Category Archives: Horror

‘Blair Witch’ One of the Worst Horror Films of All-Time

Blair_Witch_2016_posterThis was hands-down the longest, most grueling 89 minutes I have ever spent in a movie theater.


“Blair Witch” is the third installment of the franchise of the same name and follows a group of friends who set out to visit the woods where the first film took place. James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid star as Adam Wingard directs.


I have never seen the original “Blair Witch Project” but am familiar with its place in cinematic history and unfortunately even more acquainted with what it introduced to mainstream horror films: found footage-style filmmaking. In my “Bridget Jones’s Baby” review I wrote how that was a sequel that was 15 years late but still had a meaningful story to share; “Blair Witch” achieves no such accomplishment and is instead quite honestly, no hyperbole, the worst horror film I have ever seen.


This is from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the men who created the darkly funny slasher “You’re Next,” the pretty cool thriller “The Guest” and the “V/H/S” series, of which my roommate in college was a huge fan of. So it is proven that these two know how to write and shoot films that are self-aware, thrilling and have a creepy atmosphere. So what the hell went so wrong with “Blair Witch” is beyond me.


Nothing in this film feels earned or set up. It begins with “new” footage of the original film and how those hikers met their demise. But what a crazy coincidence, because the guy watching is the brother of the girl who went missing in that video and wants to go find her, convinced she’s still alive in the woods. A few things wrong with that: (1) the original “Blair Witch” is set in 1994 and this film takes place in 2014, meaning the main character has spent 20 years just waiting around not wanting to find her, and couldn’t have been more than five years old when she went missing and (2) there is no sane human who would think his sister who went missing 20 years prior would still be alive and chilling in a forest.


I get you need a reason for a new group of attractive young people to go into the woods to get slaughtered for our amusement, but don’t be lazy as to why that is. Just have a person who is obsessed with the legend and another who doesn’t believe in it, and they set out to prove the other wrong. It’s simple and it’s stupid but it would be more appealing and believable than what we are given.


But fine, they’re in the woods. Does scary stuff happen? Nope, not for the first 30 minutes it doesn’t. There isn’t even a few faux jump scares like a deer jumping out or a person tripping; there is not a single attempt at building tension for the first third of this film. It is just people walking around with backpacks spewing exposition dialogue. But once the ish does hit the fan, oh boy, watch out: nothing will continue to happen. People walk in circles with flashlights and annoying first-person cameras and yell the names of their lost friends (who went off by themselves in a forest at night, that’s natural selection trying to do its part and they’re getting in the way of it).


Stupid things continue to happen, from a girl with a broken ankle suddenly being able to sprint and climb trees to the good ole cliché of the flashlight running out of batteries just as the scary things begin to happen.


All of this could be forgiven if the film was scary but it is not, not even a little. There is one sequence where a girl is crawling through a tunnel but that only got to me because I am claustrophobic, and even that shot is in the trailer so I knew what it was building towards. The rest of the film is loud growling and sudden appearance of stick figures and none of it makes sense and even less of it is audible or visually coherent because of the atrocious shaky cam.


“Blair Witch” combines all the thrills of walking around with all the scares of an arts and crafts class. I cannot tell you enough how bored I was in this film and how bafflingly, laughably horrible the ending is, not that the first 88 minutes were any better. It is the worst film of 2016 (and 2016 has featured “Warcraft”), the worst horror film of all-time and quite possibly one of the worst films I have ever seen, period (I need to sleep on that, although sleep is something I won’t lose any of after watching this film).


Critics Rating: 1/10



‘The Gift’ an Effective and Well-Acted Thriller

The_Gift_2015_Film_Poster1This was an interesting weekend at the movies. We got an awful film (“Fantastic Four”) and an OK one (“Ricki and the Flash”), so I guess it makes sense than we are rewarded with our perseverance with an actual good movie.

“The Gift” is a psychological thriller written, directed, and starring Joel Edgerton, and follows a couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) that has recently moved from Chicago to the Los Angeles suburbs. When Gordo (Edgerton), an old classmate from school, begins to continuously stop by their house and leave them gifts (I know, right? The title makes sense now!), they realize the past may be catching up to them.

I have to be honest: when I saw this trailer, cast and release date, I thought this film was going to be a train wreck. It looked massively conventional, and no offense to Bateman but I couldn’t see him carrying a dark, non-comedic film like this. Plus it’s no secret that August is one of Hollywood’s two dumping grounds for subpar films (see: “Fantastic Four”), so I was just ready for a stupid summer “horror” film. But I was pretty wrong, because “The Gift” is a well-executed and smart psycho-thriller, and I have to give both Edgerton and Bateman props: they turn in killer performances.

