"The Nightingale" by Jennifer Kent

5/23/2020

Australian Writer /Director Jennifer Kent drew both audience and critical acclaim for her 2014 debut film “The Babadook”, a frightening and disturbing psychological horror film about a woman and her young son.  For her second feature she looks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.  “The Nightingale” manages to dive deep into the real-life horror of a woman stuck in the middle of the Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania) genocide, also known as the Black War.  I must mention that this film contains extremely difficult imagery and is not for the faint of heart.  Kent shows just a sliver of what really happened to the women and indigenous people of Tasmania during this period.

Clare, played by Aisling Franciosi, is one of few female prisoners sent to the British penal colony of Van Dieman’s Land.  To secure her freedom she is forced to work as a barmaid and singer for the ruthless Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin).  She was allowed to get married and have a baby daughter.  As Hawkins continually denies Clare’s freedom her husband Aiden, a former prisoner himself, presses the issue with the Lieutenant and despite Claire’s warning gets them in serious trouble.  When Hawkins's long-awaited promotion to the North falls through he gathers a few of his men and visits Clare’s living quarters.  What takes place is quite possibly the most disturbing scenes ever put to film.  Aiden is told that Clare has been continually raped by Hawkins at the bar.  In a fury Aiden attacks the men only to be beaten and restrained.  Clare is then raped right in front of him and is then shot and killed.  Her baby’s unanswered cries are then silenced when Hawkins orders one of the men to shut it up.  Hawkins then takes it upon himself to travel north to see if she can secure the new post himself.

Bruised and broken Clare becomes hell bent on revenge, she gets a horse, a rifle, and heads off to find Hawkins and his men.  Although it is nearly impossible to navigate the rugged wilderness without an aboriginal guide, she finds Billy (Baykali Ganambarr).  The relationship that develops between them is rich and organic and gives the film its heart.  They find in each other a deeply tragic past and a common enemy that even if found can never bring peace.

The violence in “The Nightingale” is intense and viscerally disturbing, one such moment is when Clare catches up with the man who killed her baby.  She shoots him in the leg and as he begs for his life she bludgeons him in the face a number of times.  Clare sprayed with blood feels no relief, no satisfaction in her actions.  Meanwhile, Hawkins and the guys find an aboriginal woman and each has their turn raping her, she is then shot leaving behind her young child.  Their aboriginal trail guide Uncle Charlie can do nothing but watch these horrific acts.  

When Clare finally catches up with Hawkins and has her rifle pointed at him she freezes in a moment of utter fear.  He sees her and fires his rifle striking her in the shoulder.  Clare and Billy escape but are separated  The film's third act finds Clare and Billy reunited and entering the northern settlement.  Clare takes a different approach to take her revenge.  She finds Hawkins in the local bar and in front of him and the commanding officers sings to him.  While a little anti-climactic she tears at Hawkins's ego in front of his superiors.  After a little more abuse from Hawkins she leaves.  Billy on the other hand dresses in ceremonial white paint reminiscent of David Gulpilil’s character in the movie “Walkabout”.  In an act of revenge for his people who have been completely wiped out, he takes it upon himself to murder Hawkins and his one remaining sidekick.  He is shot in the gut in the process and Clare takes him to the ocean shore to watch the sunrise.  Does he die?  We will never know.  “The Nightingale” is a fascinating film that pulls no punches in its depictions of the real-life violence that happens to indigenous people during colonization.  It’s going to be interesting to see where Kent’s next film will take us.


"The Babadook" is Psychological Horror at its Best

5/13/2020

“The Babadook” is Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent’s debut film and was also one of the most critically acclaimed horror films of 2014.  Winning numerous awards from festivals and critics around the world for its actors and filmmakers.  So what is all the fuss about this little movie?  Let’s take a look.

The film centers itself on the relationship between a mother and son six years after the tragic death of her husband.  Essie Davis plays Amelia in a groundbreaking performance that gives new meaning to stressed-out single mothers.  When she was pregnant and about to give birth her husband was driving her to the hospital when they were involved in a deadly car accident.  Since then her son Samuel’s birthday always reminds her of the death of her beloved husband.  Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman, is quite the handful to put it lightly.  He is a 6-year-old terror to everyone he comes in contact with and this weighs heavily on Amelia’s fragile psyche.

