FTP: Darlin' (2019)

JULY 17, 2023


OK just to note quick before I ramble: I mostly enjoyed Darlin’, finding it the best of the loose trilogy featuring Polly McIntosh (who also wrote and directed this entry) as “The Woman”. But I find nothing about it as fascinating as the existence of this franchise, as the first film (2009’s Offspring) was based on a book that was a sequel to another book (Off Season) which has yet to be adapted, and then 2011’s The Woman was more of a spinoff from Offspring as opposed to a traditional sequel, as it only featured (you guessed it) The Woman and an otherwise completely different plot and mostly new creative team. And then Darlin' was a spinoff from that, once again retaining McIntosh’s character but going into different territory yet again. So it's a spinoff of a spinoff of a sequel to an un-adapted book! I kind of hope it keeps going, with McIntosh eventually inside the plot of a Bond movie or something.

Darlin’ also retains another character from The Woman, as Darlin’ was one of the daughters of the family that had her tied up in their shed. The Woman killed the son and the two parents in that film, taking off with their three girls (Darlin and Socket, with Peggy sort of just going along by choice), but since eight years have passed they recast Darlin’ and left Socket out entirely (Peggy is once again played by Lauren Ashley Carter, though only makes a couple of quick appearances in flashbacks, where – spoiler ahead – we learn that she died giving birth to the baby she was carrying). So this one is a two-hander, as Darlin’ and The Woman are split at the beginning of the movie and follow different journeys, with the now feral Darlin’ being taken in by a church orphanage and rehabilitated while The Woman makes (reads: kills and eats) her way around trying to reconnect with her. It’s MOSTLY standalone, but while you certainly don’t need to see Offspring it might help to at least read a Wiki on The Woman to really follow the story, as despite the long gap between films and the “spinoff” nature (not to mention this one doesn’t come from a Ketchum novel) McIntosh’s script doesn’t fully explain their relationship, and Darlin’s explanation of where Socket and Peggy went (which occurs far into the movie) is a bit hard to follow due to her broken English, so having the context of who they were will help fill in those gaps.

But what’s most important is that this movie is far less grim and unpleasant as the first two, with only scattered moments of on-screen violence and even less of the sexual assault that permeated those films. No one in the world will be shocked to learn that the Bishop who runs the orphanage is preying on his young charges, but thankfully we are spared any overt depictions of it, and the lone scene of a man trying to force himself on a woman is quickly interrupted by The Woman, who takes care of the jerk in rightfully short fashion. This allows the characters themselves to shine through without constantly alienating a chunk of the audience as the first two did, though if you’re squeamish at the sight of cannibalism then you should be warned that there are a few quick shots of such practices. I’d say the entire movie has about the same level of violence/face eating as Lecter’s escape sequence in (ahem, Best Picture Winner) Silence of the Lambs, so if you can handle that you should be fine.

That all said, the real issue here is that the two narratives don’t really complement each other all that well (two in a row!), and it’s never fully clear what one wants from the other. Early on it seems Darlin’ wants nothing to do with The Woman, but we don’t get enough of what happened between the end of The Woman and the beginning of this one for that to really land, and likewise with Woman’s communication skills rather lacking it’s difficult to parse out exactly what she plans to do once she finds Darlin’ again. It seems she wants to “rescue” her, which is understandable enough, but given that the movie seemingly takes place over several months it’s unclear why she’s taking her time with it. It finally becomes more clear near in the third act, when she tries to kidnap a baby, but that renders a lot of the earlier scenes feeling somewhat aimless. The script also pads itself out in a rather silly manner, as a caring nurse is taking Woman to Darlin’, only to get in a car wreck. The man survives, but The Woman just runs away and hooks up with a group of homeless women for a while rather than finish what she was doing. It’s like when you’re playing Zelda and are proceeding toward a tower to unlock or something, only to get distracted by a shrine and a sidequest to find someone’s horse.

