REVIEW: IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

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IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

Though marketed as a horror film, especially with a title that implies some sort of supernatural threat, flick is more of a survival thriller focusing on a small group of people during what appears to be some kind of pandemic. As the film opens, we find Paul (Joel Edgerton), living in his father-in-law Bud’s house in the middle of the woods, along with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and his son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). As the story opens, Bud (David Pendleton) is infected, Paul euthanizes him and sets his body on fire. While still suffering from their loss, a man (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house one night. Captured, he says his name is Will and is only looking for supplies for his family. Paul and Sarah invite Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to come live with them, seeing strength in numbers. But, when it is believed that little Andrew might be infected, paranoia and fear take over and threatens to destroy this safe haven in the woods.

Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults this is an intense and sometimes violent little movie about fear, paranoia and what lengths folks will go to survive. Going in without the horror movie expectations, one can enjoy this flick for what it is. There are some horror elements, as the sickness isn’t pretty, there is some brutal violence and Travis has some very unsettling nightmares with some spooky imagery. The characters appear to be normal people in a frightening situation and none are bad guys or unlikable, just some do extreme things to, in their minds, ensure their survival. It’s no secret these folks will turn on each other and Shults keeps the film tense until they do. He keeps the audience on edge with a sense that death is always lurking outside the house, whether it be this ominous disease or other humans with bad intent. He also never let’s you completely trust Will and Kim, as Paul and Sarah never quite do. Yes, we’ve seen it before, but the writer/director makes it work by focusing on the effects of the situation on a small isolated group instead of what might be going on in more populated areas. It works well and can be unsettling at times, even with the subject of pandemics and infections being common ground right now. There are a few questions and unresolved plot points as the credits roll. After Bud’s death it seems hard to believe that Paul and family would so quickly agree to bring strangers into their home, despite the good intentions. There is a violent encounter with two armed men that at first seems like it might have further impact, but it never does. There is also the implication that coming-of-age Travis might have an attraction to the pretty Kim and vice-versa, but it goes nowhere after the initial scene that introduces the notion. Aside from these small matters Trey Edward Shults delivers a taunt thriller which keeps one unnerved even if you know certain things are coming. Aiding him is some nice cinematography by Drew Daniels, which takes advantage of the large shadow filled house and a fitting score from Brian McOmber.

There is a good cast here, too. Edgerton is a strong lead as the cautious, though somewhat kind-hearted Paul. He makes some tough decisions to protect his family, but is far from a bad man and hasn’t lost his humanity. Christopher Abbott is good as Will. He gives the character just enough uncertainty, so we never quite trust him to makes us as uneasy as Paul. Kelvin Harrison Jr. shines as Travis. Travis is sometimes the moral center of the story, though his ominous nightmares make us unsettled as to what the future holds and the actor conveys that this is also the same with Travis, himself, a youth growing up isolated in a dangerous world. In support Carmen Ejogo is solid as Paul’s loving and strong willed wife, Sarah. Riley Keough is also good as Will’s wife Kim, as is Griffin Robert Faulkner as their young son Andrew.

Once you get past the notion that this is a horror film, you can still enjoy an intense thriller about people trying to survive in a deadly environment. They’re trying to keep their humanity when their fellow humans are just as dangerous as the disease they are trying to avoid. It’s intense, atmospheric and brutally violent at times. It may not be the most original flick in terms of story and comes with a title that raises horror film expectations, but does used the pandemic fear scenario very well and is an effective little thriller on it’s own.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets!

 

 

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IT COMES AT NIGHT GETS A FIRST TRAILER!

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What ever ” It” is, It Comes at Night and this new trailer has me intrigued…and a bit spooked! New horror coming from A24 (The Witch, Ex Machina) is written and directed by Trey Edward Shults and stars The Gift’s Joel Edgerton. Looks pretty creepy to me and we’ll all find out what “It” is on june 9th, 2017!

source: Youtube

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REVIEW: MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016)

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MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016)

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

Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols’ film is a science fiction/chase thriller that evokes John Carpenter’s Starman yet, is very much it’s own movie. Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is a boy with some very unique and unexplainable powers. These powers have earned him a religious cult built around him that believes he can protect them from the coming Judgment Day. As he can receive communications of even the most top secret kind, the government is very interested in him as well. His father Roy (Michael Shannon) and friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) kidnap Alton from the cult and now flee across country to a place and time the boy insists he must be. With both government agents and cultists in hot pursuit, will they get there in time…or at all?