The filmmakers do an amazing job creating this world that Amelia inhabits.  She never has a moment to rest, always being pulled in one direction or another.  Despite all this she soldiers on trying to be the best mother she can.  One night while putting Samuel to bed he chooses a new bedtime story from the bookshelf.  It's an unfamiliar red hardcover pop-up book entitled “Mister Babadook”.  As Amelia starts to read this ominous and chilling book things get a little too scary and Samuel freaks out.  She stops reading and really begins to wonder where the book came from.  Things then start to quickly derail for the two of them.  Amelia has an outburst at work and Samuel starts to blame the Babadook for his unruly behavior.  After Samuel pushes his cousin out of a treehouse at her birthday party he is taken to a psychologist.  Amelia then starts to lose her sense of reality when at night she sees the Babadook creeping into her bedroom.  This is only the beginning of her deep descent into a dark pit of despair.  Her visions and paranoia become more and more intense.  Samuel is no longer safe around her and must fight her off.  He knows his mother is still in their somewhere and will stop at nothing to get her back.  The basement plays a big symbolic roll in the film.  It is where all of her husband's belonging reside and where the pain and fear are at its greatest.  In order to tame the Babadook, she is forced to confront the deep pain and sorrow she has been hiding from all these years.

“The Babadook” is a psychological horror film to its core.  Amelia’s deep descent into madness is due to the fact that she wasn’t able to properly grieve for the sudden death of her husband and then being thrown into the job of being a full-time mother to baby Samuel.  The guilt, blame, and regret has been building for the past six years just waiting to be released.  Deep down she wants to blame Samuel for the death of her husband and for this can’t properly love him like a mother should.  All of this festering pain and anger has created the Babadook and while you can never kill it, you can learn to live and deal with it in a more healthy way.  Amelia finds her way through this darkness and is able to finally be the mother she knows she always could be.


"Leave No Trace" is An Emotional Powerhouse

5/12/2020

Director Debra Granik has only made 3 films and each one is an emotional and dramatic masterpiece.  Her previous film “Winter’s Bone” introduced the world to Jennifer Lawerence and now her latest “Leave No Trace” stars Thomasin Mckenzie, a young actress with a bright and promising future.  The film itself asks the viewer to contemplate a number of questions about what it is to live in a progressively modern society.  How should a person live and how society forces people to follow a certain prescribed path.  What is personal freedom anyway?  And how far does it extend?

Will is an Iraq war veteran, played by the always great Ben Foster, who lives in the Pacific Northwest with his teenage daughter Tom (short for Thomasin).  They live in the deeply lush greenery of the Portland park system.  Living a life off the grid in a sort of perpetual camping trip.  They get along great together even with no modern luxuries such as phones, televisions or internet.  They collect rainwater and scavenge for food and although Tom says she is constantly hungry they overall live a peaceful life.  They must remain hyper-vigilant about other people, especially cops and park rangers.  They train for such events.  As for money, they venture into the city where Will goes to the VA hospital to pick up his PTSD medications which he in turn sells.  They hit up the grocery store for a few things and its back home to the campsite.

The way that the filmmakers treat color makes you take notice.  The greenery of the forest is heavily saturated making it look like an unreal tropical paradise.  It’s a stark contrast against the city and civilization for that matter which feels like a concrete and asphalt prison.  Will cannot deal with society at large, but as a parent, he must care for his daughter.  Is keeping Tom segregated from modern society hurting her and her future?  This is the main question posed by this movie.  When Tom is spotted by a hiker in the woods, she doesn’t mention this to her dad.  Does she subconsciously want to be found to have more interaction with other people?   Shortly after this they are found by the police and brought in.  The woods are public lands and therefore living in them is illegal.  Tom is taken into protective custody by child services.  When asked if she is homeless, she says no.  Since she has not been enrolled in school she is given tests and asked several questions about her dad and their living arrangements.  She is proven to be a very smart and resourceful girl.  Will, on the other hand, is given a psych evaluation and is completely overwhelmed by the situation.  Eventually, he is reunited with Tom and is given a generous opportunity to live in a farmhouse.  This was given to them by a Christmas tree farmer who is sympathetic to veterans in his situation.  For Will, you can just see and feel the stress and anxiety that boils just below the surface.  He is not an outwardly angry or violent man by any means, but this is what he must do to keep his daughter as he fears losing her to the world.  She is the only thing in his life that he has some control over.

