REVIEW: SCREAM VI (2023)

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SCREAM VI (2023)

Neve Campbell-less sequel has previous installment survivors Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) and her sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) leaving Woodsboro and heading to the Big Apple with fellow survivors Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown). A year after the last installment’s events and right in time for Halloween, bodies start falling again and a familiar voice begins making those fateful phone calls. Along with Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), who is now an FBI agent, they try to stop Ghostface one and for all.

Latest installment in this enduring slasher franchise is again directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett from a script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. This is a brutal and vicious installment and actually works very well without Sydney Prescott’s involvement. The torch seems to rest fine in the hands of Tara and Sam, as does the refreshing change to the streets and subways of New York City. Setting it on Halloween is also a plus as now there are masked figures, especially Ghostface masks, everywhere. The kills are intense and nasty and this, along with a more 80s portrayal of NYC, with grimy streets, crowded subways and dark alleys, gives the film an even gritter edge. It’s an improvement over the so-so 2022 requel and does freshen up the franchise a bit even if the final act reveals aren’t quite as jaw dropping as we’d hoped. The violence is well rendered as always and is very intense although one feels that the trope of our heroes getting the upper hand on Ghostface then running away before finishing him off is getting really tiresome…understandably the movie would only be about a half hour long then if they did. At least Olpin and Gillett do have some fun with series expectations and relax the tiresome meta nonsense for a more straightforward slasher.

The cast is good here. Cox and Panettiere work well with the newer cast members, Panettiere especially with slipping back into the role of Kirby after 12 years. Her character’s explanation of why she became an FBI agent makes sense. Melissa Barrera again makes for a very strong lead as Sam, now dealing with the effects of the previous year’s attack and the savage internet fallout which paints Sam as the real villain. Rising star Jenna Ortega (X, Wednesday) gets far more to do here and is already a veteran in parts like this. Jasmin Savoy Brown is again fun as horror movie fan Mindy and Mason Gooding (Booksmart) is solid as Chad. Newcomers include Dermot Mulroney as Det. Bailey, Liana Liberato as his daughter and Tara and Sam’s roommate Quinn and Jack Champion as Chad’s roommate Ethan.

Overall, Scream VI doesn’t reinvent the franchise wheel but does freshen it up a bit with a new location, focusing more on the newer cast members and having a little fun with the franchise template. It’s also gritter and nastier than the last flick and delivers some brutal and intense scenes. The reveal could have had a bit more impact, but all in all Scream VI rates as one of the better sequels and shows the franchise still has some life in it yet.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Ghostfaces!

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BARE BONES: SIGNIFICANT OTHER (2022)

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SIGNIFICANT OTHER (2022)

Couple Ruth (Maika Monroe) and Harry (Jake Lacy) are taking a camping trip deep in the Pacific Northwest woods, something the anxiety prone Ruth is very nervous about. Jake uses the trip as a staging for a marriage proposal which is something Ruth is even more nervous about. Camping and engagement issues are the least of Ruth and Harry’s problems, though, as something landed in the nearby woods just the night before and it is something unearthly and with a sinister purpose.
 
Flick is written and directed by the duo of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen who made the darkly comic Villains also starring Monroe. The filmmakers nail the first two thirds of this flick by giving us an ominous opening as a mysterious object lands in the middle of the woods and a deer soon becomes victim to something otherworldly. We then meet Ruth and Harry who are having their own personal issues, as the anxiety filled Ruth is dreading their little deep woods excursion. This not only adds tension between the couple, but also with the audience who already know something malicious is waiting for the two in the woods that Ruth would rather not enter. The flick is loaded with atmosphere and is legitimately spooky, as it soon begins to appear that one of the two is no longer who they seem. So far, so good. It’s in the last act when the film loses its grip somewhat. While it remains atmospheric, we find out maybe a little too much about what is going on, and the delivery of this exposition on the extraterrestrial invader and its purpose is delivered in a borderline silly manner. The film does present an original and interesting caveat to the Body Snatchers/The Thing alien duplication scenario by presenting the other side of the coin. What effect on an alien doppelganger does the residual emotions of its human template have? This is an interesting angle to be sure, but one feels it could have been presented in a more intriguing and less matter-of-fact way. A cool concept sadly mishandled, and it causes all the tension built up in the first hour to dissipate. Maybe things should have been left a bit more ambiguous and the actor’s delivery less cavalier. It brings down a film that had impact in its first two-thirds. The movie simply reveals too much and in a very glib manner. Significant Other is still worth a look and very effective in many respects, but it just doesn’t handle its most interesting idea in the most effective way. Also stars Matthew Yang King and Dana Green as Ray and Vivian, another couple Ruth and Harry encounter.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2021)