If you can imagine John Carpenter at his prime teaming with Steven Spielberg in his earlier years than this flick is what you might have gotten. Nichols writes and directs a tale of a mysterious and special boy on the run from those who seek to use his gifts for their own purposes. What makes this work especially well is the emotional depth it’s given being presented from the perspective of a loving father accepting his son for who he is and willing to give his life to see him safe. It’s this emotional core that makes this work beyond the well-executed SPFX sequences of Alton’s powers at work…which are used sparingly, but to full effect. There is certainly suspense and some tense sequences, which are all deftly handled, but it is the film’s sense of wonder and the flesh and blood characters that really draw us in. Even if the Spielbergian finale is a bit more on a Disney level than the more intense and sometimes violent rest of the film, it still works and leaves us effected even after the credits role, as Nichols doesn’t just present it, but shows us some of the effects on those around it. It gives the SPFX filled moment weight…and a sense of wonder. The director/writer takes a familiar tale and really makes it something fresh and fills it with some very three dimensional characters which give it a realism and keeps it grounded, despite the science fiction elements. It’s a really enjoyable film with a heart, as well as, SPFX, action and suspense. There is an effective score by David Wingo and some Dean Cundey-esque cinematography from Adam Stone to add to an already exceptional movie.

The cast couldn’t be better. Michael Shannon again proves he is one of the most gifted actors around as Alton’s caring and self-sacrificing father, Roy. Jaeden Lieberher is enchanting as Alton, who is more than he seems and we really endear to him despite his sometimes dangerous abilities. Joel Edgerton, fresh off The Gift, is again solid as the state trooper who is willing to break the laws he holds dear to help his friend and his son. We also have Kirsten Dunst in a touching role as Alton’s mother who loves him enough to possibly let him go, if it means his safety. Sam Shepard also appears as cult leader, Calvin Meyer and rounding out the leads is Adam Driver as a sympathetic government official who decides to help Alton find what it is he is looking for. A top notch cast that make their characters very real.

A emotionally strong and highly enjoyable thriller about a special boy and the race to keep him safe. Alton is a bit of a mystery at first, but as we journey with him, we slowly learn just how fantastically special he is. The film has a big heart with some tense action and suspense, along with a sense of wonder and some very effective SPFX moments. But unlike the CGI laden big budget FX spectacles of today, this film has a very human center at it’s core, about a parents love for their child and the lengths they will go to see them safe. Great movie that reminded me of John Carpenter in his prime and the earlier works of Steven Spielberg. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Altons.

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BARE BONES: PAY THE GHOST and WHISPER

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PAY THE GHOST (2015)

Supernatural thriller takes place in NYC on Halloween with busy dad Mike Lawford (Nicholas Cage) taking his young son Charlie (Jack Fulton) to a local carnival, after getting home too late to take him trick or treating. Charlie mysteriously disappears without a trace while standing right next to Mike and thus begins a year long quest to find out what happened to his son. Mike and his wife Kristen’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) search leads them to believe there is something supernatural involved, that links back to a Celtic legend that started hundreds of years before. As Halloween again approaches, is there any hope of finding Charlie alive?

While Pay The Ghost is actually well directed by Uli Edel and the performances from the cast are also pretty good, the flick is ultimately very routine as these thrillers go and Dan Kay’s script comes to a very hokey conclusion that wraps everything up in a nice little bow. There are some legitimately spooky bits here and there, but they can’t overcome the same tired old plot elements from most recent missing child and haunting flicks and the same old CGI phantoms. Using Celtic lore could have made this interesting, but it is carried out in a very bland and standard manner that could have used any cultural background without making a difference. An OK thriller if there is nothing else to watch and at least Nicholas Cage dialed it back a bit. Also features Stephen McHattie.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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WHISPER (2007)

Ho-hum supernatural thriller finds couple Max (Josh Holloway) and Roxanne (Sarah Wayne Callies) participating in a kidnapping of eight year-old David (Blake Woodruff) after being turned down for financing on their dream project of opening a diner…makes sense! The boy turns out to be quite the little demon…literally…and soon Max, Roxanne and their partners (Joel Edgerton and Michael Rooker) find the tables turned on them, as the little monster uses his unnatural powers to off them one by one.

Written by Christopher Borrelli and directed by Stewart Hendler, this is a by-the-numbers ‘bad seed’ movie that is fairly predictable and it’s reveals are really no surprise. There is little suspense, though it is directed competently and the cast are…aside from vet Rooker…destined for better things and do perform well here. Young Woodruff is fairly creepy in the role of David, too and the cinematography is by the legendary Dean Cundey, so the movie looks great. Nothing really to recommend, though there is much worse you could watch and fans of certain cast members, like Callies and Edgerton, may want to see one of their earlier roles.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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-MonsterZero NJ
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REVIEW: THE GIFT (2015)

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THE GIFT (2015)

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

Simon Callum (Jason Bateman) is living a charmed life. He has a successful career and has just moved into a upscale suburban house with his beautiful wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall). A chance meeting with Gordon Moseley (Joel Edgerton who also wrote and directs), a former classmate from high school, changes his idyllic existence as Moseley starts making uninvited stops at Simon’s house, especially when Robyn is home alone. As Simon fears the man is obsessed with his wife, he finds another game may be afoot and one whose revelations Simon may not like. What does Gordon know and what is Simon hiding?

