REVIEW: FREAKY (2020)

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FREAKY (2020)

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Blumhouse’s latest is a slasher twist on the classic body switch scenario. While the town of Blissfield is being stalked by a serial killer, misfit high school teen Millie (Kathryn Newton) has her own problems to deal with. She is still mourning the death of her father, her mother (Katie Finneran) has turned to drinking, her crush Booker (Uriah Shelton) doesn’t even notice her and she is not exactly the most popular girl in school. The paths of she and The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) are fated to cross and when they do, the use of an ancient Aztec dagger, procured from a previous victim, causes Millie and her attacker to switch bodies. Now, on Friday the 13th, of all days, Millie, in the Butcher’s body, has till midnight to fix things before the switch becomes permanent. She has to convince her best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) that it’s really her, avoid her cop sister (Dana Drori) and stop The Butcher, who is using Millie’s body to stalk new prey in her high school’s very halls. It’s going to be a freaky Friday the 13th indeed!

Flick is directed by Christopher Landon from his script with Michael Kennedy. Landon is responsible for writing a number of Paranormal Activity sequels and directing that series’ The Marked Ones installment, as well as, directing and writing the fun Happy Death Day movies. It’s an entertaining mash-up of slasher meets Freaky Friday, though not quite the energetic fun that was his previous slasher meets Groundhog Day flicks. It is a lot more gruesome than Happy Death Day, though, and earns it’s “R” rating, while still being filled with some fun dialogue and generous movie references. The script is fairly clever with getting the Aztec dagger “La Dola” into The Butcher’s hands quickly, to get the story rolling, and using web savvy teens to give us the exposition we and Millie need, as to how the dagger works and what needs to be done. This sets in motion the race to regain possession of La Dola, before midnight passes and Millie is trapped forever in the body of a middle aged murderer…which The Butcher realizes may not be a bad thing. The film only falters a little when a few sentimental dialogue scenes go on for a bit too long and the filmmaker’s desire to be politically correct becomes a little too obvious in spots. The last act could have been a bit punchier, too, with it’s teen filled party in a warehouse setting. Otherwise, it’s a fun slasher/high school flick homage with some witty banter, some bloody carnage and a hip sense of humor.

The flick wouldn’t have worked nearly as well, if it wasn’t for our two leads having a blast playing each other’s parts. Kathryn Newton is very good, first as the awkward, likable and sympathetic Millie, and then as the sadistic serial killer. Newton is very successful as oozing evil and malice from within a high school girl’s veneer and has a threatening presence despite being a very pretty young girl. It’s Vince Vaughn, however, that really has a chance to take the ball and run with it as Millie in The Butcher’s body. Vaughn is hilarious as the awkward high school girl in the body of a middle aged serial killer and his mannerisms and body language are just as funny as his line delivery. He is even very threatening when he is The Blissfield Butcher back in his own body, in case you forgot he was a sadistic killer. Supporting cast is solid, too. Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich as Nyla and the flamboyantly gay Josh are a fun duo. They play off Vaughn very well and have some amusing dialogue and comic bits as they race to help get Millie back in her own body. Katie Finneran is good as Millie’s lonely, mourning mother, as is Dana Drori as Millie’s tough, sarcastic cop sister. Uriah Shelton is likable as Millie’s crush, Booker, who is dragged into this mess and Ferris Bueller star Alan Ruck appears as a harsh wood shop teacher.

Overall, this flick was fun and was a nice mash-up of two types of film’s one wouldn’t immediately think of mixing up. The cast are really good, especially our body swopping leads, who have a blast playing each other. It can be gruesome, but is very witty and clever as well. It does drag in a few parts, due to some lengthy attempts at adding some sentimentality to the proceedings, but otherwise is an entertaining homage, though not quite the infectious fun of Landon’s Happy Death Day flicks…which Landon recently conceded take place in the same universe. Freaky Death Day someday maybe?

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) chainsaws which pretty Kathryn Newton wields quite well.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE BOY (2016)

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THE BOY (2016)

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Supernatural thriller is OK, but could have benefited from a little more intensity, as it is a bit too laid back for it’s own good. Story finds pretty Greta (Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan) traveling to the UK to get away from an abusive relationship and landing a job as a nanny for an elderly couple (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) at their large, secluded mansion…never a good sign. She is to watch their son Brahms while they are away on vacation. Greta soon finds that Brahms is actually not a living child but a creepy porcelain doll…another bad sign. As her stay commences, so do strange occurrences, such as things not being where she left them…especially Brahms. She soon discovers the real Brahms was a strange boy who died twenty years ago when he was only eight and might even have possibly killed a friend…internal alarms should be going off at this point. Does the boy’s spirit still inhabit the house and what does it want of Greta?…who, obviously stays.

Flick is well-directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside, Wer) from a script from Stacey Menear and is filled with familiar tropes of similar flicks. These customary ingredients are sometimes used well here, as the film has atmosphere and there are some genuinely spooky moments, but it also fails to really grab us when it needs too. Sometimes Bell guides the proceedings a little too laid back and the film definitely needed more punch in it’s last act. It also loses some steam about two thirds of the way through, instead of picking up momentum which would have been better. It’s in it’s final reel that the film gets most cliché and even a little silly and that would have been fine, if Bell matched it with some real intensity and suspense. He doesn’t. We’ve seen it all before, when we get our big reveal and Bell could have given it far more impact to distract us from the familiarity. It’s not all that shocking when we learn the real secrets behind Brahms and his porcelain stand-in and with some solid suspense and a little more punch to the action, we could have overlooked it and had a better time. As it is, it’s just a routine conclusion to a fairly routine story and it needed a more inventive and gutsy touch to make it work. There is some great cinematography by Daniel Pearl and a spooky score by Bear McCreary to add atmosphere, but the film needs, for lack of a better word, more balls.

