HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: COME PLAY (2020)

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COME PLAY (2020)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Horror flick has mute, autistic little boy, Oliver (Azhy Robertson) being stalked by a supernatural entity. The specter known as “Larry” pursues the boy through his electronic devices, under the guise of wanting to be friends. Obviously, the being is malevolent in it’s methods and will harm anyone that gets in it’s way, including Oliver’s parents (Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr) and friends.

Movie is written and directed by Jacob Chase, based on his short film Larry. On the surface it is a generic PG-13 boogeyman horror, the type that is very popular right now. What sets it apart is that Chase directs the film very well and gets some legitimate chills and scares out of his routine story. He creates atmosphere and a sense of dread, but really reels us in with a likable family of characters, especially Oliver and his mom, Sarah. Having Larry’s target being a sweet and already sympathetic, handicapped child, makes us care about Oliver and that he is being stalked by a dangerous supernatural creature. Despite being a fairly generic boogeyman, Chase gives Larry some nice intensity and menace and his design may be familiar, but still effective. There is no strong violence, blood, or gore to be found, as the film relies on atmosphere and scares to tell it’s story. There are some effective jump scares and some solid spookiness, as well as, some clever uses of electronic devices to add scares when Larry is lurking about. It does come to a predictable conclusion, but the last scene is successfully both spooky and sweet and it does work.

Chase has a solid cast. Young Azhy Robertson is very good as autistic Oliver. He’s a likable and sweet little boy and his handicap makes him all the more vulnerable and thus sympathetic. It was also refreshing that Oliver was afraid of Larry from the beginning and not fooled into thinking of him as a friend, as the boy in Shudder’s Z from earlier this year. Gillian Jacobs is also very good as his caring and hard working mother. Once she comes to believe there is something otherworldly after her son, she fights to protect him. John Gallagher Jr (Hush) plays Oliver’s dad Marty. Marty is not a bad guy and loves his son, but there seems to be a bit of friction between he and Sarah, as he appears to be avoiding dealing with his son’s condition. Lastly, is a good job by young Winslow Fegley as Bryon, a former friend of Oliver’s who rebonds with the boy when mutually encountering Larry.

Overall, this may be a routine and generic flick plot-wise, but is elevated by a director that does good work with the familiar material. He gives the film some solid chills, scares and atmosphere and writes some characters that we can care about. He gives some menace to his boogeyman and even adds some underlying messages about the negative impact on kids raised with too much time spent on digital mediums. Was Oliver’s autism simply to make him more vulnerable?…or symbolic of the declining social skills of children raised with cellphones and tablets in their hands? It’s up to you, the audience, to decide. It does come to a predictable conclusion, but it still works well enough. Worth a look, especially if you have tween horror fans that aren’t ready for the more intense stuff.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) laptops.

 

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BARE BONES: UNDERWATER (2020)

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UNDERWATER (2020)

Over six miles beneath the ocean surface, the Kepler drilling station suffers a massive, crippling earthquake (or is it?). Five survivors, including mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart), Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) and crewmembers Emily (Jessica Henwick), Paul (T.J. Miller) and Liam (John Gallagher Jr), have no choice but to walk across the ocean floor in high pressure suits to another station. Something, however, is down there with them and is now hunting them, as they make a desperate attempt to get out of this catastrophe alive. Did the drilling station awaken something best left undisturbed?

Undersea horror is competently directed by William Eubank from an Alien-esque script by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad. It’s a routine and derivative monster movie, but that’s not overwhelmingly a bad thing. The movie gets to the action quickly, with the quake hitting almost instantly, though this gives us no time for character or story development. We do learn a little about our characters as we go along, at least the ones that stick around and the cast are good, with Stewart making a solid heroine as Norah. We also learn, a la Alien, that the drilling company might have known something was amiss, but proceeded anyway. No surprise there. As for the horror, there is some suspense and a few spooky sequences, though those looking for a gory monster mash will be a bit disappointed, as the film is strictly PG-13. The creatures are kinda cool and wisely kept in shadows till the last act and are more H.P. Lovecraft than H. R. Giger in appearance. It has an effective and creepy climax, which might leave one with a few chills. On a production level, the flick moves at a decent pace and is economical at only 95 minutes long. The FX are well done, with most of the film’s $50+ Million budget on screen and it all looks good through Eubank’s visual eye. Underwater was a box office bomb when released in January, but, overall, is an enjoyable, if not familiar and forgettable monster movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HUSH (2016)

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HUSH (2016)

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

Hush is a perfect example of a talented filmmaker taking a very familiar story and using it in a clever and fresh manner. Maddie (Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote) is an author who moves into a remote house in the woods to write and live a more secluded life away from the city and her ex-boyfriend. Maddie also lost her hearing and speech when she was thirteen to a sever case of meningitis. One night, as Maddie tries to work on her next book, a deranged crossbow-wielding individual (John Gallagher, Jr.) lays siege to her home, cutting off her communications and power with the intent of her not living out the night. Now Maddie, alone and trapped inside her own home, must defend herself against a foe she can’t hear coming.

Directed and co-written by Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Oculus), this flick gives new life to the scenario of a sole individual trapped by some evil force or persons in a secluded house. By giving it’s heroine/intended victim a disability that puts her at a disadvantage, it ups the ante in the suspense and intensity department. It also gives our Maddie the resourcefulness of a woman who has had to make do without the benefit of hearing and speech for over half of her life. And that’s what really made this thriller click, was Maddie’s ingenuity in outwitting and communicating with her attacker and her tenacious will to survive and fight back. The film also gives Maddie’s inner monologue a voice, her own, as we hear her thoughts as she’s trying to outthink the unnamed invader and even moments where she plays her own inner monologue in person, as she tries to convince herself not to give up. It’s very clever and really works so well under Mike Flanagan’s skilled direction. It also worked that her mysterious attacker is unmasked quite early and we get someone who is not only a psychopath, but is quite full of personality himself. It makes him so much more than a cliché masked bad guy that he is basically just a person, though a decidedly demented and sick one. We never get an explanation for his attack, though there are clues that this is not his first rodeo. On a more basic level there is some surprisingly brutal violence and some intense action and nail-biting suspense to go along with two opposing characters with surprising depth for what could have been a routine thriller in lesser hands. Routine it is far from, as Flanagan and leading lady/co-writer Kate Siegel deliver this oft-told tale with a freshness, cleverness and tension that make this such an enjoyably nail-bitting thrill ride.

While there are brief appearances from supporting players Samantha Sloyan and Michael Trucco as neighbors, Sarah and John, it is a two person play and we get really strong work from both actors. Co-scribe Kate Siegel is really good as Maddie and makes her extremely likable without saying a word. She wonderfully conveys the woman’s personality with her facial expressions, phrasing in sign language and her reactions when spending time with her neighbor Sarah. She endears to you quickly. Once she comes under siege, we get a strong-willed and very clever woman who, despite her handicap, stays one step ahead of the vicious man outside her door. As that man, 10 Cloverfield Lane’s John Gallagher, Jr. plays his stalker with a surprisingly offbeat and almost down-to-earth personality. He is a killer, no doubt, as he brutally murders anyone who gets in his way and has a not too pleasant fate in-store for his quarry…a quarry he enjoys toying with. He is, however, never over-the-top or theatrical, as many stories feel their villains need to be. The script and Gallagher, make him more than just a simple, deranged monster, he is a very human one. There is a person under the killer’s mask, though certainly a twisted and cruel one. Avoiding a cliché film fiend portrayal makes him scarier, as you literally feel like you could pass him on the street and not notice him…or even work with him and never know he’s homicidal. Great cast to compliment the clever script.

This was one top-notch thriller. It was intense, smart, suspenseful and had some brutal moments that really caught one off-guard. It had a solid leading lady who conveyed a lot of personality and resourcefulness, despite her handicaps and used the resourcefulness born of those handicaps to battle her opponent. We got a villain who was surprisingly human, which made him all the more frightening as he could be anyone you meet and not some generic, hulking, over-the-top madman that exists only in a movie. It was a delightfully gripping game of cat and mouse with a clever script by star Siegal and director Mike Flanagan, who also skillfully and inventively presents a fresh slant on a familiar story. Highly recommended! Almost certainly will be on my list for best horror flicks of the year!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) crossbow bolts.

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REVIEW: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)

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10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)

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

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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