Children of the Corn (2020)

JUNE 20, 2023

GENRE: CULT, KILLER KID
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Stephen King’s short story “Children of the Corn” is only 30 pages long, and yet it has somehow inspired a lengthy short film (retitled Disciples of the Crow, and worth seeing!) and three (3) feature films, not to mention all of the sequels. The 2009 version was more faithful to King’s story than the 1984 one, but both suffered from being clearly drawn out from a 30 page story (Disciples had no such issue, as it ran the same length in minutes). The two best films in the series were both sequels; 1994’s Urban Harvest and 2018’s Runaway, which was curiously a sequel to the remake despite being part of the Dimension brand (the 2009 film was a Syfy one), as if being free from King’s not particularly expansive story allowed the filmmakers to come up with something that worked as a genuine feature film. But in Children of the Corn (2020)’s case, writer/director Kurt Wimmer tossed out King’s story entirely in favor of something that… doesn’t work as a feature film. Weird tack.

To be fair, the one line synopsis is close enough: the kids in a Nebraska town kill all of the adults and worship a corn-dwelling monster called He Who Walks (the “Behind the Rows” part is dropped). But this all happens within the present day timeline of the film, as opposed to something that happened years ago like in the story/previous movies. The unsettling idea of stumbling into a town that’s been adult-free for the better part of a decade is a big part of what gives the story its power, so to toss it in favor of having it happen within the story (and without any outsiders) is an odd choice. And maybe it’d work as a prequel of sorts, fleshing out the briefly seen events from the other movies as a film of its own, but with the different town name (Rylstone) no Malachi or Isaac, etc. it doesn’t fit into anything, so it stands alone as a total reimagining.

Which would be fine if it was, you know, any good. But even though it’s reworked from the ground up it feels more padded than ever. The film opens with an older teen walking into an orphanage and killing all of the adults who work there, which prompts the sheriff and some local “good ol boys” to pump some lethal gas into the place to take him out, shrugging off that it’ll also kill the children who were staying there (and not being targeted by the older boy). The lone survivor, a 12ish girl named Eden, then rallies the other kids in town to wipe out their parents, but they attribute their anger to the parents ruining the corn with some experimental growth hormone, killing the town’s economy and now planning to take a buyout from the government, which (per the kids) “steals their future.” An interesting idea, sure, but… why the orphanage massacre, then? It’s basically forgotten after the first few minutes, and robs the film of a dozen potential cult members. Then again the whole “angry at the parents for selling the town out” angle barely factors into anything either after a while, so it’s just part of the random plotting that Wimmer keeps relying on throughout the film’s seemingly endless 93 minutes.

My favorite example happens around a half hour in or so, when our hero Bo (Elena Kampouris) and her brother decide to have a mock trial at the town hall to plead their parents not to agree to the government buyout. To do this they tie their father’s hands together while he sleeps, then wake him up and tell him he needs to come to the town hall (added hilarity: they keep saying the trial is at 10pm, but don’t even wake him up until 10:30, so they will be an hour late for their own idea. Stupid lazy kids), adding not to wake up their mother, who they’ve already bound as well, But then they cut outside and the mom is with them anyway, with both of them just sort of wearily going along with this kidnapping the way a parent might humor their kid by laughing along with them at Paw Patrol or something. Then they see signs of violence, and do they cut their parents loose? Nope, they just act like Eden’s being a little weird, despite crashed cars and the like. It’s like ten straight minutes of the film where no one acts like a human being, all so the plot can work. That it’s never clear what Bo was going to do if Eden hadn’t already started killing everyone in town just adds to the “Why are we watching this?” feeling.

It doesn’t help that Kampouris is noticeably older than the character she’s playing. We’re all used to seeing much older actors portraying teens (Kampouris was 22, 23 at the time of the production, playing 17), but it has a much different effect in this particular story, where the kids are the evildoers. Bo and her two friends (same age, if not older) aren’t on board with Eden’s wrath of terror, but it should come off as same-aged kids (KIDS) realizing right from wrong. Instead it’s like a trio of camp counselors catching their charges in the act of wrongdoing – of course they’re not going to go along with a bunch of 10 year olds! They look like grad students! Not that I hold Carpenter’s Village of the Damned up in high regard (though it isn’t nearly as bad as its rep), but David’s hesitance to join the others always played out perfectly, because you could feel his struggle between knowing what was right and wanting to fit in with his peers. There’s no such suspense here; Bo and her pals just kind of fret for nearly an hour until they finally do something. At least if they were the same age as Eden and the others, it could read as “well she’s a little kid too, she doesn’t know what to do!” but it’s impossible to believe such a thing when the character seems old enough to go ahead and have a kid of her own.

