too close to the shadows, but other times she can’t. She can shatter lightbulbs or black out power grids, but other times she can’t. Plus, Diana’s had a million opportunities to kill off Becca and Martin; why wait until now? Because plot? Also, how can she get from person to person? How can she suddenly show up at the stepdad’s factory or Becca’s apartment? Does she walk all the way there or does she teleport? How awkward would it be if she had to take an Uber ride to two of the four places in this movie? Does she have a cell phone? How would she pay the driver? Would she mooch some cash off of Sophie? She’d have to, because I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a checking account or a credit/debit card. Diana seems to be connected to Sophie’s family members, but she doesn’t seem to go after Becca until Becca has Martin over at her apartment. Also, when the lights are off and she’s standing there, she’s clearly not in spirit form, as her form is tangible. How does she survive? What does she eat? Does she bathe? Does she ask Sophie for clothes to wear? Doesn’t she get depressed because of her inability to be exposed to sunlight? Does she long for the ability to feel its warmth on her? Do Diana and Sophie ever have a girls’ night out on the town? Does Diana ever feel the desire to have a man in her life or does she feel a lesbian attraction to Sophie? Has Diana aged since she “died”? She and Sophie are about the same age (Maria Bello is forty-nine); is she starting to go through menopause? Is she feeling the effects of not being in her prime? Has she ever felt the womanly instinct of desiring to fall in love, get married, and have children? Anything remotely human? Diana doesn’t seem to have any real goal other than being a bitch (pardon me). She needs Sophie to be depressed or she supposedly vanishes, but decides to try to kill her kids despite them trying to leave her alone, which in theory Diana should be thankful for. For being a chick that just wants to be left alone, she seems to be contradicting herself pretty often. If she just wants to be left alone, why does she attack Becca and Martin? She revealed herself to Becca and even scratched her own name into the floorboards. Diana as a character makes no sense. Despite looking creepy enough, I never felt that she posed any sort of threat to the characters. The characters try to explain everything about her, but not only do the explanations not fit together, but Diana becomes less compelling and less scary. Worse, her origin story was eerily reminiscent of Sadako/Samara from Ringu/The Ring (whichever you prefer; I personally prefer Ringu). Now that I think about it, Lights Out bears much more than a passing similarity to Ringu. But at least Ringu’s premise made more sense. In Lights Out, Diana, this mental patient with a never-before-heard-of skin disease befriends the main character’s mother at a mental hospital. Hasn’t the mental hospital backstory trope been played out yet? Diana can’t be in light, even though she was plenty of times, but she can get inside people’s heads, and that’s why she’s still around in spectral form – she’s attached to the mother’s mind. The movie never explains how Diana was able to do any of this. Where did her skin disease come from? How was Diana able to get inside people’s heads? How did she manipulate Sophie into “friendship”? How many people did she do this to besides Sophie? A Lights Out sequel was announced after the movie’s successful opening weekend, so obviously Diana must have gotten attached to someone else. How did she die? How did she remain in this world by being attached psychologically to Sophie’s mind? How did she get super powers? It doesn’t make any sense! Plus, the characters accepted this BS really quickly and easily. Diana is about as subtle as the Titanic sinking in the middle of the Atacama Desert. Whenever she appears, the music always screams at you in an attempt to scare you, but if you know when these moments will be (this is an incredibly easy task) and just plug your ears and look at what’s going on, Diana’s about as scary as a box of Jujubes. But those Jujubes would still be scarier than Diana.

Some of the characters do the stupidest of things, like walk toward where they know Diana could be, rather than staying in a well-lit area. Though they know that they have to stay in the light to avoid Diana, they still point the light away from them instead of keeping themselves in the light. It was almost funny to see a character holding a light in front of him/her, be it a flashlight or a candle, and backing away into the dark. The excuse that the characters don’t know any better is immediately debunked, as the whole damn family knows that Diana is real and has scars to show from it. They’ve known for a long time how to avoid her. Diana clearly has the power to yank you into the darkness from behind and do away with you immediately. As to why Diana grabs them by their shoulders or stands in a doorway or utilizes other various ridiculous ideas, I do not know.

With the movie being only eighty minutes long, it freezes all efforts to delve into the pasts of our characters, really develop them, and maybe even give them an arc. The only character that had anything negligibly close to a character arc was Sophie. Instead, the characters we get are generic, underdeveloped, minimally motivated, whose backstories are ungodly vague and uninteresting, and whose exchanges are unnatural and forced. Sometimes the movie would tell us about its characters via its expository dialogue, revealing that David Sandberg finds it incredibly difficult to introduce us to the characters and their backstories with any semblance of thought or heart. He clearly has no experience in directing emotionally charged character interaction. The scene in which Becca talks to the CPS agent was perhaps the best example of this, with Becca saying that Martin’s father was only her stepfather, and that her real dad left years ago. Who on earth says that after having only met someone a few seconds ago? It’s as if Sandberg may as well have written on every frame of that exchange, “This is part of the exposition.” Despite being only eighty minutes long, I can’t deny that the movie definitely tries to tell us about its characters and make us sympathize with them. Especially Bret, who’s clearly trying hard to win Becca’s affections and convince her to open up to him, and, despite his clumsiness, is very earnest in his sympathy for her. He is (perhaps unintentionally) the most interesting character in the movie despite clearly not being the main character. In fact, of the four protagonists, he’s obviously the farthest one from being the main character. The movie does spend some time trying to make you learn about the characters (except Bret), but it does so little with it that you wonder what the point was. Ultimately, the story is a simple, basic family drama that’s too restrained and too safe to ever explore the farthest regions of mental instability and the disruption it inflicts on family ties, or create an engaging mystery. The potential was there to write an interesting story, but David Sandberg failed to utilize it. He could have come up with a much better reason for how shadow people come to be, what makes them tick, and why they do what they do.

It’s not as if it was acted or scripted well enough to make it tolerable. Though the Rotten Tomatoes critic consensus describes the performances as “terrific”, I personally found them to be kind of shaky. Though the actors aren’t bad to look at, their performances leave something to be desired. Not that they’re bad in any way; on the contrary, some of them do pretty well at particular moments. But the script gives them nothing to work with, especially poor Maria Bello, who simply doesn’t get enough screentime or workable lines and exchanges to show off her talent. She probably could have come across as mentally unstable, but the script combined with the other actors having little idea what they’re doing hinders her to the point of borderline blandness. Teresa Palmer has one emotion (pouty), Gabriel Bateman never succeeded in convincing me that he was actually scared, and Alexander DiPersia … tried. The dialogue doesn’t help, as all conversations feel unnatural. Sometimes the characters make a weird decision that sets up a scare later. The different subplots (if there were any) and the main story are uninteresting, and when we get to the climax, the movie becomes predictable. At least the movie tried to give us a story; some crappy horror flicks won’t even do that. But whatever story we get is overwrought with limp, poorly scripted characters, and disinterested performances. But it’s hard to blame Palmer, Bateman, DiPersia, and Bello, who all had to undertake the not-exactly-possible task of delivering clumpy dialogue while navigating an avalanche-prone mountain of illogical choices. The movie takes itself way too seriously, and fails to rise above crushingly mediocre. The movie as a whole feels very small; it doesn’t help that there’s only, like, ten people in this movie (did I count that right? Let’s see, four main characters…two secondary characters that are basically bit parts, three bit parts, and an antagonist. Yup, ten).

At least the movie’s nice to look at. Though the camerawork isn’t very dynamic, it’s shot very well; the angles are well-chosen, and the scenes look crisp and clear. The sets are well-crafted, and the costumes and props are all natural. The actors are nice to look at, too. Unfortunately, though the lighting for the non-dark scenes works very well, the lighting when Diana is around leaves a lot to be desired.

At least the soundtrack is decent. I like the chord progressions it uses in the ending theme. The score in general is really emotive once it gets going, but it’s completely underused, purely for the sake of creating jumpscares with it.

I went to see this movie twice, and both times, I did not hear anyone in the audience react to the litany of jumpscares. The eighty-minute length became almost a blessing. But, unfortunately, the length is a two-edged sword, and it’s far sharper on the other side. The fact that Lights Out can’t even breach the ninety-minute mark is a flagrant warning that the film you are about to see contains little to no substance or investment in the characters and how they unveil the truth behind the situation. The movie in its entirety is simply a backdrop for Jumpscare Central. It’s simply a roller coaster ride. But here’s the thing: though I love roller coasters, when I go to the theater to see a movie, I expect to see a movie.

Lights Out is forced, strained, caricatural, and not properly thought out. The idea could have worked in a better script, but David Sandberg can’t bring anything fresh, clever, or innovative to the table. Horror as a genre is a gold mine for subtext, symbols, and metaphors. What particular fear does the monster (physical or psychological) represent? What does conquering it or falling before it say about the fear it represents?

I really enjoyed the short film. The Internet in general did too. But not because of the “story”, what little there was. We liked it because it got under our skin by playing on the primal fear of darkness that we spent our entire childhoods trying to get out of our system and never truly succeeded. But by stretching out the story, trying and failing to create a mythology, writing laughably shaky dialogue, and shoehorning in an inordinate amount of jumpscares, David Sandberg not only sucked out what made the original scary, but shot himself and his feature-length movie in their collective foot. The original short is so good, combining a slow build with repetition and curiosity and placing something frightening and evil into a typically comforting scenario, and finishing it off with perhaps one of the creepiest images in recent years. It feels like the everyday situation in which you wake up in the middle of the night and walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and fearing that at any moment a black, icy hand will reach out and yank you into the dark. The fright of the short film was the ghost who, over the course of only three minutes, made her presence known even when she wasn’t onscreen with creaks and noises. Lotta Losten, David Sandberg’s wife, who played the protagonist in the short film, even reenacts the iconic first third of the short in a significantly below-par reinterpretation of the same scene that scared the bejabbers out of everyone on YouTube.

Though the short film was great, it did not need a full-length treatment. We see this a lot nowadays: various attempts to capitalize off of some popular internet story, meme, or urban legend that, when extended, loses what made it special in the first place. Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever should never have been made. Unfriended could have worked very well as a short film, but as an eighty-minute slog through quicksand, it fails miserably. The same goes for Lights Out. The short film was unsettling and creepy as just that, a short film. Giving it a backstory made it feel cheapened and degraded. No scene in the movie is as good as the original short film. The closest the movie got was the opening scene, but even that scene copied and pasted the first third of the short film into the feature length film. And I fear that the same thing is going to happen to SiREN, the feature-length adaptation of the “Amateur Night” segment from V/H/S. Please don’t mess that up, because “Amateur Night” was freaking good (the rest of V/H/S can go eff off).
Though I appreciate David Sandberg’s efforts in giving his audience a quick, cheap, clean, and lean horror flick, Lights Out really should have remained a short film. Despite some calling the movie the best horror movie in years, I personally find it to be a painfully, crushingly mediocre look at one’s primal fear of the dark. If David Sandberg was going to base his full-length movie off of the three-minute short film that he himself made, he could have at least made it better than the short film. Unfortunately, everyone’s seen the short film by now, and the novelty has worn off.

You know what would be a fantastic scene in the movie? This. “Character is in total darkness save for a flashlight illuminating the immediate area around him and dead silence save for one or two skittering sounds. The situation is clearly getting to him/her. S/he’s pale, sweating, crying, wide-eyed, breathing hard, and shaking like mad, also shaking the flashlight. As s/he hears the skittering sounds, s/he quickly turns around, but there’s nothing there. Maybe once or twice, the flashlight will go out and the character will shake the flashlight until it turns back on. Maybe on the second time, when the light comes on, we can see the slightest glimpse of a face quickly disappearing into the shadows. This scene needs to go on for several minutes (at least five), letting the suspense and tension build themselves. Let the suspense and tension build to such an unbearable level that the character gives up and curls into the fetal position on the floor, shining the light on his/her face as a last bastion of possible safety. And then, when the light flickers and dims, the character’s and audience’s hopes of getting out alive grow just as faint. Just show either a pair of eyes opening behind him/her or a hand slowly reaching toward him/her. Don’t show it grabbing him/her; just show it reaching toward him/her. The light finally goes out. And that’s where the movie ends. No scream, no instrumental sting, no other sounds, no jumpscare whatsoever. Just leave the audience with a feeling of total, utter emptiness.” That would have been one hell of a scene to end the movie on. It’s a pity it wasn’t in the movie.

But hey, maybe it’ll be in the sequel.

Final verdict: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Review 85: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole (2/5)

Image result for legend of the guardians the owls of ga'hoole

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, Ryan Kwanten, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton, Hugo Weaving

Released on September 24, 2010

Running time: 1h 36m

Rated PG

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Action

Again, just like I Am Number Four and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, I went into Guardians completely blind. I have never read Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’hoole books (though at least one of my three brothers has read the first four), so I have no blinders to wear.

Question: why was the title extended so much? Did the filmmakers not get the rights to the title? Why not just call it Guardians of Ga’hoole? How intentional was it that your title is such a mouthful?

I actually had to do some research to figure out that the movie is set in Australia and Tasmania. The story begins as the opening titles showcase animation that can only be described as astounding. Seriously, this animation is amazing. It focuses on an owl father as he flies back to his nest where his mate, children, and snake nursemaid wait for him.

It’s gorgeous to see the rising sun shine through the clouds, to see this owl fly so gracefully through the air with each individual feather having been animated. Not only is the character animation absolutely stellar, but the backgrounds are incredibly detailed and practically photorealistic. I haven’t seen animation this good since movies like The Good Dinosaur (which is heavily underrated) and Kubo and the Two Strings (which is a little overrated). It’s a pity that the soundtrack is a little subpar, though in some parts of the movie, it had some nice chord progression.