Still, it’s always engaging enough; even though they’re both quick to tear off someone’s face or bite off their finger, both are still sympathetic in their own way, and it’s not hard to root for them against pedo church leaders and such. Both McIntosh and Lauryn Canny give excellent performances with a minimum of dialogue (McIntosh just has her grunts, Canny eventually speaks but in very short bursts), and I was also happy to see Nora-Jane Noone from The Descent (she played Holly, the young punk-y one) as the lone kind nun at the orphanage, as she’s basically playing the same role as Sister Margaret in Silent Night, Deadly Night, in that she wants to help this troubled sort but slowly realizes it may be a lost cause. Plus, again, it’s so much less unpleasant than its predecessors, I was mostly just happy to watch a movie in this world without feeling the need to shower after. I’d be very curious how someone who hadn’t seen the others would respond to it; I can imagine someone seeing this one first and then discovering this fact after. “Wait, so the movie where someone’s lip is eaten off is the LEAST disgusting of the series?”

The blu-ray has a few bonus features; one is called “Deleted SCENES” (plural) but there’s only one, and I had to chuckle when I saw it because I specifically noted “wow, that’s an awkward edit” at the point of the movie where it was removed, and it also makes more sense out of a later scene, so it really should have stayed in. Then there’s a 20ish minute making of piece, which is nothing special but it’s nice to hear McIntosh and Canny speak normally. McIntosh also provides a commentary, which is quite good but weirdly runs out of synch, seemingly getting worse as the film goes on – by the climax, she’s reacting to things that we saw 30 seconds earlier, which makes the comments somewhat confusing at times (“Her family rallies around her” she says over a shot of Darlin’ seeing The Woman’s homeless women pals for the first time, but actually referring to the nurse and nun characters who had run up to help her several seconds earlier). I also winced in sadness at a comment about a particular scene that had to be revised on the day because a storm hit their location and it would have been a safety issue for her camera crew… which was led by none other than Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer who was unfortunately killed on (someone else’s) set in 2021 due to lax safety protocols. Truly a terrible reminder of the tragedy, but at least we were assured that McIntosh (a first time director) had enough brains to ensure her crew’s safety came first, unlike the dummies on the other project that I’ll never ever watch.

Basically it’s a decent movie, but I can’t help but wonder if part of my warm feelings are due to my dislike of the previous two entries, giving this one a little bump that it might not have received had I gone in completely ignorant of its predecessors. The script lacked focus and never quite found its footing when dividing lead character duties between the two women, and the geography/time was never clear enough to understand why they weren’t able to reunite sooner. These are things that should derail a movie for me, but I wasn’t watching anyone get tortured, and none of the film’s well-meaning characters are killed in meanspirited ways, so I walked away with “this is pretty good!” kind of feelings despite having several concerns. I guess it’d be like how you’d probably never drink Faygo if you had other options, but it would taste absolutely delicious after a week in the desert.

What say you?


Insidious: The Red Door (2023)

JULY 9, 2023


I’m gonna pretend I don’t feel old AT ALL that Insidious: The Red Door* is essentially a “legacyquel” to the Insidious series, reuniting the Lambert family who we haven’t seen for ten years/two sequels (they were MIA from the simply titled Chapter 3 and 2018’s The Last Key). The baby is now a pre-teen! The kid who was haunted is now off to college! Rose Byrne… well, apart from a blonder ‘do looks pretty much exactly the same, bless her. And taking center stage is Patrick Wilson, who also directed this entry (his debut behind the camera) and even sang the end credits song, a shockingly good cover of Shakespears Sister’s “Stay”, accompanied by Ghost (if you know the original, you can probably guess exactly what part Tobias sings instead of Patrick). Alas, in the great pantheon of “Spooky movie sequels where Patrick Wilson performs a cover song”, this one doesn’t quite hit the highs of The Conjuring 2.

