A Quiet Place Part II review

For F*** Magazine

Director: John Krasinski
Cast : Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski
Genre: Horror/Thriller/Sci-fi
Run Time : 97 min
Opens : 17 June 2021 (Sneaks from 5 June)
Rating : PG13

In 2018, A Quiet Place became a sleeper hit with audiences and critics alike. While John Krasinski had directed two feature films before, it was A Quiet Place that made everyone sit up and take notice of his skill behind the camera. The film’s box office success all but guaranteed that a sequel would be made, but especially after the pandemic has forced this sequel to be delayed for an additional year, can it live up to the brilliance of the first film?

After discovering that a high-frequency noise can drive away the monsters that have killed most of the earth’s population, the Abbott family must venture into the outside world. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and a newborn baby leave the farm where they have been hiding for years. They come across fellow survivor Emmett (Cillian Murphy), whom they knew from before the monsters took over the earth. While the Abbotts are armed with a way of repelling the monsters, that doesn’t mean they’re safe, as they discover that the monsters are far from the only threats that lie in wait for them.

Krasinski continues to display strong directorial skill, staging several tense, thrilling set-pieces. The film’s opening sequence, which is a flashback that takes place on the very first day of the attack, is a killer way to start the film, allowing the audience to witness the initial moments of chaos that will change the Abbotts’ lives, and the lives of everyone else on earth, forever. This movie is not quite as scary as the first film, but there are a healthy amount of edge-of-your-seat moments.

The performances are as solid as they were in the first film, with Millicent Simmonds’ Regan getting more to do in this one. Cillian Murphy has a haunted quality to him that works well for the role of a ragged survivor. This film switches the character dynamics up by having Emmet try to protect Regan when she strikes out on her own, determined to find other survivors. This makes A Quiet Place Part II seem even more like the video game The Last of Us than the first movie did, with Emmet analogous to Joel and Regan analogous to Ellie.

Unfortunately, in trying to open the world and do something different, A Quiet Place Part II is not as good as the first movie. The sense of intimacy and the feeling of it being a very personal project for Krasinski and Blunt are somewhat diminished here, even though Krasinski arguably had more say over this one since he’s the sole credited writer. Krasinski was initially reluctant to return for the sequel, planning to pitch story ideas but hand the film off to another director, before he was convinced to return.

While Murphy puts in a good performance, Emmet can’t help but feel like a replacement for Krasinski’s Lee. The movie introduces some interesting ideas about the world beyond and certain groups of survivors, then quickly abandons them. Blunt has less to do here than one might expect. Also, since we already know what the monsters look like, they’re much more clearly visible in this film and sometimes feel a bit less scary because of it.

Just as in the first film, the sound design is an integral component in A Quiet Place Part II. The film very smartly uses the subjectivity of sound, with the sound dropping out entirely when we’re seeing – or rather, hearing – things from Regan’s point of view since the character is hearing-impaired. Sound designers Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl and sound mixer Brandon Proctor do a marvellous job creating a soundscape for a world where making too much noise can be deadly. It’s especially interesting to start the film out with a flashback, seeing and hearing the world as normal, before jumping forward to show the contrast.

Summary: A Quiet Place Part II feels less personal than the first film, but considering the high bar that’s been set, it’s still a thoroughly thrilling, immersive experience and a remarkably well-made monster movie that is a further evolution of John Krasinski as a director. The film also serves as a showcase for Millicent Simmonds, arguably the breakout star of the first film. It’s well worth the additional year’s wait necessitated by the pandemic.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Invisible Man (2020) Review

For F*** Magazine

THE INVISIBLE MAN

Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast : Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman
Genre: Sci-fi/Horror
Run Time : 2 h 4 mins
Opens : 27 February 2020
Rating : M18

H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man has captured the imaginations of readers for over a century and spawned multiple adaptations, among the best known being the 1933 Universal Pictures movie starring Claude Raines. Writer-director Leigh Whannell, the co-creator of the Saw franchise, brings a new version of this classic sci-fi horror tale to the big screen.

Cecilia Kass’ (Elisabeth Moss) abusive husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a brilliant scientist in the field of optics. Cecilia has been plotting her escape from Adrian for months, finally succeeding with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and their childhood friend, police officer James Lanier (Aldis Hodge). Adrian apparently commits suicide, but Cecilia suspects he is faking his death and can turn himself invisible. When Cecilia tries to tell Emily and James about what’s happening, they do not believe her, with James worrying that Cecilia might harm his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). A desperate Cecilia must prove that her life is being controlled by this terrifying unseen force before the Invisible Man hurts her and those she loves.

Some classic Universal Monsters characters are harder to update to the present day than others, usually because of their basis in folklore and mythology. The Invisible Man lends itself well to a present-day reimagining because of its science fiction element. This version has little in common with the source material besides a man named Griffin who can turn invisible, but Whannell approaches the familiar premise from an interesting angle. He is a good genre filmmaker, as evidenced by 2018’s sci-fi action horror Upgrade. He plays up the tension, paranoia and suspense in a movie that touches on the omnipresent fears of surveillance and that draws parallels between horror movie monsters and domestic abusers. The Invisible Man is the right amount of clever – it puts enough of a spin on the well-worn idea, without straining too hard to be something you’ve never seen before. This is not a film with a huge budget, but Whannell makes good use of the resources available to him.

