BARE BONES: SLENDER MAN (2018) and WEBCAST (2018)

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SLENDER MAN (2018)

Flick is based on the popular urban legend and finds four friends, Hallie, Wren, Katie and Chloe (Julia Goldani Telles, Joey King, Annalise Basso and Jaz Sinclair) trying to conjure up the boogie man-like specter during a get-together one night. Soon after, one of their number disappears and the rest start to fear they’ve actually succeeded. Is the Slender Man real and now out to get them?

Teen centric horror is not the best of the recent trend, though certainly not the worst. Director Sylvain White does create some spooky scenes from David Birke’s generic script and has a very effective visual style to give the film some atmosphere. His cast of young actors try hard and are likable enough, even if we have seen the “urban legend-based boogie man” flick a few too many times recently. Not a waste of time, but nothing new either. Also stars veteran horror creature performer Javier Botet (The REC series, Mama, Insidious: The Last Key ) as The Slender Man.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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WEBCAST (2018)

Chloe Webber (Samantha Redford) is making a webcast documentary about the disappearance of her aunt during the 80s. While filming, she captures footage which leads her to believe her neighbors are holding a young girl against her will. With only her boyfriend Ed (Joseph Tremain) believing her, they begin to investigate. As they observe and record their neighbors’ activities, Chloe starts to experience some strange occurrences of her own. Is there something evil in their midst and are they getting too close?

British found footage flick is basically The Blair Witch Project meets The Wicker Man as written and directed by Paul McGhie. It’s nothing really new, once you get past the initial premise, though has some spooky sequences towards the climax. As for that climax, it blows the opportunity to end on an unsettling note by taking it to an extra step which is unnecessary and confusing. For the most part this is another forgettable entry in the found footage arena, save for pretty lead Samantha Redford being quite charming and endearing with a movie star smile. Hope to see more of her in other, better things.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)

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OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick is a prequel to the 2014 Ouija, a much criticized, but extremely successful teen centric horror. New chapter takes us back to 1967 and tells the story of Doris Zander (Lulu Wilson) who was the malevolent entity in the first installment. The story opens with pretty widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) who is trying to support her two daughters, nine year-old Doris and teen Lina (Annalise Basso), as a fraudulent fortune teller. Upon hearing Lina used a Ouija board at a party, Alice decides to add one to her act. This brings a presence into the house that fixates on Doris and claims to be her father. As they use the board more and more and Doris’ behavior starts to change, it appears something malevolent has entered their home…and Doris.

Origin of Evil is directed by Mike (Absentia, HushOculus) Flanagan from a script he co-wrote with Oculus co-writer Jeff Howard. While it is an improvement over the silly but amusing original, it is Flanagan’s most routine and familiar movie yet. Perhaps having to follow-up an established property without alienating it’s core audience put restrictions on just how much the usually inventive writer/director could do with it, but aside from a few interesting touches, we get a story that is extremely familiar with an evil entity entering a home and targeting a child. The use of Mrs. Zander as a phony medium does work well and there was some nice depth to the characters, which is one of Flanagan’s strengths. It’s just that the core story has been done before and the film rarely gets scary because it’s all so familiar. Flanagan does deliver some spooky moments, but far fewer than in his previous films, which is surprising as spooky is something he does well. It’s the character drama that is more involving than the supernatural elements, which at least keeps our attention, if not slightly disappoints those looking for something with a far steadier scare factor for the Halloween season which it was released. His visual style is strong as always, but here he relies a bit too much on tired CGI creations that resemble every other PG-13 horror film manifestation thrown at teenagers today. It’s not a bad movie, just far too ‘been there, done that’ for a director who got our attention with some very original takes on his supernatural tales.

As with previous Flanagan flicks he gets strong work out of his cast. He is a director that works well with actors. Little Lulu Wilson is really good as Doris. She can be really creepy at times and very sweet and precocious at others. She is asked to handle a lot of strong material for a kid and does so very well. Elizabeth Reaser is solid as a loving mother just trying to provide for her daughters. She’s not trying to scam people, but sees her services as a way to help those suffering from loss. When Doris’ ouija use seems to be genuine, she jumps at the chance to do some real good. Annalise Basso is also very good as Doris’ caring teenage sister. She plays the character that was played by the incomparable Lin Shaye in the original and we see the journey that got her to that point and essayed very well by the young actress. There is also E.T.’s Henry Thomas all grown up and playing a widowed priest who is the principal at the girls’ Catholic school and has an interest in Alice. He obviously gets involved when it appears there is something sinister going on. The cast also features a small appearance in the opening sequence played by Hush star and co-writer Kate Siegal, who is also Mrs. Flanagan. A good cast that helps keep the flick interesting and our attention.