It’s not a bad movie, I should stress – but it’s a bit of a messy one, as the narrative essentially divides itself between Dalton (a returning Ty Simpkins) at college somewhere in the southeast and Josh (Wilson) back home in Los Angeles. Both are being haunted by traditional Insidious-y ghosts, but there’s zero interaction between the pair until the film’s finale, so it feels like you’re flipping channels between two spooky movies. Both of them engaging on their own, but every time it switches from one to the other, it deflates a lot of the tension, not to mention counts as a distraction – I wasn’t shocked at all that nearly every time it cut from A to B, I saw a cell phone light up nearby, as if it was a commercial break. And it seemed rather needless to send Dalton so far away; the ostensible reason was to give him and Josh a bonding experience as they took the three day drive together, but we see exactly one scene of their journey. No fraught motel room blowouts, silent diner meals…. the college might as well have been two hours away for all it mattered to their road trip, and then maybe they could have interacted more.

You might be wondering why the two would need a bonding experience. Well, since the events of Insidious 2, Josh and Renai have gotten divorced, with Josh only getting the kids every other weekend. Curiously, the movie doesn’t even come right out and say this much until quite later in the runtime; the film opens with the funeral of Josh’s mom/the kids’ grandmother (Barbara Hershey’s character) and Renai is there, but it’s not until everyone is ready to leave that you get the hint that they’re not together anymore. Which is fine, but it takes well over an hour for Byrne and Wilson to interact again, where they hash things out and explain why the divorce even happened in the first place. And it’s a shame, because it’s a story thread I would have liked to have seen explored: it’s basically because she remembers Josh being possessed and terrorizing the family, but Josh and Dalton don’t, and the other son has chalked it up to nightmares thanks to her assurances (the daughter, being a baby at the time, doesn’t have an opinion on the matter, and is written out of the movie after the opening anyway). I find this a pretty interesting concept, not to mention mildly amusing if you recall how much Insidious 1 and 2 mirrored the first two Poltergeist movies – we never got to see how Stephen Freeling’s tequila worm freakout affected his family down the road, so Insidious is finally having one up on them!

Spending more time on this idea would have also given Byrne more to do, as she’s really only in like three scenes of the movie and is treated rather thanklessly outside of this big clash with Josh, which again occurs too far into the story. It would have been nice to know earlier why they were divorced, because at the end of I2 Josh and Dalton are hypnotized into forgetting, and without Renai actually involved in the story for 75 minutes or whatever, it’s hard to get a real idea of where any of these characters ARE in their lives, as if we missed another entry in between. It just seems like Dalton is a typical teen who would rather sulk in his room and listen to music than hang out with his dad. Even when the family drama is finally being made clear, it’s still a bit murky: Renai tells Josh that Dalton doesn’t talk to her either, and again I wondered why we were only learning this information now instead of at some point in the first act, i.e. when such things are usually established in a sequel.

But of course, people don’t show up to these things for family blowouts, they want ghosts! And in that department, they’re pretty good, if nothing new for the series. My favorite was pretty close to tbe beginning of the movie, a scene where Josh is in his car texting Dalton, with a ghost slowly approaching his car (which we see through the back windshield, unseen by him). There’s another good one later involving Christmas lights, as a character is checking various strands and thus every time she plugs one in it lights up a face that is becoming spookier. Those more subtle ones are always more fun to me than the more overt ones, which is probably a good thing for me because… well, there aren’t a lot of overly overt ones. Perhaps the constant setting shifts reduced the opportunities? Because every time they cut back to Dalton from Josh, we kind of have to get up to speed again, delaying the potential for another spookablast moment. I mean I didn’t have a pencil or stopwatch to keep track, but I’d be willing to bet if someone were to count the number of scare moments in each film (not how successful they were, just their basic existence) that this one could come up last in sheer volume. They’re on point, but they’re not as frequent, which might be a sticking point for audience members who are primed to jump from their seats every five minutes.