The father rejoins his family. I forget the parents’ names, though I do remember that the mother is voiced by Essie Davis, who was the mother in The Babadook (go see it!), and the father is voiced by Hugo Weaving.

AGENT SMITH (The Matrix Revolutions): Cookies need love like everything does.

I’m serious, Hugo Weaving voicing this father is so odd. I half expected him to drop a “Missur Annurson”.

The owl couple has three owlets. The first two are named Soren (Sturgess) and Kludd (Kwanten). The third is Eglantine (oh, how you’ll shine! Your lot and my lot have got to combine! Bedknobs and Broomsticks reference!). I presume Eglantine is from a later clutch; that would explain her age difference with Soren and Kludd, though it doesn’t explain why Soren and Kludd have Australian accents and Eglantine has an American one. Though Sturgess and Kwanten do decent voice acting, they are far too old for their parts; they were both in their early-to-mid-thirties, and they’re trying to voice owls who would probably be tweens in human years. This is especially true of Sturgess, who’s clearly faking a voice that is a soft, smooth high tenor and the cliché hero voice. The owl family also has a snake nursemaid named Mrs. Plithiver, Mrs. P (Margoyles) for short. Through our first exposition dump, we learn that Soren is the common starry-eyed social everyman who dreams of doing more with his life and possible becoming a hero, and that Kludd is a skeptical pessimist who harbors a deep-seated envy for his brother’s affability and natural skill. Gee, I wonder if he’s eventually going to turn evil. Such is shown when their father starts teaching them to glide down from branch to branch, with Kludd having difficulties and Soren picking it up rather easily. More exposition deals with what the guardians of the Ga’hoole tree are, and we even hear one of the legends: of the Battle of the Ice Claws, in which the great Lyze of Kiel defeated the leader of an army of evil owls, ripping off much of his face. This evil owl would go on to wear a large metal mask to hide his face, taking on the moniker of Metal Beak. The army he led was known as the Pure Ones, and they consisted only of Tyto owls (barn owls), who sought to bring all owldom under their rule, as they believed that they were the greatest of all owls. Obviously these will be the villains of this movie eventually, but do they have better motivation than just being really, really racist Nazi wannabes?

Soren and Kludd decide to fit in a little extra practice before they go to sleep that morning (because owls are nocturnal), because that totally won’t go wrong. They screw up and fall all the way to the ground. After an attack by what I can only presume is a Tasmanian devil (no, not the one from Looney Tunes), two owls snatch them and carry them away. These two owls are named Jutt and Jatt. Are they supposed to be twins or something? These two are annoying. Kludd almost gets away, but fails.

Eventually they encounter a large group of other owls, also with kidnapped owlets in tow. Soren meets an elf owl named Gylfie (Barclay), who is being carried by another owl named Grimble (Weaving. Why the dual role? Is Grimble eventually going to take pity on Soren and become almost a father figure to him?). As the characters talk to each other, I find myself noticing that though the natural Australian accents are tolerable, the faked ones are aggravating.

The horde eventually arrives at some foggy, mountainous, rocky area that I guess is supposed to be some sort of naturally formed fortress featuring a lot of stuff that apparently these owls actually built. I have no idea how these owls have been able to build all this. Some of the owls are even wearing metal helmets and metal claws. How have these owls learned how to make fire? How have these owls learned how to mine raw ore, refine it, and forge it into armor? The kidnapped owlets are herded into the center of some sort of room. Soren shields Gylfie (why? Because she’s tiny?) as Jutt, Jatt, and Grimble explain that the owlets are at some place called Saint Aegolius and that they will be split into two groups: soldiers and pickers. A soldier’s job is self-explanatory, but what do pickers do? We see a white Tyto owl fly in. She introduces herself as Nyra (Mirren), mate to the Lord High Tyto, who is the leader of the Pure Ones and obviously Metal Beak. With the way she poises herself and looks down her beak at every owl in the room, she immediately comes off as stuck-up, haughty, snooty, conceited, and arrogant. When Gylfie speaks out, Nyra hops down from her perch toward her. When Soren tries to shield Gylfie, Nyra addresses him as a fellow Tyto and tells him to step away from Gylfie, who she addresses as a “piece of felt”. So owls know how to make fabric? Soren refuses, and Nyra scornfully assigns him and Gylfie to be pickers, having Jutt and Jatt take them away. Soren asks what will become of Kludd. Nyra asks Kludd if he wants to join his brother, but he turns away. Oooookay, could Kludd’s disdain for Soren have been more developed? This betrayal was not earned, as thus far, the only conflict between Soren and Kludd has been Kludd’s pessimism, skepticism of the Ga’hoole legends, and jealousy of his brother’s natural skill. Come on.

Kludd, along with the rest of the kidnapped Tyto owlets save Soren, are brought with Nyra to be trained as soldiers, while the rest of the group are to be pickers. Soren continues to shield Gylfie (there needs to be another reason than “because she’s tiny”) as the mass of owlets are herded into another room. An owl with cataracts in both eyes passes by, and Gylfie says that this owl must have been “moon blinked”, which apparently happens when an owl goes to sleep under the full moon. An owl will essentially become a zombie. Not a Romero-type zombie, but rather something similar to a voodoo zombie; a silent, slow-moving, personality-less owl that obeys orders without question. The owlets are herded into a roofless room with the full moon in full view. Soren and Gylfie resolve to stay up all night. It’s amazing that they haven’t been overheard yet. You know, actors, when you’re recording your dialogue, you are speaking into a microphone. You are speaking into state-of-the-art sound equipment. You can whisper. It’s not hard. Gylfie even mentions that she knows these stars, even though she’s still an owlet who can’t even fly; how does she know these stars?

The next morning, Soren and Gylfie notice that the rest of the owlets have been moon blinked. The owlets are herded out of the room, and Soren and Gylfie attempt to act like they’ve been moon blinked. But this is verbally communicated between them, and I’m amazed that none of the guards have noticed that they haven’t been moon blinked. Also, Gylfie thinks that acting moon blinked means walking stiffly with her wings outstretched. In fact, Grimble even notices this as well as Soren’s clearly-not-moon-blinked eyes, but he lets them by. He’s going to help them escape later, isn’t he? The owlets are lined up.

Pan upwards to Nyra indoctrinating Kludd and the other Tyto owlets with various Pure One beliefs. Yes, yes, yes, the Pure Ones are Nazis. We get it. Literally everyone has made their villains like the Nazis. Nyra has them see which one can flap the highest.

Back to the line of owlets. An owl pellet from a large basket of them is thrown at each owlet’s feet. At least here Jutt and Jatt get a few slightly funny lines, even revealing that owls somehow have a numerical system that is the same as ours. One pellet is opened, containing what Jutt and Jatt are looking for. Jatt holds it up and the two explain that it contains a metal fleck. Why would a mouse eat bits of metal? Jutt gives it to Soren and tells him to take it to some container full of other metal flecks. But why is this container glowing with multiple arcs of blue magnetic energy? How have owls harnessed the power of magnetism? Gylfie looks on, and apparently she has a lazy eye, because the animators accidentally forgot to move her right eye at the same speed as her left. But the mistake fixes itself. Oops. As Soren gets close to the container of metal flecks, the magnetism not only grabs the fleck, but the magnet ray thingymabobber seems to be grabbing at something in his chest? What? Did soren eat a mouse with a metal fleck in its stomach earlier? A bat jumps out of nowhere and snatches the metal fleck and puts it in the container. Another bat flies in and carries the container away. Because bats are totally that strong. Soren staggers back to Gylfie, telling her that the Pure Ones are doing something terribly wrong. What exactly are the Pure Ones doing with the metal and magnetic BS? Soren says that they need to find Kludd and get out of there, but Grimble catches them talking. In the shot of Grimble’s face, I could not help but notice that Soren’s face was reflected in his eyes. Neat!

Shot of the small containers of metal flecks being taken to a larger container. A voice speaks, and the camera pulls back. The voice says that when they have amassed enough flecks, they will set a trap. Cut to the silhouettes of two owls, one of which is wearing an ornate helmet. This is Metal Beak (Edgerton). He’s made a deal with the other owl: in return for luring the Guardians of the Ga’hoole tree into this trap, the other owl will be given the western kingdom and the tree. To be perfectly honest, Joel Edgerton does a decent evil voice. The last movie I reviewed that he was in was The Odd Life of Timothy Green, in which he played Timothy’s adopted dad. Though the movie was garbage, Edgerton was trying his hardest. Metal Beak is an entirely different character to play, and he does decently. If only he had better dialogue to work with. Though it would be nice if he didn’t sound like Mark Hamill as Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Though I can’t help but notice this: Metal Beak is not a Tyto. He’s a sooty owl. Hey, that’s like Hitler being brown-haired, blue-eyed, and Austrian rather than blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and native to Deutschland.

Also, as Grimble escorts Soren and Gylfie to another room, I can’t help but notice that the Tyto guards have red eyes. After making them think he’s going to kill them, he instead tells them that he’s going to teach them to fly. How convenient that he’s friendly. He tells them that the Pure Ones shanghaied him into the fold under threat of familial slaughter. Also, apparently, Grimble’s room is a sort of library. Well, we see books stacked up or hanging from lines. So owls know how to chop down trees, grind up the wood, make paper, make ink, write in some sort of language, and bind these books together? Wow. Grimble teaches Soren and Gylfie to fly.

Nyra tells her students that only the best will be presented to Metal Beak. She tosses a captive bluebird into the group and implies that they are to catch it. After much effort and slow-mo, Kludd is victorious. Though I have no idea what Nyra’s getting at when she tells Kludd that he shows obedience and discipline. Kludd lets the bluebird go. Nyra asks if Soren has similar capabilities, but Kludd lies, saying that Soren sucks. Nyra takes Kludd to go find Soren.

After much practice, Soren and Gylfie seem to be getting a better grip on how to fly. Grimble tells them that they will have to fly across the sea of Hoolemere to get to the Ga’hoole tree. Soren, Gylfie and Grimble are going to get caught, aren’t they? Soren’s going to beg Kludd to come with them, but Kludd will refuse, won’t he? Grimble will distract the Pure Ones in a badly choreographed fight scene, making the animation lose its realism for a time, and somehow die (seriously, how exactly does he die?) so that Soren and Gylfie can get away, won’t he? Soren and Gylfie will learn to fly under duress, and somehow the guards’ attempt to catch them will be foiled via slow-mo, leaving them open to escape, right? Yes. Boy, Soren really seems broken up about Kludd’s betrayal, doesn’t he? By the way, Gylfie is injured, but the movie forgets about it in less than five seconds.

At least this transitions into a brief flying scene, in which the completely natural character animation looks fantastic against the photorealistic environments. I have no idea how animation is able to capture the sun’s rays through the sky so well. Seriously, this animation is effing amazing. Unfortunately,

SOREN: Does it [flying] feel the way you thought it would?

GYLFIE: No. It feels much better.

Back at Pure Ones HQ, Nyra praises Kludd for choosing to stay, and Kludd offers to bring them Eglantine.

Soren and Gylfie get some arbitrary distance away, and Soren pins down a moth. A twitchy burrowing owl named Digger (Wenham) comes out and claims that the moth was his. After some funny business that arises after Gylfie appears and the movie remembers and forgets Gylfie’s injury again over the course of about ten seconds, Digger takes the two to his hollow, sharing a few bad owl jokes. Digger’s friend Twilight (LaPaglia) shows up with Mrs. P in tow, intending for her to be his and Digger’s dinner. But she is removed from the menu when Soren lets them know of her identity. After Soren tells Mrs. P of his and Kludd’s plights, Twilight reveals his personality trait: a “poet” of sorts. He even carries a handmade lute of his around. So an owl can carve wood, form strings out of some sort of material (definitely not metal), attach them to this piece of carved wood, identify a pitch, and tune the strings to various pitches. Okay. Twilight also needs voice lessons. I’d be happy to provide him with some. Twilight conveniently knows the way to the sea of Hoolemere, so the group sets off on their journey. Twilight carries his lute with him, with Mrs. P riding inside. She apparently loves the sensation of flying. Digger thinks Mrs. P might be the first snake to fly. Incorrect – the flying tree snake, native to Southeast Asia, can essentially “glide” from tree to tree. Watch various videos of it; it’s damn cool.

Nyra introduces Kludd to Metal Beak. Kludd now has Eglantine in tow. Wait – they kidnapped her offscreen? Come on!

You know, you’d think that the species of owl claiming dominance over the rest would be the great grey owls, right? They are the largest of the species, right?

Soren and the others continue their journey. They find themselves being followed by crows. The crows snatch the lute with Mrs. P. After some funny business, they get the lute back. They land, accompanied by a gorgeous tracking shot and are met by a blue-painted (paint? Really?) echidna who claims to have foretold their journey. Not just that, but he claims to have foretold every little detail. He tells them to follow a particular set of stars. He inspires them to continue. He gets a funny line. The group sets off across the sea…

…and soon find themselves lost in a snowstorm.

GYLFIE: I can’t find my bearings.