Tom is slowly introduced to a world outside of the forest and her dad.  She meets Isaiah a boy about her age who raises rabbits.  He takes her to a 4H meeting and she seems to be really enjoying herself.  This life doesn’t last long as Will can’t take it any longer.  In the middle of the night, he wakes Tom and they hit the road.  First hopping a train but she then persuades him to take a bus instead.  On a path to nowhere, they then hitch a ride with a trucker until entering the wilderness once more.  This time it's extremely cold and wet with survival now being the main concern.  Tom is starting to both worry and doubt her father at every turn.  The next morning they find an abandoned cabin to warm up and reset themselves.  After getting settled in Will says he is going out to look for food, but we gets this feeling that this is more of a goodbye.  Tom is worried about him and when he doesn’t come back the next morning she goes out to look for him.  She eventually finds him at the bottom of a creek with a severely damaged ankle, how he survived the night I do not know.  Tom is able to find help and they are brought to an encampment of RVs and trailers.  This backwoods settlement is the perfect fit for people looking to escape society and live a simpler life.  Tom loves it.  While Will rushes to recuperate, Tom bonds with the residents especially a lady who keeps bees.  When Will is finally able to walk without crutches he tells Tom “We have to go”.  She stands up to him by saying “You! Not Me!  This all comes to one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve seen in a long time.  In order to survive Will must continue on even it means leaving his daughter behind.  This need is bigger than himself and there is no answer to it.  Tom understands this “I know you’d stay if you could”  The film ends with Will once again venturing into the woods.  One thing that is not expressly mentioned is the whereabouts of Tom’s Mother, maybe I missed it somewhere but I loved this movie nevertheless.  The film feels so authentic and real with every actor adding to this complex story of not just a father and his daughter, but of deeper issues that affect us all.  This film is based on the novel “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock.  I have not read it, but it is definitely on my list.


"Don't Breathe" Will Leave You Breathless!

4/12/2020

Writer/Director Fede Alvarez burst onto the horror scene with the 2013 remake of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead”.  In a refreshing twist this remake was incredible and one of the most intense and bat shit crazy horror films in a number of years.  Trying to avoid the sophomore slump, his follow up was the 2016 film of his own creation “Don’t Breathe”, which turned out to be the sleeper horror hit of the year.

Taking place in a vacant and rundown Detroit three small time burglars look to score big off a blind ex-veteran sitting on a mountain of cash he received after his daughter was tragically killed in a car accident.  Our thieves are Rocky (Jane Levy), a girl looking to escape her white trash abusive mother and take her younger sister to live in California.  Alex (Dylan Minnette), the strait arrow kid whose dad is a security officer.  He is able the gain access into people's homes so the trio can do their thing.  He also has a crazy teenage crush on Rocky.  Last, there is Money (Daniel Zovatto) a low rent wannabe gangster who sells off the goods they steal.  He and Rocky are mentioned as a couple, but vaguely.

Once the new job is proposed Alex is out, but in no time Rocky sweet talks him into it.  They do their research on the house and it looks to be their easiest job yet.  The Blind Man as he is called, we are never given his real name, looks to be an elderly man but as the trio comes to find out he’s still up to the job when defending his home.  At this point, the Blind Man has been built up as this great sympathetic character.  But we soon run into a disturbing twist that spins things around and really makes this movie into what it is.

Once our bandits slip into the house the terror and suspense grips you until the end.  Although they try to sedate the Blind Man with a sort of homemade pop bottle fogger.  He is soon awoken, he is blind not deaf.  Although that being said, they use this to the story's advantage or disadvantage at certain points.  The Blind Man knows every inch of the house both upstairs and down in the large dungeonous basement.  Although this movie could have devolved into some kind of cheesy B-movie the storytelling and characters make this thing work.  It takes a certain level of talent to pull off a movie like this and Fede Alvarez definitely looks to be up to the task of not only making it work but to elevate the material into something special.  I don’t want to spoil this film but the third act reveals more about the Blind Man and his twisted plan to regain a new daughter.  This includes one of the most disturbingly cringe inducing scenes in recent memory.  I highly recommend checking this out while we’re all stuck inside in this crazy new world we live in.