And as an Isaac substitute, Eden isn’t particularly scary – the most intense she gets in the entire thing is early on, right after the orphanage sequence, when she freaks out over being unable to fit a piece into a jigsaw puzzle. She also dons a “Red Queen” persona for a bit, which amused me because it reminded me of the Resident Evil movies, and it was all the interference on Ultraviolet (also starring Milla Jovovich) that led Wimmer to retire from directing for a while. Why he came back for this is beyond me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the Red Queen thing crossed his mind as well. Either way, it’s dropped after about thirty minutes for some reason; I was kind of into the idea of Eden having two personalities (a more innocent one and the more sinister “Red Queen”) but it, like most of the movie’s odd plot points, ultimately doesn’t mean much.

I also thought of Deadly Friend, though not because of any particular wacky death scene (it’s actually a pretty tame movie; most of the carnage occurs off screen and when we do see something it’s usually pretty phony looking anyway). At the end, a character seemingly wins the day and escapes, only for a burnt/decaying Eden to reappear for one final scare, and it’s just as absolutely WTF as the ending of Craven’s misfire, where the robot tears itself out of Kristy Swanson’s body. Eden looks like some kind of messed up Good Guy doll in the scene, and it makes zero sense whatsoever, but honestly it’s probably the best part of the movie, since it’s at least kind of memorable. It’ll take years before I forget that shot, whereas I’m already hazy on the film’s interminable middle section. And as for the villainous corn god, he basically looks like an Asylum Mockbuster version of Groot, which is kind of amusing at least but they (as is often the case in this series) only show him in brief glimpses, so he fails to become much of a genuine threat. Wimmer ought to have gone full Sharknado and embraced how silly it looked so we could at least generate some “get drunk and laugh” entertainment out of his scenes, but they’re so brief they only remind us of how plodding the rest of the movie was (and also wonder how it is the adults managed to ruin all these crops with this genetically engineered stuff without encountering a 15 foot tall beast that is angry about it).

It's a shame too, because there are glimpses of an interesting movie here and there. The shots of the dying town, the idea that the heroine actually agrees with the villains but just doesn’t want to go about fixing the issue the same way (her ideas are much less murdery), the occasional moment where the kids are just being kids among all the atrocities – this all works! And I applauded the use of a particular Twilight Zone clip, even if it was kind of on the nose it was still funny. But Wimmer’s screenplay continually settles for introducing interesting ideas only to drop them just as quickly and revert back to the protagonist being kind of dumb, or at least not proactive enough (though the former takes precedence; at one point she tasks Eden – who is currently painting the crops with fresh blood from *something* – to meet the reporter coming to town that has promised to help, instead of asking one of her friends who were part of the plan to get her there in the first place). I kept thinking that it felt like the first 20 pages of the script were tossed out, which would explain/help some of the film’s issues, but not the fact that its hero stands around doing nothing for most of the runtime and the villain rarely delivers any real menace. There are certainly worse entries in this series, but they tend to suck from the ground up – it’s far more frustrating to see one that seemingly has some ideas (and Wimmer has done some good work in the past!) but never do anything with them. I suppose it’s possible he got micromanaged or even replaced by producers (reshoots would certainly explain all of the dropped ideas; did anyone who saw it in 2020 notice anything different when it was finally released for the rest of us this year?), but I can’t imagine there was much second guessing on Children of the Corn 12, during a pandemic no less.