Give her a better line than that, please. Digger’s wings freeze and he falls toward the ocean. Soren can’t find him, but over the crest of the next wave flies one of the Guardians, carrying Digger. Wait, they found the Guardians already? That was quick! Another Guardian appears, beckoning the group to follow. The group flies to the Ga’hoole tree, and the shot of the sun shining through the tree literally gave me chills. Seriously, that is such a beautiful shot. The group lands, showing us that apparently these owls have somehow managed to master the art of woodwork and basic architecture, as they have built shelters, walkways, torches, poles and banners, baskets, and they’ve even learned how to make wax candles. The group is taken into the Guardians’ council room. The rulers seem to be a pair of snowy owls. Soren and Gylfie tell the Guardians of the actions of the Pure Ones. One of the Guardians named Allomere sounds exactly like that owl Metal Beak was meeting with earlier, and he doubts the group’s story. He’s a traitor, isn’t he? One other particularly disheveled Guardian named Ezylryb (Rush) (good luck pronouncing that), who believes the group, is a bit of a butt for mockery. Though the Guardians are somewhat skeptical, Soren somehow convinces them that though the only proof he has are his words, words were the only proof he’d ever had of the Guardians’ existence. The leader, Boron (like the element?) sends Allomere with several other owls to scout out Pure Ones HQ.

Hold it – if you take “ryb” off of “Ezylryb”, it becomes “Ezyl”; flip that and it becomes “Lyze”. Ezylryb is Lyze of Kiel? Ooooookay.

Outside, Soren and Gylfie watch Allomere’s group fly off. Ezylryb tells them that he’s impressed that they made it this far. A Guardian named Otulissa takes them on a sort of tour. Soren seems a little starstruck. Soren and Gylfie meet back up with Twilight and Digger for dinner, and the movie transitions into a crappy pop song. And guess who they got to perform this crappy pop song. Owl City, of course! Dammit. And what does this song accompany? A training montage, of course!

Owls will be trained in various skilled called “chaws”, such as tracking, navigation, combat, or even blacksmithing. Seriously, I’m absolutely dumbfounded that owls can apparently mine raw ore, refine it, forge it, and pound it into something, especially something that detailed. Jeez. As the training montage progresses, Digger gets pinched in the balls by a hermit crab, we see that owls can somehow make star charts and have their own constellations, know how to make floating lanterns out of leaves, and can harness the power of fire to heat the tree but also not burn the freaking thing down, and Twilight still needs to get over his pompous attitude.

As Metal Beak gives some sort of speech to his soldiers, Kludd is off to the side guarding Eglantine. Eglantine thus far has been refusing Pure One indoctrination, so Kludd, under the façade of taking her home tomorrow, steps to the side, revealing the light of the full moon. His intentions are obvious.

Soren is reading a book written by Lyze of Kiel about his experience in the Battle of the Ice Claws. Wait, Soren can read? How? Though his father always told him, Kludd, and Eglantine that the battle was a great victory and that Lyze of Kiel was a great hero, the book makes it seem like the battle was hellish. Ezylryb talks to him briefly about this. The next morning, Ezylryb takes Soren, Twilight, Digger, and Otulissa out to fly in a heavy rainstorm. It’s nice to see the light reflect off the wet wings as the owls struggle to fly while Ezylryb makes it look easy, using odd vocabulary. But this leads to another of the most beautiful shots in the movie: a slo-mo shot of Soren flying through the rain as lightning lights up the sky behind him. The animators not only had to animate every drop of rain, but every drop of rain that hits Soren and how it splashes, and Soren’s every feather. It looks astounding. Though Soren does screw it up, Ezylryb saves him and has him come to his hollow.

Allomere and his squadron sneak into Pure Ones HQ. They see the owlets. A few bats fly into the shot, and the squadron follows. They see two Pure Ones in a clearing and another standing on a massive rock spike. Allomere deals with the higher one while his squadron deals with the two down below. The squadron discovers that the two guards are stuffed fakes, and the bats open the container of magical magnet BS.

Ezylryb praises Soren for his skill, and reveals that he, Ezylryb, is Lyze of Kiel. Soren is surprised, and Ezylryb/Lyze tells him that battle is the polar opposite of glorious or heroic, and that he emerged scarred and minus a talon. Allomere arrives back at Guardians HQ with two owlets in tow, one of which is a moon blinked Eglantine. He then elaborates on the situation to the rest of the Guardians. Boron addresses one of the Guardians as Bubo. REFERENCE! The Guardians armor up and head to fight the Pure Ones. Soren tells Ezylryb/Lyze that he has to go with them, but Ezylryb/Lyze tells Soren that he wouldn’t last a minute in a real fight, and tells him to stay behind with his sister. He flies out to join the Guardians, and Soren goes to his sister.

So we’re pretty much nearing the climax now? Good heavens, I felt so little buildup to it!

The Guardians stealthily attack, taking out the first of the guards rather quickly. Question: is the sun being eclipsed right now? Because we currently have a case of crescent sun.

Soren has a one-sided conversation with his comatose sister about the stories they’d heard as owlets. But then Eglantine is suddenly un-moon-blinked somehow, and she reveals that Kludd made her moon blinked. Soren is surprised that Kludd would do this. Does he not remember that Kludd betrayed him twice earlier?

Cut back to the Pure Ones herding maybe a dozen or two owlets into a clearing. The Guardians approach. In voiceover, Eglantine reveals that she can somehow remember what happened while she was moon blinked: Kludd gave her to Allomere. But that would mean that Allomere would have to be a traitor, Soren says. I totally called it. Soren realizes that the Guardians are flying right into a trap. Well, of course, they do. While the guardians are distracted while fighting a horde of armed bats, the magic magnet BS container is opened, rendering the Guardians down for the count while Allomere escapes unscathed. Allomere a traitor? If we knew him as a character, this might not have made the plot feel contrived.

Soren takes Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger to help him, and they fly to help the Guardians. They make it to Pure Ones HQ in no time at all, and see that the Guardians are trapped by the magic magnet BS. A ways off, Nyra tells Allomere but really tells the audience that the magic magnet BS affects an owl’s gizzard. Oooookay. Soren and his companions say some lines off to the side, but Soren looks to the side to see the mothereffing forest burning down. When the hell did that happen?! The group comes up with a plan: Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger will distract the horde of bats headed over to the Guardians to finish them off while Soren lights a conveniently placed oil lamp on fire in the burning forest and uses it to blow up the magic magnet BS. As Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger head into battle, Twilight breaks out into his own version of the Toreador march from Carmen. Wow.

Off to the side, Nyra is pissed that the bats have been distracted by Soren’s companions. Metal Beak then tells Allomere that he never had any intentions of rewarding Allomere for his betrayal. Some bats appear out of freaking nowhere and drag Allomere into a hole, killing him.

Soren flies into the forest fire, showing another good slow-mo shot, but it’s one too many. Sorry, Zack Snyder, but the gimmick has worn off. The lamp is lit, and Soren flies into the magic magnet BS somehow unaffected and tosses it onto the container, somehow stopping the magic magnet BS in a much larger explosion than should be possible. Metal Beak orders the Pure Ones to attack. The Guardians fly up to meet them, Ezylryb/Lyze ordering Soren to guard the owlets with his companions. Though Twilight is allowed to join the attack for some reason. Yes, yes, yes, dramatic shots of the armies rushing toward each other and some slow-mo shots of various impacts. Fighting, fighting, and more fighting. Soren sees Kludd and rushes to meet him. The two fight in a fight that I know should be having more of a dramatic impact, but the rivalry between the two was not developed nearly enough. The fight moves into the burning forest.

Ezylryb/Lyze takes on Metal Beak. Why, in various movies, do two characters locked in combat have to make mini-speeches as they slowly circle each other? Ezylryb/Lyze gains the upper hand and seemingly knocks Metal Beak out. Yeah, he gets up. Come on, he gets up and gets the upper hand. Stop making us wait and just do it. I told you. Metal Beak and Nyra double-team Ezylryb/Lyze.

Back in the forest, the fight between Soren and Kludd is pretty underwhelming, as the centerpiece of the fight is clearly their dialogue. Question: whenever this form of racism occurs in all sorts of various movies, can it at least be explained why anyone would side with these racists except those who are evil? Clearly the Pure Ones gave Kludd something to believe in, but we needed to see the conflict within Kludd as he slowly accepted their principles. The Pure Ones, according to Kludd, believe in him like no one ever has. Eventually the fight results in a broken wing for Kludd as Soren tries to keep himself and Kludd from falling into the fire. Kludd tries to use the “I’m your brother” cliché, and it actually works. But as Soren tries to pull Kludd up, Kludd grabs onto a branch and tries to pull Soren down. The branch breaks, and Kludd falls into the fire. He’s fine. He’ll be in the sequel they’re never going to make. Soren, seeing the fight between Ezylryb/Lyze, Metal Beak, and Nyra, and knowing what the latter two did to Kludd, goes to join them, breaking off a burning branch too use as a weapon. It’d be nice if Soren, Nyra, and Metal Beak had more conflict between them.

Ezylryb/Lyze is getting his ass handed to him by Metal Beak and Nyra, but Soren knocks Metal Beak away and fights him. Ezylryb/Lyze takes Nyra on. Metal Beak sends the burning branch falling to the ground. Soren rushes down to get it, and when he does, he turns around and impales Metal Beak on it. Seeing that Metal Beak is dead, Nyra and the Pure Ones retreat. Soren’s friends fly down to meet him, and Ezylryb/Lyze tells him that his killing of Metal Beak will be written.

Soren, his companions, and the Guardians bring the captive owlets to the Ga’hoole tree, where Soren’s parents are waiting. Soren and his companions are welcomed back as heroes, and are named honorary Guardians. I had no idea owls knew how to make confetti. Soren, Eglantine, and their parents seem to be taking Kludd’s apparent death surprisingly well. Speaking of which, Kludd’s body was never found, and we see a shot of a red-eyed Kludd by Metal Beak’s mask. Cut back to Soren, who is telling the tale to a group of owlets. Soren, his companions, and Ezylryb/Lyze fly out around the Ga’hoole tree.

Fade to credits, where we hear the damn Owl City song again. Dammit.

The movie as a whole is such a missed opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, it does a good amount of things right. I’ve gushed about the animation a lot thus far, but seriously. This animation is some of the best I’ve ever seen, easily rivaling not just Blue Sky Studios, not just Dreamworks, but Disney and Pixar. It is breathtaking to see each individual detail. I really wish I could have seen this in 3D. The expressions on the owls themselves are surprisingly emotionally expressive. Hell, seeing the moon blinked owlets’ dead, white eyes and blank expressions and Metal Beak’s dark, evil complexion can even be scary for younger children.

Though it’s nothing spectacular, the acting is pretty good, though Jim Sturgess as Soren sounded a little whiny at times. It’s a pity that the bigger name actors like Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Joel Edgerton, and Hugo Weaving weren’t utilized more.

To kids, the movie will probably be pretty damn amazing. It even has legitimately scary moments that parents may need to be present for, especially if the kids watching are younger than seven. It earns its PG rating by being surprisingly dark and even violent or scary at times, especially for a kids’ movie.

While more screentime for the villains was desperately needed, whenever Metal Beak, Nyra, or even a now-evil Kludd is onscreen, they do command a very real presence and can even be rather threatening. They probably will scare younger children. Had the villains been more developed and given more screentime, they could have been reminiscent of such Disney villains as Maleficent, Scar, or Ursula. If your kids can handle the more intense scenes in any other kids’ movie, they can handle this one.

Zack Snyder undoubtedly has a visual style that is very much his own, but his style seems to be the type that seems to scream, “Notice me! Notice my directing!” His particular visual style, when he isn’t encumbered by oppressively dark superhero material and can embrace a visually bright color scheme, can create some stunning visuals. Though 300 was his orgasm of hyper-stylized violence and gore, Guardians shows that he can do animation, and some of the slow-mo happens at just the right moments. Snyder is very much a visual director. Should I want to make a visually bright movie in the future, I would want him possibly as my director of photography. When this dude gets his visuals right, he gets them right.

Another positive – had the story been given time to properly develop and move at a natural pace, it could have been told surprisingly well. It had a lot to say regarding themes such as courage, unity, loyalty, faith, sacrifice, betrayal, and that the right thing must be done no matter how much it hurts. It really tries to handle these themes with maturity and even dignity. Unfortunately, these themes cannot be properly explored in such an overstuffed plot trying to fit into such a short running time.

There is simply too much plot for a ninety-six-minute movie, especially when so much of the movie deals with spewing out more exposition. We were still getting more well over fifty minutes in. There is so much plot to sift through that we don’t have nearly enough time to settle down and develop the characters. We either have not enough or barely enough time to learn about each individual situation. We don’t spend enough time in Soren’s family’s nest, learning what makes Soren the social everyman and Kludd the jealous brother. We don’t spend enough time at Pure Ones HQ, learning about what makes them tick. We don’t spend enough time on the journey to the Ga’hoole tree. We don’t spend enough time at the tree itself. We don’t spend enough time on the buildup to the big climax. The climax itself is over too quickly. The movie as a whole resolves much too quickly. What made Kludd form such hatred of his brother and quickness to adopt Nazism? How did Soren and Gylfie become such close friends at Pure Ones HQ? What motivates Metal Beak, Nyra, and the Pure Ones to do what they do besides being really, really racist? What brought Twilight and Digger together? What caused Ezylryb / Lyze of Kiel to fall so far from grace after defeating Metal Beak at the Battle of the Ice Claws? The Pure Ones are collecting a bunch of little magnetic metal flecks from the stomachs of mice in owl pellets because when all the flecks are gathered together, they form a giant magnet that shoots out arcs of blue energy that somehow pin owls to the ground. Why? There is actually a reason why, but the movie never even vaguely explains it. Well, it does, but in a sentence or two. Blink and you’ll miss it. The film never pauses to allow you to settle down and collect your thoughts. You could possibly miss a plot point or two. Hey, on the plus side, the movie’s never boring. But the plot moves at such a fast clip when it really should have come in second place in the horse race in which Secretariat won the Triple Crown.