Let the "Sunshine" In

4/5/2020

Science fiction writer Alex Garland has written some of the most intriguing and interesting scripts in the 21st century.  He wrote the script for the hit 2002 film “28 Days Later” which was directed by Danny Boyle and starred Cillian Murphy.  Five years later Boyle and Murphy were back for the space drama “Sunshine”.   A crew is sent on a mission to save mankind and reignite a dying sun after a previous mission had failed.  

The Icarus 2 and its eight member crew are carrying a bomb to launch into the sun in order to save humanity.  “Sunshine” is beautifully filmed with absolutely amazing images which are kind of essential for any space film.  The fiery golden glow of the sun sparkles throughout the film in an almost hypnotic way.  The ship's captain spends a lot of his time in the observation deck in view of the sun which can only be seen at a max of 3.1% of its true brightness.  He develops an obsessive curiosity about what it's like at 100%.  Like a lot of space travel films, the psychological effects of long term space travel are always present.  Cillian Murphy’s character, Robert Capa, is the ship's physician and is responsible for making one the mission's most critical decisions.  While the ship passes by Mercury they pick up a transmission from the Icarius 1.  The question then becomes do they continue on their current path to the sun or do they go after the Icarius 1 and take their bomb?  Two is better than one right? Basically, if they don’t go after the Icarius 1 you have no movie, and he plot stalls out so of course, they decide to go after the extra bomb.  

What makes space travel so difficult is the human element, humans are not machines and always fallible.  When crew member Kaneda screws up and a bunch of heat shields are burnt up this also causes the ship's oxygen garden and crops to be incinerated.  After this, he is mentally destroyed.  With their oxygen reserves now extremely low, they don’t have enough to complete their mission.  They arrive and dock with the Icarius 1 and find it abandoned.  The crew is huddled in the observation room their bodies burnt to a crisp as a result of viewing the sun at full power.  They are able to find a garbled video of the ship's captain who has seemingly lost his mind.  The ships are then violently undocked leaving four crew members stranded on Icarus 1 with only 1 spacesuit.  The spacesuits used in “Sunshine” are very unique as they are completely gold, I guess in order to protect them from the sun.  After some creative thinking two members make is back to the Icarus 2, with one having to remain aboard and sacrificing himself and another who didn’t quite make it and floated away into space.

The third act gets a little crazy but is still enjoyable.  Like I said before the visuals are amazing and although I never saw the film when it was in theaters I’m sure it would have been even better.  All good sci-fi films should leave you with questions about what you have just seen and with a sense of wonder and amazement, “Sunshine” does this.


"Prometheus" Love it or Hate it?

4/1/2020

This prequel to the original “Alien” films is very polarizing among fans, it seems that you either love it or hate it.  I originally saw the IMAX 3D version when it was in theaters and thought it was nothing short of amazing and jaw-dropping.  Seeing it at home, obviously, the visual spectacle is diminished but overall I am a big fan of the film, flaws, and all.

Many things have been said about “Prometheus” and most of them a lot better than I can explain in this short little review.  The story is extremely ambitious and does fall short in some areas but creator Ridley Scott initially planned this to be the first film in a trilogy.  “Prometheus” starts off with some epic landscape shots and we arrive at this large white being at the edge of a waterfall.  He proceeds to drink this black liquid and in a short time, his body starts to disintegrate and falls into the water.  These beings are to be known as the Engineers and thought to be the creators of humankind, Sorry God.  Our main characters are the crew of the space ship Prometheus led by Vickers (Charlize Theron) of the Weyland Corporation.  Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace), her boyfriend Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), the ships pilot Janek (Idris Elba), and the android David (Michael Fassbender).  While on Earth Dr. Shaw and her colleagues find numerous cave paintings around the world pointing to a certain location in the cosmos.  With the help of the ridiculous overly made-up old guy Peter Weyland, they chart a course to discover the origins of mankind.