There are two deleted scenes of zero interest and a trailer reel for RLJE releases, including Mandy which I found amusing – it’s been like four years since that came to disc and they’re still pushing it! But who can blame them, it’s a great movie and they probably want to remind folks that they put out good stuff, too. I bought the disc at Target because I was just tickled that they had it at all in their increasingly tiny movie section (which is otherwise just pretty much blockbusters and TV show boxed sets) and I liked seeing in my cart next to bananas and cat food, but if you’re somehow still curious enough to watch the damn thing, it’ll be on Shudder next week. I doubt it’ll help increase subscriptions. Speaking of buying it, even though it was already on clearance, it still cost more than this site has generated in revenue all year, so it's very possible that this is the last time I ever write a Children of the Corn review, which makes me kind of sad in a weird way. Whenever I make self-deprecating jokes about what I do, I frequently make the Corn franchise the target (i.e. "I haven't seen Raging Bull, but I HAVE seen all twelve Children of the Corn movies, so it evens out."), so it's like the end of an era, possibly!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Terrifier 2 (2022)

JUNE 13, 2023

GENRE: SLASHER, SPLATTER
SOURCE: STREAMING (PEACOCK)

As a slasher champion, and someone who prides themselves on seeing most genre movies in theaters, it may come as a surprise to you to learn that I didn’t even get to take part in Terrifier 2’s out of nowhere box office success last year. Once intended for a few weekend shows only, the strong showing encouraged the distributor to bring it back the following weekend, where it made even more money, prompting something closer to a traditional release. When all was said and done it grossed over $10 million, more than buzzy/studio backed genre films like Pearl and Men, and even some more mainstream fare – who would have guessed the return of Art the Clown would sell more tickets than a new film from George “Fury Road” Miller? It’s a remarkable success story, and everyone involved should be proud of that.

So why didn’t I join folks in buying a ticket? Well, a couple of reasons, the first and foremost being that I didn’t really like the original all that much. And while I’ve certainly gone to see sequels to movies I didn’t like (I just saw Transformers 7 in theaters, for example - but my kid wanted to see it, so at least I had a decent excuse for once), the other big hurdle for this particular film was its length: 140 minutes. Even the first one, at 80something minutes, felt padded and overlong, so that runtime just seemed like torture to me considering I wasn’t exactly counting the days for more of its world in the first place. Still, I was mildly curious to see what all the fuss was about, and wanted to support the cause and all, so I kept an eye on the local showtimes just in case one ever matched up with a period of time where I had over three hours (travel + trailers included) to devote to ANY film, let alone one I was on the fence about seeing anyway. The October release didn’t do it any favors; Terrifier 2 isn’t the first nor will it be the last horror movie I miss in theaters simply because the month keeps me too busy to find the time to venture out for it. It took me a month to get around to seeing Smile (which opened the week before) too, and that had the benefit of more theaters and genuine interest on my part.

But now it’s on Peacock, so that made it easier! It’s right there and all I had to do was remember that I have Peacock along with the 47 other streaming services that fight for my attention. So I finally watched it today and… well, I agree with most that it improves on the original in terms of character development. Lauren LaVera’s Sienna is a great “Final Girl” and it’s a blast to watch her go toe to toe with Art during the film’s climax – at one point he’s attacking her with a cat o' nine tails kind of thing only for her to grab it and start using it on him – that’s great! One of my (many) issues with the original was that it felt too episodic, as the would-be main character is killed halfway through and then it just keeps going with other people we didn’t get to spend much time with, making it feel unfocused and, kind of ironically, like it was over two hours long, as this film actually is. So to have an actual lead character this time around, and seeing her transform into a literal goddess badass, was a relief.

However, the sequel has the same main problem, which is that it’s simply far too dragged out. Every single scene feels twice as long as it needs to be, with extra bits that don’t add anything to the proceedings. When Sienna’s brother’s pals find a dead animal in the schoolyard, why do we need the extra time devoted to one of them scaring another classmate with it? When Sienna dreams she’s on a Bozo type show with Art as the host, why does it last longer than some actual short films when we know it’s a dream anyway? Even the action bits feel like writer/director Damien Leone wanted to double up on everything; Sienna tears part of Art’s face off at one point of their final act battle, which should be a sort of climactic move, but there’s still another twenty minutes to go. This extends all the way into the damn post credit sequence, which only needs to show the one thing that matters (that Art will be back for Terrifier 3) but has an extended conversation between two hospital employees about what kind of Halloween snacks they have. I don’t know if it’s an attempt at Tarantino-esque “let’s skip past the generic story stuff and just have these people talk about cool things” filmmaking, but in a movie where the kills are the calling card, it baffles me that Leone continually and needlessly leaves them spread apart by far too much downtime.

