THE TOKOLOSHE: THE CALLING (2021)
The Tokoloshe: The Calling is a South African supernatural thriller that finds writer Arish (Arish Sirkissoon) staying with his wife Angelina (Angela Balkovic) and their adopted daughter Thembi (Shezi Sibongiseni) at an abandoned hotel, so he can write. The hotel has a dark past and before you can say The Shining, Arish and his family fall under attack from a demonic spirit known as a tokoloshe.
Supernatural thriller is directed by Richard Green, from his script with star Arish Sirkissoon, and despite the interesting South African supernatural folklore, chooses to focus more on being a retread of The Shining. It’s too bad, as the tokoloshe sounds like an interesting bit of untapped folklore for a movie such as this, but Green instead decides to replay moments of the Stanley Kubrick classic. We get spectral children, ghostly bartenders and guests, along with a writer whose temperament is become shorter by the day. Thembi even rides her bike through the hallways a la Danny. If we didn’t get the idea that Green is a Stephen King fan, there is also an appearance by a red balloon to make sure we do. There is such a missed opportunity here, as with so little known about South African supernatural folklore, this flick really could have been something fresh in the haunting sub-genre. Instead we only get sparse background on this demonic creature of South African legend. Green does make good use of his spooky hotel setting and does create some atmospheric shots, even in broad daylight. Maybe next time he will have more faith in his own ideas and leave recycling his influences behind. Flick gets a little extra credit for trying something new with what tokoloshe folklore, that it should have been even more about, and for it’s South African locations. The Tokoloshe: The Calling is a tight 72 minutes in length and is available today (09/03/21) on VOD.
THE OLD WAYS (2020)
Troubled Latina reporter Christina (Brigitte Kali Canales) returns to her Mexican hometown village of La Boca to research a story about witchcraft. She finds herself kidnapped and held by the local bruja Luz (Julia Vera), her assistant Javi (Sal Lopez) and Christina’s cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés). The bruja believes Christina is possessed by a demon, a malevolent entity that must be removed and banished at all costs.
Flick is directed by Christopher Alender from a script by Marcos Gabriel. The Latin background to the proceedings gives it a bit of a fresh feel and director Alender gives it atmosphere and a spooky visual style. What holds it back a bit is that it basically takes place in one room for most of the runtime and, for the most part, is a slow and drawn-out 90 minute exorcism in multiple parts, with Christina doing some soul searching in between. The pretty reporter does bare her soul in more ways than one and the exorcism scenes are effective, but it really feels like an hour long episode of a TV show stretched out to feature length. This is especially evident when about two-thirds in, the demon is expelled, but finds another host and we repeat the main exorcism all over again. It becomes repetitive and tedious. Leading lady Brigitte Kali Canales is very pretty and tries hard, but could have been a bit stronger in the role of Christina. Supporting cast was very good, so that helped. Not a waste of time and can be effective and atmospheric, but definitely needed a bit more story to properly fill it’s hour and a half runtime. Flick is now streaming on Netflix.
Demonic finds a woman named Carly (Carly Pope) finding out her mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt) is no longer in prison for committing mass murder, but now in a coma under study at the Therapol institute. They contact her and ask her to participate in a procedure where a virtual reality simulation will make it possible for her to communicate with Angela’s sub-conscious. The more she enters her mother’s mind, though, the more she begins to believe her mother’s problems are more malevolent than medical and that the mysterious doctors at Therapol may have a hidden agenda.
As written and directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie), there are some interesting ideas here mixing technology and religion. The idea of the Vatican using modern VR technology to track demonic entities, so they can be destroyed, is novel and intriguing. Despite some clever concepts, though, Blomkamp basically delivers yet another run- of-the-mill demonic possession thriller and not an overly original or effective one, once we get passed the intriguing first act set-up. Strip away the contemporary technology coating and it’s just another supernatural horror flick with someone forced to battle a demonic entity to save themselves and the ones they love. There are some spooky moments and the action is well directed, but after the interesting first third, it digresses into a movie we have all seen many times before. It’s worth a look, but it’s nothing overly scary, or memorable, and a routine film that disappointingly doesn’t make full use of what original ideas it does have.
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)
Third Conjuring flick takes place in 1981 and finds Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of a little boy named David (Julian Hillard). It almost costs Ed his life, leaving him unconscious, and unknown to Lorraine, the demon transferred to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), a young man present during the ceremony. As Ed recovers in a hospital, warning that Arne is possessed, the young man under demonic influence, stabs his landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death. Now the Warrens must somehow prove that demonic possession was involved and Arne is innocent of murder.
Threequel is directed this time by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona
) from a script and story by producer James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick based on a supposed real-life case of the Warrens. It opens with a supernatural bang with yet another exorcism, but it is an effective one and sets the tone for the film. It establishes to the audience that Arne is the host and we know something bad is soon to happen…and it does. Third in this series takes a bit of a different direction once blood is shed, as not only does it have the now traditional supernatural hi-jinx, but is a paranormal detective drama as well. Ed and Lorraine go on the road to investigate the origins of David’s possession, unraveling a trail of evil and death leading to a demonic cultist. It takes this franchise in a bit of a different direction and is well done, but the exorcism/possession storyline elements are just too familiar and overdone in recent films to be that scary. At least the cultist angle adds a human adversary which is a welcome change. Chaves is a competent director, but he can only do so much with such frequently treaded material and he doesn’t quite have Wan’s skill at theatrical scares. The investigative portion of the story is intriguing and keeps one’s attention and is the strongest element of this second sequel. If anything, it takes The Warrens out of their usual haunted house setting and that at least keeps them and this sequel from getting too stale. The FX are well done, there is some bloodshed and in contrast, the flick also has some nice heart to give resonance to the Warrens’ cause. Chaves may not have Wan’s visual eye, but he does produce some atmosphere and appropriately spooky imagery, especially in Lorraine’s visions, and orchestrates the jump scares well, though is less reliant on them. The climax is an entertaining The Exorcist
meets Silence of the Lambs
mash-up that works very well and ends the story with the theatrics fans come to expect.
The cast are solid. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are good as Ed and Lorraine Warren. Whether you believe the real couple are legit or shysters is up to you, but their cinematic counterparts make for endearing characters. They tread a little new ground for this series and do well and the actors make a good team that gives the movie it’s heart. Ruairi O’Connor is sympathetic as the tormented Arne and pretty Sarah Catherine Hook is likable as his girlfriend and little David’s sister, Debbie. John Noble also appears, in an exposition role, as a retired priest with knowledge of the cult in question, while Eugenie Bondurant is creepy as the cultist whose curse drives this flick’s story.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a well made film with some spooky moments and wisely takes it’s paranormal couple into a somewhat different scenario to freshen things up a bit. It’s well directed by Chaves, though still focuses heavily on demonic possession/exorcism elements that have become almost as frequently seen in recent horror, as zombies. If you are a fan of this series you will probably like this one and if not, the investigative/detective drama aspect may keep you intrigued enough to be entertained, during it’s almost two hour runtime. Series hasn’t run of of gas quite yet, but shows signs that it might be time to really dig into the Warrens’ case files for a fourth installment. Watch through the credits for some spooky footage, photos and reel to reel recordings from the real life Warrens and this case.
Rated 3 spooks
THE OFFERING (2016)
Ho-hum possession/demonic thriller has pretty atheist Jaime Waters (Elizabeth Rice) rushing to Singapore when she learns of her sister’s (Rayann Condy) suicide. She begins to investigate the reasons behind her sibling’s demise and finds a a supernatural threat is emerging and one that challenges her disbelief and threatens her young niece (Adina Herz).
Despite the novelty of the Singapore location and Rice making a likable heroine, this is a dull and routine demonic thriller that makes good use of neither. There is a convoluted plot invoking a demonic entity trying to resurrect the Towel Of Babel and even when writer/director Kelvin Tong comes up with a clever idea of the demon using computers to influence, he jettison’s it for the same old possession/haunting tropes, including a basement-set exorcism finale that totally rips-off The Conjuring. Completely derivative and forgettable even when it tries to be clever. Would like to see cutie Elizabeth Rice do final girl duty in a much better film. Also known as The Faith Of Anna Waters.