Elisabeth Moss puts in a thoroughly convincing central performance. We root for Cecilia as we see things spin out of control because we know that she is being tormented by an actual invisible man and that it isn’t all in her head, but the other characters don’t know this. Moss sells the deep anguish the character feels and gives the movie an emotional urgency. Her performance is reminiscent of the parts of Terminator 2: Judgement Day in which Sarah Connor is yelling at asylum orderlies who don’t believe her warnings of Judgement Day.

Aldis Hodge is a warm, reassuring and heroic presence, and it is genuinely frustrating when he suspects Cecilia of awful things she didn’t do, because Adrian has engineered it to look that way.

It’s clear that Whannell and his crew took great pains to not make this a silly movie. Unfortunately, it seems like at least some silliness is unavoidable. There are some quality scares in this movie, but it’s hard not to chuckle at multiple scenes of a gun floating through the air or at characters being dragged across the room, pounding away at nothing with their fists. The movie is also slightly too long – Whannell pushes the suspense, but we all roughly know where it’s headed, so it seems like there are a few too many ominously-framed shots of empty rooms to emphasise their apparent emptiness. While the movie is not exploitative in its depiction of a domestic abuse survivor and is about how Cecilia wrests power back from her abuser, there are times when the movie feels a bit too much like a Lifetime channel movie of the week.

The Mummy (2017) was meant to kickstart the Dark Universe, a shared cinematic universe populated by classic Universal Monsters characters. The critical and commercial failure of that film threw a spanner into those works, which led to the planned Invisible Man movie starring Johnny Depp being scrapped. Somewhat confusingly, an unrelated movie called The Invisible Woman is also in development, with Elizabeth Banks starring and directing. A new Bride of Frankenstein film is in the works with John Krasinski attached, while Paul Feig is developing a project called Dark Army that is said to contain multiple Universal Monsters characters.

This new take on the familiar story is largely tense and frightening, even if it takes a while before we get to the scares and the action.  Leigh Whannell skilfully updates the classic H.G. Wells story by tapping on present-day fears and anxieties, helped immensely by a gripping lead performance from Elisabeth Moss. While the movie still feels somewhat slight and a bit repetitive, this is a further showcase for Whannell’s abilities as a genre filmmaker.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Color Out of Space review

For F*** Magazine

COLOR OUT OF SPACE

Director: Richard Stanley
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong
Genre: Horror/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1 h 51 mins
Opens : 20 February 2020
Rating : NC16

Two years ago, fans of cult horror films received the gift of Mandy, starring King of Weird Nicolas Cage. Cage reunites with Mandy’s producers for another outing into the land of the bizarre and unsettling, bringing writer-director Richard Stanley with him.

Cage plays Nathan Gardner, a man who lives on his family farm in rural Massachusetts with his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), witchcraft-practicing daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and sons Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). A meteorite crashes outside the Gardners’ home, unleashing an alien force known as the Colour that begins to mutate the living things in its proximity, warping reality itself. The Gardner family is soon consumed by madness as they are trapped by the Colour.

Richard Stanley has not made a narrative feature film since he was infamously let go from 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau; the tumultuous behind-the-scenes process is detailed in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s good to have Stanley back, and it’s clear that his eccentricities as a filmmaker make him a good candidate to adapt the work of the influential sci-fi/fantasy-horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. Stanley demonstrates a love for and understanding of the source material, delivering both the mounting, paranoid dread and the gooey Cronenbergian body horror that an adaptation of The Colour Out of Space should possess. The practical creature work by 13 Finger FX is appropriately gross and stomach-turning. This is not a movie for the squeamish: horrible things happen to animals and children and there is a graphic scene depicting self-harm.

While Stanley demonstrates a good command of mood and creates some entrancing visuals, the film’s dialogue is often unconvincing. One of the main things that makes Color Out of Space fall short of greatness is that none of the characters seem like real people, even though we spend a considerable amount of time with them. Joely Richardson puts in a serious, respectable performance, but it’s much harder to buy the Gardners as a family unit than it was to buy, say, the Abbotts in A Quiet Place as a family unit.

Nicolas Cage is at once the film’s greatest asset and its biggest liability. Stephen King disapproved of the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in the film adaptation of The Shining because the story was about a normal man’s descent into madness, and Nicholson already seemed crazed to start with. This problem is eminently present in Color Out of Space.

Stanley’s favourite film starring Cage is Vampire’s Kiss, in which Cage plays a literary agent who unravels after being convinced that he has been bitten by a vampire. This is the movie from which the “You Don’t Say?” meme is derived. Stanley asks Cage to do too much – few can freak out or melt down on screen the way Cage can, but this undercuts the terror that Stanley has carefully constructed, and the silliness of Cage’s performance sometimes prevents us from relating to the Gardners.

A subplot involving the haughty Mayor Tooma (Q’orianka Kilcher) doesn’t quite seem to go anywhere. Elliot Knight is a good straight man as Ward Phillips, a hydrologist surveying the area for a dam project, but like his equivalent in Lovecraft’s short story, the character functions as a narrator and doesn’t have much presence in the story.

It’s also hard not to compare this movie to the other adaptations of the story, or even unrelated films that were clearly inspired by The Colour Out of Space. Annihilation is the most obvious recent example – what was called “the Shimmer” is basically the Colour. That film did almost everything this one does, just a little bit better.