Not that wall to wall kills would be the way to go either – there needs to be a break so that such spectacle doesn’t wear thin. It just doesn’t need THIS MUCH of it. There’s probably a decent 85-90 minute movie in there, but it’s lost with the extra 45 minutes of needless blather. I actually laughed when Sienna’s mom freaks out about the aforementioned dead animal (which she believes is her son’s doing, thanks to Art), because she is stunned that he could do such a thing, despite Sienna specifically telling her earlier that the kid (who keeps looking at serial killer websites and such) will end up doing such a thing someday – I had to wonder if the thirty minutes in between the conversations had the characters/editor simply forget that it was already discussed.

That said, even if the character/story scenes were perfectly paced, I feel the movie would still be an entry in the “root for the slasher” sub-genre, to which I’ve never taken much of a liking. Not that the characters are horrible and people you want to die (indeed, the worst of the lot is Sienna’s mom, who is constantly aggro – the teens are all fine!), but there’s rarely any real attempt at suspense or scares. There are a few decent creepy bits, like when Art trick or treats at one girl’s house, but for the most part the MO is “how graphically can we kill this person?”, where you can practically hear the rowdy audience cheering Art on as he dismembers, slices, and occasionally even eats his victims. I’ve seen a million slashers with a crowd, and while there are certainly crowd-pleasing kills in some, the ones I prefer don’t have people hooting and hollering for *every* kill, as is clearly the intent here. Yes, Sienna is a good character, but she’s the only one that you wince for when they’re attacked by Art. And when that approach is spread across over two hours it’s just exhausting, at least to me.

So I dunno. Again, I’m happy for the film’s success, both for the team and for what it meant for other movies – there’s little chance I was later able to see Skinamarink or Malum in theaters if not for this film’s box office performance, as it proved audiences will show up without stars or big budgets (or even MPAA ratings, in this case). And it’s hardly a disaster or anything; there’s actually quite a bit to like as the kills are A+ on a technical level, the music is good, and the guy playing Art is an engaging presence. But after two entries, I think it’s safe to see that Leone and I are not on the same wavelength when it comes to pacing and (relatively speaking here) narrative for a slasher movie, and Terrifier 3 will have to be well south of two hours for me to even consider checking it out, theaters or not.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Boogeyman (2023)

JUNE 6, 2023

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Knock on wood, but after three years, I still haven't gotten covid (at least, not to my knowledge; it's hard to tell when I battle allergies 365 days a year and have no sense of smell anyway), and I chalk at least part of it up to the fact that I have always tried to sit in isolated sections of the movie theater (i.e. the front section, so all the idiots with their cell phones will be behind me). I still wear my mask pretty much anywhere I'm going to be indoors with strangers, but that's not possible when you're a popcorn addict like me, so while I'm not worried about Target or whatever, the movies are the closest I get to living recklessly. To keep things safer, I no longer go to most movies on opening night, figuring a few days later will be less busy and I'll decrease my chances of sitting next to someone spreading their germs. But my usual move didn't work for The Boogeyman; the front section was empty when I bought my ticket earlier in the day, but those three rows were all nearly full by the time the movie began (and, with people being the morons they are, filled in even more throughout the first 15 minutes of the film).

And naturally, as you can probably guess, they weren’t the most considerate moviegoers in the world: talking, laughing when nothing was funny (including at a character’s grief), coughing... it all served as a stark reminder of why so many people have opted to skip theaters altogether. Which is kind of ironic, because Boogeyman was supposed to be a streaming movie anyway, only for strong test screening scores – and a rave from Stephen King, who wrote the short story it’s sort of based on – to have Disney/Fox change their mind and release it theatrically. So I got to watch it on the big screen, like I prefer, among a bunch of dumbasses who should have stayed home and watched literally anything else since they obviously weren’t engaged by the film. If I get covid on top of it, I’d almost have to laugh.