It's also not as goofy/funny as the first two movies, which is more in line with the last two but felt off since the Lamberts were back. But the real reason for this is that Specs and Tucker – who usually bring the majority of that energy – are reduced to about 15 seconds of screen time via a Youtube video. With 3 and 4 being prequels to the first two films, it’s a shame we don’t get to see more of what happened to them going forward; the end of 2 set up the idea that they’d continue doing the investigations with Elise’s ghost to guide them, but for all we know they’re merely cheesy Youtube goons now. Speaking of Elise, Lin Shaye has two scenes; one as another Youtube video and another in ghost form, with the latter feeling tacked on and – vague spoiler here – kind of deflated the power of the film’s final scene with Josh and Dalton, which really worked like gangbusters and would have been a great moment to end this entry (marketed as the final chapter, but a spinoff movie has been announced), but the Elise epilogue just kind of dragged it out for me. Still, always nice to see Ms. Shaye doing her thing, and I had to chuckle that James Wan made two franchises (the other being Saw) that killed off an older character actor much to the chagrin of a far younger fanbase, who’d presumably care less about them than the younger leads, forcing them to utilize flashbacks and prequel storytelling to keep them around.

That said, there is SOME humor courtesy of Sinclair Daniel as Chris, who (due to her gender neutral first name) is assigned as Dalton’s roommate and stays with him for a few days while the housing folks sort it out. She brings an irreverent touch to the proceedings as she first tries to get the introverted Dalton to have more of a college experience and then gets drawn into his Further shenanigans, and it was very much welcome since every other character was so moody. And it’s a platonic friendship, which is always nice to see as I’m someone with plenty of female pals and roll my eyes at the cliché that such things are a unicorn instead of the norm. Some of the other attempts at humor fall way flat though; there’s a douchey fraternity character who we’re supposed to laugh at, but he’s mostly just annoying and doesn’t get any real comeuppance or even point to his scenes. Whenever they focused on him for a minute or two, I found myself wishing we were back with Josh or even checking in on poor Carl (Steve Coulter), who shows up in one quick scene and also disappears after. So if you’re keeping count, the movie brings back ten characters, but outside of Josh and Dalton, their total combined screentime is about ten minutes, and if you take Byrne out of the equation that number drops to well short of five.

(The tenth would be the Lipstick Face demon from the original, who shows up so briefly it should have been a surprise cameo instead of something in the marketing.)

So overall, it’s a mixed bag. I liked seeing the family again and the father/son stuff between Josh and Dalton is pretty well done, and while I don’t want to spoil the particulars, the backstory of this movie’s new baddie is, unlike the others who have haunted the Lambert family, actually tied into their own history, which was appreciated. And it’s got a few solid setpieces (the MRI bit you’ve seen in the trailer, an attack on Josh in broad daylight) that bring on the chills that show Wilson is up to the task for such things. But the script (or the edit) never quite manages to gel the two storylines in a satisfying way, making it feel like they had two ideas for a sequel (“What’s Josh up to now?” and “What happens when Dalton goes to college?”) and decided to do both without ever unifying them, making the film come up short overall. And I can’t in good conscience ever give a ringing endorsement to anything that sidelines Rose Byrne. The spinoff is set to star Kumail Nanjiani, so I can only assume that it will bring things back to the more humorous tone of the first two, which I think was a big part of why it was successful and also why it still stands out in a sea of modern ghost movies (some also starring Patrick Wilson!). But I can also appreciate that this series has been dormant for a while and yet still opened quite well despite the recent success of Boogeyman, which mined similar territory, so I’m glad it opened well to help prove, for the millionth time, that horror is the safest bet for studios. A horror part 5 knocked Indiana Jones off the top spot after only a week, at about a tenth of the cost. The studios want to make more money? Then they should stop with the megabudget tentpoles no one is really asking for, and greenlight every cheap horror script they have.

What say you?

*In some territories it's known as Insidious: L Street.


FTP: All-American Murder (1991)

JULY 8, 2023


Sometimes I get a plot synopsis of a movie in my head that is so far from what it actually is, I have to wonder where exactly I got the idea and if I’m having a stroke of some sort. All-American Murder has been sitting in the pile for nearly two years now, and despite the presence of Christopher Walken (and ‘90s crush Josie Bissett), I kept shrugging it off, because of its plot of a professor who teaches a class about serial killers and how he encourages one student to commit his own. But that isn’t even remotely the plot! Where the hell did I come up with that? It’s so damn weird, and it’s not the first time it’s happened.