Stanley has wanted to make this film for a long time, announcing the project in 2013 and releasing a proof-of-concept trailer online that year. There are many little bits of world-building in this film that Lovecraft fans will notice – Ward wears a “Miskatonic University” t-shirt, referencing the fictional university that first appeared in Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator. Stanley intends to make a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations, with The Dunwich Horror to follow Color out of Space. Considering how Lovecraft’s work is interconnected and taking the richness of the Mythos into account, there’s a lot to be mined here.

Recommended? Only if you’re a hardcore Lovecraft fan or really love small, weird genre movies. Even then, this asks more patience of its viewers than the average gory body horror movie.

Summary: Color Out of Space marks a welcome return for long-absent cult filmmaker Richard Stanley, but the silliness of star Nicolas Cage’s lead performance undoes the truly unsettling, disturbing elements of the film.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

 

Doctor Sleep review

For F*** Magazine

DOCTOR SLEEP

Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast : Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe, Cliff Curtis, Henry Thomas
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 2 h 32 mins
Opens : 7 November 2019
Rating : NC16

After nearly 40 years asleep, the Overlook Hotel reawakens. Doctor Sleep is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Stephen King, which is in turn a sequel to King’s 1977 novel The Shining. That novel was famously adapted into a film directed by Stanley Kubrick, which is often considered one of the finest horror films of all time. Writer-director Mike Flanagan ushers audiences back into the cavernous lobby of the Overlook Hotel and into King’s world.

Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) was five years old when his father Jack was driven insane during the family’s stay at the Overlook Hotel. Dan has become an alcoholic and has never fully gotten closure or come to terms with what he experienced as a child. Dan’s psychic ability, called ‘the Shining’ by the Overlook Hotel’s head chef Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), has never gone away. There are others who possess the Shining, and yet others who feed upon those who do.

Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) is a young girl with unfathomable powers. She is pursued by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the leader of the True Knot cult. Rose and her followers subsist on the “steam” of those who possess the Shining, particularly children. Dan wants nothing more than to forget about the past and never have to use his powers again, but when Abra reaches out to him, Dan is drawn back into the world he so wants to escape. Dan and Abra must face off against Rose, and their quest to bring her down takes them to the one place Dan never wanted to revisit: the Overlook Hotel.

Making a sequel to The Shining is a daunting task, so it is admirable that writer-director Mike Flanagan even tried. Flanagan has a good track record as a horror filmmaker – his body of work includes Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald’s Game and the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. His knack for exploring the inner emotional lives of characters rather than focusing merely on set-pieces and scares makes him the ideal candidate to make a movie about a character who confronts deep-seated childhood trauma and deals with addiction.

Doctor Sleep takes its time, making audiences eagerly anticipate the return to the Overlook Hotel and the horrors that lie in wait there. Even though the imagery of The Shining has featured heavily in the promotional material, this is not a movie about the Overlook Hotel. It’s a movie about Dan, how he has struggled in the intervening decades, and what happens when he is drawn back into the fray. Ewan McGregor is compelling and sympathetic in the role, convincingly portraying a man who has been through the wringer and is trying to outrun his past. Dan is always the centre of the story, and even when the movie gets carried away with callbacks to its predecessor, Dan’s journey is an important emotional anchor.

Once we get to the hotel (and in one scene before that), the movie goes full-bore fanservice. It becomes a seemingly endless parade of “look, here’s that thing you remember!” which might overstay its welcome. There’s a thrill in seeing locations and scenes from The Shining recreated again for the big screen, but especially given how remakes and belated sequels pile on the nostalgia, more cynical audiences might be unmoved by these scenes.

While Doctor Sleep is often effectively scary and includes some genuinely harrowing and disturbing scenes, some of the scares are unintentionally funny. The visual effects work is strong, especially in the dream/fantasy sequences, but several CGI-driven moments are not quite as creepy as intended. It isn’t nearly as noticeable as in IT Chapter 2, another Stephen King adaptation, but it still sticks out.

In Singapore, the film is rated NC16. In order to achieve this and avoid an M18 rating, some scenes featured a section of the screen censored with a blurry box. This is wont to pull many viewers out of the proceedings, but at least none of the scenes were cut.

Beyond McGregor, all the performances are good. Kyliegh Curran has a large amount of heavy lifting to do and is more than up to the task. Abra is powerful and eager, but also underestimates the immense danger she is up against. The mentor-mentee relationship between Dan and Abra adds even more heart to the film.

Rebecca Ferguson is clearly enjoying herself as the wicked Rose. She’s hamming it up just enough such that she’s still sinister and is surrounded by capable actors like Zahn McClarnon and Emily Alyn Lind as the True Knot devotees. The character is a villain out of a fairy tale, a wicked witch who preys on children, eating them to sustain her power. There is a poignancy to a fairy tale villainess being the person whom our heroes, one who survived trauma as a child and another who still is a child, must defeat.

Cliff Curtis is a warm, reassuring presence as Billy, a kind man who befriends Dan and helps him get back on his feet. The actors who play the characters from the previous film are all good matches, but Carl Lumbly is especially outstanding, uncannily echoing Scatman Crothers’ indelible turn as Hallorann in the first film.

While many hold Kubrick’s The Shining as the pinnacle of cinematic horror, the movie had its detractors, chief of which was King himself. Flanagan has tried to appease King by drawing on more elements of the Shining novel, while also including the iconography of Kubrick’s movie, striving to let the best of both worlds shine. This is very ambitious, and he is mostly successful.

