Friend Request (2016)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2017

GENRE: GHOST, REVENGE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I've seen a couple people make the joke that Friend Request looks like something one might mock up for a film that needed a cheesy horror movie playing in the background (you know, for the two or three movies per decade that don't just use Night of the Living Dead), but for what little it's worth, it's actually the best of this year's crop of college kid-centric horror flicks. Unlike Rings, Bye Bye Man, and Wish Upon, I didn't spend the running time rolling my eyes or trying to keep track of how many plot holes it already racked up - I was actually enjoying it in a low-key, timekiller way until its endless and misguided third act. Props for trying something a little different in one of these things, but it didn't quite work due to not being properly set up, and probably accounts for the film's low grades more than anything else.

And by "one of these things" I mean yet another movie where our heroes get freaked out by a vengeful ghost for an hour or so and then decide that the only way to stop the thing that's been killing their friends is to drive to the old _____ (burnt out commune, here) and put the body to rest or whatever. It's amazing how these places are always a couple hours' drive away from where the protagonists live - just once I want to see one where they discover the old factory/asylum/warehouse/whatever is actually located in another country and they can't find a flight. OR, less jokingly, they discover the place is a full day's drive away, but relatively early in the film, and turn the 2nd half or so into more of a road chase, so that we can at least get a change of scenery and a kind of ticking clock scenario that you don't often get in these sort of movies. But alas, they follow the template of The Ring fairly closely, which might have worked better if we didn't have a genuine (well, technically genuine) Ring movie just six months ago.

Hilariously, like Rings, this one's been on the shelf for a while - it was actually shot in early 2014, and released in Germany last year. Why it took so long to come here is unknown, but oddly enough the movie's approximation of Facebook is a pretty close match to what we have now*, so it didn't feel as dated as you might expect for a nearly four year old production about the internet. They never actually use the name "Facebook" (I call it Fauxbook), but the social media site that the ghost uses to spread her terror is pretty much identical, with little variations in the terminology (like "Spread" instead of "Share") to keep them from being sued I guess. It's a good choice, I think - previous films have built their versions from the ground up, which automatically disconnects the audience its catering to as we instantly recognize it as phony. Here, you might just assume it's the real FB, and so the movie's central concepts - accepting strangers as "friends", the jealous rage one gets when seeing their friends having fun when they weren't invited, etc. - work as intended, without the usual distraction of seeing all the characters being obsessed with a social media app the audience recognizes as fake.

Anyway, for those uninitiated, the central conceit is that a fairly popular college sophomore named Laura accepts a friend request (hey, that's the title!) from Marina, a "weird" girl in her class, feeling sorry for her as she has no other fauxbook friends. Marina's nice at first, but then becomes overly pushy, tagging Laura in all her posts and messaging her nonstop about hanging out, missing her, etc. After Laura has a birthday party that she doesn't invite Marina to, the latter freaks out and kills herself - but she films herself doing it and posts the video on Laura's wall. And then continues doing so, from beyond the graaaaaaaaaave! Or, you know, whatever. Anyway, Laura's social circle starts shrinking as the friends begin dying off one by one in mysterious ways, and videos of their deaths are also posted on her timeline. Because of this, the 800 or so other people start defriending her (after leaving comments like "U R SICK!" and such), and Marina's plan becomes clear - she wants Laura to be "friendless", like her.

It's not the worst concept for a movie, really (plus it's not just a generic online ghost - she's actually a witch!), and if they really dug into the psychology of our obsession with social media and used the ghost-y stuff as more of a backdrop, it might have been a really great little slice of social commentary. The 800+ randoms is something that they don't really explore; we get graphics every now and then showing her declining friend numbers, but who are these people? We only ever see Laura with her five besties and her mom - were the others just complete strangers as well? Does she care that these people, who can't even really be called acquaintances, aren't going to see her statuses anymore? There's a minor subplot about how they can't delete their profiles (Marina's ghost won't let them), but it would have been interesting if she simply WOULDN'T delete hers, because she'd lose all her virtual friends. I myself never take anyone on Facebook that I don't actually know, but I know a number of friends who accept every request they get and somehow notice when one of these folks drop them ("Who unfriended me? I had 895, now I have 894!"), so I wish the movie took more time on the idea that these "friends" aren't actually friends at all and Marina is just one of many who were inadvertently scorned by conflating real life friendship with a virtual one.

