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Flick finds pretty Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) renting an Airbnb in a desolate neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan for a job interview. She gets there only to find out it’s been double booked, and she has to share it with a stranger named Keith (Bill Skarsgård). That isn’t the worst of her worries, as is what she finds in the cellar upon getting accidentally locked in there. Meanwhile the house’s owner, an actor named AJ (Justin Long), who has been recently disgraced in a scandal, is on his way there and headed straight into the nightmare Tess and Keith are already embroiled in.

Barbarian is written and directed by Zach Cregger and is entertaining, but a bit of a mixed bag. The first act starts out uncomfortable with Tess and Keith meeting under equally uncomfortable circumstances. As the story unfolds and Tess makes a chilling discovery in the basement, the film starts to get creepy and has a few legit scares, before jarringly switching narrative to house owner AJ. This kills any atmosphere or dread and all the tension and the momentum the flick was starting to build, as we leave Detroit to get to know AJ. These sequences have a bit more of a nervous humor to them as the neurotic AJ learns his career died overnight due to a scandal involving an actress. AJ then goes to the house, which he now needs to sell, and eventually finds his way down to the basement and joins the horror. The tension, scares and atmosphere start to build once more, but again is stopped dead as Cregger now chooses to go back to the 80s for a flashback that does fill in some story elements, but also gives us way too much time to breathe after starting to get scared again. We then have the final confrontation, which is fairly strong, but also ends a bit abruptly. Cregger has a good visual eye and can build fear and tension, he just doesn’t know how to maintain it when introducing new characters or offering exposition. Sometimes he also needs to let the camera linger a few more moments, so we can fully get the full impact of what’s happened. There are also two instances which really stretch credibility. One has Keith being totally dismissive when Tess tells him what she’s found…and it sounds disturbing…and police totally dismissing Tess when she goes for help. Any good cop knows the difference between strung-out and terrified. There was still plenty to like here. The film has some decent violence and gore, make-up FX are solid, the villain is effective and the locations beneath the house and around desolate Detroit are creepy. It’s Cregger’s inexperience with making his first feature horror film that takes this down a few notches, when it should have been a blast. It’s technically sound, with the cinematography by Zach Kuperstein very effective, as is the score by Anna Drubich.

The cast are good here with Georgina Campbell being a strong and likable heroine as Tess. It’s actually disappointing that she plays second banana to Justin Long in the last act, when her character is the one we are really rooting for over jerk actor AJ. Bill Skarsgård is solid as Keith. At first we are unsure of him, as we should be in the film’s set-up, but come to like what seems to be a legitimately nice guy. Underrated Justin Long is also good as the panicked, neurotic jerk of an actor AJ, who is far less level-headed than Tess when the horror hits the fan. Rounding out is a role played by Rob Zombie regular Richard Brake, the type of role he plays very well and Matthew Patrick Davis as…well, you’ll find out.

Overall, this was entertaining but at the same time disappointing. There was some real good tension in spots, some legit scares and some very effective violence all stemming from its uncomfortable start. Horror thriller faulters when Cregger loses his grip on his audience, by switching focus more than once when we are just getting scared. It was like bringing a rollercoaster to the top of a climb and then telling everyone the ride is over before the drop. Film also evokes other horrors past and present, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is some good gore, a fairly creepy villain and the cast all perform well amidst some spooky locations. Uneven but still entertained.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 (out of 4) maggots, because there were maggots in the theater auditorium, I saw it in!

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It: Chapter Two is an adaptation of the second half of Stephen King’s classic novel, focusing on the characters as adults, though we still visit them as kids in flashbacks. It’s been 27 years since we last saw the characters and something sinister is stirring in Derry once more. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained and summons the other “Losers” Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean) to return home to face Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), hopefully for the last time. Stanley commits suicide, but the remaining members reluctantly return and must face some of their own personal demons before they can confront the demonic clown…who has been patiently waiting for them.

Second half is again well directed by Andy Muschietti from a script by Gary Dauberman, who co-wrote It: Chapter One. Like the first film, this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals and some really cool monsters and ghouls, but is never really all that scary. There are some very effective moments and good jump scares, but, again, the movie never really gets under your skin or really grabs you. It’s quite entertaining, but there are also a few scenes, like Richie’s meeting with Pennywise in a park, that are a bit too over-the-top for their own good and come across as borderline silly. The film can be very gruesome and never feels nearly as long as it’s 169 minutes, though the inclusion of a sub-plot with grown-up bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) seemed like overkill and could have been removed with no harm to the story. The FX are top notch and we even get some background on Pennywise and what he really is and where he came from. To some this might remove some of his mystique, but it also moved this more into monster movie territory, which for others, is just fine. There was a great homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing and a very amusing cameo from a certain world famous author. As stated, it is more of a monster movie this time than supernatural thriller and that also made it a bit more fun and action oriented, though, again, never really as scary as it should have been.

The cast are again strong. McAvoy is very good as the adult Bill and seems to be the one most strongly onboard to confront Pennywise again. He is still tormented by guilt over Georgie. Chastain is a solid actress, no matter what the role and really gives Bev a strong emotional core. She’s still traumatized by her father and the choice of an abusive husband proves it. Pennywise isn’t the only demon she must face down. Hader is good as RIchie, who is now a stand-up comedian. He uses humor to hide his fear and still conveys much of his feelings in sarcasm. Hader shows some solid dramatic chops here. Isaiah Mustafa is noble as Mike, the only one to remain on watch in Derry. He also believes he knows how to stop the monstrous clown and uses that to convince the others to join him. Ryan is solid as the now skinny and sexy Ben. He still has a soft spot for Bev and is still in some ways insecure. Ransone is also good as the cowardly Eddie and makes his journey to overcome his fears work very well. Andy Bean has a brief few moments as Stanley, but makes them count to give his early death emotional resonance. All the young actors who portrayed the characters as kids also return in flashbacks. As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård has even more to do this half and it is in this second part that he really makes this incarnation of the character his own. The young actors who played the characters as kids, all return in flashbacks.

Overall, this second chapter was an entertaining flick, but still wasn’t all that scary. Andy Muschietti directs well and has a great visual eye, as well as, takes a few risks this time with the carnage. The cast all perform strongly and there are plenty of effective scenes to entertain. The film can also be a little too over-the-top at times for it’s own good, like a Chinese restaurant scene, and a few of these scenes do skirt a little close to being silly. It does keep one involved, despite being almost three hours long, though a few things here and there could have been trimmed with no harm to the proceedings. A solid mainstream horror and will most likely repeat the success of It: Chapter One.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) red balloons.