It doesn’t help that the already amazingly rushed and overstuffed story is spotty and unoriginal and contains no surprises. The typical contrived storytelling devices that you see in almost every movie ever are here in abundance. But that further serves to drive the plot farther down. If you write a story depicting the long and perilous journey of one or more main characters, then that story needs to be primarily focused on the journey itself and what happens during it. Lord of the Rings did that wonderfully. But Ga’hoole’s story seemed to not know this. It never settled into a set pattern. The characters made it to their destination and back, not even breaking a sweat, let alone getting hurt unless the script says so.  Another issue: Kludd’s rivalry with and betrayal of Soren had no emotional or dramatic resonance, and served as more of a demand of a plot contrivance rather than a character and his story evolving.

The movie as a whole simply failed to create a large, vibrant, lush, beautiful, expansive world that I could step into in owl form (preferably great horned owl). That just makes me sad, because I very much wanted to like this movie. And I can see a good story in there, but it needs to break free from the oft-seen clichés that drag down every story that uses them and allow itself to have a longer running time, preferably two and a half hours.

The main gimmick of this story is that the characters are owls and that they sometimes talk about and do owl-specific things. But these owls are pretty freaking smart for, you know, being owls. Though owls are definitely smart (I love owls, by the way), I had absolutely no idea that Tyto owls could form a society in the vein of the Third Reich, and the other owls as well as those Tyto owls who did not ascribe to Nazism could form an anti-Third Reich society. I had no idea owls were able to create large makeshift hideouts, especially a large tree fort. I had no idea owls could forge metal helmets and claws, form a writing and numerical system and make books, make fabric, make a blue magnetized nexus that can hurt other owls, and various other materials that I’m pretty sure owls are not smart enough to make. I also had no idea that these two owl societies were also smart enough to go to war and kill each other. Of course, I could make that complaint about every book focused on societies of animals, but that would mean I couldn’t like book series like Redwall and Mistmantle and Warriors.

Overall, Ga’hoole is just another basic, overdramatic, dull fantasy quasi-epic that has plenty of problems but has enough charm to warrant a viewing or two. It simply checks off too many of the typical tropes that we see in everything.

Even the animation has its downside. The character models, though amazing, are a tad dated and a little too wide-eyed. The action sequences, when in dim 3D, suffer from an inability to distinguish Guardian from Pure One. Though I laud the animation team for putting in the effort to create fifteen unique species of owl, the actions scenes render this work meaningless.

The dialogue is stilted, cliché, and not always well written. Whenever the characters had to use archaic or owl-specific dialogue, it could occasionally get really shaky.

It’s too dark and perhaps even too violent for little children, and too rushed, plot-heavy, and stale for older viewers. Anyone expecting to see something reminiscent of Pixar, let alone Bluth or Miyazaki, wil be sorely disappointed. It’s a purely visual experience. The game The Order: 1886 taught gamers that damn near perfect graphics aren’t everything. Ga’hoole is the film equivalent of that. Stellar animation isn’t everything.

Some of this movie’s detractors criticize it for its lack of faithfulness to its source material. But I don’t care. Not only am I reviewing the movie rather than the books, but the point of a film adaptation is so the adaptation can stand on its own. You shouldn’t have to have read the books to enjoy the movie. That’s what made the Harry Potter movies or the Lord of the Rings movies so successful. Though changes were made, they made sense in the films’ universe.

Though I do not think Ga’hoole is a good movie, your children will probably love it. Even if the story doesn’t interest them, they still have a visual feast to behold. While this is definitely a worthwhile way to shut your kids up for ninety minutes, it still holds a lot of merit, it’s one of the better choices of movies to show your kids, and it’s still a satisfying watch. While this movie’s rating will be low, I still have to give it a little respect.

And best of all, I know I will definitely be showing this to my future children, should I ever actually have any.

Final verdict: 2 out of 5 stars.

Review 84: Smiley (0/5)

Smiley Movie Poster.png


Directed by Michael Gallagher

Starring Caitlin Gerard, Melanie Papalia, Shane Dawson, Andrew James Allen, Liza Weil, Toby “Tobuscus” Turner, Roger Bart, Keith David

Released on October 12, 2012

Running time: 1h 35m

Rated R

Genre: Horror

Internet-inspired horror movies. I’ve tackled one of these before with Feardotcom.com.

You go on an anonymous chat network that just does video rather than both video and audio (apparently that’s the case with this movie released in 2012). You type “I did it for the lulz” three times into the chat box. And then a guy named Smiley appears behind the person you’re talking to and kills them. Who is Smiley? He’s a serial killer who can be summoned through the Internet. He stitched his eyes shut and carved his mouth into a giant Glasgow smile. He’s essentially a living, breathing emoticon. I’m not surprised that you haven’t heard the urban legend. It’s too unrealistic and silly to be true.

Our story begins with a young woman texting her boyfriend. The first shot is clearly focused on how good her ass looks. Which it does. Exactly one minute and thirteen seconds into the movie, we get our first jumpscare as the young girl that the young woman is babysitting startles her. And the jumpscare is almost exactly as loud as the ones that I panned when I reviewed The Forest. Damn. The young girl goes up to the computer in the same room to get on a chat room. It’s not Chatroulette or Omegle. It’s a fake site created specifically for the movie called HideandGoChat. And HideandGoChat allows video but no audio. Come on, Smiley; you were not only released in 2012, but you were all about being trendy; get with the times. This movie is already so effing dated! Remember Cyberbully, that terrible movie that everyone had to have smoked something to have liked? It made the same mistake by creating its own tacky-looking website called Clicksters. Anyway, after a brief conversation between the babysitter and the girl which reaffirmed why I’m not stupid enough to go on sites like these, the girl mentions Smiley, which the babysitter has somehow not heard of. The girl asks,

GIRL: You haven’t heard the urban legend?

Actually, no. We haven’t heard the urban legend of Smiley. And I’m pretty sure that in the real world there is no such urban legend. And as the girl told the babysitter about the urban legend (I’m amazed it’s not the other way round), I found myself asking, “Why would anyone with even the slightest notion of logic, reason, or morality do this? Curiosity? Malice? Who knows? And why is this opening clearly ripping off the openings of The Ring and Candyman?” Seriously, the whole “Smiley” business sounds so silly and awkward and stupid, yet the movie plays it completely seriously! Why would Smiley have carved a smiley emoticon into his face? I don’t know; he was bored, I guess. Maybe he wanted attention. How does he show up behind people and kill them at a moment’s notice? I don’t know!

After a jumpscare with the babysitter’s father startling the babysitter, the father takes the little girl home. The babysitter is in her room on her computer, chatting with a random person, who, in several different shots, does the same eyebrow raise because this stupid movie just replays the same second or two of footage over and over. Wow. The person, seemingly at random, types in “Too bad I have to kill you”. Briefly freaked out, the babysitter looks around her house (why? Is the chat coming from inside the house?), only to be faked out by an open door. Without calling the freaking cops, she returns to the computer. For some reason, she doesn’t immediately X out of the chat room. We get a look at the chat log, and we see that she’s instead going to get the jump on him by typing in “I did it for the lulz” three times. I need to emphasize that it’s showing her typing this in, but the movie is trying to say that it’s the other person typing this in. The next shot shows the computer screen from over the babysitter’s shoulder, and it clearly shows that the person on the other end typed the phrases in. This is a really rookie mistake that the filmmakers expect us as an audience to ignore. I don’t know what Michael Gallagher (the director) was thinking when this scene was edited, but he must have gone with the “Ehh, let’s just hope that the audience doesn’t notice” excuse. You know, like a moron. After about ten seconds, Smiley appears behind the babysitter and kills her, much to the surprise and enjoyment of her chat partner, but not the audience. The chat log inexplicably disappears. By the way, why is Smiley wearing a mask with the smiley on it under a pantyhose stocking? I thought he carved a smile into his face?

Transition to a young woman named Ashley (Gerard) moving into a house with a roommate while going to college at Generic University. She and her dad say a happy goodbye, and Ashley moves in. She meets her roommate, Proxy (Papalia). Who on earth named their daughter Proxy? Oh, I know! Beekuz dis iz uh moobee abowt dah INTURWEBBZ! Melanie Papalia, you’d better thank your lucky stars that your character in The Den is better written than your aggravatingly annoying little bimbo in Smiley.

By now, you will have probably noticed that every scene features awkwardly composed shots, poor lighting, and sets that are either really basic or completely overdone. This is because Michael Gallagher makes sketch comedies on YouTube. There’s a reason he never made it past that. The crappy shots, poor lighting and bad sets become incredibly distracting as the move goes on. Regardless of the quality of his Youtube videos, shart-for-brains shots, shoddy lighting, and poorly designed sets are never okay in a movie. Smiley is a movie. An actual movie. And when Mister Gallagher is using the same effects one would use in a Youtube video in not just a legitimate movie but a legitimate movie that’s being released in theaters, I have to judge it just like I would any other movie. And the verdict is that Gallagher’s movie looks inexcusably aesthetically amateur and unprofessional. It looks like he’s shooting another YouTube sketch video.

Despite just meeting her, Proxy invites Ashley to a party that night which is hosted by – and I’m not joking here – fellow students that she has only ever met online. Come on. If you don’t know the people at the party, then why would you go? Though the party is happening on a school night, Ashley reassures herself that she’s in college, and can do whatever she wants to. Clearly, she doesn’t live in the real world, and is going to regret getting drunk off her ass on a school night tomorrow morning. Both Proxy and Ashley look way too old to just be starting college. On the way, Proxy drops oh-so-hip-and-trendy references to sites like /b/ and 4chan and some ugly business going on there because this is an Entarnart movie. Ashley somehow doesn’t even know what 4chan is. Bullcrap; she’s a privileged, entitled millennial that’s grown up with the Inturnetz; how does she not know what 4chan is? Ashley and Proxy decide to get high before going, and they smoke some pot. Yes, Ashley, exhale before the smoke gets anywhere near your lungs. “I think I’m high on your marijuana,” Ashley says. That’s not only a terrible line, but it is precisely why I don’t smoke it. This sequence is allegedly character development, but all that happens is that Ashley and Proxy further cement themselves as insufferably effervescent, obnoxious airheads, with Ashley being incomprehensibly naïve. The two finally go to the party, and they meet Zane (Allen) and his two or three goons. I forget their names (did they even have any?). Zane comes on way too strong to them, but Ashley and Proxy brush it off and continue to talk with him, with Proxy dropping a Days of Our Lives reference. Zane spends the next few minutes establishing his character as an annoying, atheistic windbag, who loves talking about the “strange and retarded”. It’s interesting that Zane is discussing the strange and retarded when he himself is strange and retarded. He’s an annoying little pink pincushion in my underpants.

Ashley, through odd, unrealistic circumstances, introduces herself to a young man whose name is – I kid you not – Binder (Dawson). However, it’s not pronounced “bine-der”, as in a binder that you use in school, but “bin-der”. Who on earth names their son Binder? And why is Shane Dawson’s Creek here? Oh yeah, I forgot – this entire movie is basically a collaboration of Youtubers. Goddammit. Binder establishes his character as the stereotypical bullied kid who has no idea how to act, as Zane and his goons verbally assault Binder with poorly written insults. Why? Because Binder reported some pedophile activity on 4chan to the police, and has now received the nickname of Pedobear. Another Inturnurt reference! You know, I could have sworn that anyone with two brain cells to rub together believes that pedophilia is disgusting and evil and that pedophiles should die slow and painful deaths. Oh wait, I forgot the times we’re living in, when a site like Salon actually gives a self-proclaimed pedophile a platform. The guy tries to tell us that pedophilia is just another sexual orientation on the same level as being gay, bi, or trans, and has the gall to address normal, rational people who think pedophilia is disgusting as “right-wing bigots”. No, really, go check out Todd Nickerson on Salon. You’ll be pleasantly repulsed and insulted.

I’m getting really sidetracked today. Sorry.

Zane kicks Binder out, and Ashley, like a moron, forgets about it. Later, she sees Zane and his goons over at a computer. After she wonders what they’re doing, Ashley is told by Proxy about the Smiley urban legends. Apparently, going online and doing this Bloody Mary wannabe is pretty popular and is oh-so-trendy. Ashley watches over Zane’s goon’s shoulder as he gets on HideandGoChat, meets with a random person, and types in “I did it for the lulz” three times – all without a webcam, yet the screen clearly shows a video feed of his face. Wow. Smiley suddenly appears behind the goon’s chat partner and kills her. Ashley screams, but Zane and his goons laugh, both at her and at the kill. Yes. Because apparently going online and apparently killing people is…funny? Murder! Yay! Though Ashley’s husky but babyish scream did make me chuckle. Either that, or it was the silly, unrealistic situation. I find it strange that the chat room has a window showing this guy’s face, but his inexplicable webcam feed is clearly off. On. Off. I also love how Zane’s goon’s chat room window can show him looking at the screen even when he’s turned away. I’ve already mentioned how ungodly obvious it is that he doesn’t even have a webcam.

Proxy tells Ashley that no one knows if the Smiley business is actually real. Yeah, because you can’t tell if anything’s real if it’s on the Intermanet! Hell, I watched Chaos online without paying for it; maybe it wasn’t real and I can be happy again! Hell, maybe I’m not real! Aaaaaaaaah! After Proxy gives an overlong explanation of what “I did it for the lulz” means, Ashley and Proxy forget rather quickly that not only did Zane and his goons heckle Binder and kick him out of the party, but they just saw someone literally die at the hands of one of the goons. They stay at Zane’s and party all ding dong damn night, getting seriously drunk.