They end up finding a distant moon that looks to be harboring life.  Upon further investigation, they find these giant mounds and a tunnel system that was once inhabited by these giant beings.  Something terrible had happened and what they find could not only endanger the crew but all of humanity.  Horror movies in general always seem to depend on at least a few characters doing something incredibly stupid to advance the story and create chaos for everybody else.  We have no shortage of those here.  The crew opens a giant door that unveils a sort of cathedral, a massive head monument surrounds by these silver vases, and as the saying goes “curiosity killed the cat”.  But does the saying apply to androids?  Throughout the film, David shows a great capacity for human curiosity.  He is also interested in his own origins but is devastated to find out the truth.  There are also conspiracy theories out there that say Vickers herself is also an android, but this is never answered by the film.  David then starts conducting his own experiments but spiking Holloway's drink with a drop of the mysterious black goo.  Like a virus Holloway in infected and slowly starts to change, but not before having sex with Dr. Shaw.  He eventually turns into this rage-filled beast that is taken down by Vickers and her flame thrower.  Shaw soon learns that she is impregnated by something not human and in the movies greatest scene makes her way to the surgery pod that extracts the flailing alien from her abdomen and staples her back up.

David goes out on his own to investigate these beings, the Engineers, and we find out a little more about them.  The Engineers for some reason or another decided to terminate the human race with this weaponized black stuff and they had set course for Earth, until something catastrophic happened and they were all destroyed, except for one.  David finds a bunch of cryo pods with one surviving engineer.  Looking for answers, the remaining human crew are disappointed as the Engineer proceeds the kill everyone except Dr. Shaw.  David even gets his head ripped from his body.  It's now a fight for survival for Dr. Shaw as she looks to escape, however she does get help from the Alien that was inside her.  Dr. Shaw and the disembodied head of David fly off deeper into space looking for more answers.

Five years later in 2017 the sequel “Alien: Covenant” was released and takes place 10 years after “Prometheus”.  “Prometheus” is a far better film than “Covenant” in my opinion as it just doesn’t have the same feeling of awe and wonder.  Since “Covenant” didn’t do much at the box office the third film in the trilogy is currently up in the air and right now in 2020 seems it will likely never get made.


"Event Horizon" is A Terrifying Trip to Hell and Back

3/20/2020

This sci-fi space horror film from the late 1990s has become a sort of cult hit.  It’s a strange crazy ride that is at times completely ridiculous and utterly horrifying.  After the success of the video game adaptation of “Mortal Kombat,” Director Paul W.S. Anderson creates his own vision of hell that lands somewhere between “The Shining”, “Alien” and “Hellraiser.” Although a box office disappointment it found life in the DVD market and has since enjoyed quite the following. 

There is a timeline scroll during the opening and we find out that the year is 2047.  We meet Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) who is awoken by a nasty nightmare about his wife.  Space is a very cold and lonely place.  He is apart of the crew of the Lewis and Clark that is led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne).  We meet the rest of the crew and Dr. Weir seems like the odd man out and as we find out he really is a truly disturbed and corrupt individual.  The crew is given orders to investigate a long lost ship that has suddenly reappeared, the ship is the Event Horizon.  This film exists in a time where CGI effects were still in its infancy.  Although the film generally looks good for its time, the practical effects are great.

When the crew docks with the Event Horizon they find it eerily empty and start to investigate.  They go through this trippy rotating tunnel that looks like a meat grinder.  It’s like one of those you would see at a carnival that messes with your equilibrium.  The heart of the ship is its core, three giant rotating steel rings.  When investigating the rings they suddenly align and a portal opens up, sucking in a curious crew member.  When he is recovered he says “It shows you things, the dark inside me”  There is talk about black holes, wormholes, and other mind-bending scenarios as to what happened to the ship during its 7 year absence.  It has literally been to hell and back.  There is this malevolent force that permeates all throughout the ship that causes the crew to have delusions and hallucinations.  It knows your fears. 

In one of the most disturbing scenes, the crew is able to access some footage of what happened to the previous crew and we get this orgiastic feast of bizarre hellish violence.  Weir eventually goes completely off the deep end and is most likely controlled by the devil himself.  We end up in a battle between Weir and Miller. 

The way the film starts out is nothing out of the ordinary from most space movies, but it grows increasingly tense and disturbing.  It’s a great midnight feature best watched in a non-sober state. It can be a little campy and stupid at times veering off into B-movie territory but that's part of its appeal.  Together with some authentic scares and fun characters, this is definitely a movie to come back to again and again.




"Child's Play (2019)" Updated, Rebooted and Lifeless

03/19/2020

This rebooted Horror classic is obviously nothing but a shameless money grab but I’ve decided to give it a chance to see what it has to offer.  Reboots, in general, are quite the problematic trend these days.  For the studios, it’s easy money, but for the viewer, it’s nothing but cheap nostalgia, and poorly recycled characters and storylines.  Director Lars Klevberg gets under the hood of the Child’s Play world and outcomes this 90-minute piece of awkwardly familiar entertainment.

Oh, boy where to start.  In this story, Andy is not a 6-year-old boy like the original but is 13 and played by Gabriel Bateman.  His mother Karen is played by Aubrey Plaza who looks and acts like she is only a few years older than him.  She does mention that “she had a very productive sweet sixteen”.  Now we’ve come to the most important question of all, so what are they going to do with Chucky?   He is no longer called a Good Guy Doll but is just Buddi manufactured by the Kaslan Corporation.  To make the film more modern this Buddi doll is guided by a smartphone app and fits in with all of your other smart home gadgets made by Amazon, I mean Kaplan.  This brings up the issue of our smart appliances and artificial intelligence in general one day taking over the world.  The Buddi Doll that Andy receives was, as we see in an opening scene, sabotaged by a disgruntled assembly line worker in Vietnam.  This was the gateway for Chucky to become evil.  This is a damn shame because the original film does the ‘how does Chucky become evil’ bit a million times better.  No more Charles Lee Ray for this movie.  Then we come to the voicing of Chucky and get Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill could not be more annoying in this role.  What was so classic and memorable about the original films was the menacing voice and crazy cackle of Brad Dourif.  

Still with me, so Chucky is very protective of Andy and this leads to issues with his cat named Mickey Rooney.  This is a horror movie so you know the cat will be the first to taste Chucky’s knife.  Karen’s boyfriend is this huge douche named Shane who will obviously be on Chucky’s list.  The apartment building maintenance man is also is a big fat nasty sicko, so he has to go too.  The one good thing about the film is that violence is pretty intense, if not a little comical.  I did like that character of Detective Mike, played by Brian Tyree Henry, whose mother Doreen is one of Andy’s neighbors.  Doreen meets quite the unfortunate death at the hands of Chucky, this felt a little mean spirited, but this is a horror movie and she was black, so.

With the new Buddi 2 doll about to be released at Zed Mart, this is where we launch into our third act.  Chucky is now in full rage mode and starts to cause some bloody chaos in front of all of the parents and children at the release party.  Remembering that Chucky is just a doll, how he is able to knock out and tie up Karen is beyond me.  All of this craziness pits Andy against Chucky and it’s pretty obvious who is going to win.  Most, if not all, of these rebooted horror franchises, are heavily injected with is a sense of self-awareness and winks to the camera.  Doing this seems to cheapen an already inferior film.  Although I have to say that I am also part of the problem as I see all of these reboots and always regret it as the credits roll.  These remakes and reboots will never end so either learn to live with them or just ignore them if you have the will power.


"Loving Annabelle" A Teacher Student Lesbian Romance

2/27/2020

Although this could be the title of another sequel in the creepy horror doll franchise launched by James Wan.  This movie is, in fact, a lesbian drama about a teen girl at a Catholic school who has an affair with her teacher.  It all sounds very sleazy and naughty, but it is actually a pretty good film that doesn’t exploit its characters for cheap thrills.  That being this is still a film that would feel right at home at a midnight showing on Cinemax.

Annabelle (Erin Kelly) is quite the stereotypical angsty teenager with punk clothing, nose ring, and badass cigarette smoking.  She has been expelled from a couple schools and is now entering a Catholic private school.  She is obviously not religious and her Buddhist prayer beads ruffle the feathers of the schools' administration.  Her mother is a U.S. Senator and her father is absent, kind of like all the male characters in this film.  Annabelle and her poetry teacher Simone (Diane Gaidry) take notice of each other while in class.  After a few confrontations during class, they start to get to know each other a little deeper.  Annabelle is confident and secure in her sexuality while the older Simone is conflicted.  She had a tragic relationship with another woman in her past and is reluctant to enter into a new one.  She is currently in a relationship with a man but things don’t seem to be going too well.  As her relationship with Annabelle develops she is not portrayed as the cliched predatory teacher which usually happens with men.  Annabelle helps her deal with the events of her past and find a way back to her true self.  There is good chemistry and a strong sexual tension between the women that eventually boils over.  The next morning an old alarm clock fails to wake them up they are found getting dressed and their secret is revealed.  Soon after Simone is seen taken away by some detectives.  It’s a bittersweet and quick ending that leaves you wanting more.  You can understand what Simone did was technically wrong but can’t help but feel like an injustice is happening.

Although “Loving Annabelle” is a short 76 minutes it feels like it perfectly fits the material.  It doesn’t feel cheap or exploitive and shows a deep love and respect for its characters.  It’s not a perfect film but I feel like it tells a beautiful story in a way that’s entertaining and thoughtful.  


"The Nun (2013)" A Young Woman's Battle with Catholicism

2/25/2020

Although quite different from the previously reviewed horror movie of the same name, this film looks like it could possibly be a prequel for the horror movie misfire.  It takes place in France in the mid-1700s and involves a young girl who is thrown into circumstances beyond her control.  She must fight in order to survive the brutal Catholic church doctrines.  This film is actually a remake of the 1966 film of the same name starring Anna Karina.

Suzanne Simonin, played by Pauline Etienne, was born into a wealthy family with two older sisters and is quite the musician.  While not showing any interest in the available males in the area, she tells her mother that she loves Jesus the most.  She spends a year in a local convent and finds out this is not the life for her, but her family insists that she stay there.  When it comes time to take her vows, she speaks from her heart and denies them.  A humiliation to her family she returns home for a time only to have a bigger bombshell dropped.   Her mother reveals that she was an illegitimate child and with her sisters getting married they don’t have the money to support her.  Her mother coldly states “Your birth is my only sin”.  Suzanne’s real father is a rich man living in some far off castle, more on him and his son later.  With no other place to go, Suzanne is forced back into the same convent.  The sweet old Mother Superior is nice to her and she does end up taking her vows, but when the Mother dies under suspicious circumstances, a younger more sadistic Mother Christine is put in charge.  Christine puts more stricter policies in place and the defiant and rebellious Suzanne will not go along with the crowd.  She is ostracized by the other Nuns, bullied and humiliated at the hands of Christine.  She is able to send for a lawyer to see if she can have her vows annulled and get out, but the Vatican says no.  When she starts to write her story about what has been happening to her, she is caught and thrown in the hole.  A cold hellish dungeon where she barely survives.  Malnourished and covered in her own filth and shit she is finally rescued by a visiting Bishop.  

She is relocated to another convent that is led by Mother Saint-Eutrope, played by Isabelle Huppert.  Although appearing just fine at first, Suzanne begins to find that Saint-Eutrope is also a bit unhinged.  She always has a favorite Nun and when Suzanne arrives it disrupts the whole cloistered culture.  Saint-Eutrope takes an immediate liking to Suzanne and makes numerous desperate attempts to win over Suzanne’s affections.  She is harassed and embarrassed as before with Mother Christine but in a totally different context  Suzanne finally alerts the priest during confession, but it is a person from the outside world that is finally able to set her free.

The film starts out in a castle with a young man reading Suzanne’s manuscript that was sent to his father, which we find out later is also Suzanne’s Father.  The father is dying, probably from tuberculosis, and looks to want to help find his lost daughter.  Suzanne’s half brother sets off to find her and bring her home.


"The Nun (2018)" is a Foggy, Soggy Mess

2/10/2020

“The Nun” is another spin-off movie that is apart of the “Conjuring Universe”.  Originally apart of  “The Conjuring 2” “The Nun” character is featured in a short scene that is utterly terrifying and effective, but if you’re trying to stretch that one note scare into a feature-length film you will very likely run into some problems.  This film was written by the prolific horror writer Gary Dauberman who is no stranger to the “Conjuring Universe”.  The film ultimately falls flat due to its paper thin plot and lack of direction, not to mention The Nun herself is relegated to nothing more than a scary concept and a few sight gags.  Similar to the “Annabelle” franchise, we need an origin story for The Nun to at least have something to work with.

