REVIEW: BECKY (2020)

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BECKY (2020)

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Becky Hooper (Lulu Wilson) is a troubled teen who is still dealing with the death of her mother. Her father Jeff (Joel McHale) takes her up to the family cabin, but, unfortunately, surprises her with having his new girlfriend Kayla (Amanda Brugel) join them, along with her young son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe). Add to that, Jeff announces he and Kayla are to be married. If that’s not bad enough, escaped convict Dominick (Kevin James) and his three accomplices Apex (Jonathan Milott), Cole (Ryan McDonald) and Hammond (James McDougall) invade the rural home in search of something hidden there. Becky’s inner rage now comes to a boil and Dominick may get more than he bargained for.

On the surface, that may sound like the plot of a Disney Channel movie, but in the hands of co-director’s Cary Murnion (Cooties) and star Jonathan Milott, this is an intense and sometimes vicious survival thriller. What helps suspend disbelief that a thirteen year-old girl could successfully take on four hardened criminals is the skillful establishing of Becky as a young teen with a lot of rage. The film takes just enough time to give us a good glimpse back at her last days with her mom and the subsequent anger at her death, followed by the anger at her father for wanting to move on. Thus we understand her pain when the story kicks into gear. When these white supremacist convicts burst in and start to hurt the only people and things…like her dad and their dogs…that she still loves, you can believe her anger gets a chance to be vented on the four invaders. The script by Nick Morris, Ruckus Skye and Lane Skye uses the McGuffin of a key hidden in the house, which Becky has long since discovered, to keep the thugs at the cabin and needing Becky to be found. The traditional Die Hard elements are here, with Becky and Dominick trading barbs over walkie talkies and the criminals threatening/tormenting the people in the house to try to bring her out…big mistake. What really makes this work is the vicious and extremely violent ways young Becky goes at her adversaries and the impact it has on her as well. It all leads to a really blood-spattered and suspenseful last act and a bit of a WTF ending. It’s not WTF because you don’t understand what’s happened, it’s because you do! The skillful direction and the film effectively portraying what Becky has gone through, make the changes in her not unexpected, though no less startling. A Disney Channel movie this is not.

We have a good cast. Fifteen year-old Lulu Wilson (The Haunting of Hill House) is a powerhouse as Becky. She expertly conveys a young woman already bubbling over with rage and frustration and then is pushed over the edge. She’s very convincing in the action sequences and believable that she has been driven to the point of really wanting to hurt these guys…bad! Big surprise is comedian Kevin James really making a solid bad guy as gang leader Dominick. He’s nasty, violent, but by no means stupid. He’s vicious and we believe he will do anything…and to anyone…to get that key. The two actors make very convincing adversaries. Joel McHale (Community) is good as Becky’s dad. He portrays a man who cares about his daughter and is a little frustrated with her current state of behavior. He just wants what’s best and the actor conveys that. Amanda Brugel and Isaiah Rockcliffe are good as Kayla and her son Ty. Brugel gets to show some strength, when left alone with the convicts and she plays it convincingly. As the remaining criminals, co-director Jonathan Milott (formerly WWE Superstar Kurgan) has the biggest role as a giant of a man who may still have a bit of a conscience. There are some developments with his character that at first seem to lead to an easy way out for his eventual confrontation with the petite Becky, but it only leads to something more shocking later on. Rounding out is solid work by McDonald and McDougall, whose characters are a bit less intense, but not comic relief by any means.

This is a very surprising and entertaining movie despite some familiar plot elements and a base story that sounds like it could have been something geared more for teens or kids. It’s intense and sometimes extremely vicious in it’s violence, especially effective as some of the worst of it is authored by a thirteen year-old girl. The filmmakers make it work, by successfully convincing us that this little girl is filled with a lot of frustration and rage and these four are the perfect opportunity to let it explode out. They also don’t let us forget that there is a price to pay for crossing lines, even in self defense, and leaves us a bit startled and unsettled when we see the results of it. A really good survival thriller that takes a familiar premise and a dynamite young actress and just runs with them. Another example of talented filmmakers taking routine elements and making them feel fresh and putting them to good use. Also worth mentioning is a cool electronic score by Nima Fakhrara and some nice cinematography from Greta Zozula.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) wooden rulers.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)