Can I complain about Caitlin Gerard’s acting now? Her performance is bad enough, but it’s bad on the same level as Harmon Stevens as Dr. Masterson in Mesa of Lost Women, Jan Claire as Ellie in Madman, and Amber Perkins in Megan is Missing. By this, I mean that it’s easy to tell that Caitlin Gerard simply is unable to overcome her excitement at being in a movie. She smiles way too often and seems like she’s always about to boil over with giddy exhilaration. Whenever that’s not happening, she’s clearly having a bad day, as she forgets to act and simply announces her lines. Le sigh.

Ashley wakes up after noon with a hell of a hangover. She looks at her alarm clock and realizes that she’s late for class. That is precisely why you do not go to a college party and get amazingly drunk on a school night. Way to freaking go. After running to class accompanied by a crappy pop song and getting there late, we meet Professor Clayton (Bart), who teaches some required class that deals with reason and ethics. Professor Clayton is particularly full of himself. Today’s class – what the hell is Tobuscus doing here? Come on. Nobody even knows who he is anymore. I barely knew who he was; he was a Youtuber. I only ever watched one of his videos; it was the one in which he played Slender. These classroom scenes in which the class talks about such subjects as the scientific method and Occam’s Razor serve no point; they’re clearly there to make the movie seem deeper than it actually is. All that happens is that Clayton keeps blabbering on and on about stuff that has nothing to do with the movie in a really dull monotone. He’ll occasionally go really quiet and then suddenly get really loud and then quiet again. Not only are these subjects and lectures too blunt to fit in with the rest of the movie, but they’re little more than dollar-store philosophy. Yeah, he took a philosophy class. Great. Move on.

After class, Ashley asks Clayton for all her assignments early. Clayton makes a joke about her cumming on to him. Oops, did I say “cumming”? That was an unintentional typo, but I left it there because it felt needed. Was Clayton actually joking or was he being serious about possibly having a hardon for Caitlin Gerard? I don’t care, because this effing character goes nowhere and does little else other than bore the hell out of the audience.

That night, back home, Proxy shows Ashley a “new” video (there was an old video?) of one of Zane’s goons getting killed by Smiley via infuriatingly loud jumpscare. Seriously, this is The Forest levels of badly designed jumpscares. I love how it was video taken from HideandGoChat, but it has sound. I particularly love how the timer suddenly jumps back to one second from twenty seconds when the Smiley jumpscare happens. Also, Smiley is also wearing a smiley mask with a pantyhose stocking over it. Come on, movie. You could clearly afford to show an actual face with a smiley carved into it on the effing cover. And apparently this video has gotten a ton of views in just twenty-four hours. Why in the hell is making Smiley kill someone so trendy? Obviously, the Internet’s a messed up place, but come on. Surely the Inteeneet has better things to do than focus on what are arguably snuff films. Ashley suggests calling the police, but Proxy condescendingly says that the police will think it’s dumb. Proxy, there is actual video evidence of a young man being murdered. Of course the police will take it seriously. It’s called video evidence. If there is actual suspicion of murder, the police can track down the IP address of the person who uploaded the video. Proxy mockingly and cartoonishly mimics what Ashley might say to the police, unintentionally pointing out just how moronic the basic premise of the film sounds when you read it out loud. Seriously, wow. Regardless, this is not an excuse to not report a murder or a suspected murder to the police. Mentioning that someone might be trying to recreate an urban legend could only ever help the situation. Ashley’s still wondering whether or not Smiley is actually real, and is way too easily comforted by Proxy’s insistence that Smiley isn’t. Despite Proxy’s skepticism, the two of them decide to try it out. Idiots. Why is Ashley at all willing to summon Smiley when there’s even the slightest risk that Smiley could actually be real? The two get on HideandGoChat. During this call, we as an audience learn that apparently Ashley and Proxy can throw their voices, because when the camera is pointed at the computer screen, more than once, we can hear them talking but not actually see their mouths moving on the video feed. Also, more than once, we can clearly see the entire chat log on the screen. The two choose an obvious pervert that 1) shows them (but not us) his penis, 2) asks them to show him their boobs, and 3) asks them to make out with each other. Of course. Proxy tells Ashley that apparently, you need to really want Smiley to kill the guy; you need to picture it in your head. After Proxy says that Ashley has to really want this to happen, Ashley does so, and types in “I did it for the lulz” three times. Because the best way to determine if Smiley is real is to try to summon him to kill someone. Seriously, movie, do you really expect the audience to give two sharts about your characters if you show them intentionally committing actions that have led to people being murdered and actually wanting this to happen? Hell, they even explain to the poor lamb that this is the case. “Someone is suposed [sic] to come and kill you.” After a few seconds of confusion, Smiley appears via jumpcut with the knife already in the guy’s chest! Jumpscare! Screaming! I love how Proxy laughed at the killing at Zane’s party, but is screaming and freaking out when faced with this particular killing! Ashley starts freaking out, thinking she just killed someone. Yes, you did, Ashley. Whether or not you wanted the guy to die, it’s still at least manslaughter. Manslaughter is a serious crime. Ashley continues to freak out, saying that Smiley could know where they are. Ashley, Smiley has only seen you via video chat. Unless he can somehow figure out your IP address from this, which is unlikely, he’s not going to be able to find you. Proxy even say that finding their IP address via HideandGoChat is impossible, as the servers are anonymized. Ashley says that they should go to the police. Proxy claims that if they go to the police that there will be press, and that it will lead him straight to them. First off, if you report a murder, the police will have to keep you anonymous.  Second, Smiley can only be summoned through the Intraknot by typing “I did it for the lulz” three times. If you stay off of chat rooms forever, you will be okay. Ashley’s dad calls and they talk. Smiley is not mentioned. I’m amazed that Ashley lives in 2012 and doesn’t own an iPhone yet. She and her dad are still using flip phones. And I love how they can suddenly segue into a sentimental conversation where Ashley displays that she can’t cry on cue. Then Proxy appears as a jumpscare, and Ashley hangs up. The two decide to act like the incident never happened.

The next day, Ashley’s one college class (wow) talks about the scientific method. Ashley’s been drawing an exceptionally detailed picture of Smiley in her notebook that has obviously been pre-drawn by a better artist. I’m amazed that no one, not even her teacher, is noticing it. More BS about the scientific method versus ideology in general is heard before class ends. Ideology is the end of critical thinking? Which ideologies specifically? I love how this movie’s trying to use various scientific things that have little to nothing to do with what’s going on to attempt to make this movie seem deeper than it really is. And this scene is so boring. I particularly love how learning what a hypothesis is is college material.

Ashley goes to the library and searches for some certain books and is jumpscared by Binder. Stop trying to jumpscare us with stuff that isn’t even supposed to be scary! Ashley has the most aggravating grin ever. Ashley and Binder have a supposed-to-be deep conversation about Smiley, how he’s only real because people make him real, and that he’s all the evil on the Antarnat manifested into one being. Uh, if all the evil on the Intahnett manifested itself into one being, I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t be Smiley. Want proof? Go check out the Deep Web – actually, don’t check out the Deep Web. Seriously, don’t. Don’t do it. Just do some research about it. Don’t actually go on it. In the name of God or whatever deity(ies) you may or may not believe in and all that is holy and just and good and fair in this world, do not go on the Deep Web. It’s dangerous. Ashley seems really happy for having just killed someone last night. As Ashley and Binder talk, the more I realize that these two are going to hook up, the more I realize that they have zero chemistry, and the more I realize that Shane Dawson cannot act. They exchange numbers.

Ashley and Proxy go to another party that night. Ashley talks to Zane, whose goons do not understand the difference between obnoxious and drunk. The goon with the glasses makes a Truman Show reference, breaking the unspoken rule about not referring to a better movie in your crappy one. Zane pulls Ashley off to the side and acts like the video of his goon getting killed was totally serious because he summoned Smiley too and somehow knows that Ashley did it as well. Ashley vomits and decides to go home. Zane inexplicably not-so-subtly suggests sex, and Ashley leaves, but not before Zane suggests that Smiley comes for the people who call him.

As she drunkenly walks home, a guy standing creepily a ways off jumpscares her before revealing that he’s just some drunk partier and not Smiley. She continues walking before Smiley jumpscares her. She runs off and Smiley chases her. Her jeans change from light blue to dark blue to light blue in different shots. I found myself wishing that Smiley would just kill her so that the movie could be over. She gets back home, but JUMPSCARE, Smiley’s already there! He rips her shirt. He corners her in a hallway before grabbing her face, but she wakes up in her bed, realizing that it was all a … dream? All the while, she has the most babyish scream ever. Caitlin Gerard is terrible at being scared. Proxy comes in and mocks Ashley when she tells her about her nightmare, referencing Nightmare on Elm Street. Eff. Ashley’s shirt is still ripped, and Proxy mocks her for thinking that Smiley did it. Wait, Smiley comes for the people who call him? That’s not part of the urban legend!

The next day, Ashley goes to the college psychiatrist. She says that her mom committed suicide and that she was on lithium for a while afterward. And she lies about what’s really going on. The psychiatrist prescribes her Ativan. That’s all.

As she leaves the office, Proxy comes out and jumpscares her! Eff off, Smiley! Proxy tells her that there’s another dead person, and that they have to go to Zane’s because the dead person was another of his goons.

Zane is freaking out, waving around a gun with his finger on the trigger. PRACTICE PROPER GUN SAFETY. He might want to actually load his gun, because when he cocked the slide back, it locked before the film cut away, showing that the gun is unloaded. Zane reveals that he is a super hacker, because of course. Why would he tell them that? I don’t know. Zane tells them that his other goon is dead. The three talk about how Smiley is evil and that he’s hunting them. Gee, what if he’s just a Candyman wannabe?

Ashley goes home only to see that another her is already there, sitting at her computer. She walks up to it and turns it around, showing that the other her has a Smiley face. She wakes up in her bed, revealing that this was a nightmare. If you found that to be legitimately scary, then go jump off a freaking cliff.

The next day, the class talks about Occam’s Razor and the anthropic principle and that humanity is only another step towards creationary perfection – the Imtarmet. Comparisons to Skynet from Terminator and The Matrix are made. This is where the camerawork gets really awful, being ungodly shaky and failing at its closeups. Do they want us to focus on shoulders rather than faces? I know that this movie was low budget, but tripods are not expensive. More BS trying to make this movie seem deeper than it really is happens, and belief in God is mocked.

Ashley is in the library researching Smiley. She comes across a video of the girl from the beginning telling the Onturnut that she hasn’t heard from her babysitter in a while. Smiley sneaks up behind her, but changes into Binder when she turns around. Wow. Ashley tells Binder that she summoned Smiley and he killed someone. Binder implies that Smiley’s this amazing and powerful evil force and acts eerily apathetic to Ashley’s plight. This freaks Ashley out and she leaves. Binder looks as bored as he always does, and Shane Dawson looks so much like just another dude that hasn’t quite left the “angsty teenager” phase.

Ashley goes on HideandGoChat at home. She looks over her shoulders to make sure it’s safe to go on. Wow. And she just sifts through people until she finds Smiley. Which she does, conveniently enough for the film’s running time. Smiley taunts her, which is when I realized that he’d be pretty funny if he was a frowny emoticon instead of a smiley emoticon. Proxy jumpscares her by standing behind her and yelling at her.

PROXY: What are you doing?!

ME: What are you doing in her room? This is the third time you’ve been a jumpscare in this movie! Eff off!

Proxy leaves for another party. Ashley tries to call her dad. I’m not sure what happens, but a jumpscare happens and she drops her phone out the window.

The next day, Ashley goes back to see the psychiatrist. She fails at making herself cry. She admits that she lied about something, but she doesn’t specify what. She says that she doesn’t want to go crazy like her mom. Ashley, those who are actually going crazy insist that they’re not. The psychiatrist prescribes her a tranquilizer and schedules a psychiatric evaluation for the next day.

Ashley visits Clayton, who displays his nihilism and hatred of humanity. Yes, we get it. Evil is a byproduct of humanity. There’s nothing better you can do to accelerate planetary extinction than to start a family. Destroying ourselves is what we do. We’re just along for the ride. Everything’s going to end, but will it be with a bang or a whimper? Nothing really matters to meeeee. So why is he teaching a reason and ethics class? He even mentions that he’s fully aware of the phrase “I did it for the lulz”. And with that camera angle, I’m more than certain that this was intended to make us think that Clayton is Smiley. That still explains nothing of how Smiley works. This scene consists entirely of a pointless, allegedly deep conversation. Whereas Backgammon’s conversations were ungodly vague, Smiley’s conversations are the exact opposite. And that’s easily almost as bad.

Ashley is in the library typing up a paper when Smiley appears on her laptop. Well, looks like it’s time to get a damn good anti-malware program – smashing the laptop works too. She looks up to see a few students filming her. Ha. I can’t wait for Ashley smashing her laptop to go viral on YouTube. I actually made that same joke when I first watched this movie more than two years ago, but I was beyond shocked that it actually happens later.

Ashley goes home and washes her face in the bathroom, only to get jumpscared by Smiley being in the mirror but not actually being in the bathroom. I love how I can’t tell if Ashley’s screaming or about to laugh. Wow. She goes to sleep later, but she’s jumpscared by Smiley, who stabs her! Multiple Smileys come into her room and they rush her. She wakes up; it was all a dream. She sees her mom come in and comfort her, but it’s actually Smiley! She wakes up from her double nightmare and slams into Proxy’s face, giving Proxy a bloody nose. After a brief conversation, Ashley calls 911 about Smiley. Clearly she doesn’t know about the non-emergency line.