Luckily the movie was pretty good! As I’ve said a million times, I don’t particularly find this sort of movie scary in the slightest, but there are some well executed jumps scares (one, involving a smashed door, even got a jolt out of me) and the sections of the crowd that weren’t mutants were eating it up, gasping and muttering “oh no” whenever the telltale signs of a looming fright moment were offered. So even if I myself wasn’t exactly going to have trouble sleeping that night, I’ve been to enough of these things in theaters to develop a pretty good gauge for the ones that work and the ones that don’t. It’s part of why I keep going even when I know I’ll be rolling my eyes at certain crowd members (I mean seriously; it’s been a long time since a crowd was that annoying, and I see a lot of kids’ movies, too), to use the crowd’s reactions to sort of make up for my own inability to really tell the difference between a good scare and a weak one.

That said, I can’t help but feel some of its power was diluted by Lights Out, which covered the same ground, of a supernatural entity that thrives in the dark/can’t get you in the light (not to mention Darkness Falls, but that was 20 years ago now and hopefully forgotten by most anyway). King’s short story (which is in Night Shift, for the curious) is basically just one scene, of a troubled man named Lester who tells a psychiatrist about how he came to lose all three of his children, chalking it up to the titular boogeyman. King’s story ends on a little twist (the shrink is the boogeyman), but the filmmakers (Rob Savage of Host fame, with a script by Quiet Place/65 creators Beck and Woods) omit that and use the scene as a launching point, focusing on the doctor (Chris Messina with a fantastic beard) and his two children, a teen played by Sophie Thatcher from Yellowjackets and a younger girl played by Vivien Lyra Blair (young Leia from Obi-Wan). After Lester (David Dastmalchian, killing it in his one scene) tells his story and makes his exit from the film, the boogeyman attaches itself to Messina and his family, providing the film with all the child endangerment terror that sells tickets.

The boogeyman chooses them because, as Lester’s wife (Marin Ireland) tells us later, it’s attracted to the broken and wounded, and they’re all dealing with the recent death of the mom of the family unit, who died in a car accident. Messina’s character buries himself in his work, helping his clients deal with their problems while talking around it with his own children. It’s this stuff that I found most interesting about the movie; there’s a number of heartbreaking little moments about how Thatcher’s character is dealing with the loss of her mom that made this a cut above the usual “let’s make sure there’s a jump scare every five minutes” PG-13 horror. At one point she repeatedly refreshes her text chain with her mom as if a new message might appear, and when she finally returns to school after a month’s absence to deal with the loss, she opens her locker and finds the (now very spoiled) last lunch her mom packed, complete with a “have a good day!” kind of message; an everyday, forgettable kind of thing that nearly reduces her to tears as she realizes it’s the last sort of communication she ever had with her, while also reminding us how quickly someone can be taken from us - she went to school like every other day and got that awful call before lunch. Messina’s dilemma is also well handled; he sends the girls to another therapist because he is unable to talk to them about it, which comes to a head when Thatcher starts opening up about how she’s feeling and he cuts her off with “You should tell Dr (whoever) about this at your session this week,” prompting a teary-eyed Thatcher to reply “I’m trying to talk to YOU.” Teen girls in horror dealing with loss are usually presented as rebellious and withdrawn; it’s kind of refreshing to see one who is trying very hard to communicate with her remaining parent.

As for the other, younger daughter, she is mostly tasked with giving the movie its trailer moments, which is fine but – again, as someone who doesn’t find this stuff all that scary – left me feeling less invested whenever it focused on a young child being menaced by the monster in this PG-13 studio horror movie. Dastmalchian’s kid is offed in the opening scene and Thatcher has an F-bomb, so we can be assured that anything more intense would have netted it an R rating, and thus it’s hard to get too caught up in her plight during these scenes. But again, they’re at least well done, and with a minimum of *fake* scares to boot, so it’s all good. I know it’s this stuff that gets butts in seats, not someone freaking out that her dad is trying to get rid of her dead mom’s painting supplies - having those character elements in between the scenes instead of something more generic is what made the movie engaging to me, is the point.