The cast are all fine. Lauren Cohan makes a really solid girl-next-door heroine and it’s too bad she’s not given more to do. After the first act her character starts to accept her situation and even takes a liking to the doll…which is a bit hard to swallow. That, of course, is fault of the script not the actress, who plays it well. Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle make for a creepy old couple as The Heelshire’s. They don’t have much screen time, but are effective in what they do. Rupert Evans is charming as a local delivery man who takes a shine to Greta and Ben Robinson is OK as her generic abusive boyfriend, who we know from the start will show up at some point.

I was never bored here, but was never thrilled either. It was a moderately entertaining diversion with a likable heroine and did have some spooky moments. Overall, it felt like I’ve seen this movie before and more than once and director William Brent Bell didn’t help matters by giving the film a far too subtle approach and doing nothing really interesting with some very familiar plot elements. Worth a look if there is nothing else to watch, or you are a fan of Cohan.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 Brahms

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REVIEW: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)

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10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)

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I’m not a big fan of the found footage, monster movie darling that is Cloverfield. It had some cool FX and the monster stuff was entertaining, but the acting was poor, the characters were super annoying and the shaky-cam way over-done. Now we have 10 Cloverfield Lane which may…or may not, be related to that film.

The story finds pretty Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) running away from her engagement and getting into a car accident in the middle of nowhere. She awakens to find herself in some kind of bomb shelter, her wounds treated, but apparently a prisoner of a man who introduces himself as Howard (John Goodman). Howard tells her he was on his way home when he found her and that there has been some kind of attack. Everyone outside the shelter is probably dead and the only way she and another ‘guest’ Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.) are going to survive, is if they remain in the shelter with him. Michelle thinks he’s crazy, though there is compelling evidence to believe something has occurred outside in the world. Yet every time she starts to believe that there may be some truth to his claims, she discovers something that may also indicate that Howard is a psychopath and she and Emmet’s lives may be in grave danger. Where does the true danger lie?…outside…or locked inside with the possibly unstable Howard?

I won’t say if this is truly connected to Cloverfield or not, but will say you will be getting a very entertaining and suspenseful thriller from the script by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damiene Chazelle. The film is tensely and atmospherically directed by Dan Trachtenberg and really keeps us guessing as to whether Howard is really a looney or are Michelle and Emmet the two luckiest people at the end of the world. We get hints that something awful has happened above ground and yet every-time we start to believe Howard, we get thrown another clue that he may indeed be off his rocker. Which is it, savior or psychopath? Did he really rescue Michelle, or was he actually the cause of her accident? It’s a fun movie and Trachtenberg makes good use of his claustrophobic setting of the bomb shelter with the characters inside appearing to bond and yet being very suspicious of their host. Michelle never really comes to trust Howard, even when she sees direct evidence that danger may actually lurk outside the airlocks. It’s almost a cat and mouse game between the two, as she plots various escapes and yet Howard always seems to be one step ahead or able to cast doubt on what awaits outside. It’s actually very entertaining for a movie that takes place 90% in such a confined space. There is some clever dialog, a dark sense of humor and we are delightfully kept guessing till the final moments as to whether Howard is psycho or hero…and the answer still may not be what you expect. What is less surprising is what we finally get once we get back to the outside world. It wasn’t as impressive as the suspenseful build-up deserved. It’s kind of been done before and while it is well done and entertaining, it’s still a little disappointing.

What really makes this flick click so well are the performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead once again proves she is a terribly underrated actress and gives a great performance as Michelle. Winstead paints a portrait of a gusty, resilient young woman and makes really good use of the depth the script gives her. Michelle is a really smart and strong heroine for us to root for and Winstead makes her a good match for Howard. As Howard, Goodman is not far behind performance-wise. He is really good at keeping us guessing whether the man is eccentric friend or dangerous foe. He makes Howard really likable and a bit sympathetic at times and then menacing and downright scary at others. He and Winstead play off each other well and we look forward to the confrontation we know this is all leading to. Our third cast member John Gallagher Jr. is likable as the simple but kind Emmet. He basically gets caught in the middle between the domineering and strange Howard and the ever distrusting Michelle. He’s a far more trusting sort than she is and also believes he saw something going on before begging Howard to let him in. Gallagher plays well Emmet’s desire to believe both his companions, though Michelle is wearing him down despite his also believing that something is amiss above ground. Excellent work by a very good cast.

Overall, I liked this thriller a lot. It was suspenseful, clever, well-acted and did deliver…something…when all is said and done. Whether using the word Cloverfield in the title is simply a marketing ploy, or if this flick is a distant cousin of that popular flick, is irrelevant. This is a highly entertaining thriller that keeps you guessing and gives some strong characters to pit against each other in a battle of wills that may…or may not…be between the last people on Earth. There is also some strong cinematography by Jeff Cutter and a great score by Bear McCreary to add to the atmosphere the film has.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 amazing actresses.

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