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OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)

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

Flick is a prequel to the 2014 Ouija, a much criticized, but extremely successful teen centric horror. New chapter takes us back to 1967 and tells the story of Doris Zander (Lulu Wilson) who was the malevolent entity in the first installment. The story opens with pretty widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) who is trying to support her two daughters, nine year-old Doris and teen Lina (Annalise Basso), as a fraudulent fortune teller. Upon hearing Lina used a Ouija board at a party, Alice decides to add one to her act. This brings a presence into the house that fixates on Doris and claims to be her father. As they use the board more and more and Doris’ behavior starts to change, it appears something malevolent has entered their home…and Doris.

Origin of Evil is directed by Mike (Absentia, HushOculus) Flanagan from a script he co-wrote with Oculus co-writer Jeff Howard. While it is an improvement over the silly but amusing original, it is Flanagan’s most routine and familiar movie yet. Perhaps having to follow-up an established property without alienating it’s core audience put restrictions on just how much the usually inventive writer/director could do with it, but aside from a few interesting touches, we get a story that is extremely familiar with an evil entity entering a home and targeting a child. The use of Mrs. Zander as a phony medium does work well and there was some nice depth to the characters, which is one of Flanagan’s strengths. It’s just that the core story has been done before and the film rarely gets scary because it’s all so familiar. Flanagan does deliver some spooky moments, but far fewer than in his previous films, which is surprising as spooky is something he does well. It’s the character drama that is more involving than the supernatural elements, which at least keeps our attention, if not slightly disappoints those looking for something with a far steadier scare factor for the Halloween season which it was released. His visual style is strong as always, but here he relies a bit too much on tired CGI creations that resemble every other PG-13 horror film manifestation thrown at teenagers today. It’s not a bad movie, just far too ‘been there, done that’ for a director who got our attention with some very original takes on his supernatural tales.

As with previous Flanagan flicks he gets strong work out of his cast. He is a director that works well with actors. Little Lulu Wilson is really good as Doris. She can be really creepy at times and very sweet and precocious at others. She is asked to handle a lot of strong material for a kid and does so very well. Elizabeth Reaser is solid as a loving mother just trying to provide for her daughters. She’s not trying to scam people, but sees her services as a way to help those suffering from loss. When Doris’ ouija use seems to be genuine, she jumps at the chance to do some real good. Annalise Basso is also very good as Doris’ caring teenage sister. She plays the character that was played by the incomparable Lin Shaye in the original and we see the journey that got her to that point and essayed very well by the young actress. There is also E.T.’s Henry Thomas all grown up and playing a widowed priest who is the principal at the girls’ Catholic school and has an interest in Alice. He obviously gets involved when it appears there is something sinister going on. The cast also features a small appearance in the opening sequence played by Hush star and co-writer Kate Siegal, who is also Mrs. Flanagan. A good cast that helps keep the flick interesting and our attention.

This wasn’t a bad flick just a surprisingly familiar one coming from Flanagan who has been very innovative with his use of traditional story elements, like in Hush. This movie could have used some of that thriller’s intensity as the scare level was fairly low and despite a more mature story than the first installment, we got a lot of elements that we have seen often and recently. Maybe picking up someone else’s franchise didn’t fit Flanagan all that well, or possibly having to follow up a previous film he wasn’t involved in, handcuffed him a bit. It passed the time, had a few spooky moments and was an improvement over it’s 2014 predecessor, but coming from one of the brightest new director’s to hit the genre in some time, it was a little bit of a disappointment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) planchettes as the solid cast earns some extra points.