Cut to Ashley at the police station. What is Keith David doing here? Wasn’t Chain Letter bad enough? I really pity this guy, as he’s easily the best actor in the movie, and he’s really trying to make the most of his two scenes. Keith unintentionally points out how stupid this movie’s premise is. (That’s twice, Mister Gallagher. That takes a special level of incompetence.) But Keith David doesn’t believe Ashley! Oh no! But here’s the problem, Keith: you still have to investigate if someone reports a murder! A silly story doesn’t rule out there actually being a murderer! It’s illegal to report fake crimes because the police have to check into it! Not doing so is gross negligence! Keith points out that though there may be victims, there are no bodies. True, but that doesn’t discredit a murder report! There are still missing people! Keith says that Ashley doesn’t know who the missing people are. This is a murder report, goddammit. Someone who reports a murder does not have to know the victim’s name. Keith claims that it looks like there hasn’t even been a crime committed. Yes, but you still have to investigate. That’s why it’s illegal to report fake crimes! Keith says that Ashley’s Smiley report is the first one they’ve taken seriously enough to have their talk. Yeah, because Keith’s totes taking it seriously, like 4 real, even though they’ve had multiple Smiley murder reports. But still, Keith doesn’t care. This is beyond gross negligence. But Keith takes it up a notch: he shows Ashley the video taken of her smashing her laptop. And judging by the editing options above the video, it was the cops that uploaded the video in the first place. It’s gotten more than five million views since yesterday. WOW. Wait, how exactly did the filmer film that video in that short amount of time? It takes five to ten seconds to get your phone out of your pocket, another five to get the camera app up, and another five to switch to video mode and hit record. Ashley smashing her laptop would have been over by then.

In the car after leaving the police station, Ashley and Proxy mention that all the videos of Smiley have somehow been erased from the Entirnit. How? I don’t know!

Ashley somehow shapes up and is super happy when she goes to her psychiatric evaluation. Ashley’s wearing a top that shows that her breasts sag more than those of an old lady.

At home, Ashley has Binder over, having forgotten about how weird he was the other night. Binder gives Ashley his old laptop. It is “fully equipped” with a firewall, a 128-bit encryption and a 256-bit key. Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooookay. And then Ashley and Binder start making out, Ashley addressing Binder as “dungeon master” and Binder addressing Ashley as “princess”. Eww. One of the worst romances I’ve ever seen, and one that had advanced from acquaintances to borderline BDSM sex in four scenes. Is Ashley a closet freak? Just as making with the sexies enters their minds, Proxy comes in and tells the two that she’s going to her parents’ house for the weekend. Binder leaves. Proxy mentions Ashley addressing Binder as “dungeon master”, and mentions that she has a pair of handcuffs in her underwear drawer if she needs them. Eww.

That night, Proxy video chats with Ashley, who says that she can’t find Zane. At her parents’ place? Duh. Oh, so Proxy and Zane were going to blueball each other on video chat. Ashley suggests Smiley is responsible. Proxy offers to call the cops, but Ashley says that she’ll go over to Zane’s place herself. Because that’s smart. She goes over to Zane’s place. She finds an inexplicably placed flashlight and looks for Zane. But she finds “I did it for the lulz :)” written in blood on the wall. It’s as silly as it sounds. If you can take that seriously in the slightest, please check yourself in to the nearest insane asylum. She even finds Zane’s corpse and his gun. Smiley appears on Zane’s computer and waves to Ashley. She grabs the gun and runs off. She calls the cops, but it’s Keith David! And the call inexplicably disconnects!

KEITH: F-cking crackpots.

ME: I know, right?

Ashley gets back home. Proxy is still video chatting, and she tells Ashley to call 911. But Ashley refuses, telling Proxy to summon Smiley so she can kill him. And Proxy does so! Wow. Someone comes up to the door and opens it. Ashley fires off a shot and hits the person in the chest. She investigates and finds out that she accidentally shot Binder! Mmm, what’d you saaaayyy, mmm, that you only meant wellll, well of course you diiid… Ha! And Shane Dawson’s acting is terrible. I love how he’s not even trying to act like he’s struggling to breathe but is choking on blood, and none of it comes anywhere near convincing. Ha. I’m glad he’s dead. Ashley tries to comfort him, but Smiley appears and slices his throat! She runs up to her room and points the gun at the door. But Smiley’s already there! She tries to shoot him, but it turns out that the bullet that killed Binder was the only bullet in the gun! Why didn’t Ashley make sure it was loaded? Her bedroom door bursts in, revealing multiple Smileys! Oh no! Wait, what? She says “eff that noise” and jumps out her window! CGI glass flies everywhere without slicing Ashley up!! She slow-mo-falls to the ground and … dies? Uh, you jumped from a second story window. It’s easily possible to survive that! But all the blood says no. It’s so silly! Insert brief pretentious sequence of Clayton in his classroom talking about why humans commit evil acts.

Cut back to the night. The Smileys laugh over what happened to Ashley. One even says that he’s going to take a picture of himself with the corpse and post it on Instagram. Murder! Yay! The Smileys unmask to reveal themselves as Zane and his goons, and even the babysitter. It turns out that it was all a massive prank that even Proxy and Binder (who is alive somehow despite getting shot and his throat cut) were in on because they’re all disgusting crapheads. Yes – it was all a setup to get her to die. Gee, I wonder if that’s going to go over well without negative consequence. Wait: the babysitter wandered around scared in the opening and heard about the urban legend from the girl she was babysitting. By the way, this little girl even posted a video about how she hadn’t heard from her babysitter since that night, meaning that these stupid pranksters abandoned not only their jobs, but their lives for this effing prank. They’re all ridiculous shartheads with the most amount of time for a prank ever, but to go out of their way to disappear off the map just in case someone might say something about it is beyond astounding. What about the whole HideandGoChat thing? It’s random who you talk to. There is no way that these stupid people could have effectively made this a part of the prank because they could never have known just what people would have been chosen to be subjected to the summoning of Smiley! Ashley even chose the person she killed and these moronic pranksters had no way of knowing who to kill! They even had no idea when exactly she would even be on HideandGoChat when she was searching for Smiley! That means that one of the pranksters had to be sitting there for days just in case Ashley might randomly get on HideandGoChat! And the fact that she did is even nonsensical! If the YouTube-video-uploading police were actually doing their jobs, the pranksters would all be getting arrested by now! Their stupid, ungodly convenient plan had to count on not only ungodly convenient circumstances, but they had to count on them happening in a nonsensical way, and somehow be able to predict Ashley’s every action, especially Binder’s “death”! He was rigged with a fake blood squib because the gun at Zane’s was loaded with a blank? What if Ashley hadn’t taken the gun? What if Ashley had gotten her hands on a real gun? What if she had used a knife? What if she had just let Binder walk right in? It would have been all that effing effort for nothing! What was their point? What were they even trying to do in the first place? What was their motivation? In what world would this prank go off without a hitch in? IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE! And the group is all happy and excited about having just caused a chick to kill herself. Wow. Murder! Yay!

And they call it – I kid you not – a win for Anonymous. Wait, WHAT? Because that’s totally what Anonymous does. Zane even says that Anonymous might not condone their actions, but Binder responds with

BINDER: F-ck those guys. They don’t get to say who’s Anonymous and who’s not. The troll army? They don’t have any command or control. They say we’re off message? No. F-ck them. They’re off message.

Oh, so they aren’t Anonymous, but they’re going to say they are for BS reasons? Because Anonymous would totally come up with a convoluted plan to prank a random chick into killing herself.

BINDER: Because there’s only one reason to troll. … For the lulz.

ALL: For the lulz!

It’s a battle cry. Wow.

Binder further explains the plan to the audience: because they pulled off this ungodly elaborate and unwieldy prank, they’ve immortalized Smiley as not just an urban legend, but similar to the Egyptian pyramids or the works of Shakespeare. Smiley’s the next “Chocolate Rain” (I’m not sure Tay Zonday’s a fan of referencing his video in a bottom-of-the-barrel horror movie.). Smiley will inspire a legion of copycats. He will be anyone, anywhere, at anytime. The first viral serial killer. He’ll be really popular this Halloween (needless to say, he wasn’t. Smiley was barely noticed when it came out).

The pranksters leave, and Zane video chats with Proxy, explaining that he has a boner right now. Huh. Proxy starts questioning why they did this prank to begin with. For the lulz? That’d be a great question to ask before you pull off this prank that you will undoubtedly end up in prison for. She asks if they’re bad people. Well, after devoting all this time to screwing with Ashley until she jumped out a window to her death, yes, you are a bad person. A really, really, really effing bad person. Go kill yourself. Well, Zane types in “I did it for the lulz” three times as a joke. But the real Smiley appears behind Proxy and kills her. Take notice, this is the real Smiley. I love how Zane covers his mouth in shock when the camera is on him, but still finds the situation funny when the camera is on the computer. Smiley waves to Zane and shuts the laptop. I didn’t know it was possible to drop the bar even lower than it already has been with a desperate, foolish double twist. And for those who are wondering: post-plot-twist, Smiley’s total body count is one. Ashley doesn’t count – she killed herself. For wanting to be the next slasher villain, Smiley (or the Smiley killers) is a pathetic villain.

Credits. And in a two-second after-credits sequence, Ashley wakes up, still alive. Ooooooooookay?

This is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. There’s a reason Michael Gallagher never made it past YouTube. Making the movie basically a collaboration of YouTubers that I’m not even subscribed to was a terrible idea. YouTube sketch videos are one thing, but movies are another. Thankfully, Smiley was barely noticed upon release. Though its viral YouTube trailer was viewed tens of millions of times, this was not reflected in its sales. I can’t even find out what its total box office intake was compared to its budget. I can’t even find what its budget was. My guess: the budget was a few hundred thousand bucks, a million at the most, with another few hundred thousand bucks spent on its viral marketing campaign. And it couldn’t even break even.

The movie started out with a mishmash of elements from Candyman and The Ring, and finished off, unfinished, with no loose ends wrapped up.

I’ve ripped plenty of movies apart for relying solely on cheap jumpscares rather than actual fear, so I’m not going to go into too much detail. But in the case of movies like The Haunting in Connecticut, which has plenty of cheap jumpscares, I can look past them if the movie still has a good story, likable characters, and still manages to elicit that sense of fear despite the jumpscares.  However, in the case of Smiley, not only is the story nonsensical and the characters unlikable, but any sense of fear is replaced by anticipation of the next jumpscare, all of which feel like getting jabbed with a stun gun.

I hated the poorly handled subplot of Ashley being mentally unstable, and that her runins with Smiley might just be her going crazy. It’s completely uninteresting, pointless, forced, and stupid. Here’s a few good horror movies that involve one or more characters going insane in a good way: Eraserhead. The Haunting. Repulsion. Last Shift. Oculus. The Babadook. Grave Encounters. The VVitch. Goodnight Mommy. Even non-horror movies handle mental instability well: Perfect Blue. Requiem for a Dream. A Scanner Darkly. Take Shelter.

The story itself is poor, even by YouTube sketch video standards. It’s nothing more than yet another teen horror flick that has flooded the market post-Scream. It’s an uninteresting, nonsensical script with forced tension shoehorned in at awkward moments, obvious twists, copious amounts of talk about chat rooms, hackers, and Occam’s Razor, and a sequel bait ending. There are no character arcs; the characters do not evolve. Ashley remains emotionally uneven and unstable. Proxy remains effervescent and annoying. Smiley, who gets so little screen time, is a blatant ripoff of Candyman. Though cyberspace is a spawning ground for depression and manic nihilism, the reason that Smiley is the manifestation of that and executes that attitude in such a silly, gimmicky way is never explained. The rest of the characters just sort of happen. The acting is worthless. The gore effects are awful. The characters’ actions were unrealistic. It wanted so desperately to be trendy. The dialogue is only negligibly better than Ashley saying, “I think I’m high on your marijuana”. Nothing in this movie stands the test of time when it was already ungodly dated well before it even came out. It wants to be a slasher, but it’s way too lightweight; the body count is minimal, and the scary sequences are few, far between, and ineptly handled. Most importantly, it wasn’t just not scary, but it was effing boring.

A horror movie should be made out of inspiration and a love of the genre, not out of a desperate, greedy attempt to capitalize on Internet memes. What Smiley has shown is that these moronic YouTubers have no grasp on what horror is, and have a serious lack of knowledge of how to movie.

You know what’s scarier than Smiley coming to get you?

Your wife/girlfriend or daughter discovering your porn addiction through your search engine history.

Final verdict: 0 out of 5 stars.

Review 83: Hellraiser: Revelations (0/5)

Hellraiser – Revelations DVD Cover.jpg

Hellraiser: We Couldn’t Think of a Title so We Just Called It Revelations

Directed by Victor Garcia

Starring Steven Brand, Nick Eversman, Tracey Fairaway, Sebastien Roberts, Devon Sorvari, Sanny Van Heteren, Daniel Buran, Jay Gillespie, Stephan Smith Collins / Fred Tatasciore

Released on March 18, 2011

Running time: 1h 15m

Rated R

Genre: Horror


The original Hellraiser is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. You’ve already seen me gush about it in an earlier review. I gave it a perfect 5 out of 5.

But the franchise as a whole leaves a lot to be desired.

However, the second movie, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, was pretty good. It’s one of the rare horror sequels that has any thought to it whatsoever. It was great to see Kirsty’s story continue. It was great to see more of the Cenobites, learn more about them, and even spend much of the movie in their Hell. It was great to meet new and interesting characters, and even see a few faces from the first one. And for the most part, it matches the original’s mythology, though it was markedly different in tone and scope. Though it wasn’t quite as amazing as the first, it was still damn good, and I’d give it either a 4 or a 4.5 out of 5.