The movie certainly works better if one has seen The Shining but does a fine job of explaining who Dan is and what he has gone through such that newcomers will not be lost and might be motivated to seek out the original film and book.

Summary: Making a sequel to a film that has an almost mythic status is a nigh-insurmountable task, one that writer-director Mike Flanagan is mostly up to. Doctor Sleep might lean just a bit too heavily on the imagery of The Shining but said imagery would be missed if it weren’t included in the film. This is an absorbing, intense and well-crafted exploration of confronting trauma and breaking free of substance abuse, and against all odds, a worthy follow-up to The Shining.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

IT Chapter Two review

IT CHAPTER TWO

Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast : James McAvoy, Jaeden Martell, Jessica Chastain, Sophia Lillis, Jay Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, James Ransone, Jack Dylan Grazer, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 2 h 49 mins
Opens : 5 September 2019
Rating : M18

            In 2017, It received critical acclaim and became the highest grossing horror movie of all time. Anticipation was high for Chapter Two, which concludes the story of the Losers Club’s battle against Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

At the end of the first film, the members of the Losers Club vowed that if Pennywise were to re-emerge, they would return to Derry, Maine to face him. 27 years later, the clown rears his grotesque grinning head. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa as an adult, Chosen Jacobs as a child), who has stayed in Derry and become the town librarian, summons his friends, who have all moved away, back home.

Bill (James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell) is now an author and screenwriter, married to actress Audra (Jess Weixler). Beverly (Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis) is a fashion designer in an abusive marriage. Richie (Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard) is a stand-up comedian. Ben (Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor) has become a successful architect. Eddie (James Ransone/Jack Dylan Grazer) is a risk analyst. Stanley (Andy Bean/Wyatt Oleff) is an accountant. Each has moved on with their lives, but the spectre of Pennywise, of It, hangs over them. As the bonds of their childhood friendship are re-forged, the Losers Club battles Pennywise in his myriad terrifying forms again.

Stephen King’s novel It had a structure that alternated between following the Losers Club as adults and as kids. This two-part film adaptation has changed that by focusing the first movie on the Losers Club as kids, then the second on the characters as adults. The movie is 169 minutes long compared to the first film’s 135. Director Andy Muschietti seems to have been emboldened by the success of Chapter One, taking more risks with Chapter Two. However, those risks do not always pay off.

This reviewer loved the first film, which engendered sincere sympathy and affection from the audience for its characters in a way very few horror films have before. It Chapter Two continues to be character-driven, and part of the reason why its runtime is so long is that we need to spend enough time with each character to see their arcs through. However, there is also a greater emphasis on set-pieces and spectacle. Instead of concentrating the terror, as the scare sequences in the first movie did so well, the set-pieces here seem to diffuse the terror.

There’s a lot in this movie which sounds scary on paper, and several of It’s manifestations are unsettling on a conceptual level. However, they end up being mostly CGI. Even when the visual effects work is very good, on a base level, audiences know that whatever is menacing the actors isn’t really occupying the same space as them. The film evokes practical creature effects classics like The Thing and The Fly, but minus most of the tactility. Even when Spanish actor/contortionist Javier Botet portrays one of It’s forms, the creature has an obviously computer-generated face. The problem with the more outlandish It-erations in this movie is that they tend to take away from Bill Skarsgård’s performance, which is scary enough as is.

While there are several outstanding performers in the cast portraying the grown-up Losers Club, the child versions of the characters are just a lot more compelling. The casting in the film is generally good. Physically, James Ransone is a very close match for Jack Dylan Grazer, doing a lot with his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth to match Grazer’s performance.

Jessica Chastain has made a career playing women who are fiercer and have a harder edge to them than Beverly. Sophia Lillis was the standout in the first film, but Beverly seems a smidge less interesting in this one.

James McAvoy’s Bill is the team’s de-facto leader. While McAvoy is sympathetic and watchable as ever, he sometimes seems to be doing a bit too much. The character is an avatar for Stephen King, meaning we get some meta jokes that are amusing but possibly cross over into being a touch obnoxious.

Bill Hader is the designated scene-stealer. As expected, he’s hilarious, but the film also gives the character several more layers behind his trash-talking exterior. We see that Richie’s sense of humour is a defence mechanism to disguise his true self. Despite the strength of Hader’s performance, the character feels in danger of becoming just the comic relief character.

Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike is sensitive and conscientious, having dedicated the past two decades to studying It’s history. He delivers some clunky exposition, and it’s when the movie explains It’s origins that things get somewhat tedious.

Ben has undergone the most obvious physical transformation. While this reviewer was invested in the love triangle between Ben, Beverly and Bill, Jay Ryan is handsome but not terribly interesting in the role.

It Chapter Two attempts to explore how trauma affects us and the burden that childhood pain can have on us as adults. The ensemble cast gets to shine, but the story is less focused in this outing, meaning it’s less scary. There are authentically unnerving moments, but there are far more scenes in which the characters are pursued by various things made of CGI. The film’s ambition is admirable, but it’s hard not to be at least a little disappointed given the sublime quality of its predecessor.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Losers Stick Together: facing fear in IT: Chapter 2

The cast and filmmakers discuss making the horror sequel

By Jedd Jong

In Stephen King’s novel It, the titular entity of pure evil that is most often seen in the guise of a clown menaces a group of characters who form ‘the Losers Club’. The novel alternates between following the characters as adults and as children. The 2017 film adaptation focused on the younger versions of the Losers Club, with audiences being introduced to their grown-up iterations in this sequel, which is set 27 years later when It/Pennywise re-emerges.