The film’s lead actors are fairly decent as we have Sister Irene, played by Taissa Farmiga, who is the younger sister of Vera Farmiga who portrays Lorraine Warren in the Conjuring films. Sister Irene is just about to take her vows when the Vatican pairs her up with Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate a nun’s death in Romania.  While in Romania they meet up with Frenchie the man who found the nun hanging from a noose outside the Abbey/Convent.  Frenchie also points out that he is French-Canadian, like that really matters.  The very few attempts at any sort of comedy die pretty quick.  Irene and Burke investigate the centuries old gothic castle looking for something or someone when they run into the reverend mother, a nearly comatose woman in a dark veil.  The trio then walks through the cemetery and several graves have bells on them.  This was a real thing back in the day so people were not mistakenly buried alive, this, of course, foreshadows a scene to come when Father Burke mysteriously ends up buried in one of the graves and Sister Irene has to race against the clock to find him.  A lot of ghostly paranormal things happen that don’t make a whole lot of sense but it all attributed to “The Nun”.  They find out that the demon that inhabits her is called Valek.  The third act gets even more ridiculous as they find a relic hidden within the Abbey that is supposedly a vial of blood from Jesus and this is the only way to defeat Valek.  Sister Irene, who is now a full-fledge Nun after Father Burke administers her vows, wears this vial of blood around her neck and fights the Nun in a pool of water.  Obviously, Sister Irene is victorious and they all live happily ever after, well not so fast there Frenchie.  We flashback to a scene from “The Conjuring 2” and find out that he became the new vessel for Valek and the Warrens were trying to free him from it.

When it comes to religious horror, there is nothing scarier than being Catholic.  This film while looking good on paper never really delivers anything but tired cliches.  As I mentioned before if they are planning a sequel, hopefully, it will be an origin story.






"Annabelle Comes Home" Another Great Addition to the Conjuring Universe!


2/7/2020

After the success of  “Annabelle: Creation” in 2017 another sequel was obviously not far behind with “Annabelle Comes Home” premiering in the summer of 2019.  This film could have also been called “Conjuring 3” since the story revolves around Ed and Lorraine Warren and their daughter Judy.  Although the actual “Conjuring 3” movie is scheduled for release in the fall of 2020.  “Annabelle Comes Home” was written and directed by Gary Dauberman, who wrote the first two Annabelle films.

We get a great opening scene of Ed and Lorraine taking possession of the Annabelle doll then trying to get it back home, but Annabelle doesn’t make it easy for them.  They are eventually able to lock the doll away in a glass case with chapel glass to “keep the evil contained”.  One year later we meet their daughter Judy, played by Mckenna Grace, an actor who portrays a person much older and wiser than the young girl that is on screen.  Judy is not very popular at school, she is made fun of and ostracized because of who her parents are and what they do.  She is only friends with her babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), who is going to be looking after her when Ed and Lorraine leave for the night.  Also in the mix is Daniela (Katie Sarife), Mary Ellen’s friend, a curious and interesting girl who is pretty much the linchpin for the entire plot of the film.  So it’s the three girls against an enormous evil and don’t forget about Bob, because Bob’s got balls.

The beating heart of the Conjuring films, and this one, is the Warren’s artifact room.  A room that houses numerous haunted and possessed items.  It contains the Annabelle Doll as well as a long list of possible spin-off franchises.  Just like the Conjuring films we are introduced to a few new nightmare inducing bad guys, the Ferryman, the Bloody Bride, and the Werewolf.  When Daniela is left alone in the house she goes straight for the artifact room, but it’s got numerous locks.  She finds the keys pretty easily and in no time is checking out all of the items in the cursed room.  Annabelle does her thing and Daniela opens the case to re-adjusts the doll as is had fallen over.  Just then the smoke alarm goes off and Judy’s birthday cake is burning and the case is left open.

This movie has a number of comedic moments that really seem to hit.  The lone male character other than Ed Warren is Bob, who works at the grocery store and is Mary Ellen’s crush.  Bob is awkward but sweet, and as I mentioned before he’s got balls.  The girls and Bob are in for quite a night of paranormal pandemonium (that was a mouthful).  Judy has inherited some of the gifts of her mother and is much more sensitive to the paranormal, but is also better prepared to handle it.  We take this journey with numerous ghosts and spirits, mostly terrifying, but as Judy mentions “not all ghosts are bad”.  The film is well made, but possibly too jam-packed with possible spin-off characters.  

The cast is the real strong point of the film.  The Warrens, played by  Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, really ground these films in an everyday reality where ghosts and spirits live among us.  As far as the Annabelle character, I think she has run her course with this trilogy of films. Hopefully, the studio will be content to leave the franchise alone.  Can’t wait to see what they do in “Conjuring 3”.