Unfortunately, the third one, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, is where the franchise starts to suck. This is where the character of Pinhead the Hell Priest became radically different, becoming a slasher villain. He loses his morals (if you could call them that). Gone is everything that made him an interesting and legitimately scary character. And get a load of Camera-Head Cenobite, CD-Head Cenobite, Fire-Breathing Cenobite, Smoker Cenobite That Has the Ability to Dream, and their puns. Screw that noise. I’d give Hellraiser III a 1 out of 5, because it’s not entirely awful.

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline gives us the Hell Priest iiiiiiiiin spaaaaaaaaaaaace! This one is too short for its own good, and is extremely light on character and plot as it tries to tell three stories in eighty-five minutes. The only pro of this one is that we get to go back into the past and see the origins of the Lament Configuration, and its creation by Philip Lemarchand. But even that story doesn’t work, and the film overall is a total mess. I’d give it a .5 or a 1 out of 5.

Starting with Hellraiser: Inferno, the rest of the franchise’s installments were all released direct-to-video. I’m amazed that Hellraiser III and IV were actual theatrical releases. Well, so was Norm of the North. I’ll get to that garbage in December or January. I should also say that the scripts of Hellraiser V-VIII were not originally intended to be Hellraiser movies, but the studios demanded that they be the next installments in the franchise.

At least they started off well, because Hellraiser: Inferno is freaking fantastic. While it was never intended to be a Hellraiser movie, it actually works very well as one. While Hellraiser and Hellbound focused mostly on the physical and sexual torture that the Cenobites would inflict, Inferno focused on an entirely new aspect: psychological torture. Add to that an increasingly disturbing story, an ever-evolving main character, pretty good acting, and you have yourself a damn good movie. I’d give this one a 4.5 if not a perfect 5 out of 5. This was the directorial debut of Scott Derrickson, who would go on to direct the decent The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the underwhelming and needlessly environmentalist remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, the fantastic and terrifying Sinister, and the underrated Deliver Us from Evil, and he’s even directing the upcoming Doctor Strange.

The next sequel was Hellraiser: Hellseeker. This is the first of three Hellraiser movies to be directed by Rick Bota. And this one really wants to be Inferno, but doesn’t exactly understand what made Inferno so good. It really does not work, and is really forgettable. I’d give it a 1.5 out of 5.

The next of Rick Bota’s films was Hellraiser: Deader. Now that Bota wasn’t trying to redo Inferno, he had free reign with Deader. And this one’s pretty okay. The ideas are interesting and the story is decently told, but it really should not have been a Hellraiser movie. I’d give this one a 2.5 out of 5.

The last of Bota’s films was Hellraiser: Hellworld. I don’t know what Bota was thinking with this one’s idea: making an online game based on the Hellraiser series (even though barely any gameplay is shown), throwing a party among the players, and summoning the Hell Priest (his name is not Pinhead, Clive Barker said so) through the game to kill the partiers. LAME. This is one of the earliest roles of Henry Cavill, making his death in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that much sweeter. Hellworld gets a .5 out of 5. It is the worst of the series.

At least, I thought it was.

Then came Hellraiser: Revelations. Upon its release in 2011, there were three major things that made me think, This has bad written all over it. First, it was made solely so that Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company could keep the rights to the franchise from reverting back to Clive Barker because a Hellraiser remake was in development hell. Second, upon learning of the ungodly short turnaround time and his miniscule paycheck, Doug Bradley, who has played the Hell Priest (not Pinhead) since the franchise’s beginning, declined to reprise his iconic role. Third, and most important, Clive Barker hated the film. He condemned it, saying, “I want to put on the record that the flic [sic] out there using the word Hellraiser IS NO F-CKIN’ CHILD OF MINE! I have NOTHING to do with the f-ckin’ thing. If they claim its [sic] from the mind of Clive Barker, it’s a lie. It’s not even from my butt-hole.” That’s bad press if ever I saw it. Wow. So obviously, I had to see it. I found it on Netflix. And I watched it.

And it was a slap in the face to me as a Hellraiser fanboy, because I love the original Hellraiser. And even if you didn’t see the original, you cannot deny that Revelations is a terrible effing movie. And those who actually saw the original will realize that this is a slapped-together, slipshod retread of the original.

The film begins with two guys named Nico Bradley and Steven Craven (GET IT?!) filming themselves as they drive to Tijuana to get away from their families. Get used to found-footage BS on a crappy camera – it takes up about thirty percent of the movie. Well, we only get five minutes of it at the beginning, but we get more sections of it later in the movie. But seriously, is this found-footage, or just awful camerawork? What’s even the difference? And these first five minutes are filled with cringey dialogue, cringey acting, and vomit-inducing camerawork. DO THESE FILMMAKERS EVEN KNOW HOW TO MOVIE?! Insert a ten-second shot of Nico and Steven freaking out after their car gets jacked. Then cut to Steven filming Nico, who is surrounded by candles and trying to open the Lament Configuration. WHERE THE EFF DID THEY GET THAT? Worse, this time around, the box looks more like a prop than the actual puzzle box. Even the original Hellraiser got that right. From here on out, I will call it the Prop Box. Nico opens the Prop Box, which emits a terribly CGId blue glow. Rather than show a creepy shot of blue light coming through the walls, just show a blue glow because the movie’s budget was only three hundred grand. Steven turns the camera and suddenly sees – THAT’S NOT THE HELL PRIEST! Seriously, who the hell are these filmmakers trying to fool? That is not the Hell Priest! Also, YOU ACTUALLY CAUGHT HIM ON CAMERA?! This Hell Priest is awful. The makeup is all wrong, and the costume has clearly been bought from a Halloween store, both contributing to making the goofy-looking Hell Priest look like he’s been eating way too many human steaks. Steven and Nico freak out as the actual moviemaking camera pulls back from the viewscreen on a camcorder.

The camcorder is being held by Steven’s mother, who is sitting in Steven’s room watching the footage sometime after Steven and Nico’s disappearance. HOW WAS THAT CAMERA RECOVERED? HOW WAS THE FOOTAGE NOT DELETED OR CORRUPTED? But now, as I moved into the actual movie, I found myself unable to tell the difference between the found-footage and the actual professional camerawork, because it is awful. I’ve seen student films shot on standard-def camcorders that look better than this and are significantly less shaky. Seriously, when your camerawork is as bad as a really bad found-footage movie, you need to get a better cameraman. Tripods are not expensive. You can get one for as cheap as fifteen bucks.

The families of Steven and Nico meet every year after the two’s disappearance. They engage in unnatural exchanges, bad acting that mistakes awkward yelling for showing emotion, and letting the teenage boys in the audience ogle over Steven’s sister Emma’s body in a revealing top that shows a crap ton of cleavage. Oh, and toss in the occasional brief shot of the Hell Priest grimacing and looking around while standing in his domain. Oh, and the Chatterer is female this time.

About five minutes after the change into the actual movie, Emma takes the camcorder into Steven’s room and watches the footage for herself. The footage we see is of Steven and Nico getting blasted drunk and attempting to pick up a chick who doesn’t speak English. AND THIS SCENE IS SO AGGRAVATING! Convincingly obnoxious does not equal convincingly drunk. I mean, wow. The acting in this scene is so freaking bad. Plus, I have no idea why this chick doesn’t run off at the sign of two dumbass American boys who oh so obviously want to screw her to their hearts’ content. In fact, they do. Yes; Nico somehow convinces the Mexican puta to have sex with him in a dirty, empty restroom. I’m amazed that none of caught an STD from screwing in that dirty of a bathroom. In the real world, Emma is unconvincingly shocked at this. Apparently Nico was her boyfriend, and it hurts Emma to see him being unfaithful. I put that in italics because it wasn’t exactly conveyed very well through acting. Ha – she can’t make herself cry on cue. Come on; even I can do that (kind of – it takes me a minute). Emma reaches into the bag in which Steven’s camera was recovered in, and pulls out the Prop Box. WHAT?! WHERE THE EFF DID THE AUTHORITIES GET THAT?! Though in the original Hellraiser, how Frank got the box when he escaped the Cenobites was never explained either.

Insert a random shot of the Hell Priest standing in his domain, grimacing. Gotta give him screentime somehow; dis is uh Helrayzurr moovee!

Out in the living room, the two families discuss the circumstances of the disappearances of Steven and Nico. These four adults are easily the best actors in the movie, though that’s not saying much.

Emma goes outside and solves the Prop Box. WHAT?! DID SHE SEE THE FOOTAGE OF NICO SOLVING THE PROP BOX AND SUMMONING THE HELL PRIEST?! YOU MORON! And then Steven appears out of nowhere. WHAT?! WHERE DID HE COME FROM?! Emma brings Steven inside, where both families are happy to see him but are horrified at his mental instability. Emma goes to dial 911, but when she dials, she only presses a single digit. MORON. But the phones don’t work. How convenient. There’s no cell signal. How convenient. And when Nico’s dad goes outside to bring his car to the entrance to take Steven to the hospital, he discovers that all of the cars are gone. How effing convenient. Steven’s dad goes to get his gun, and apparently Steven’s mom is initially shocked that Steven’s dad would dare to have a gun. Well, as far as I can tell, this movie is set in southern California, which is little more than a liberal hellhole, so I am also surprised that Steven’s dad owns a gun. Seriously, the inordinate number of legal hoops you have to jump through to get a gun in California is ridiculous. But seriously, regardless of where you live in the United States, I urge you to buy at least one gun.

Insert another shot of the Hell Priest in his domain. But this time, he’s putting nails into another Cenobite’s head. Wait, so there are TWO HELL PRIESTS NOW?! Fine – I’ll call the new Hell Priest Pinhead.

The family begins thinking that they are under siege. Emma has no idea what’s happening, even though she’s seen the footage of Nico opening the Prop Box and summoning the Hell Priest. She should know that opening the Prop Box summons the Cenobites. Steven disappears, but the group finds him outside, where he attemptedly ominously tells the families that the Cenobites are coming. I love how the acting from everyone else doesn’t deviate from “slightly concerned” or “bored”.

Cut back to Steven and Nico pre-disappearance, though thankfully we are not dealing with any found footage. The Mexican puta is dead, having hit her head on the toilet hard enough to kill her, according to Nico. Steven is troubled over the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the puta, though Nico keeps attempting to defuse Steven’s attitude. Some vagrant comes up to them, looking suspiciously like the vagrant from the original Hellraiser, and offers them the Prop Box, telling them of the pleasures within. How did this vagrant come across the Prop Box, let alone learn all about what’s inside? The vagrant starts rambling, and within a few seconds, he’s not even talking about the Prop Box anymore. Nico asks how much the vagrant wants for the Prop Box, but the vagrant says

VAGRANT: It’s yours, Nico. It always was.

ME: AAAAAAGGGGGGHHH! *slams keyboard on desk*

This vagrant’s performance is terrible. He speaks in a fake gravelly voice, trying to use his presence and demeanor to disturb, but comes across as silly and almost funny.

Cut to Nico and Steven in the scene in which Nico opens the Prop Box. But this time, the footage (it constantly cuts between camcorder and professional footage) is extended. Nico tells Steven to film him opening the Prop Box, but Steven refuses. After a bit of pushing, Steven agrees. Jeez, you could tell him he was a grilled cheese sandwich and he’d probably believe it. Anyway, hooked chains reach out and snag Nico. And the movie sees fit to cut away as the chains whoosh through the air, and cut back once the chains are already hooked into flesh. Oh my gosh, could this movie not figure out how to do the “chains whooshing through the air effect”? Clive Barker did that in the original Hellraiser…in 1987!

After the Hell Priest takes Nico, Steven is spared. Depressed, he walks down an alley that’s an obvious set and picks up an inexplicably Asian puta. While they make with the sexies in a hotel room, Steven hears Nico’s voice in his head, telling him to kill the puta. Steven does so, using the Prop Box (HOW DOES HE STILL HAVE THAT) as a bludgeoning implement. Out of the pool of blood climbs a skinless Nico, whose skinless effects cannot hope to match the ones in the original Hellraiser.

NICO: Steven! The blood brought me back! Bring me more.

ME: AAAAAAAGGGGGGGHH! *slams head against wall*

First, that’s not where Nico was taken. You can’t just spill blood anywhere and expect someone held captive by the Cenobites to just show up. The reason that Larry’s spilt blood brought Frank back in the original Hellraiser is because that’s where Frank was taken.

Second, the return of Frank was accompanied by one of the best displays of practical effects in history. In Revelations, the skinless Nico rises out of the pool of blood. To be fair, Julia’s return in Hellbound was the same.

Third, Nico’s explanation for his return is the most blunt, banal thing ever.

Fourth, Nico telling Steven to bring him more blood is again like the original Hellraiser, with Steven now killing people for Nico like Julia did for Frank, albeit without any of the emotional reasons and without Clare Higgins’s brilliant acting.

It’s as if the only research on Hellraiser was the plot on its Wikipedia page.