But instead we just get the usual shit: someone dies, it looks like an accident, there's a suspicious cop who wonders why our protagonist knows two recent victims of tragedy, then another one dies, lather, rinse, repeat. While I was grateful that their phones had nothing to do with their demises, none of the deaths are particularly interesting (or graphic; the film's R rating is mostly for the six or seven F bombs), and you can easily guess the order in which they occur to boot, so it makes it an even bigger bummer that they didn't spend more time on the online obsession angle. Laura is even enrolled in a psych class that is currently on the topic of social media dependency, and the professor has this John Hurt/Jared Harris kind of authoritative presence, making it seem like he might be a more important character down the road, but he's largely dropped from the proceedings after a while. To be fair she's eventually suspended due to being a seeming liability for the school (even though it happens every few minutes it seems, she never thinks to take out her phone or laptop and show the police that she isn't the one posting snuff films and that her account can't be deleted, so the school thinks she's nuts), but again, it seemed like a missed opportunity not to include this guy on the action, if they wanted to *say* something about the very thing the teenagers in the audience will likely start looking at before the credits roll (the opportunities for a meta sequel are RIPE!).

Now I gotta get into spoilers, so skip the next paragraph if you want more surprises.

All that said it's really not all that bad until the third act, where they make a choice that is laudably unexpected and even somewhat daring (for this brand of horror, I mean), by having one of the friends realize that they can be spared Marina's wrath if Laura isn't alive to be alone. So he tries to kill her, and the finale becomes more of a slasher film chase climax, with Marina just hanging out on the sidelines I guess. I admit I didn't see it coming, but that's largely due to the fact that it's not really set up at all. The would-be killer is her friend-zoned buddy Kobe, who is also the requisite hacker type who offers up exposition like "These posts aren't written with any kind of code that I've ever seen before!", i.e. the kind of shit that means nothing in time that they maybe could have spent hinting at his out of nowhere villain turn. He even kills one of the other friends, which makes even less sense, and this all goes down during an endless climax that has Laura travel to the aforementioned commune, but then to another location after discovering the commune is a dead end. When she's not being pursued by Kobe she's just wandering around dimly lit hallways, with Marina making precious few appearances - so when they have Laura go through these motions again at a different place, I felt my last bit of goodwill toward the movie fade away.

It's not a total failure like its aforementioned peers, however. For starters, they believe in James Wan's rule about fake scares, in that there shouldn't be any - two 'classic' ones are set up (a refrigerator door being held open for an unusually long time, and a fogged mirror about to be wiped away) without the expected BOO! moment after, and there are no sudden doorbell/phone ringing kinda ones, either. In fact, the closest the movie gets to one is not only kind of effective in its carnival funhouse kind of way, but it's also thematically appropriate - Laura watches one of those "Hey look at this cute video" things where the subject (a cat, in this case) suddenly morphs into a possessed demon and shrieks. And then there are a few subtle scare moments without any attention being drawn to them, like when a character turns away from his laptop but his reflection on the screen stays frozen in place. Nothing particularly earth shattering, mind you, but it at least shows they were trying to avoid the pratfalls of so many others, and not wasting the audience's energy on false scare moments. It also makes good use of the fauxbook layout/function to introduce us to all of the primary characters quickly, showing their profiles and an assortment of pics/statuses that inform us what they're like and how they relate to one another in a few seconds of mostly dialogue-free screentime, as opposed to awkward expository dialogue that takes a lot longer. It's a shorthand I've seen in other films, but since this one's actually ABOUT this social media platform, it also works as introduction for how *it* works, for the non-computer types in the crowd who might have little idea what Facebook even is, i.e. the parents that will have to bring their kids to this inexplicably R-rated movie.

So basically it's not a good movie but it's also not as bad as many reviews will have you believe, the ones that will be an unfortunate product of the tendency to grade everything on a "fresh/rotten" scale with no room for the middle ground that it actually occupies. Sure, in the wake of It it might seem like the bottom of the barrel, but comparing this kind of thing to that juggernaut is highly unfair. The film actually belongs in the same class as Bye Bye Man and those others I mentioned, and to my eyes it's an improvement on those (though not quite up to par with the similar Unfriended, which took full advantage of its cyber-scenario and didn't skimp on the death scenes, not to mention fleshed out all of its characters as opposed to just the lead), and after Annabelle: Creation I appreciated something a little quieter that didn't seem to have a mandate to throw a scare at the audience every five minutes. They were putting some effort into making an effective horror film in the vein of the 2002 Ring, so even though they missed the mark I can at least appreciate that I wasn't spending 90 minutes feeling like the filmmakers thought I was an idiot. Much obliged!