I like Jason Bateman, I’m a big fan of his deadpan comedy, but like I said, I was shocked how good he is in this film. He completely surprised me here playing a man who is harboring secrets and emotions, and while he has one or two moments of straight-faced delivery that produced a chuckle, he fully dedicates himself to the role of a broken man.

Meanwhile Joel Edgerton, who we last saw putting audiences to sleep while wearing mascara in “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” excels in every part of the film he had a part in. Whether it is his chilling performance as Gordo, his steady work behind the camera, or his smart script, Edgerton’s passion project really makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable while watching, which is exactly what it is going for. You don’t know if you can believe what Gordo tells Bateman and Hall, nor what his motivations are or the extents he is willing to go.

The film features several twists, none of which really floored me (some are foreshadowed, others are easily guessable based on the genre), but the film’s sense of tension and the uneasy feeling it gives both you and the characters is near masterful.

There are some slow parts that never really lead to a payoff, and then once the film reaches its climax it kind of just ends, but just like with “Foxcatcher” I wasn’t too bothered by these things because the performances and the feeling that we’re building towards an explosion had me too invested to care.

“The Gift” is a very well-acted and well-directed film, and it may make you start to question your relationships with the people around you now, as well as those from your past. It isn’t anything revolutionary, but in a summer of big-budget sequels and animated creatures, it is nice to see something be small and effective. I guess you could say “The Gift” is a real, come on and say it with me, effective and rewarding thriller.

Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Poltergeist’ Remake is Stupid, Clichéd Fun

Poltergeist_2015_posterHey, what do you know? A remake that doesn’t totally stink!

A remake/reboot/reimagining of the 1982 classic of the same name, “Poltergeist” stars Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt and Jared Harris and is directed by Gil Kenan. The film follows a family that is haunted by evil spirits, and must save their daughter when she is abducted by them.

If the plot to the film sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Not just because it is quite literally a remake, but also the original “Poltergeist” was so revolutionary that in the past 30 years since its release, dozens of horror films have copied plot points. But despite being stupid and cliché, I kind of dug this remake.

Most modern horror films are PG-13, found footage garbage, and consist more of jump scares and soundtrack explosions rather than genuine tension and frightening moments. So, despite being PG-13 and having its share of jump scares, it was nice to see a scary movie that built on tension rather than special effects or gore. There are some genuinely well-executed moments of tension in “Poltergeist,” brought on my dark shadows and some pretty creepy clown dolls.

Sam Rockwell is one of the actors many people know the face but not the name, but I am a big fan of his. Here he is able to elevate an otherwise cliché and at times pandering script, creating moments of charm while also delivering some emotional bits as a father who just wants his daughter back.

Speaking of said script, like I said, it’s pretty standard scary movie stuff. David Lindsay-Abaire, best known for penning “Oz the Great and Powerful,” has some interesting twists and bits of dialogue, but just as much, if not more, clichés. Oh, the little girl is talking to a wall but it’s actually a spirit? Brilliant! The dad recently lost his job so the family has to move and the haunted house is their only option? Revolutionary!

And of course, while the acting is better than most horror films, the character’s themselves are a few fries short of a Happy Meal. They move towards strange sounds in the dark, or don’t think it’s weird how a wooden stairwell can create static electricity, and you’ll groan every time they ignore the kid who of course knows what is going on.

Despite its clichés, however, I really enjoyed most of the “Poltergeist” remake. It has some great effects and production value in climax (I just reread that; I’m such a movie dork), and the acting and story are interesting enough to keep your attention when ghosts aren’t throwing chairs and flickering lights.

It won’t win any awards, and remains to be seen (or not seen, because ghosts. HA!) whether or not this remake was necessary, but for what it is, that being a 90 minute summer scary movie, “Poltergeist” gets the job done.

Critics Rating: 6/10



Gyllenhaal Steals the Show in ‘Nightcrawler’

Nightcrawlerfilm            Jake Gyllenhaal once patrolled the streets of Los Angeles as a cop in “End of Watch”; now he drives around them at night filming crime and accidents.

“Nightcrawler” is all about the people who independently film accidents and then sell them to news stations (“if it bleeds, it leads” the film makes sure to tell us a half dozen times). When Lou (Gyllenhaal) steps into this world, he begins to blur the line between observer and participant. Rene Russo and Bill Paxton costar as Dan Gilroy writes and has his directorial debut.