This wasn’t a bad flick just a surprisingly familiar one coming from Flanagan who has been very innovative with his use of traditional story elements, like in Hush. This movie could have used some of that thriller’s intensity as the scare level was fairly low and despite a more mature story than the first installment, we got a lot of elements that we have seen often and recently. Maybe picking up someone else’s franchise didn’t fit Flanagan all that well, or possibly having to follow up a previous film he wasn’t involved in, handcuffed him a bit. It passed the time, had a few spooky moments and was an improvement over it’s 2014 predecessor, but coming from one of the brightest new director’s to hit the genre in some time, it was a little bit of a disappointment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) planchettes as the solid cast earns some extra points.

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REVIEW: OCULUS (2014)

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OCULUS (2014)

I am a big fan of Mike Flanagan’s low budget chiller Absentia so, I was very much looking forward to his next flick which arrives from Blumhouse Productions and is his first big theatrical release. And Mr. Flanagan didn’t disappoint. Supernatural horror starts out introducing us to two siblings, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) Russell. Eleven years ago a horrible incident occurred in their home leaving their mother, Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and father, Alan (Rory Cochrane) dead, with ten year-old Tim incarcerated in an institution. From appearances, Alan murdered his wife and Tim killed him in self defense. It’s over a decade later and Tim has just been released and his older sister has come to help him get back on his feet…and destroy what she claims is the real culprit in their parents’ deaths. After years of treatment Tim sees the murders as a simple case of domestic problems and negative emotions gotten out of control. His father driven to torture and kill their mother and he, forced to defend himself and his sister by killing their dad. A tragic but rational explanation. Kaylie believes it to be the influence of a demonic entity that lives in an antique mirror purchased by their father for his office. While Tim was away, Kaylie has been planning to prove her belief, once and for all, and has tracked down and procured the mirror through her job as an antiques dealer and brought it to their still vacant former home. She convinces Tim to join her on calling out and destroying the sinister force that she believes, from her research, has left a trail of bodies and tortured souls for over 100 years. Is Kaylie delusional and in need of treatment herself, or has Tim’s treatment created a more practical way of rationalizing an even more horrible truth?

Director and co-writer (with Jeff Howard) Mike Flanagan crafts an intelligent, inventive and really creepy horror film that certainly has it’s share of out-right scares, especially in it’s last act. But much like his spooky Absentia, Flanagan never bludgeons us over the head with the horror and thus keeps it effective by keeping us from getting numb to it. As with his previous flick, he doesn’t give us everything at once and plays with our heads for a bit as to whether Kaylie is creating a supernatural fantasy to avoid the realities of the domestic horror she witnessed, or is Tim candy-coating the nightmarish truth with the psycho-babble fed him by his doctors? The film is a moderately paced, but has a constantly unnerving and creepy build-up, as the siblings delve deeper into the events that occurred over a decade ago. Flanagan…who also edited…deftly mixes in flashbacks to those horrible events and seamlessly blends them so that at times they all seem to be happening at the same moment and in the same space. It’s really disturbing as we try to figure out if these two are finally reliving and facing what happened, or is there an evil presence in that mirror that is happy to make them experience again the memories that torment them most. It’s in the last act where the full truth is revealed and I will say no more except to be ready for the film to deliver the goods when the time is right.

It’s an intense and scary ride Flanagan takes us on to get our answers, made all the more effective due to the skilled and disturbing build-up by a director who makes good on his potential. Again, Flanagan also has an underlying theme about the effects traumatic events have on our lives. With Absentia it was the emotional effects of a missing loved one and not knowing their fate. Here it is growing up and living with the trauma of witnessing domestic abuses and violence. He weaves these into his story subtly so they are not intrusive to the plot, but they are there. And speaking of subtlety, that is one of the things I like about Flanagan’s work and especially with this film, he knows when to be subtle and when to get intense and he does both here to maximum effect. Sometimes less is more and Flanagan’s instincts are good at knowing when to feed us an underlying creepiness and when to outright scare the pants off us. It’s what makes Oculus work so well and made Absentia such a treat. He knows what degree to feed us the films elements and when. He is also clever with his use of the traditional elements so, they appear fresh.

The director also gets good work from his cast with Gillan and Sackoff really standing out here with strong performances, but the acting is solid all the way around. No one ever goes over the top, even when the film is in full scare mode, the performances stay grounded and thus more effective. He got good work out of Katie Parker and Courtney Bell (who has a cameo) in his last film and seems to have a knack for writing and directing strong female characters that aren’t stereotypes or caricatures.

The film is not perfect, but it’s flaws are very minor and I loved that when the blood does flow, it was practical effects as did a lot of the make-up and effects seem to be. If digital was used, it was excellently rendered so it was not noticeable which, in a film like this, is the way it should be. CGI ghosts and blood are not scary.

Overall, I really enjoyed Oculus and how it was equally effective in it’s subtle moments as it was in the more intense ones. It never overloaded you with plot elements or the horror elements and fed you the answers to it’s mysteries gradually so it held your attention till it was ready to let you have it…and the final act does exactly that. A smart, disturbing and sometimes downright scary horror from Mike Flanagan. Also stars Annalise Basso and Garett Ryan as young Kaylie and Tim, respectively and these two youngsters can act.

3 and 1/2 spooky mirrors.

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