What say you?

*Unless they updated it digitally - there was an inordinate number of VFX companies listed in the credits, despite the fact that there aren't a lot of obvious CGI effects for the ghost or kill scenes, which are also very brief anyway. So it's possible they went back and updated the Fauxbook screens to be more timely, as we all know how often they change it.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Mother! (2017)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2017

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I don't read as much as I'd like, but even if I had all the time in the world I probably wouldn't read the Bible, as I got enough in (Catholic) grade school to know the basic gist, even if some of those particulars are fading in my memory. And I certainly wouldn't read the sort of publications that inform you about celebrities' current dating/marriage status, because there is literally nothing in the world I can imagine caring about less than where anyone besides myself sticks his dick. But if you want to get the most out of Mother! (I'm not doing the lowercase) I might suggest reading up on both, or at least the former while also knowing that director Darren Aronofsky is now dating Jennifer Lawrence, as it helps clarify some of the autobiographical details he has laced his heavily allegorical film with. Though I should stress I didn't know they were dating until after I walked out of the theater, having enjoyed what I saw despite not knowing the current history of its filmmaker.

SPOILERS FOLLOW! The ad campaign has been vague and therefore pretty much any detail counts as a spoiler, but I'm gonna get into it because otherwise there wouldn't be a lot for me to say. You've been warned!!!

If you choose to ignore any deeper meaning or symbolism in the film, you might enjoy it just for its sheer insanity, as this is possibly the nuttiest goddamn movie ever put on over 2,000 screens - and that includes Aronofsky's previous film, Noah, which had giant rock monsters helping to tell the story of the famous ark. It starts off like a low-key home invasion movie of sorts, with Lawrence and her husband (Javier Bardem) enjoying their quiet life in their isolated home when Ed Harris shows up, claiming he thought the place was a B&B and asking to stay the night. Then his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and Lawrence starts getting a bit weirded out, as Pfeiffer is a bit too forward (it seems like only ten minutes go by after their introduction that she's asking them about their sex life) and Bardem is being way too accomodating. Then more people show up. Then more. And then even more. If nothing else, this movie must have the largest cast for a single location movie ever made, as the camera never leaves JLaw's face for more than a second or two, and her character never leaves the house. But even if no one ever showed up besides Harris and Pfeiffer, it'd still be a terrific exercise in creating tension; from the film's first minute or two we're already made uneasy by how people treat Lawrence, and even though nothing particularly chilling is happening to her, you'll probably start hoping for any break in the anxiety and dread Aronofsky manages to build up with almost nothing happening.

Oh and I'm not calling the characters by their real names out of laziness - they aren't really given any in the film. Bardem is "Him", Lawrence is "Mother" (not "Her", tellingly), Ed Harris is "Man", etc. There's no way to know them until the end credits, so they don't really matter in the long run, but if you missed the biblical connections in the film, crediting Harris and Pfeiffer's children (yep, they show up too) as "Oldest Son" and "Younger brother" should remind you of Cain & Abel, and you can start filling in the others from there - depending on how well versed in the bible you are, of course. It reminded me of Antichrist (a movie I damn near hated), which credited the leads as "He" and "She" and dealt with similar plot threads (marriage, misogyny, etc) while also being the kind of movie that will likely cause walkouts at your screening, though I only saw one (maybe two? I saw two people leave and not come back, but one was sitting in front of me so it was more noticeable that they didn't return - I might have just not seen the other re-enter) at mine. I mean, even though the ads were very WTF? and Aronofsky has never been a "multiplex" kind of filmmaker, folks might STILL find this a bit too much.