“Nightcrawler” is a nice looking, tense thriller that is almost completely driven by its characters. Every actor has a scene or two in which they own, but in the end this movie would be nothing without Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal is so creepy, unsettling and unrecognizable as Lou that it is impossible to take your eyes off of him. As the film progresses, we become more and more uneasy with every passing scene, as we know it is only a matter of time before Lou snaps; we just don’t know at what—or who—it is going to be at. Lou speaks almost completely in cliché business and motivational lingo (his motto is, “if you want to win the lottery, you have to earn the money to buy a ticket”) and it is not obvious if he is a brilliant negotiator or simply just insane.

Riz Ahmed plays Rick, a homeless young man who is hired as Lou’s assistant. Rick is too desperate for cash to turn away from Lou, or even realize what he is getting himself into, and by the time he begins to realize Lou may be a psychopath he is in too deep.

The rest of the supporting cast does a fine job as well. Russo plays a TV news director who buys Lou’s initial tape, and is equally repulsed and fascinated by him. Bill Paxton has a few fun lines as Lou’s rival, a fellow “nightcrawler”, and Kevin Rahm plays a TV executive, who serves as the voice of reason for the audience, questioning Lou’s methods and whether running certain clips is ethical, or even legal.

The film is edited and paced brilliantly, offering quick-cuts and perfectly timed scenes to keep the flow going, while never sacrificing content. The climax of the film is as tense and thrilling as anything I have seen at the movies this year, and even though while watching we have a feeling we know what is going to transpire, we just hope we are wrong.

Now there are a few points in “Nightcrawler” that feel like they were added simply to showcase Los Angeles, or try and make sure we are aware how “dedicated” Lou is to his job, and this makes the film’s narrative stray a bit and at times make the plot seem a bit aimless, but it is never anything Gyllenhaal can’t get back on track.

“Nightcrawler” is a solid thriller with a brilliant lead performance, shot in one of the most vibrant and neon-soaked cities in the world. The film is worth seeing simply because of Gyllenhaal, but the supporting characters, dark humor and exhilarating climax are a nice treat, too.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘Annabelle’ Boring, Lazy and Unscary

Annabelle-posterThere’s a trend I’ve noticed with Hollywood in 2014: if a title of a film is simply a female name, then the end product is trash. First we had “Tammy”, then “Lucy” and now “Annabelle”.

A prequel/spin-off/rip-off of “The Conjuring”, “Annabelle” tells the tale of how the creepy little doll became possessed in the first place, and how it torments the lives of a married couple and their newborn baby. The couple is played by Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis (crazy first name, right?!) and the film is directed by John R. Leonetti.

I wasn’t the biggest “Conjuring” fan. I appreciated its production value and acting but I just didn’t find the film very scary. And like I said in my review, a horror film that isn’t scary is like a comedy without any laughs; it failed at its objective. That being said, if “Annabelle” was intended to be a horror film, then it botched even harder than “Conjuring” ever could have hoped to.

Nothing in this film works. Let’s start with the acting. It’s as wooden as the rocking chair that the Annabelle doll sits in the entire film. The actor’s deliveries are off and their emotions are non-existent. As my one friend brilliantly said to me, “you know you’re in trouble when the doll is the best actor in the movie.”

The script is just as awful as the acting. The plot makes no sense and puts no effort into explaining how Annabelle actually comes possessed, and it takes until the final scene to tell us why the demon is after the family. The dialogue is equally as dreadful. Like I’m perplexed as to how some of these scenes made it into the finished product. At one point the husband says “ha ha it’s true; everyone HATES her grandmother”. Like, in the most awkward tone possible. And nearly completely out of context to the conversation. That would mean the director had to have looked at that take and said, “Perfect! Cut. Print.”

Speaking of direction, Leonetti does nothing special here at all. All my issues with “Conjuring” aside, director James Wan (who produced “Annabelle”) knew how to build tension in a scene using practical effects (his mistake was never having much of the tension boil over and lead anywhere). Leonetti lingers on actors faces for too long and stares at a still Annabelle for extended durations. There were a couple interesting camera tricks he employs, such as showing a little girl running past an open door only to have her turn into a full-grown woman upon entering, but I think if you had simply put a camera on a tripod it would have done a more engaging job.

All of this could be forgiven if the film was scary, or even interesting, but “Annabelle” is neither. It is boring and uneventful, and by using all no-name actors to ensure the budget was as low as possible it’s not even like we have a big-name star to hold our hand (I would pay good money to see Nicolas Cage scream and throw the Annabelle doll).

I can go on and on bashing “Annabelle”, but then I would be just hurting my brain more than this film did by itself. It is a lazily constructed and awfully executed horror film that should be condemned alongside the demons that control its title character. The silver lining about nearing the end of this review is I will never have to revisit this film ever again. Well, except when I write my Year’s Worst Films list in December. Or until they milk yet another sequel out of this already dried up franchise and I have to relive it all over again…

Critics Rating: 3/10