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UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2021)

Documentary written and directed by Joe Bandelli starts us off with a brief history of found footage horrors from Cannibal Holocaust to The Mcpherson Tape, to The Blair Witch Project. We then meet Oren Peli who details how he got the idea for the first film, in this now classic franchise, from his own experiences hearing strange noises in his new home. He details the casting of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, who then join the documentary to give anecdotes of their own, on filming the first Paranormal Activity on a shoestring budget and with what barely could be called a script. The film then takes us on the long road to its eventual theatrical release, with interviews from various producers and horror journalists, as the film becomes a box office smash, and a franchise is born. Bandelli then brings in a host of actors and filmmakers as he takes us on the journey of the making of the film’s sequels, leading up to the recent seventh film that was still filming when this documentary was completed.

Bandelli crafts a fun and informative look at the history of one of modern horror’s most famous and successful movie franchises from the perspective of those involved. The writer/director brings in a host of talent from behind and in front of the cameras, to give a detailed and entertaining look at how what was basically little more than a home movie, turned into a near billion-dollar movie franchise. If you are a fan of this series, it is fun to see the stars from the original film, and all the sequels, return these many years later to describe their time working on the flicks, and even some honest commentary from the people involved on what led the series into its decline in the later installments. If you are a fan of the Paranormal Activity films and are curious about how it all came together, this is definitely a recommended watch on Paramount+.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: SCREAM (2022)

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SCREAM (2022)

Latest sequel finds Woodsboro once again the target of someone wearing the Ghostface mask. This time it’s Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), who is allowed to live only to lure estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) back to Woodsboro. Why is Ghostface so interested in Sam? Could a dark secret trailing back to the original Woodsboro murders have something to do with it? Sam and her friends have an edge though, as Dewey (David Arquette), Gail (Courteney Cox) and Sydney (Neve Campbell) have vowed to stop Ghostface once and for all!

Self-labeled “requel” is directed by the team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) from a script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. It’s more “meh” than meta as this fifth installment is showing that the Scream formula is running out of gas and this one in particular adds little new to revitalize the franchise. Even Sydney herself claims this Ghostface is the most derivative yet and she’s ironically not wrong. Our three veteran characters all seem visibly tired of this schtick, though the new cast members do try hard, especially Barrera and Ortega. The attempts to give fan service to the original film works only about half the time, though there are some impactful deaths of series characters. There are also some solid kills, a few suspenseful sequences, and some clever dialogue, but even Ghostface lacks a strong threat and the whole film simply felt like it was going through the motions. Even the film’s reveal lacked a strong impact and the reasons for this happening a fifth time seemed very convoluted. Worst of all, It’s actually a bit dull in spots. Something a slasher should never be.

The veterans are fine, but you get the feeling they are also going through the motions and are not really invested in having to do this yet again. Campbell, Cox and Arquette just don’t breathe the life into the characters that they did in the past installments and are actually overshadowed by some of the newcomers. Speaking of which, Melissa Barrera makes for a very strong lead as Sam, the focus of the newest Ghostface’s attention. She’s strong-willed and makes a solid final girl. Also solid is Jenna Ortega (The Babysitter: Killer Queen), who has been a familiar face in horror lately, and she does good work as Sam’s younger sister Tara. Ortega is sympathetic, but also shows some toughness in her encounters with Ghostface. Dylan Minnette (GooseBumps) is likable as the son of now Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) and Jack Quaid does a fine job as Sam’s boyfriend Richie. Rounding out the attractive young cast are Mikey Madison as Amber, Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding (Booksmart) as siblings Mindy and Chad and Sonia Ammar as Chad’s girlfriend Liv. A likable cast who deserved a stronger script and better movie.

Overall, this new Scream neither refreshes the franchise for a new generation nor gives it a strong finish— though if it ended here—which it probably won’t—it would be a fitting enough, though weak, send-off. It has some good kills, a few clever touches, and a solid young cast, but otherwise only seems to illustrate that this franchise is running out of gas. The veteran actors seem tired of it all and the script could have done more than put this installment through familiar paces. Entertaining to a degree, but also too slow and routine in spots to let it slide on some of it faults.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) Ghostfaces!

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RANDOM NONSENSE: WHY NOT WAN FOR STAR TREK 3?

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First off this is totally based on my opinion and at this time there is absolutely NO word or even distant rumors that this is even being considered. Wan is currently scheduled to direct Fast And Furious 7. It’s just MonsterZero NJ throwing his two cents out there. That being said…

It’s basically a fact that J.J. Abrams will not be returning to the director’s chair for Star Trek 3, which word suggests, Paramount Studios is hoping to get in theaters by 2016 for Star Treks’s 50th anniversary. The Into Darkness writing team appears to be returning and we’ve heard rumors of everyone from Attack The Block‘s Joe Cornish to Jon M. Chu to Rupert Wyatt to sit in the director’s chair. So, MonsterZero NJ asks… ‘why not Wan?’

James Wan is a good director with a great grasp of making familiar elements seem fresh. His haunted house movies like Insidious and The Conjuring took all the time honored elements of the haunted house thriller and gave them a new coat of paint and thus got an effectiveness out of things we’ve seen many times before. Perfect formula for keeping a 50 year old franchise from feeling like a… well… 50 year old franchise. Abrams’ 2009 Trek gave us fresh faces as endearing characters and added a time line shift to put a new spin on established events. It livened up a wilting franchise and as a long time Trek fan, I really think it gave this legendary series the shot in the arm it needed. I enjoyed Into Darkness, it has it’s critics and it does have flaws but, I don’t think it was damaging to the series as some hard core Trek fans believe. But, either way, keeping things fresh and moving forward is what needs to happen. I think Wan can do this.

One of the things I love about Wan’s films is he has a sumptuous visual style that would serve the Star Trek universe beautifully. His films look gorgeous whether it’s the haunting visuals of his Dead Silence or the gritty look of  the original Saw, Wan creates some stunning visuals in his camera lens and could make a visual feast out of the next Trek. And while we’re mentioning Wan’s supernatural thrillers, why not a horror tinged Star Trek? Wan wants a break from horror but, why not give the next Trek a refreshing alternative to another vengeful villain with a big ship like we had in the last two movies and give us something more intense and maybe with a supernatural element too. The original Star Trek series had quite a few horror/supernatural themed episodes, Specter Of The Gun with it’s ghostly recreation of The Gunfight At The OK Corral, the Jaws-like Devil In The Dark with the crew facing a subterranean creature and the very Halloween-ish Catspaw complete with witches and a giant black cat, to name a few. None of the movies have gone anywhere near this type of story and it would be a new direction for the theatrical films and a great fit for Wan who could do a big budget sci-fi and inject it with some intense horror or supernatural elements. Who better to give us a Star Trek that’ll make us spill our popcorn and yet keep it familiarly Star Trek. In Insidious 2 Wan also delivered a nice mystery element and Trek has gone there before in the Wolf In The Fold episode where Scotty was accused of a series of Jack The Ripper-like murders. The idea of a scary Star Trek flick or one tinged in mystery intrigues the movie geek in me no end.

The characters are already established and the actors playing them know them by now and know how to play them. And once Trek 3 is ready to roll, Wan will have already worked with established characters from the Fast And Furious series so, he’ll have a little more experience with an ensemble cast of well know characters. Though his recent supernatural films have had a bit of an ensemble going on so he’s not a novice in that department. And let’s face it, when Wan gets a good actor, he gets a good performance. Look no further then Lili Taylor’s powerhouse turn in The Conjuring, Rose Byrne in Insidious or Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence. Wan gets good work out of a good cast and I think we can agree that the new Star Trek has a great cast. I don’t see a problem with Wan giving us the characters we love yet, taking them to new places that we haven’t seen them go yet.

Wan also can direct some intense action and handle drama, two things that fuel Star Trek. He can create some taunt suspense and the series could use a real white knuckle outing. There was some nice suspense in the last two but, nothing that would really get you gripping your chair armrests over and it would be nice to come out of the next Star Trek feeling like you’d just been on a roller coaster or in a really great haunted house ride. I remember how I felt when I left the theater after seeing Poltergeist. Imagine leaving Star Trek 3 feeling all numb and giddy like that?! I think Wan can do this. Obviously it depends on the script and where the writers take the story but, I think James Wan could give the series yet another fresh turn and not overshadow what we already like about it. The film would look visually beautiful and depending on the story, we could get some solid suspense and maybe a few scares too. Imagine a Star Trek movie where you’re actually covering your eyes in fear at points? As a horror movie fan and a Trekkie since I was a kid… I’m getting goosebumps at the thought of it. Paramount, give Wan a chance.

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