The first It film was always intended to be part of a duology. “The big picture, the second chapter, was always in the back of my mind,” director Andy Muschietti said.
“We were always excited about the second part, because it’s really the second half of the story.”

It was praised for how compelling the characters were and how easy it was to be emotionally invested in them, a relative rarity in the world of horror. For Muschietti, breaking up the two timelines was part of creating that emotional investment for audiences.

“I had agreed to make the first movie only about the children, because it would be emotionally more interesting, more compelling without breaking it with time jumps,” Muschietti explained.

With its focus on the adult characters but with flashbacks featuring the young cast also a part of the story, the second movie depicts the “dialogue between the timelines” that echoes the structure of the book. “It’s about the characters’ relationships with the past, looking at events that happened 27 years ago and finding themselves,” Muschietti added.

From left: Ben Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, Jaeden Martell, Jack Dylan Grazer, James Ransone, Sophia Lillis, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff

In casting the film, the filmmakers had to find actors who were believable as adult versions of characters whom audiences had grown to love over the course of the first film. “For us, of course, the first thing we wanted was great acting, then physical resemblance to the kids,” producer (and Andy’s sister) Barbara Muschietti said. “We just think we got the perfect cast of grownup Losers,” she enthused, adding that the filmmakers “never had Plan Bs” and went with their first choices for each role.

The ensemble cast is led by James McAvoy as Bill Denborough. Bill has always been haunted by the death of his brother Georgie, the first onscreen victim of Pennywise we saw in the first film. Speaking about how Jaeden Martell’s performance as the younger Bill inspired him, McAvoy said “I suppose I stole Jaeden Martell’s emotional vulnerability and his openness. As a kid, I think Bill is a strange mix of suppression and complete vulnerability, and Jaeden nailed that.”

Bill has become a successful novelist and screenwriter and is in many ways patterned after Stephen King himself. McAvoy pointed out that while the members of the Losers Club have generally moved on, there is a curse that still follows them. “The Losers that leave [Derry] all become arguable winners, but they all have this tainted side to their success—none of them seem to be able to have children, for one,” McAvoy remarked, adding that each character deals with “emotional issues that darken all of their, what seem like, perfect lives.”

Jessica Chastain portrays Beverly, the one female member of the Losers Club. Beverly hasn’t quite been able to outrun the spectre of her abusive father, seeing as she is now stuck in an abusive marriage. “For Beverly, she’s still living with her ideas of what love is,” Chastain explained. “The first person she really loved is her father, so this idea—that love means someone you love can hurt you at the same time—has lasting impact on her.”

One of It Chapter Two’s most memorable scenes places Beverly in the middle of a literal bloodbath. The scene required over 17 000 litres of fake blood, something Chastain was game for. “I love horror films, I love Carrie, and I said, ‘Let’s make Carrie on steroids,’” Chastain recalled, referencing another film adaptation of a Stephen King novel.

Chastain called Lillis’ performance as the younger Beverly “beautiful,” and emulated one specific aspect of Lillis’ physicality. “I hadn’t told Andy [Muschietti] I was doing this, but I was holding my hands the way she did,” Chastain revealed. “When he saw me, he said, ‘You’re walking with her hands.’”

Bill Hader plays the trash-talking Richie Tozier, and his performance has been called the standout of the film. Hader said he “worked within the character lines” that had been drawn by Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, who played Richie in the first film.

“Like a lot of comedy people, you deal with stuff by joking about it,” the former Saturday Night Live star said about Richie, who in this film has become a stand-up comedian. “He’s the first guy, when they realize what’s happening, to say, ‘Oh, I’m outta here. F*** this.’ He has deep, deep repression.”

The most dramatic physical transformation is that of the character Ben, played by New Zealand actor Jay Ryan. “Ben, once he leaves town, he starts running, physically and emotionally, for 27 years,” Ryan said. “He learns how to say no, to stand up to bullies, and he becomes a leader in his profession.” Ben, who has become an architect, still holds a torch for Beverly, whom he had a crush on as a kid. “It seems to the outside world that here’s a man who has everything, but he doesn’t really have any real human connections,” Ryan elaborated, saying that Ben is “ready to go back to Derry and really reveal his true self.”

James Ransone plays Eddie, who was portrayed by Shazam! star Jack Dylan Grazer as a kid. “I thought, ‘That kid talked really fast. If I can keep up with him, everything’s gonna be fine,’” Ransone joked.

“He’s probably spent a lot of his time pretending to not think about his childhood by focusing on his wife,” Ransone said of Eddie. Eddie winds up marrying a woman who is reminiscent of his constantly nagging mother. “You get in those type of relationships, where it’s a constant project that needs fixing. You focus on that so that you don’t have to think about yourself,” Ransone mused.

Isaiah Mustafa plays Mike, the one character who has stayed behind in Derry. Mike has spent the last 27 years researching It and coming up with a plan to defeat the monstrous creature. It is Mike who summons his friends back home and reconvenes the Losers Club. “I believe he felt a responsibility to stay in Derry, to be the custodian of this energy that they cultivated as a group,” Mustafa said. “So, once that evil returned, he could call his friends and say, ‘Let’s do this thing again.’”