But I love crazy, even if I'm not always sure the meaning behind any of it happening. Sometimes it's just kind of awesome to see an Oscar winning actress storm around her house that's been gradually overtaken by insane fans (Bardem's character is a bestselling poet who is mounting a comeback), tearing apart her walls and setting up club equipment for a mini rave in her living room (told you, it's weird). Better, smarter writers than me will write 1,200 word essays on these kind of moments and find fascinating explanations for their inclusion - I on the other hand was just stoked to see character actor extraordinaire Stephen McHattie show up, as I don't think he's been in a wide release from Hollywood in several years (Immortals, maybe? from 2011) and it's nice to see him in something besides some TV show or junky Canadian horror flick. I also had no idea Kristen Wiig was in the movie, so when she showed up I was just as surprised as Lawrence's character, who by that point was having trouble of finding new ways to make a "What NOW?" kind of face as more and more people kept barging into her home and making it their own.

See, even if you ignore the Bible stuff, the movie kind of works as a heightened tale on how difficult it is to share the love your life with his (or her) fanbase, as these people mean well but can be rather intrusive. Bardem points out that he needs to connect with these people to get ideas and be able to create, something he can't get from sitting at home alone with his wife all the time, and Lawrence is devastated that she can't be enough no matter how hard she tries to fulfill his needs (during the movie's few quiet moments she is usually trying to restore his family home, which was largely destroyed in a fire and she is now rebuilding it). This has been read as Aronofsky admitting (defending?) his apparent penchant for being in relationships with his actresses, relationships that haven't worked out, but as a minor creative type I think it's more universal than that, and not even just to men - to all creative folks. Bardem's not wrong - maybe some people can conjure fantastic stories (or whatever their chosen medium may be) without new experiences, but he's not one, and his wife is seemingly devoted to recreating the past and afraid to try anything new (she turns down a drink of some exotic alcohol after insisting she likes to drink, for example).

In fact, if not for a pregnancy plot that takes up the film's second half, I feel the roles could probably be swapped and you could have a healthy chunk of the same takeaway (plus maybe if the roles were swapped it might make me feel less guilty for all of the times I went out to see horror movies so I could write something instead of staying home with my wife). I don't have to deal with it often, but even on my very minor level of (lack of better word here, trust me) fame I occasionally encounter people who just assume we are friends because they follow me on Twitter or whatever, and it feels fairly intrusive if I'm with my kid or even with a few other friends - yet I feel guilty if I just mumble a "thanks" and walk away. The push and pull is, like everything else in the movie, exaggerated to an insane degree, but the same point is being made - anyone in a position to have fans needs their support, and when they overstep their boundaries it can be difficult to tell them to back off, and therefore they're never sure when they've crossed the line. But at the same time we might not inform them of this, so it's not their fault that they are unaware they were off-putting. So in this movie's batshit version of the world, Bardem creating a baby with his wife is no different than creating a new poem to be read - his fans want it, Bardem doesn't want to create conflict with the people who adore him, and that's where the film REALLY goes off the rails.

(Oh, and keeping with the Biblical theme - he's God, by the way. So there's that, but I don't know enough about Aronofsky to make any assumptions with what he's saying there, so let's move on, with respect.)

Indeed, the baby's birth and what happens in its life shortly thereafter is probably where the movie lose the most people. The first half is the buildup to the conception, and the second half is when she's about to pop (it's not "nine months later" per se - the movie is just as vague with time as it is with names, and given that it's not a particularly realistic film by any stretch, it could be the next day for all we know), and once again her home is overrun by strangers (the first batch, with Ed Harris and the rest, are scared off by a burst pipe - i.e. driven out by a flood, in keeping with the biblical ties). If nothing else, you gotta appreciate how much action Aronofsky is able to cram into this damn house - we get raves, riots, shootouts, masses... it kind of reminded me of Snowpiercer in a weird way, with each room of this house being a microcosm not unlike each train of the car was one (hey, Ed Harris was in that too - maybe let's double feature this with that instead of Antichrist). At a certain point it becomes kind of obvious that Lawrence is never going to leave that house, so I kind of love that they staged five action movies' worth of stunt men and scenarios into it instead - I hope like hell the Blu-ray has a production design featurette, if nothing else.