A very impressive debut from actor Joel Edgerton as both writer and director as he creates a tense thriller that fools you into thinking you’re watching one type of story, but it turns into another. At first we think we are watching yet another Cape Fear scenario with straightedge Simon and Robyn being stalked by the strange “Gordo”, but Edgerton has some surprises up his sleeve and we get revelations uncovered that may change our perspective on the true nature of our characters. His script gradually unravels a far more complicated story, as Robyn begins to ask questions as to just what the relationship was between the two men in the past and what happened between them. She finds that neither man may be who she thought they were and neither has been telling the complete truth. Edgerton skillfully takes us on the investigation and we learn the shocking truths as she does. This is far more than a simple creepy stalker plot and to reveal any more would be to spoil a tense and suspenseful thriller that subtly pulls the rug out from underneath you as to what you know about our players. You may find your sympathies shifting once all is said and done…or will you? It’s a very offbeat thriller from the first-time director.

Our small cast is very good. Jason Bateman is strong in a non-comedy role as an ambitious man who has it all. His Simon is likable at first, but as our script slowly let’s secrets become uncovered, Bateman handles the character changes deftly and we respond appropriately. Rebecca Hall is good as Robyn. She is a supportive wife, but as the movie progresses she becomes a woman with many doubts and questions and possibly some demons of her own. Edgerton is excellent as the weird and unsettling Gordon. Like Bateman, when character aspects are revealed, Edgerton helps us see his character in a different light, though he always remains purposely a bit off, as Gordon is an emotionally troubled man regardless of what we find out.

I liked this thriller. It had me thinking I was watching something oft seen before, but slowly revealed layers to the story that changed my perspective. Characters are presented as one thing, but as we proceed, deeper secrets are revealed and we realize that we don’t know these people like we thought. There are games and lies being played out here, but it may surprise as to the who and whats in the details. An engaging thriller and a very auspicious debut from Joel Edgerton as writer and director.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 gifts.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE THING 2011 and THE FLY II

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I thought it would be fun to do a sequel to my double feature of remakes The Thing and The Fly from a few weeks back by offering a double bill look at their perspective sequels…

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THE THING (2011)

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all time favorite movies. It’s a classic and arguably Carpenter’s masterpiece. So, I tried to put the audacity aside that someone would attempt a prequel and went in trying to view this film on it’s own merits as much as possible. Ultimately, since it’s trying to be part of that film’s story, you kinda have to compare and my mind constantly made comparisons all throughout. Overall, I wasn’t that impressed, but also didn’t hate it and over time, it has grown on me as a sort of amusing companion piece. Still, obviously far from a classic like it’s predecessor.

2011’s The Thing takes place in the Norwegian camp that is seen briefly in Carpenter’s film in smoldering ruins. It details their finding of the alien ship and it’s passenger in the ice and it’s subsequent escape and infiltration of the camp and assimilation of various members. The Norwegians are joined by some American’s including Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Paleontologist Kate Lloyd, Eric Christian Olsen as scientist Adam Finch and Joel Edgerton as helicopter pilot Sam. Aside from Ulrich Thompson as lead scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson, the rest are interchangeable and generic characters that serve mostly as body count. Only Winstead really tries to make Kate a more rounded character, but she isn’t given much to do but look concerned, or scared, or both, till the last act.

This is where The Thing fails to assimilate the 1982 perfectly as it’s title creature would. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. fails to generate much suspense or create the kind of paranoia that fueled the 82 classic. He does create a bit of a sense of dread, but for the most part, he directs this “prequel” competently, but very by-the-numbers. There’s very little of the kind of tension Carpenter built during his film, even though the situation is basically the same. Even if he was trying to craft a film that was more it’s own “thing” he still doesn’t have the directing chops to really pull it off. The film has a nice visual style and there are some well done action sequences and they did do a good job of matching sets and events to link up with the film this is a prequel to, but it simply doesn’t come close to Thing ’82.