Andy Bean plays Stanley, who was played by Wyatt Oleff as a kid. Bean described the character as having a good marriage and leading “quite a beautiful, content, comfortable life.” The horrible childhood memories he has been repressing come bubbling back to the surface when Mike calls. “I think he had buried his memories so deep that he didn’t really remember anything until he heard Mike’s voice—it’s his voice,” Bean said.

Just as the Losers have grown and evolved, so has Pennywise, played once again by Bill Skarsgård. “He wants them back, in a way,” Barbara Muschietti said of Pennywise, adding that he’s “also angry, because they defeated him before, and in coming back, they are showing brave behaviour…which he can’t stand.” To fight the Losers, Pennywise must “become a more evil, bigger monster,” manifesting in startling and dramatic new forms.

Speaking about how Pennywise is different in this film, Andy Muschietti said “He’s changed in the sense that the fears are more about things that frighten us as adults.” While said fears are rooted in traumatic events from the Losers’ childhoods, they take a shape that is more threatening to them 27 years after their initial encounter with Pennywise.

“This is a journey that the Losers need to take back to their childhood, to access the power of belief,” the director said. The mission for the Losers is to take that horrifying entity of their past, “to be able to confront it, understand it and ultimately, overcome it.”

One of the film’s central themes is that of facing one’s fears, and how there is an unspoken power to the bonds of friendship. The Losers “return to face their past—it’s a brave and powerful thing to do,” Barbara Muschietti opined. “Your fears go with you until you really face them, and that’s when you grow.”

Interview transcripts courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

47 Meters Down: Uncaged review

For inSing

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED

Director: Johannes Roberts
Cast : Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Sistine Stallone, John Corbett, Nia Long
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 1 h 30 mins
Opens : 29 August 2019
Rating : PG13

            In 2017, 47 Meters Down chronicled the misadventures of two sisters who got into a shark cage while on vacation in Mexico. As the title suggests, this sequel dispenses with the cage, following four friends into caves where sharks are waiting.

Mia (Sophie Nélisse) is having a hard time at school where she is constantly bullied, and has trouble getting along with her stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx). Their dad Grant (John Corbett) is a commercial diver who is mapping a sunken Mayan city, preparing for visiting archaeologists.

Sasha’s friend Alexa (Brianne Tju), who has followed Grant’s employee Ben (Davi Santos) into the caves, convinces Mia, Sasha and Nicole (Sistine Stallone) to go exploring in the caves. The plan is to swim into the first chamber and then return, but naturally, things go wrong. Sharks which have adapted to the low-light conditions of the underwater caverns terrorise the girls, who are trapped with a fast-depleting oxygen supply. The four girls must help each other survive and escape.

Director Johannes Roberts returns for the sequel, which has no characters in common with its predecessor. In a way, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged seems like a typical direct-to-DVD sequel, with a different cast but a similar premise to the first. However, Uncaged has a noticeably bigger budget than the first movie. Roberts is more ambitious with this film, staging several exciting sequences that are more elaborate than what we saw in 47 Meters Down, which was by its nature quite spare.

Shooting any movie underwater is no small logistical undertaking, especially given the film’s limited budget. The film’s set design and explosive finale sequence contribute to a slightly bigger feel than its predecessor.

With its all-female main cast, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is kind of like a less-gnarly version of The Descent. Roberts cowrote the screenplay with Ernest Riera; it appears neither knows how teenage girls talk to each other. The movie struggles to parcel out enough information about our protagonists before the action begins such that we care about them when they’re in peril. As such, the characters are all thinly drawn.

Sophie Nélisse, who put in an excellent performance in The Book Thief, is the awkward, level-headed protagonist. Succumbing to peer pressure, she is coaxed into doing something silly and dangerous by her stepsister and her friends. Giving off slight Saoirse Ronan vibes, Nélisse is the best actress of the four, in part because there is just that little bit more to her character than to the others

Corrine Foxx, daughter of Jamie, plays a character who’s a bit stuck up. Naturally, the two stepsisters will bond over the course of their harrowing ordeal. Sistine Stallone, daughter of Sylvester, is there to be the party animal friend who in horror movie terms is almost begging to be the first to die.

Brianne Tju’s Alexa is confident without being annoying, and next to Mia, is the one who knows what’s she doing.

John Corbett puts in some dependable character actor work, playing what amounts to a textbook supporting role.

The visual effects work, mainly created by Outpost VFX, is mostly good. The sharks have evolved to survive in the submerged caves, making them register more as movie monsters than regular sharks. The film ends with a disclaimer message stating that around 10 people die in shark attacks each year, vs 100 million sharks that get killed by humans. There is a valid fear that movies like 47 Meters Down: Uncaged perpetuate a disproportionate fear of sharks, so that might be why Roberts has played up the movie monster attributes of the animals in this film.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged is often trapped between being all-out campy fun and being a legitimately scary thriller. Despite weak writing and a somewhat dull middle stretch, the film is mostly entertaining, so much so that one could almost forgive it ripping off Deep Blue Sea’s most memorable scene.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark review

For inSing

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

Director: André Øvredal
Cast : Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 1 h 48 mins
Opens : 15 August 2019
Rating : NC16

            We’ve heard the expressions that stories can be powerful, but it’s a figure of speech. In this horror movie, stories have literal, dark power, as a group of friends find their lives upended by a cursed book of spooky tales.

It is 1968, and in the town of Mill Valley, there is a local legend: a mansion on the outskirts of town is haunted by the spirit of a young girl who killed herself there almost a hundred years ago. On the night of Halloween, friends Stella (Zoe Colletti), August (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) meet stranger Ramon (Michael Garza) at a drive-in movie. They are pursued by the bully Tommy (Austin Abrams), and they all find themselves in the mansion.