In fact a lot of what I liked about the movie ended up being on the technical side of things as opposed to its characters (ciphers) and narrative (a mish-mash - by design! - of biblical themes and personal struggles). For starters, it's actually shot on film (16mm, I believe), which is such a rarity these days I momentarily thought something was wrong with the projection before I realized it was just film grain. And even though I'm not exactly a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence, I love the fact that we never leave her POV even for a moment, and she's probably in 90% of the movie's shots, if not more (even cutaways to other characters are frequently over her shoulder or something) - we're never made privy to a single detail that she didn't catch herself, easily making us as uneasy and paranoid as the character. There's a scene where Harris is puking, seemingly naked, and (Bible alert!) sporting a fresh wound near his ribs - she wasn't there when he got the injury (or took his clothes off), so we're never informed what the hell that was all about. I love stuff like that, which goes a long way toward keeping me engaged in the film even though I couldn't tell you what was going on and/or necessarily caring about anyone on-screen in the usual way.

Ultimately, it falls into that category of movies I "appreciate" more than I traditionally "enjoy", like Kidnapped or Martyrs, albeit for different reasons (apart from the aforementioned beating, which lasts only about 20-30 seconds, there's nothing "hardcore" about the film's violence). I'd much rather read other people's interpretations, even ones I disagreed with, than watch the film again, though I still encourage folks to check it out if they think they know what they're in for (and no, it's not really anything like Rosemary's Baby, despite what the posters seemed to be suggesting at one point - though it was a nice misdirect for the early goings on). I suspect it will get an F Cinemascore, which puts it in good company with the likes of Solaris, Bug, and Killing Them Softly (the only F Cinemascore movie I DON'T like is Darkness, in fact), and probably won't do anyone's careers any good, but who cares? It's a remarkable achievement both in the "hey, you've never seen anything like this before" way and also the fact that Paramount put up a lot of money to make and release it wide, instead of dumping it in limited release/VOD. The idea that some suburban soccer mom (or even better, her Katniss Everdeem loving daughter) will walk into their local mall multiplex and see this makes me super giddy, and that's more than enough to qualify it was a win in my house.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

It: Chapter One (2017)

SEPTEMBER 8, 2017

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Like pretty much everyone in my generation, I have vivid memories of watching the ABC miniseries of Stephen King's It, rewatching the taped broadcast enough to even remember some of the commercials that played during it. Given its length (3+ hours, plus commercial fast-forwarding time) I'm surprised I watched it as often as I did, as I revisited the film on Blu-ray earlier this year and found myself remembering tiny details (like Ben breaking his newly won award when he stumbles out of his limo) as if I had just watched the movie the day before. However, I've only found the time to read the book once, in I think 2004 when I lived in Boston and was making a dent in my backlog of unread novels during my 45-ish minute per way commute, so it wasn't "special" as it is to many of my peers. But in a way I think this was ideal for approaching this long-awaited theatrical adaptation - I have more nostalgia and connection to the flawed miniseries than the novel that is frequently cited as one of King's best, and certainly the favorite of many of his fans*. Thus, it's easier for me to see what this movie "fixed" as opposed to "ruined", which is how I'm sure some people will describe the deviations from the source material.

Now in the wake of The Dark Tower I must assure you that this is, for all intents and purposes, a very faithful adaptation of the "past" parts of the book. Georgie's murder is pretty much recreated to the letter, and every major beat is accounted for - it's just the details that are different. Some of the kids' individual fears have been changed, so Richie is afraid of clowns instead of the Wolfman, and Stan is terrified of a creepy ass painting in his father's office instead of that mummy/corpse thing. I don't think this matters in the long run, but I've had too many conversations over the years with book fans who get angry when a movie adaptation changes a character's hair color or whatever, so they might get angry at these variations. For the rest of us normal people, if you want to see a movie where seven "losers" band together to defeat an unspeakable evil that appears every 27 years, one that manifests itself as their fears but most of the time takes on the form of a clown named Pennywise, you should be pretty happy with the results.

It's funny, I was running a bit late this morning when trying to get to the theater in time and didn't bother inspecting my shirts before grabbing one, and I happened to pull out my Shining shirt - the most polarizing King film due to the fact that it's an unnerving and terrifying piece of entertainment but also makes many (too many, for some) changes from the novel, i.e. great movie, terrible adaptation. But while Kubrick was changing things to fit his own worldview, director Andy Muschietti and a number of screenwriters only change details in order to keep things fresh, while retaining King's overall tone and atmosphere in a manner few of his films have ever quite mustered. I'm talking Frank Darabont levels of "getting it", where you get the idea anything they changed King himself would probably agree was a good idea (as opposed to Shining, where he still seems annoyed by the changes Kubrick made), and if your memories of the book are just as hazy as mine, you probably won't even realize there's much of a difference at all.