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REVIEW: DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014)

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DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014)

Deliver Us From Evil is the latest film from Sinister director Scott Derrickson, who co-wrote with Paul Harris Boardman based on the supposedly true experiences of New York Detective Ralph Sarchie and detailed in the book Beware The Night written by Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool. The movie tells the story of Detective Sarchie (Eric Bana), a once Catholic cop who has lost his faith, and his partner Butler (Joel McHale) who are investigating a number of strange cases that all seem to be connected not only by some very bizarre and violent behavior but, by three Iraqi War vets Santoino (Sean Harris), Jimmy (Chris Coy) and Griggs (Scott Johnsen). The incidents all seem to involve some very unexplainable activity and key on something the three found when on maneuvers in Iraq. But, when a mysterious priest named Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) shows up proclaiming there is something far more evil going on here then just the dark side of human nature, Det. Sarchie’s disbelief is put to the test… and further tested as his family’s lives may now be in danger when the demonic force takes notice of Sarchie’s investigations and follows him home. Can a NYC cop, with demons of his own, fight an evil of biblical proportions?

I am not a big fan of Derrickson’s overrated Sinister, though I did like his The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. And I did like this movie though, I was caught off-guard that, for the first two thirds, the film is played like a routine police thriller with some very supernatural elements mixed into it rather then a straight-up horror. As the film progresses and the investigation deepens, it is only then that it starts to resemble a horror film and becomes a full blown one in it’s last act. Derrickson gives us some creepy moments throughout but, doesn’t really deliver the real scares and chills till the entity goes on the attack and Sarchie and Mendoza bond to confront it. It’s a little jarring but, it does work overall. The film is involving and interesting when it’s not being spooky though it could have used a bit more intensity and atmosphere like it gives us in the final act and it is plagued by some very familiar elements that we’ve seen time and time again in possession themed movies. We get swarms of flies, flickering lights, scratching noises and oddly behaving children’s toys and it is these overused elements that hold the movie back somewhat from really chilling us. Whether this is really what happened to Sarchie and his family or not, we’ve seen it all before. Even as the entity targets his 6 year old daughter, it reminds us of countless other flicks. But, Derrickson’s direction is solid and he has a really effective visual style. He is also supported by a really good cast, who all shine here, and while the film does have yet another exorcism scene, the director manages to craft a really effective one that actually throws in a few new twists on another overly familiar trapping of this type of flick. Too bad he couldn’t have freshened up some of the other time-worn elements a bit more, then this film would have been a real goose bump inducing treat throughout and not just in it’s last act when things get really intense and spooky. Flick is also not above getting gruesome, which it does at times with some top notch gore FX.

But, getting back to the cast, everyone is strong across the board and that helps get past the familiarity of it all. Bana is exceptional as Sarchie and I’m not his biggest fan. He takes us from good New York cop, who sometimes sees too much of the dark side of human nature, to one who recognizes there is even darker forces out there and its willing to fight them. Edgar Mendoza is also exceptional as the very unconventional priest and demonologist who has some past demons of his own and he and Bana really work together well. They have a great onscreen chemistry and the two opposing characters support each other very effectively. I also loved Community’s Joel McHale as Sarchie’s tough, tattooed but, wise-cracking partner. These two really work well together and their bond comes across as authentic and McHale paints an endearing character who is a bit of a wise-ass but, also a badass when he needs to be. I hope this leads to McHale’s talent finally being recognized and getting more major movie roles. He is leading man material. Harris and Coy are very creepy as our possessed former soldiers. We only get to see Johnsen’s Griggs in flashback footage so, there isn’t much he is given to do. We also get a nice down-to-earth turn by Olivia Munn as Sarchie’s wife Jen and Lulu Wilson is cute and precocious as 6 year old daughter Christina. Rounding out is a very creepy Olivia Horton as Jane Crenna, another of the possessed who gets some of the film’s more unnerving scenes. A really top notch cast that help elevate this above the routine.

So, in conclusion, Deliver Us From Evil is a routine possession thriller merged with a routine cop thriller but, elevated by some really good performances from it’s cast and a director who effectively cranks up the juice in the final act and gives us a few chills in the meantime. The film is weighed down by some all too familiar elements that we’ve seen in countless possession themed films but, is effectively directed enough to entertain and chill us, so we can be a bit forgiving and have had a creepy good time by the time the credits roll. A good and sometimes very effective horror that could have been better but, considering the familiarity of the elements involved, is a lot better then one might expect.

3 stuffed owls.

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