Heijningen doesn’t get that much help out of his actors either. Other than Winstead and Edgerton, most of them pretty much perform on ‘paycheck’ levels and there are none of the memorable characters like Carpenter’s eclectic bunch. Well, at least there should be some cool monster stuff, right? Not quite. All this talk of practical effects during production was nonsense, as 90% of what we see is CGI, or enhanced with CGI, and it’s only a few levels about your average SYFY channel movie. So even the monster evokes no emotion, because it looks like what it is, phony. And to be honest, the designs lack the impact of Rob Bottin’s now legendary work. Even at their weakest moments, Bottin’s creature transformations generated awe or disgust. You’d think they’d take advantage of almost 30 years of technological advancement in movie effects, yet the creatures have little impact. And, speaking of our alien star, we are never given much more information about the creature than we already know from Thing ’82. They totally blow the opportunity to add to the creature’s mythos.

I’ll admit, there were a few scenes I liked, especially toward the end where the camp is thrown into all out combat with our computer generated invader and there are some clever bits like one involving tooth fillings. I also liked Winstead’s Kate as our lead. I think Winstead is capable of strong roles and it’s too bad she’s wasn’t given stronger stuff till the last act here. She makes a credible heroine. The end credits nod to the Carpenter flick is the best stuff in the movie. At least the lead-in stuff worked very well and the film ends on a spooky note as we know what comes next…a far superior movie.

In conclusion, I didn’t hate this flick, but would only recommend it as an amusing curiosity or a mindless popcorn monster flick as long as you forget about it even trying to stack up to the Kurt Russell classic. The Thing 2011 did have almost impossible shoes to fill and while it falls far short of the mark, it’s also not the complete disaster it’s made out to be. Best “thing” about the movie is that it is a lead-in to Carpenter’s flick, so you can always watch that afterwards.

2 and 1/2 (out of 4) flame thrower wielding cuties!

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THE FLY II (1989) 

With The Fly being a critical and box office hit, a sequel was inevitable. While this Cronenberg-less follow-up is no classic, it’s actually a fun monster movie on it’s own. The story opens with Ronnie (played now by Geena Davis lookalike Saffron Henderson) giving birth at Bartok Industries to Seth Brundle’s child. She dies from shock as what appears to be a monstrosity is born, but it is actually a human baby sealed in a cocoon. Martin Brundel (Harley Cross as a child, Eric Stoltz as an adult) is far from a normal human, though, as he grows at an accelerated rate, has his father’s genius intelligence and is being intensely studied by a team of scientists. At 5 years old he is fully grown and his genius is put to work by Anton Bartok (Lee Richardson) on perfecting his father’s telepods that Bartok’s people can’t get to function properly. Bartok acts as a father figure, but is just using and studying Martin like a lab animal waiting for the inevitable. Despite never having been away from Bartok’s research labs, Martin has enough social skills to meet and woo pretty Beth (Daphne Zuniga), an employee from another division and soon starts to look into what really happened to his father and thus what might happen to him, leading him to seek out Stathis Borans (a returning John Getz) for answers. Like father like son, as the film’s tagline proclaims, Martin soon starts to transform and tries to figure out a cure as he begins to become an insectoid creature like his father. Will Martin share the same fate as his dad or can he free himself and find peace and love with Beth?

As directed by Fly FX man Chris Walas, Fly II is an entertaining monster movie with some cool action sequences, as well as, some gruesome ones. He doesn’t try to match Cronenberg’s gem for emotional intensity, though there are some effective dramatic scenes involving Martin trying to cope with who and what he is and a scene involving a lab dog he bonds with, that is especially moving and fuels his learning of Bartok’s true nature. The cast perform well with Stoltz making a charming and tragic hero and Zuniga a spunky girl next door heroine. Richardson and Chalk make contemptible villains and while they are fairly routine bad guys, we dislike them enough to look forward to their possible comeuppance. The FX are top notch for this pre-CGI time with animatronics and make-up being used to represent the various lab creatures and Martin’s progressive transformation. There is some really good gore, as it’s no surprise that the last act does turn into a full blown monster on-the-loose flick when Martin becomes an insect-like creature with a human intelligence stalking the halls of Bartok and getting revenge on those who mistreated him, while trying to save himself and Beth. Christopher Young gives the film a really strong score that is not quite Howard Shore’s, but very effective on it’s own and the cinematography by Robin Vidgeon makes good use of the Bartok interiors.

All in all, Fly II is an entertaining horror flick and while it is far from the near masterpiece of it’s predecessor, it wasn’t meant to be another classic. It is a fun popcorn monster flick that honors the film it’s a sequel to and makes for an entertaining viewing, after the intensity of the Cronenberg classic. If you haven’t seen it and like the 1986 flick, give it a go!

3 (out of 4) flys!

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