Except, of course, the timeframe. The book starts in the present day and frequently cuts back and forth, a format that was retained for the miniseries, but there is no framing device or flash forward or anything of that nature here. If you've never read the book or saw the other movie, you'd have no idea that we're due to meet these kids again in thirty years - which added a lot to the suspense. The movie runs 135 minutes or so, and by the time they enter the sewers to confront It, it's been made clear that they aren't afraid to make some changes, so it's very possible to think that some of them might not survive the battle, allowing for some terror that was impossible in the other versions as we'd always be seeing the present day version REMEMBER these things, as opposed to how they're presented here, which is "now" (now being the summer of 1989). I wouldn't dare spoil whether or not that occurs, but the fact that I was sitting there, for the very first time, worried that Richie would die? That was kind of unexpected, and a big part of why I enjoyed the film - it was these rather simple and innocuous changes that really helped draw me into the movie.

So let's talk about 1989, since that's probably the most noticeable difference. The original book was published in 1986 and the setting was 1957-1958, so the change fits - it's roughly thirty years ago for the audience it's intended for, just as King's book was, making it a perfectly acceptable deviation, allowing folks my age to smile at the (thankfully few) little period details, such as the theater showing Burton's Batman, and kids talking about Michael Jackson without it being an icky thing (this was pre-accusations). My favorite, surprisingly, was a little running gag about Ben being a fan of New Kids on the Block, a secret only Bev knows and keeps to herself, while teasing him about it whenever possible (one pun seemed to go over the heads of everyone else in my audience; not sure if I'm just "old" or if I'm the only one who found it as funny). Usually I groan at these kind of things, but the screenwriters kept it to a minimum and used them for character moments like this, as opposed to just having them reference every single late 80s property they could cram in just for the sake of appeasing folks who get hard reading Ready Player One.

One such reference actually helped hammer home something that was working subconsciously on me. As the summer wears on, Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 are replaced by Nightmare on Elm Street 5 (the theater only shows WB/New Line movies, naturally), and at the sight of this throwaway little detail it fully clicked: this is basically a big budget, "classy" version of a Nightmare sequel, with Pennywise standing in for old-school Freddy, who would talk and maybe make you grin, but wasn't a full blown jokester like he was in the later sequels. Like Freddy, Pennywise uses the kids' individual fears against them, and the big scare setpieces work as standalone slices of terror that will likely warp the minds of anyone who shares similar paranoia (such as blood, corpses, and of course clowns). Indeed, one of my few complaints about the film is that these sequences are often just kind of presented sans setup, like they will just cut to one kid at home or riding their bike right before something scary happens. In the Elm St movies this disconnect made sense - the kids were dreaming, after all (and usually ended up dead at the end), but here it's like they could be re-arranged in the edit without it really mattering, as it takes a while for them to start confessing to one another that they've seen some freaky shit. I wouldn't say it was a crippling flaw or anything, but there was definitely more than one occasion that I wondered how much time had passed since the previous scene or where the character was going in the first place when they encountered It.

Another thing that gave it some unexpected Elm Street flavor was the minimized adult presence. The Elm Street kids often had single parent situations (if we ever met them at all), and here we only get the barest glimpses of any of them besides Eddie's mom and Bev's dad (who is more terrifying than Pennywise, I think). Bill's mom is only seen once in the entire movie, silently playing the piano, and even though Mike's grandfather (instead of his dad, who is now dead - they kind of mix and match Ben and Mike's stories for whatever reason) is played by the only recognizable adult actor in the movie (Steven Williams), we only see him once as well. It makes sense - it's the kids' story after all - but I wish they could have at least spent a little more time with Bill's parents, since the loss of Georgie hangs over his every move (I actually teared up when he explains how it's easier for him to walk into a house where Pennywise might be than it is for him to walk into his own, knowing his little brother won't be there), and yet his parents never seem to care that he's seemingly never home. A quick scene showing that they're so numb to Georgie's death that they don't even notice if Bill is there or not, OR a scene where we see that he has to sneak out or lie about his whereabouts, might have helped a bit. But maybe that's just my overprotective dad shit kicking in, hahaha.

My only other issue was the CGI for a few of Pennywise's other forms. Bill Skarsgård is terrific as the clown and makes the role his own in the same way that Heath Ledger made us forget about Jack Nicholson for two hours, making it all the more disappointing when he appears as a CGI ghoul of some sort (it's an issue that plagued Muschietti's previous film, Mama, where his practical creation got "fixed" by subpar visual FX). Pennywise's... I dunno what you call it, freaky fast shuffling thing (you see it on the trailer where he tramples through the flooded basement) also got a bit tiresome after awhile - he's at his best/scariest when it's simply Skarsgård talking and making expressive faces without really moving much at all, honestly. The film is otherwise gorgeous to look at, for the record - they got Chan-Wook Park's usual DP Chung-hoon Chung to shoot the film, and it not only nails the period look but lets Skarsgård's eyes do the heavy lifting in darker scenes. There is no question that his sewer introduction will cause just as many, if not far more, nightmares as the miniseries did with its own version of the scene.

The kids are all great too, to the extent that I almost wish they could just wait 30 years to shoot the 2nd half with them reprising their roles instead of recasting, likely with familiar faces. Apart from the kid playing Richie (who was in Stranger Things, though I forget which character he played since I never finished it) I didn't recognize any of them and the movie was the better for it. There's a push for Jessica Chastain to play the adult Bev, and while I normally would never argue with hiring Jessica Chastain for anything, I'm just going to see the awesome actress I've loved in a dozen other movies, as opposed to "Beverly Marsh", which is how I see the girl who played her here, as I've never seen her in anything else and she is absolutely wonderful. Ditto for the kid who played Ben, who might be my favorite character and thankfully got plenty of screentime (and encountered the movie's creepiest one-off visual, one of the dead kids from the Easter Egg hunt disaster). I kept expecting familiar faces to pop up as the parents, but apart from the aforementioned Williams I had just as much of a blank slate with them as I did the kids, and I hope they find a way to retain that for the sequel, allowing us to fully believe in the world instead of seeing people we already know from elsewhere. The movie's gonna make something like 90 million dollars this weekend - they clearly do not need big stars to sell tickets, and it'd be cool to see that kind of feel recreated.

But even if they rope in the biggest stars in the world, I'll be there on day one for the followup, since the creative crew is said to be returning and they clearly have a strong handle on the material. It's not a perfect film, but it's a damn good one and one of the best Stephen King movies ever. And before you say "That's a low bar", it really isn't - if you strip out the sequels that weren't using his material, unnecessary redoes (Carrie 2013, anyone?), and anything Mick Garris was involved with, it's actually a pretty solid collection of movies, most of which are just as good as their source material even if things are changed. I mean, it's not like Lawrence Kasdan was the one to make Dreamcatcher as fucking batshit as it is - it's actually a pretty faithful adaptation! And despite more scrutiny given the book's popularity, not to mention the switch in director from someone people really love (Cary Fukunaga, who apparently wanted to have a scene where Henry Bowers molests a sheep) to someone whose sole film was overshadowed by its producer (Guillermo del Toro), had some people worried that this could be a disaster or, at best, another forgettable misfire like last month's Dark Tower. But no - this is gonna terrorize a generation of kids and win over their parents as well, so now the only fear is if the second half can live up to it.

What say you?

*Mine is The Long Walk, which ain't ever getting made into a movie, I suspect.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Offerings (1989)

SEPTEMBER 7, 2017

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: STREAMING (YOUTUBE)

A couple years ago, John Carpenter sued the makers of Lockout for ripping off Escape From New York a bit too much for his liking, and actually won, which set a potentially fascinating precedent for future lawsuits. In fact, JC could easily win again if he ever decided to follow suit against Christopher Reynolds, whose debut (and, penultimate) film Offerings is so much like Halloween it's actually kind of jarring when the film does something different. The music is nearly identical, the plot is more or less the same thing (sans the holiday, but that barely played a part in Carpenter's film anyway), there are a number of key scenes recreated... it even has a classroom scene where fate is discussed! Believe me, I've seen a number of Halloween ripoffs over the years, but I can't recall another that was so committed to stealing so liberally from it. It's almost charming.

I could probably fill up the length of a review with a list of examples (such as when the heroine gets a silent phone call, hangs up, then screams at the next caller only to discover it's her best friend), but that'd get boring quick so I'll do my best to stick to what's actually different. For starters, the movie combines the two most classic slasher movie setups: we have a kid who is clearly already evil (he kills small animals, a move later swiped back in turn by Rob Zombie for his Halloween remake), but he's also the victim of a prank gone wrong, which is usually what you do when you want some semblance of sympathy for the guy when he inevitably returns to take revenge x number of years later (it's ten here, for the record). Since he was already nuts I'm not sure why they bothered with the prank thing, but I guess it's one of the few other things to distinguish it from Halloween, in that he has a reason to go after these people. And yes, in case you're wondering, he begins his revenge plan when he escapes from the institute, in fulfillment of the scriptures.

Another change is actually a spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you want the film's few surprises preserved.

Naturally, there's a Loomis type character, his shrink who now works as a college professor (and whose relation to the killer, John Bradley, isn't made clear until later, so it just seems like the sheriff is keeping some random professor in the loop). He makes a few appearances throughout the film, all of them (wait for it) copied from Halloween - finding a dead animal, seeing a disturbed grave - but with about 20 minutes to go, he finally meets face to face with his former patient. It's a scene kind of like Loomis' interactions with Michael in Halloween 5, actually, but Reynolds couldn't have seen that one yet as this movie was released a few months before H5 was, so he came up with the idea on his own or ripped it off from another movie. Anyway, Bradley kills the guy in this scene, leaving the sheriff to be the one to take him down at the end. Whether it was intentional or not it gives the movie its own form of surprise: by copying Halloween so much, this actually comes off as a twist of sorts, kind of like how Savini's NOTLD remake stuck to the exact same thing for an hour and then turned Barbara into an asskicker just when we were about ready to assume nothing else would be different.

If only they copied the pace! Halloween itself is hardly the fastest paced movie ever made, but it's on Michael Bay overload compared to this one, which commits the cardinal sin of slashers: spending a good chunk of the day introducing everyone, then starting to off them all... and then cutting to the next morning, with another half hour or so to go. Plus the heroine and her bestie are already on edge due to a couple of friends disappearing and also finding human remains on their porch, so watching them fart for another day waiting for nightfall is a hugely crippling flaw, in a movie that few will be fully engaged with by that point anyway. The poor acting, shitty kills (none of them are really on-screen), and dull visuals (the killer has a messed up face, but we barely ever see it, though he has no costume either) will have the audience already wanting it to be over with, so hitting pause when the third act should really be getting going was probably the last straw for anyone who rented it back in the day.

Speaking of which, I'm almost positive I did, because the opening scene felt really familiar and I also remembered seeing a slasher with Halloween ripoff music, but nothing else rang a bell. It's possible I rented it, got bored and/or fell asleep and returned it without finishing (I would have rewound it though, I'm not a monster), or there was somehow another movie that did the same thing, but it's just as likely the movie's blandness didn't manage to stick in my memory. Indeed, just this week I was going through a bunch of boxes from my mom's attic and finding essays and the like that I wrote in college (so, not as long ago as this theoretical VHS rental) and having no recollection of writing them - and that was something I was (somewhat) personally invested in! So it's not too crazy to think I'd forget everything about some shitty slasher movie I saw in 7th grade or whatever.

Anyway, if you'd like to see it for yourself, it's on Youtube. You can buy a bootleg quality DVD from Amazon to make yourself feel better if you want, but they are from companies that specialize in public domain stuff sourced from VHS, so none of that money is going toward Reynolds or anyone else involved with the movie. But sooner or later Arrow or Scream Factory or one of their brethren will rescue this thing from obscurity, and I will pick up the special edition right away. Not to watch the movie again, but to dive into the extras and see what the filmmakers have to say about their "homage" to Carpenter's film (dream supplement: get JC to do a commentary as he watches the film for the first time). At least in movies like Hallowed they're going out of their way to acknowledge Halloween's influence (the title, they drive past the filming locations, etc.) while also coming up with their own story. No such luck here; there's no overt reference to Carpenter's film, and while the killer has a clear motive and even a little gimmick (the title refers to the body parts that he gives as presents to the one girl who was nice to him as a kid), it's basically the same movie, albeit a pretty stiff and forgettable one. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if I already rewatched it for the regular run of this site and forgot again.

What say you?

P.S. All due respect to Carpenter, Lockout is actually a pretty fun movie. And I bet it's better than the remake that they keep threatening.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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