Cut back to the two families, where Steven again tells them that the Cenobites are coming. Steven is taken to his bedroom to rest. In the kitchen, Emma talks to Nico’s dad. But then this happens: Emma bites her lip in a sexual manner. She starts breathing heavily and speaking in a sultry manner. She also starts rubbing the circle on the Prop Box in a sexual manner (she’s fingering its circle!). Uh, Emma? What are you doing? Uh, are you secretly sexually attracted to Nico’s dad? This is incredibly awkward, considering that Nico is Emma’s boyfriend. This continues for about a minute before Emma’s mother asks her to carry a bowl of soup to Steven. Emma takes the soup and walks away, touching Nico’s dad’s shoulder as she goes. Dude, I’ve seen the scene in Sleepaway Camp in which Meg (a teen) seduces Mel (a man in his fifties), and yet this scene in Revelations made me go “EEEEWWW!” And then the movie sees fit to top that scene! Emma goes into Steven’s room and sits down on his bed. She gives Steven his soup, which he is unable to finish. He offers the rest to Emma. She takes a few sips and puts the bowl down. Steven notices that she has a bit of soup still on her lip, wipes it away with his finger, puts his finger in his mouth, and sucks off the drop of soup. And then, as if the scene couldn’t get any more uncomfortable, Steven and Emma start making out. Full-on making out, tonguing included. Steven even slips his hand under Emma’s dress and cups her boob. Oh! Oh, ew ew ew ew ew! No! No! No no no no no! Stop it! That’s disgusting! You two are siblings! That’s so effing gross! Stop! EWW! Dude, I’ve seen the bj scene in The Human Centipede 3, and yet this scene in Revelations made me go “EEEEEEWWWW!” Seriously, WHAT THE EFF IS GOING ON?! Just as incestuous making with the sexies might actually become a possibility, Emma stops herself and awkwardly leaves the room. Thank God.

The affair between Frank and Julia was not only important to the plot, but was handled in a tasteful manner. Plus, they were two actual thirtysomething adults. Steven and Emma are probably in their late teens, considering that Steven is older than Emma and he still lives with his family. Worse, this incestuous scene has no bearing on the plot whatsoever, making this scene…entirely pointless.

The vagrant shows up skulking around the outside of the house. Steven and Nico’s dads go outside with the gun to confront him. Nico’s dad takes the gun from Steven’s dad and blows the vagrant away, much to Steven’s dad’s protest. But the vagrant gets up and, with a knife that looks like it came out of the Hell Priest’s domain, cuts off a big chunk of Nico’s dad’s face. I don’t remember if Nico’s dad dies or not, as I can’t be bothered to do so. Back inside, Steven inexplicably goes ballistic, taking the gun and waving it around, threatening his family, SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUUUUUUUUNGS! His attempts at “showing emotion” by screaming are the exact opposite of intimidating, and are either slightly funny or painfully dull. This actor is trying so hard to evoke trigger-happy psychosis, waving around the gun in his hand as the women of the family weep uncontrollably, but he’s about as threatening as a slice of plain, unbuttered wheat toast. It is one of the most embarrassing showcases of crappy acting I have ever seen, and it goes on for minutes. He starts being a whiny baby about how he hated his home life and hated his parents and hated living in a prosperous family that he refers to as hicks, gloating about how Nico took Emma’s virginity (as if she ever actually had any to begin with), and even pointing out that his dad and Nico’s mom had an affair. Oh, a subplot about cheating amongst the parents. Oooooooooh. Steven even shoots his dad in the stomach. And his dad somehow manages to remain coherent, despite the fact that he should be choking on blood right now. But hey, The Matrix Revolutions did the same thing with the death of Trinity, except with impalement instead of a gunshot.

Steven explains more of what happened in Tijuana. He killed two more putas for Nico to regenerate. The next time he’s ready to kill another puta, he chickens out when he learns that this puta has a baby. After Steven puts on the Chicken Hat from Metal Gear Solid V, Nico does the killing himself, choking the puta to death. But this choking is not realistic – when you’re getting choked, you cannot breathe or make any guttural sounds, you stupid puta. And oh, how edgy – Nico even kills the baby. Back at Steven’s hotel room, Steven refuses to continue helping Nico. Nico responds by saying that he only needs a skin, and takes out his switchblade (like Frank. *slams head against wall*). After skinning Steven, he leaves, leaving the Prop Box for a still-alive Steven. THEN HOW DID THE PROPER AUTHORITIES FIND THE BOX AND RETURN IT TO STEVEN’S FAMILY ALONG WITH THE CAMCORDER?!

So, if you didn’t catch on to the twist, Steven in the present is actually Nico wearing Steven’s skin. It was about now that I noticed that I was starting to nod off. This movie is so lethargic. So Nico forces Emma to open the Prop Box at gunpoint. She does so, summoning the Cenobites, which includes the female Chatterer (eff) and Steven, who was the guy that the Hell Priest was making into a Pinhead. Nico is restrained by the hooked chains. The Hell Priest, seeing that Emma opened the box, prepares to take her, taunting her with innuendo. Nico’s mom says that Nico forced Emma to open the box, but the Hell Priest, completely breaking his own rules, kills Nico’s mom outright with two hooks that rip the skin off her trachea. Steven’s dad, still somehow coherent, grabs the gun and shoots Nico. Nico thanks Steven’s dad as he dies. The Hell Priest berates Steven’s dad, telling him that Nico suffering in the Cenobites’ realm would have been revenge enough, and that he now owes them a soul. The Cenobites take Steven’s mom and leave, leaving Emma alone with her dad, who dies. Emma, seeing the Prop Box still there, reaches toward it. Oh, so she’s going for the Prop Box now? What exactly do you think you can do with it, Emma? It’s not as if you will be able to rescue your mother. In fact, the most likely outcome will be you at the mercy of the Cenobites and being forced to endure an eternity of torture. Emma takes the box and – DON’T LOOK AT THE CAMERA!

And then, credits. Uh … is that supposed to be a cliffhanger? And the movie ends at a criminally short seventy-five minutes. Wow.

Let’s face it – even Clive Barker has produced some stinkers. Transmutations, RawHead Rex, The Plague, and Saint Sinner come to mind, and, personally, Candyman wasn’t my thing. But when even Clive Barker condemns a Hellraiser movie, you know it sucks.

This film is dead on arrival.

It’s one thing if a filmmaker makes a bad film with honest intentions. Tommy Wiseau made The Room out of his passion to tell his story about the consequences of infidelity. Ed Wood himself made Glen or Glenda to plead for the acceptance of transvestites in the 1950s, and later made Plan 9 from Outer Space to urge the people of Earth to stop the nuclear arms race before we ended up without a planet to live on. The fact that these messages in all three of these movies were lost in the unintentional comedy and sheer ineptitude is beside the point, because we know that Wiseau and Wood had more in mind than money, and I respect them for that. However, in the case of the makers of Hellraiser: Revelations, the polar opposite was the case. This film was made purely and completely out of greed, and it shows.

To cut this movie slack because of its low budget does not work. Clive Barker directed the original Hellraiser having only a one million dollar budget, and he made a goddamn masterpiece that is to this day considered an essential staple in the horror genre. It comes down to talent, both in front of and behind the camera.

When the first draft of a screenplay is written, its author will read through it and see a ton of mistakes that need to be corrected. Characters and their actions may need to be modified. Sequences of events may not make sense. Yet none of this seemed to occur to the screenwriters of Revelations; one of the co-writers was the director.

I haven’t seen any of these actors before; the low budget keeps this film from hiring any actors with actual talent. And all of them suck. Every emotion is forced, and the results are either unintentionally comedic or obnoxious and aggravating. Steven and Nico’s performances are as believable as me trying to pass myself off as a Mormon (even though I actually am). Emma was entirely there to pout her lips and show her cleavage. They cannot act. I have no idea how they passed any sort of audition process.

Victor Garcia directed this movie. His shot choices are so bland and so boring that the film looks worse than a student film. I’ve seen plenty of student films that were shot on student-issue camcorders that look not only better than this, but actually look damn impressive for student films. And any film, whether theatrical, direct-to-video, or made-for-TV, should at least look better than a student film. There are too many facial closeups. I already mentioned the shaky cam, but I did not scream about I nearly enough, because there’s shaky cam here, shaky cam there, shaky cam everyeffingwhere! The cinematographer for this was David Armstrong, who recently proved himself a decent director of photography on almost every Saw film, as well as plenty of other films. But here, the shots are poorly lit and look very slapdash and clumsy. It’s almost as if Armstrong either didn’t have time to strategically set up each shot because of the ungodly short shooting schedule, or he really didn’t feel motivated to do his job and just wanted his paycheck. I completely understand.

I can only describe the special effects as penny-pinching. The gore is all phoned in, and the prosthetics are made obvious whenever flesh is ripped away. Considering just how grisly the first film was, Revelations is outdone by a mile by Saw, which isn’t anywhere near as violent as the first Hellraiser. The few CGI effects in the film look facepalmingly cheap.

Revelations can even warp time and space. Though it’s only a criminally short seventy-five minutes, it feels like five hours. It can also serve as a sedative, as I almost fell asleep while watching.

Even the set design is ungodly bland. The sets in the Cenobite realm haven’t been updated since the original. It’s still just swinging chains and swiveling pillars lit with blue light. It worked in the original film due to the fact that we hadn’t seen anything like it before, and the fact that Clive Barker’s cameraman shot the scenes in the Cenobite realm brilliantly. But that was done in 1987 on a one million dollar budget. That is tiny; and for Revelations to not even try to update the look is just silly and cheap. Worse, the Cenobite realm in Revelations looks like a tiny, cramped studio apartment rather than what would eventually become a labyrinthine Hell limited only by imagination in Hellbound.

The plot overall is a lazy, slapped-together retread of the original film disguised as just another sloppily made insta-sequel. It’s different enough so as to fall under fair use, but that does not make it any less ridiculous. It took the basic plot of the original film and shoehorned it into a drama about two dysfunctional families. It’s as if the only research done on the original’s plot was on the Wikipedia page. Revelations is a slap in the face to fans of the franchise, who have remained by its side as the sequels continued to get worse following Hellbound. Beginning with the third film, the franchise plummeted toward rock bottom quickly, though Inferno was damn good. Revelations, however, is not only the worst of the bunch, but it clearly fails miserably at replicating the formula of the original. Gone is the legitimately unique experience. Gone is its intelligent take on moral and emotional complexities. Gone are its themes of treachery, deception, blind love, situations better left alone, the darkest parts of the human psyche, and pure, reckless desire. Gone is the sick and remorseless attitude and its refusal to pander. Gone is the purely character-focused story. Gone are the expertly crafted characters. Gone are the Cenobites’ cryptic nature, the rules that they live by, and their metaphorical representation as the end result of blind desire and ambition gone wrong. Gone is the structured, reasonable, and restrained violence and gore. Gone are some of the greatest practical effects I’ve ever seen. Gone are the creative, inspired costumes and makeup. Gone is the well-written dialogue and its convincing delivery by fantastic actors. Gone is the outstanding, eerily beautiful, atmospheric cinematography and sound, its dark feel, soft focus, slightly washed out look, and its use of sensual and nightmarish imagery. Gone is Christopher Young’s fantastic soundtrack. Everything that made the original a goddamn masterpiece is gone. Even Lemarchand’s iconic Lament Configuration.

Even the Hell Priest himself. Doug Bradley was right to bail while he still could. His replacement is Stephan Smith Collins, with voicework by Fred Tatasciore. And I honestly feel sorry for these two. Tatasciore is a pretty talented voice actor. I’ve seen him in a lot of stuff. But regardless of his acting ability, he does unbelievably poorly in this movie. He is so dull and lifeless. Gone is Doug Bradley’s booming voice that has been in the franchise since the beginning. Now, he sounds the European-accented love child of Don LaFontaine and Raiden from Mortal Kombat. It hurts to listen to. But I can’t blame Tatasciore – the script gives him nothing to work with. It doesn’t help that the Hell Priest is barely in the film, his screentime amounting to two or three minutes. Tatasciore was brought in to give the Hell Priest an intensity that Collins clearly lacked. Though hearing Tatasciore’s voice rather than Collins’s voice is arguably a plus, just how much of a consolation it is is negligible. It’s not like he could have made the film palatable singlehandedly anyway. But Collins is awful too. This poor bastard is in over his head trying to live up to Doug Bradley’s gravitas as the Hell Priest in every possible way. He’s clearly trying, but he’s fighting a losing battle. Much like Jackie Earle Haley replacing Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street and Andrew Bryniarski replacing Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface in the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the viewers will inevitably compare and contrast the new with the old. The producers sneakily tried to reduce Collins’s role in the film to prevent these comparisons, but they failed miserably. They even put black contacts in his eyes to try to make him look more threatening. He clearly doesn’t look the part. With his head shape, he looks like a professional wrestler. His body language cannot hope to mimic any of Doug Bradley’s. He lacks everything that made Bradley so iconic. He clearly looks like he had no rehearsal or prep time, and is being quietly, timidly told what to do by the director offscreen. The new makeup for Collins’s head doesn’t work at all. There’s too much shadow work around his nails and his cut-grid on his head, making him look ungodly goofy when compared to the stark white makeup of the past films. I could forgive that if Collins’s and Tatasciore’s performances were good, but they aren’t. The Cenobites in general are poorly designed, as their makeup is awful and their costumes look like they were bought at a Halloween store.

The Hell Priest was once one of the most feared villains of the horror genre. He took the ultimate pleasure in torturing others and making people’s lives hell. But he now stands there in his poorly constructed realm making duck-faced looks. I’m so sorry that this happened to him.

The inevitable remake is still going to happen eventually, but after this abomination, continuing with the remake is not a wise choice. Lay the Hell Priest to rest, and let the franchise die quietly.

But the remake is taking too long to be made, and Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company are almost out of time. The rights to the Hellraiser franchise will soon be reverting back to Clive Barker.

And because of this, believe it or not, next year, there’s going to be another sequel. And Hellraiser: Judgement is being made for the same reasons that Revelations was.


Final verdict: 0 out of 5 stars.