No, this is actually a giallo-esque college slasher about a “bad boy” type (Charlie Schlatter) who falls for the most popular girl on campus (Bissett) and then becomes the chief suspect when she is murdered. But head cop Walken takes a strange liking to him and gives him 24 hours to clear his name, so it skirts into buddy comedy territory at times except with Walken and the one-time Ferris Bueller, which is an amusing concept even without the Argento-tinged death scenes, where folks are killed by drills, snakes, and – yes! – even a black-gloved killer stabbing someone in the back. Add in Walken’s usual off-kilter performance and you have a recipe for a movie that is basically begging for my love and affection. Hell it even has a power ballad on the end credits that could have subbed in for “Sword and the Stone” from the Shocker soundtrack.

I also had to laugh that I had never heard of the film and then spent an additional two years ignoring it after it arrived from Vinegar Syndrome (who no longer sends me things unprompted, so finding such minor gems won’t be happening anymore, alas), because my only real criticism of the film, besides some uneven pacing (after Bissett’s murder there isn’t another for a while, and then they happen in quick succession) is that it was pretty easy to guess the killer, something that would not have been the case if I watched it 30 years ago like I should have (at the time I also crushed on Bissett’s fellow Melrose Place-r Amy Locane and thus tracked down a DTV horror movie she made*, why didn’t I do the same for the lovely Jane Mancini?). It’s something that would have worked great on the page, and assuredly shocked the hell out of anyone reading the script, but on-screen there’s something a little too obvious to me about how Bissett’s death scene plays out that tipped me off almost instantly who the culprit was. I don’t want to spoil it, so I can’t go into further detail, but suffice to say it’s one of those things that I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t seen 11,000 movies over the years, a couple of which tried something similar.

But otherwise it’s pretty fun! Sometimes the script is a bit too slick for its own good, where every character is fighting to be the one with the memorable lines in a scene, but there are enough good ones to forgive it. I mean, one of Walken’s earliest lines is “I never forget a face, especially if I’ve sat on it,” which is so hilarious it buys the movie leeway for a dozen eye-rollers. And the supporting case is great too; Richard Kind as a far more suspicious cop, Joanna Cassidy as the dean’s wife who is also Schlatter’s lover, and JC Quinn from Maximum Overdrive and The Abyss as that most obligatory of school slasher characters: the creepy pervy janitor red herring! And Schlatter is an engaging enough lead; it’s obvious why he got the gig on the Ferris Bueller show and I’ve enjoyed his performances in other things (I used to watch Diagnosis Murder reruns over the summer when I was in Maine without cable/video games; it was an enjoyable procedural), so it was fun to see him going through the motions that any number of Argento protagonists have played out. It’s at its best when he’s interacting with Walken of course, but seeing him race around with the ticking clock, talking to people who mostly think he did it, is pretty involving.

VS’s blu-ray has a pair of interviews, one with Schlatter and the other with the film’s cinematographer, both of whom spend a lot of their time talking about Walken (Schlatter’s impression is a cut above most!) and Ken Russell, who was originally set to direct. It’s funny, I just watched Tommy for the first time a couple days before, and Russell has said that’s his most commercial movie, but this would have cleared it I think – it’s got odd touches of course, but it’s at its core a pretty conventional murder mystery, and at no point does anyone get covered in beans or get molested by Keith Moon. The only other bonus feature is a commentary with the Hysteria Continues guys, and it did little to change my mind that these folks – while well meaning and obvious fans of the genre – are really not insightful or interesting enough to warrant being on so many tracks. More than once I found myself rolling my eyes at their frankly kind of stupid comments, like when one mocks a character for having her name on her door in her dorm, as if this wasn’t a common thing (“Maybe she forgot her own name?” he ponders – it’s so people can find her easily in a sea of identical doors in a giant hallway). They also repeatedly bring up how the film was compared to Twin Peaks upon release, confused at how anyone could make that connection, prompting one guy – who hasn’t even seen the show! – to explain to the others that it’s probably because Bissett’s character is, like Laura Palmer, supposedly the perfect girl next door but after she dies people discover she was into some far from wholesome lifestyle behaviors. Which I thought was pretty obvious, but it somehow went over all their heads. And that’d be fine if they were just some goons with letterboxd accounts, but when they’re repeatedly tasked with being the top listed bonus feature on an expensive blu-ray, I can’t help but wish VS (and Arrow, and whoever else hires them) to spread that wealth and get other podcast/historian types to contribute on the regular, maybe give these guys a little more time to prepare. Not everyone can be Troy Howarth or Jarret Gahan, but they can certainly at least be a little more perceptive than, well, me.

Anyway, not a movie you need to own as its rewatch value is fairly low, but definitely worth a look. I don’t need to tell you that the post-Jason Lives/pre-Scream period for slashers was not particularly glutted with solid options, so to find one that had completely passed me by was a wonderful little treat. It’s also worth noting that this was a year before Walken’s big-screen comeback with Batman Returns, which is what set him a track of pretty much all villain roles (or at least, ones that really played up the eccentricities), so seeing him elevate this pretty normal cop role while actually remaining a sympathetic ally to the hero is such a novel sight to behold nowadays. AND he sings “Feelings” in a scene that was apparently cut from the video (probably for clearance issues), so there’s another good reason to track it down.

What say you?

*It’s called No Secrets and I assure you it isn’t worth any effort.


The Blackening (2022)

JUNE 30, 2023


It’s interesting that the “horror comedy” genre is always referred to in that order, because more often than not, these films work better as comedies first. Much like last year’s Bodies Bodies Bodies, The Blackening is a fine comedy – I laughed heartily several times and liked spending time with (most of) the characters. But it’s pretty much a failure as a horror movie, and it weirdly forgets about the comedy aspect for most of its third act, so I couldn’t help but walk out feeling slightly disappointed, as by that point it had been a while since it had been all that engaging on either level.

In the film’s opening scene, the film offers (I think?) its lone meta joke, where Jay Pharoah and Yvonne Orji discuss how Scream 2 killed off Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps in the first scene because they were the biggest stars and the production couldn’t afford to pay them to be leads, before taking a beat and all but look at the camera to acknowledge that they themselves are now in the same position. Whether the film could have used more of that sort of thing is another story, but I had to chuckle that they name-checked one of the actual few slashers that really did kill the Black characters off first. In reality, Black characters noting their low survival rates in such situations is actually far more common than examples in which they are indeed the first to die. Just using the Friday the 13th series as an example: the original film doesn’t have any, part 2 has one minor (unnamed, actually) counselor who survives, part 3 actually kills its primary Black character *last* while the other one dies 3rd, part 4’s survives, part 5 has four, one survives and the other three are far from first, part 6 and 7 off theirs somewhere in the middle, part 8’s Julius is one of only five people to actually make it to New York (he’s the first of their group to die THERE, but that’s 80 minutes into the movie), Hell and X’s Black characters function as the most formidable foe for Jason and die last, as does Kelly Rowland in FvJ, and the remake’s Black character is 9th to die out of Jason’s (heh) 13 victims. So this trope, based entirely on slasher movies, isn’t even true ONCE in the most famous slasher series. And ditto for Halloween; while Black characters are more infrequent there, they tend to survive (HIII, H20, Resurrection) or die late (Halloween II ‘81). The closest it gets to being true there is in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, which kills off Octavia Spencer third but only a few minutes after the first two (white) victims.

Now, I’m not saying it hasn’t happened outside of Scream 2, I’m just merely pointing out that we’re more likely to hear a joke about their survival chances than actually see them dispatched right from the start – which may be why the film, marketed entirely around this trope (“They Can’t All Die First” is the tagline) sort of abandons that joke around the halfway point. The film started life as a short, and perhaps that’s all it should have been, because there isn’t enough humor to mine from this one idea. Indeed, most of the best laughs have nothing to do with horror movie concepts – the hardest I laughed was a gag about how the rare Black characters on Friends were seemingly always either love interests for Ross or one of Chandler’s new bosses. There’s also a great bit where the killer forces them to do math to figure out how many things Nas needs across the lyrics of his song “One Mic” (“All I need is one blunt, one page, one pen…”), which had me chuckling heartily even though I’ve never even heard of the song. It seems to me that the (far more common, as you can see just from my F13 and Halloween examples) idea of how under-utilized/represented Black characters tend to be in mainstream entertainment (be it horror movies or hit NBC sitcoms) would have been a far better target. Especially when you consider some of the gags have nothing to do with their race, like when Grace Byers’ character practically throws up in her mouth when she suggests that they split up. I mean, we just had a new Scream movie a few months ago – it’s not like horror (specifically slasher horror) is lacking for metatextual commentary on its cliches at this time.

All of which could be forgiven if it worked as a slasher, but that’s where they drop the ball the hardest. Again, there’s plenty of funny stuff here, but never once did the villain come off as a genuine threat, which is fine if it’s an all-out spoof like Scary Movie, but when it comes time to reveal the killer and their motivations, there’s no comedy to the proceedings at all, so one has to assume we’re meant to be taking them seriously. But it’s nearly impossible to do so, because the actor’s *performance* practically IS like something out of a Scary Movie sequel even though he has no actual jokes in his dialogue. On top of that (spoiler here), the movie has by that point clearly established that they’re not willing to kill off any of the characters, having two of them survive major wounds without even pretending they were dead for a bit, so we get the slasher killer revealing themselves (and honestly, if anyone in the world is surprised at the identity, I’d seriously question their mental facilities, as it’s obvious before they even arrive at the cabin let alone start trying to kill anyone) to nearly the entire cast, having failed to actually kill any of them (save Pharoah and Orji in the opening sequence) along the way. That their plot hinged on predicting how the others would answer a particular question adds a layer of silliness to the whole thing, undercutting the fact that at the heart of their motivation is something that is actually quite interesting (the idea of someone “not being Black enough”) and deserved a better plot to be tied to.

Of course, I try to remember two key details. One is that I’m white, so maybe there's some stuff I simply don't have the proper experience to appreciate and in turn I should shut up about these things (fair!). The other is that I’m a horror fan more than a comedy fan, so it’s not surprising I’d expect more from that half of the equation and in turn feel more disappointed that it didn’t deliver. If you’re just in the mood for a comedy, with likable characters and a unique premise (for the comedy genre), it should do the trick just fine. Again, I laughed a lot (though mostly in the first half) and enjoyed spending time with these folks, particularly Byers and Melvin Gregg as King, a former tough guy who has “gone all Gandhi”. In this sendup of the “Black guy dies first” trope from slashers, it’s ironic that one nearly universal downside of such films – that the characters are all wafer thin at best – is actually not an issue here, as we get plenty about their history with each other, where they are in their lives now, etc. It almost made me wish we could have gotten a prologue showing them in their younger days, which could have helped some of the awkward exposition but also maybe could have established the killer’s backstory earlier, since it’s all clumsily dropped out of nowhere in the final 15 minutes (seriously, I’m somewhat stunned that Scream VI no longer has the weakest slasher reveal of the year, when it was already one of the weakest in decades).

Tim Story and writers Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins (who is also in the movie) did a solid job in making a hangout comedy with some on point and delightfully random jabs at White vs Black culture (I don’t even know if it’s really a thing, but I was endlessly amused that the “whitest” Black guy is partially denoted as such because he uses an Android instead of an iPhone). But I was sold on a Scream-like slasher, and best I can tell, the only ones they’ve seen are Scream 2 and, of all things, Just Before Dawn. Had they been as successful in that department, this could have been an all-timer, instead of, you know, just OK/pretty good. But then again, a pretty good comedy in theaters* is rare enough these days, so overall I will still give it a pass.

What say you?

*Though it's actually already on VOD, because this is the modern world where if a movie doesn't make $100m on opening weekend it's considered a failure and shipped to the studio's streamer of choice in less than a month.


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