There, Stella comes across a book in which Sarah Bellows, the young girl in the myth, wrote horror stories. New stories appear to be written by themselves, as Stella and her friends are targeted by the otherworldly monsters that feature in said stories. Stella, August, Chuck and Ramon must unravel the mystery behind who Sarah Bellows was to save themselves from her deadly stories.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on the series of children’s books by Alvin Schwartz. The first volume was published in 1981, and they are akin to the Goosebumps books but for slightly older readers. The books were known for their haunting, nightmarish illustrations by Stephen Gammell, which were replaced with new illustrations by Brett Helquist in the 2011 edition.

When it was announced that Guillermo del Toro would produce and possibly direct an adaptation of the books, it seemed like a good fit because of the director’s imaginative take on the horror genre.

Del Toro is credited with co-writing the screen story and as a producer, with André Øvredal directing. The Norwegian Øvredal directed Trollhunters and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark follows in the current resurgence of live-action horror-tinged adventure stories starring kids, like Stranger Things and It: Chapter One – this can arguably be traced back to 2011’s Super 8, which was itself patterned after films E.T. and The Goonies. Unlike those other films and TV shows, the setting is the 60s rather than the 80s, complete with Nixon references.

While Scary Stories is a largely well-made movie that isn’t as cheesy or goofy as it could’ve been, it faces the conundrum of how scary a horror movie that is aimed at kids should be. Scary Stories often finds itself stuck in the awkward position of being too scary for kids and not scary enough for adults. The film is rated NC16 in Singapore but is rated PG13 in the US. This is of course considering that ‘scariness’ is subjective. The movie has more on its mind than the typical teen-aimed jump scare fest but struggles a bit with being consistently thrilling and entertaining.

Scary Stories does get a lot right – structurally, framing the individual stories with the device of a cursed book and the mystery of that book’s author prevents the film from feeling as episodic and disjointed as it could have. However, because the movie draws on multiple stories, some are noticeably stronger than others.

The film’s creature design is a mixed bag – a few of the monsters seem generic, but a few are ingenious and inspired, with one that both stays close to the original Gammell illustration and bears the hallmarks of a del Toro-influenced design. A lot of the practical makeup effects work is great, but the more obviously computer-generated monsters lose a bit of their scariness, even if the visual effects used to create them are technically competent.

Zoe Colletti’s Stella is a sympathetic and sensitive lead character. As a girl who’s a horror fan and aspiring writer in the 1960s, Stella is an outcast who finds solace in horror movies and novels. Having a writer as the protagonist in a movie about stories is one demonstrate of the film’s thematic awareness.

Michael Garza is handsome, but ultimately comes off as too innately decent to be convincing as the mysterious bad boy from out of town.

Gabriel Rush’s August is the voice of reason, while Austin Zajur’s Chuck is the deliberately annoying prankster character. There are attempts to make them more than the archetypes they stand in for, but the slasher movie mentality of the characters just being there to get picked off does creep in.

Austin Abrams’ Tommy does some despicable things, but Abrams himself is not sufficiently intimidating as the jock bully.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has just enough of a del Toro touch to it to set it apart from the typical horror movie aimed at the younger set and it is driven by an affection for and appreciation of the book. While it is doubtful than any adults will find it truly frightening, it is wont to give kids a nightmare or two.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Crawl review

CRAWL

Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast :  Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson, Anson Boon, Jose Palma
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 1 h 27 mins
Opens : 11 July 2019
Rating : NC16

        Mother Nature’s fury manifests in twofold terrors in Crawl, with our heroine battling a vicious storm and a congregation of alligators.

A Category 5 hurricane bears down on the small Florida town of Coral Lake, with the residents ordered to evacuate. Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) goes against the order to rescue her father Dave (Barry Pepper), who is trapped inside their rapidly-flooding house. With the fierce weather conditions making a rescue impossible, it’s up to Haley to get her father to safety. The storm has brought with it toothy, hungry alligators, who have converged on Coral Lake. Haley and Dave must draw on every bit of their survival instincts to make it out alive.

After the explosive success of 1975’s Jaws, which all but invented the modern summer blockbuster, there was an influx of natural horror films which tried to capitalise on said success. These included Grizzly, Orca and yes, Alligator. Crawl feels like a throwback to that era of natural horror movies, and there’s a certain amount of knowing what you’re getting when one watches a movie like Crawl.

The film is directed by Alexandre Aja, who became famous for the French horror film Haute Tension and went on to make The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D and Horns in Hollywood. Aja has a knack for suspense, and he brings plenty of that to Crawl. While there are many violent, gory moments, Crawl is superficially scary but never really affecting because of the silliness inherent in the premise. Alligators can be terrifying, but as rendered in Crawl, they’ve become slasher villains, feeling more like movie monsters than actual animals. Part of what made Jaws scary was the intelligence attributed to the shark, but too much of that can conversely make audiences aware that they’re watching monsters that were written to hunt down the heroes, rather than animals who behave like animals.

Crawl is a well-constructed theme park ride which, not entirely unlike the recent Annabelle Comes Home, is a good movie to go to with friends, scream at while grabbing each other’s arms, and then go home and forget about. The computer-generated animation on the alligators is mostly very good, but the backdrops, especially the storm cloud-filled skies, are patently unconvincing. The film is set in Florida but was shot in Belgrade, Serbia to benefit from tax rebates. It is a modestly budgeted horror movie which still mostly looks good and never feels too cheap.