And the boogeyman itself? It’s a pretty good creature! The concept means we rarely get a good look at it, but I liked that it was an actual creature (sort of like a humanoid spider?) as opposed to a human kind of thing, as the concept of “The Boogeyman” is a bit synonymous with Michael Myers so moving away from that idea helped me from thinking about my favorite movie during this one. On that note, the few references to other things are pretty subtle; their house number is 19, which should make any astute King fan smile, and Savage drops a little bit of Host footage into a key moment, which won’t register unless you’ve seen the film anyway. I mean, we’re at the point where horror movies are the only things that are successful in theaters outside of the predetermined blockbusters from Disney and Universal, so even if the crowd isn’t well behaved there’s something almost soothing about seeing a packed crowd for a movie that isn’t just an advertisement for the next movie in its franchise. The last two movies I saw in theaters before this (Fast X and Spider-Verse) both ended on cliffhangers, so I have to fork over more money next year to see how those events pan out – that’s kind of annoying! But The Boogeyman told a complete story (even the obligatory “it isn’t over yet!” tease at the end actually ultimately plays as more of a definite THE END) and almost never reminded me of other movies - that’d be worth my 15 bucks even if it was just 90 minutes of cats jumping out of cupboards.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Tale of Tales (2015)

JUNE 4, 2023

GENRE: HORROR?
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I had a suspicion that “horror” being listed as a genre for Tale of Tales was a bit of a stretch, and I was correct. If the brief presence of a sea monster and the occasional act of violence is enough to consider it a horror film for you, then so be it – I’m not the genre police! (I was. But was killed three days before retirement.) No, like many of the fairy tales of old, this is just a pretty standard fantasy/morality tale, which means it gets dark at times but doesn’t quite qualify as a horror story. Indeed, when Vincent Cassel showed up I thought about Brotherhood of the Wolf, which also fits into several genres, and I feel even that would be closer to a horror film than this. Not a slight on it, just a bit of warning for anyone who might sit down with it!

But again, I figured as much going in anyway, which is important to note because my reasons for being mixed on the film have nothing to do with its genre. Even if it was an all out gore/scarefest, I think I’d still have the same opinion if director Matteo Garrone (who also co-wrote the script, all based on stories by Giambattista Bastile) took the same approach with his narrative. The film is basically an anthology with three stories, but for some reason he opted to intercut between them throughout the 2:20 runtime, which would be fine if there was some kind of connection between their events, but there isn’t. It’s not until the final scene that it’s even clear all three stories exist within the same universe, as we see characters from all three attending the same event, though they still don’t interact.

Weirder still, all three stories are about Kings, so they must all have very tiny kingdoms if they’re all invited to a coronation at the end. It actually adds to the lack of cohesion between the three stories; if two of the kings were changed into other royal/important figures of some sort, there would be opportunities for them to interact and maybe drift into one another’s stories like in Pulp Fiction or Trick ‘r Treat. But really, the whole thing could have worked so much better if Garrone just presented each tale from start to finish instead of cutting between them at random, with no clear strategy as to when he opted to go from one to the other. Sometimes we stay with one story for 20 minutes, other times it seems we only get a scene or two before going elsewhere. As a result it becomes harder and harder to get invested into any of their proceedings, because just when you get settled into one, he’ll go off to another and softly reset your attention.

At least the three tales are interesting/weird enough to be memorable. In one, Toby Jones is a king whose daughter is about to be of the age where she is old enough to be married off, but because he doesn’t actually want that to happen, he arranges a seemingly unwinnable contest for her hand: guessing what animal a skin came from. The “animal” is actually a pet flea that grew to be the size of a cow before it died, so there’s no reason to think anyone could guess it, right? Alas, an ogre figures it out and Jones honors his own rules, so off she goes and then naturally tries to escape the brute. It’s a very random story; even if it was presented fully intact without the other two cutting between it it would feel like two stories jammed together (the flea one and the ogre one), but it’s just so odd and Jones is always so fun to watch, it doesn’t really matter much. The oddness alone keeps it compelling.

Then there’s the most kind of typical one, in which another king (Cassel), who is perpetually horny, hears the sing-song voice of a townswoman on the streets below and becomes infatuated with finding her. But as it turns out, she’s kind of a crone looking older lady that would never catch his attention if he were to see her on the street, so she stays behind her locked door and won’t let him see her. He persists with his wooing, so she finally agrees to come to his bed but only at night with all the lights (candles) out so he can’t see her. He agrees, but sneaks a look and then becomes, as expected, repulsed by her appearance. So he has her tossed out the window, but she survives and is taken in by a witch, who makes her incredibly beautiful (she’s played by the knockout Stacy Martin from The Night House), at which point Cassel sees her and naturally doesn’t recognize her. It feels like it’s going to be a revenge sort of thing, but it goes in a different direction that results in one of the film’s most gruesome images (again, it’s got some violent moments). Unfortunately it feels like it lacks a true resolution, only kind of wrapping up in the film’s epilogue where everyone comes together (well, they’re all in the same spot – again, the characters never interact).

The other one is, I guess, the “main” story, since it seemingly takes up the most time and boasts two of the four names on the cover: Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly (Jones and Cassel are the others). It’s also the shaggiest and thus has the most damage done to it by the cross cutting, telling a story of yet another king (Reilly) whose queen (Hayek) is having trouble conceiving. He is told by a witch that if he kills a sea monster and then the queen eats its heart (if cooked by a virgin), they’ll have a child – and it works! Unfortunately, he also dies of his injuries from the fight (making Reilly’s appearance so short he might as well have gone unbilled), so Hayek has to raise the child on her own. But she barely seems to care about his death – she’s more troubled by the fact that the virginal cook also gives birth to an identical child, and the two grow up to be best buds/brothers, despite Hayek’s insistence that her son not play with the other boy. Eventually she drives the other one away, and her son resents her for it, and then... it just goes on and on, without any real drive to the proceedings, made worse by the intercutting that means it takes 15-20 minutes to get the next piece of its already drawn out story. The twist ending is more of a “Wait what?” than the knockout it’s supposed to be, and Hayek’s hatred of the other kid never really makes a lot of sense, so this one might not have worked even if it was kept intact. But hey, you get to see Salma Hayek devouring a bloody monster heart, and John C. Reilly dressed in an old diving suit that makes him look like the Bioshock guy, so it’s not all bad.

The lone feature on the disc (besides some trailers) is a making of that runs nearly an hour, and while it has some talking head stuff with the cast a lot of the time it’s just behind the scenes footage of key moments being shot sans any commentary, and the chatter before “action!” is often in French without subtitles, so it’s not clear what they’re discussing. I've certainly seen more involving documentaries, in other words, but maybe if you’re bilingual it’ll be of more interest. Kind of funny to see the little bucket next to Salma during the filming of the heart-eating scene, waiting for her to spit into just off camera as soon as they call “cut!”. There aren’t a lot of people on the planet who can look good performing either of these actions, so good on you, Ms. Hayek (sorry, Ms. Hayek Pinault). Ironically, the doc is more structured than the film – it covers the Hayek story, then the Cassel one, and then finally the Jones one, without going back to the others.

Few would deny that the film is lovely to look at it; between the cast and the costumes and the production design, it’s all top notch and looks like it cost a lot more than its reported $14 million budget. But the strange presentation that leaves all three stories feeling like they aren’t properly resolved, not to mention having their narrative thrust constantly weakened, makes it a hard film to recommend with regards to how invested you can get into its proceedings, which is a lot to ask when it’s nearly 2.5 hours long. I’d be curious to see someone recut it to be three standalone tales, because then you could just watch one “episode” at a time if you wanted, instead of investing a not insignificant chunk of your waking day to it. And then you might also spend less time wondering if that’s actually the way it was meant to be, only for Garrone (or perhaps one of his producers) to watch Game of Thrones one night during an editing break and feel the film could work the way that show did, jumping across multiple stories with people who didn’t even know each other. But it didn’t even always work great there, and they had eight seasons to work out the kinks! But again: very nice looking film.

What say you?

P.S. This was a "pile" movie, having been there for over six years (!), but those reviews are supposed to be shorter and this one turned out a little long. Plus I always feel bad seeing so many "FTPs" on the main page.

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Children of the Night (2014)

MAY 29, 2023

GENRE: VAMPIRE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I don’t know what the oldest movie in “the pile” is, but Children of the Night (aka Limbo) has to be in the running, as it came out in October of 2015 (and, since it was sent for review consideration, means I probably got it a month earlier). My life is very different now! Since this film has been sitting there waiting for me to watch it, I’ve moved, gotten a new (used) car, published two books, lost two side jobs (typical layoff and covid shutdown, respectively), and helped turn a baby who only just started walking into a 9 year old who has his own TV and can figure out Zelda bosses easier than I can. Kind of crazy, at least in a low key way that's probably not interesting to anyone reading.

But I bring it up because I wonder if I would have enjoyed the film as much then as I did now. My thoughts on “evil” children movies have gone through the wringer since I had my own child, but here’s one where the kids – who are all vampires – are actually the good guys. Sure, they need human blood and can be pretty creepy, but they also just want to do kid things and eat curry (a drug to their vampiric kind – a delightfully odd idea I must say), as none of them asked to be vampires. And they’re all being hunted by a group of black-clad men who believe them to be the devil spawn or whatever, so it’s not hard to, at the very least, hope they take down the hunter jerks with them.

Caught in the middle is Alicia (Sabrina Ramos), a writer who got a tip about the retreat where all of the children live, believing them to all be suffering from some kind of illness with no cure. At first she’s confused, then scared once she realizes what they are, but then comes around to being an ally, thanks in part to the fact that one of the children is actually her girlhood bestie. As vampires tend to do, he hasn’t aged since she last saw him when they were adolescents, so she finds herself weirdly drawn to this now-man trapped in a child’s body, and of course wanting to protect him so she doesn’t lose him again. It’s a potentially icky plot point, and has a few eyebrow raising moments (they don’t *do* anything, I should stress – she just acts charmed by his seemingly inappropriate comments instead of overly concerned), but it’s ultimately a rather sweet unconventional (and, again, physically platonic!) love story.

But it’s also a vampire movie, and while there isn’t a lot of action, what we get is pretty entertaining, since it’s… well, a bunch of kids taking on grown men. At one point a kid literally kicks the head off one attacker, and the other kids momentarily kick it back and forth like a soccer ball – it’s delightful. The music accompanying these scenes is also top notch, as it weirdly reminds me (of all things) of the music in Tetris Effect: Connected, where it’s exciting but also kind of relaxing? Hard to explain unless you’ve also played that game (and you should! It’s the best version!). I also like how they handle the usual tie-in to pop culture vampires, as it proposes the idea that Bram Stoker was a self-loathing vampire who wrote his book to expose the (real) Dracula, who as it turns out is the grandfather of one of the children there. Silly? Sure, but I’ll take it over the usual corny line about Bela Lugosi “getting it wrong” or whatever

. Honestly the only real flaw, besides running a little too long, is that the low budget is occasionally far too apparent on screen. The video/soap opera look I eventually adjusted to, but there are a number of scenes where it seems like they tried to hide a mistake with a superimposed black oval? For example, in one scene, it seems one of the child actors missed their cue and just stood there while the others ran around, and they tried to hide it with one of these ovals, but another actor crosses in front of them, so the oval disappears and we see the kid just standing there – it’s seriously far more distracting than it would have been to just not draw our attention to it in the first place, though I’m sure it could have worked if the oval in any way matched the color of the rest of the image. There are a few other lo-fi “fixes” like that in the movie that kind of keep calling attention to how under budgeted it was, distracting away from the surprisingly involving story. For some reason there’s a remake of One Cut of the Dead coming, but I feel something like this would be a far better option to remake, as the low budget (which was part of One Cut’s charm, not a handicap) actually harms it here and it deserves a polished presentation.

Director/writer Ivan Noel provides a commentary where he notes some of their budgetary issues and thanks the many people who did favors (CGI shots of a moon eclipse, for example), making it a fine track for those who might feel they can’t pull off their own ambitious projects due to a lack of resources. He also notes that the movie was an hour longer at one point (I’m sure he meant his first assembly as opposed to a “director’s cut”; people who don’t understand the difference make reporting on such things an incredible nuisance), though the only other bonus feature is a 20ish minute behind the scenes where we can see everyone was just enjoying the experience and having a sort of summer camp vibe during the proceedings. Since the movie was still too long, I can’t say I need MORE scenes from the film, but if this stuff was in any way elaborate I can’t help but wonder if he tightened his script in the first place perhaps some of those limited resources wouldn’t have been spread so thin.

That said, what’s left is still much better than I would have guessed after the first few minutes (my heart sunk when I saw that video look), so he pulled it off! It has a lot of tones (sweet and nostalgic! Dryly ironic! Kind of scary!) but Noel balances it out fairly well, and Ramos is an engaging presence (as is Ana MarĂ­a Giunta as Erda, the childrens’ caretaker, wearily dealing with things like one of the children sleep-flying). And then I had to laugh that since the movie’s ten years old now, all of the kids in it are now adults. Such is life in the pile!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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