Much of what makes Crawl work is the performances from Scodelario and Pepper. This reviewer’s friend has often said that Scodelario would be the ideal actress to play Ripley in a reboot of the Alien franchise, and Crawl is a good demo reel for that. She is trapped in damp, claustrophobic spaces, wielding a dynamo torch and fending off scaly critters. Scodelario convincingly essays someone who is skilled and resourceful, but is also justifiably scared out of her wits.

Pepper is the dude in distress for much of the movie, with Scodelario’s Haley doing much of the work, but we do get invested in his plight and want father and daughter to make it out alright. Both Scodelario and Pepper take things very seriously, such that tempting as it might be to laugh at the premise, it never becomes self-parody. It does get a bit wink-and-nod by imperilling a dog, paddling for its life as the alligators bear down on it.

Crawl is far from the most ground-breaking horror movie, but if anything, its throwback nature lends it a degree of charm. This is not a movie that’s trying to be the edgiest, most philosophical or most disturbing movie, it’s trying to be a thrill ride and with a master of suspense at the helm, it accomplishes its goal. Like many natural horror movies, it plays up the monstrousness of real animals and portrays them as especially vicious, but it is in service of an entertaining time.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Annabelle Comes Home review

For inSing

ANNABELLE COMES HOME

Director: Gary Dauberman
Cast : Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Michael Cimino
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 1 h 46 mins
Opens : 26 June 2019
Rating : PG13

            The third film in the Annabelle series and the seventh film in the Conjuring franchise overall welcomes audiences back to the Warren Occult Museum, where things go bump in the night.

After the events of the first Annabelle movie, paranormal investigators and demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren bring the cursed doll Annabelle back to their home for safekeeping. Annabelle is not haunted per se but is a beacon that attracts and awakens other ghosts. Blessed by a priest and kept behind a glass case made from a church window, Annabelle can do no more harm – or at least, that’s the plan.

The Warrens hire teenager Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to babysit their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) while they’re away. Curious about the Warrens, Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes to the house and breaks into the secret room containing Annabelle and other objects that are either cursed, possessed or were used in occult rituals. This unleashes a litany of horrors which the three girls must outrun.

In the wake of the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every studio wants a ‘universe’ of their own. The Conjuring Universe is the rare example that has worked, with the seven films making almost $1.7 billion collectively worldwide. Annabelle Comes Home demonstrates one of the reasons why the franchise is successful: the real-life Warrens conducted so many investigations that there’s a rich well to draw from. Every object in the Warrens’ museum has a story behind it, and Annabelle Comes Home shows us what happens if everything in that room came alive at once. As a result, Annabelle herself is more a supporting character, sharing the limelight with various other unearthly entities.

Annabelle Comes Home is the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who wrote the earlier two Annabelle films, The Nun and the two It films. Dauberman creates delightfully tense scenarios, constructed for audiences to point at the screen and yell “behind you!” This is a movie that is best watched with a crowd because it is designed as a theme park attraction, a haunted house combined with a roller coaster. There are shades of Night at the Museum and Disneyland’s classic Haunted Mansion, in which each ghost has a rich backstory.

There are jump scares aplenty, but the film retains the audience’s goodwill by being just self-aware enough without being overly cynical. Annabelle Comes Home has a sense of humour about it but always wants to be genuinely scary. The early 1970s setting also provides the movie with a good deal of texture, with one particularly inspired set-piece involving the board game Feeley Meeley.

This movie is geared towards a younger audience than the other Conjuring films are – in Singapore, it has a PG-13 rating despite having an R rating in the US. The characters still sometimes do extremely stupid things, but are overall much more likeable than in typical horror movies geared towards teens.

13-year-old Mckenna Grace has amassed an impressive résumé, with film and television credits including I, Tonya, Captain Marvel, Designated Survivor and The Haunting of Hill House. Having been raised by paranormal investigators, Judy knows a thing or two about the supernatural, so she isn’t just the typical horror movie kid in peril. Judy isn’t afraid of many things, but is especially afraid of Annabelle, which conditions the audience to fear the doll too.

Madison Iseman plays the sweet, caring babysitter, with Katie Sarife as her more rebellious, troublemaking friend. Sarife’s character is deliberately annoying, and it’s only later that we learn there’s a bit more to her, even if the emotional beats centred around her character don’t really work. Between the three characters, there’s a lot of screaming to go around, but the movie has fun with the dynamic of the younger girl protecting the older girls when it’s expected to be the other way around.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga show up in what amounts to an extended cameo, but their appearance in this film means it has a much stronger connection to the mainline Conjuring series than the other spinoffs do. However, their appearance also reminds us that some of the ideas in this movie were probably rejected from the upcoming The Conjuring 3 – one Warren investigation which producer James Wan earlier said could be the basis of The Conjuring 3 is briefly covered in this movie.

The breakout character is Bob (Michael Cimino), an earnest awkward boy with a crush on Mary Ellen who inadvertently gets caught in the chaos.

Annabelle Comes Home is not a particularly haunting movie and won’t linger in the dark corners of one’s mind the way the best horror movies do. It is entertaining and thrilling and will elicit its share of shrieks and nervous laughter. Go with a bunch of friends and try not to grab their arms too hard.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong