Wednesday, November 22

Exorcist: Believer Review


Exorcist: Believer

Dir: David Gordon Green

Starring: Leslie Odom Jr., Ellen Burstyn, Ann Dowd, Lidya Jewett, and Olivia O'Neill

2h 1m


"The Exorcist" continues dominating "top 10" discussions for horror movie fans every spooky season. And it should be in every conversation; the 1973 classic is a stunning and terrifying experience that delivers on many cinematic levels. Every sequel of the original, along with any film dealing with demonic possession or exorcism, emulates the William Friedkin film with varying degrees of success. 


"Exorcist: Believer," helmed by David Gordon Green, attempts to reexamine the religious themes and recreate the startling scares of the original film. Unfortunately, it seldom comes close to conjuring a meaningful scare. It suffers from a muddled storyline that would feel like just another run-of-the-mill exorcism film if not for its title and some nostalgia with a returning character. Aside from a few unique horror designs and some committed performances for two young actresses, "Exorcist: Believer" is disappointing. 


The film begins in Haiti with a young married couple whose vacation is interrupted by a natural disaster, an event that forces Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) to choose between saving his severely injured wife or their unborn child. Victor reluctantly chooses his child's life. 13 years later, Victor and Angela (Lidya Jewett) live in Georgia. Angela yearns to know more about her deceased mother while Victor is doing his best to be the sole parent of his maturing daughter. After school, Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O'Neill) go missing in the nearby woods after trying to summon Angela's mom. A frantic search ensues, and after three days, Angela and Katherine appear in a nearby barn with no recollection of what happened to them. But the two young girls have returned home with something unholy inside them, an entity that wants their souls. 


"Exorcist: Believer" begins with an intriguing setup, one that immediately situates the lead character, Victor, in a tormenting circumstance of life and death for the woman he loves; it's a decision that will define every action moving forward for the character. Victor, portrayed by Leslie Odom Jr. as a protective father and science-focused skeptic, anchors the wildly uneven story. While initially promising, the film abandons much of the emotionally driven father/daughter character development for unsatisfying nostalgic callbacks to the original movie, even bringing back the elegant Ellen Burstyn for an uninspired character arc. David Gordon Green, who co-wrote the script with Peter Sattler, seldom achieves new directions that separate his film from other exorcism films of recent memory. Without the nostalgia to continuously remind the viewer, there would be no need to connect it to the original classic. 


One of the critical issues with this film is the narrative, which never quite decides if it wants to showcase a battle of good versus evil or would instead pursue the intense and frightening horror show components. This tone imbalance and lack of character development turn the film into a clip show of storytelling elements that never come together meaningfully or scary. 


A few scenes offer chilling and unsettling moments, specifically the two young girls' deteriorating physical and emotional states. There is also some startling imagery, seen through strobing light effects, that reveals a monstrous entity that continuously haunts the thoughts of the two possessed girls. Unfortunately, much of "Exorcist: Believer" feels lost within its need to honor the past and excel beyond the many imitators. 


Monte's Rating

2.00 out of 5.00

Thanksgiving Review


Thanksgiving

Dir: Eli Roth

Starring: Nell Verlaque, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Milo Manheim, Addison Rae, Gina Gershon, Rick Hoffman, and Patrick Dempsey

1h 47m


Director Eli Roth returns to the gory genre roots that sparked his career with a holiday horror movie teased with a fake trailer in 2007's "Grindhouse." "Thanksgiving" is a mean-spirited, often hilarious, gory slasher film that sets its placemat at the table of the best Thanksgiving horror films. Roth, a more than 20-year veteran of horror filmmaking, infuses "Thanksgiving" with grotesque effects, characters you love to hate, and holiday glee used in the most inappropriate ways. 


After Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the local megastore is readying for the annual Black Friday sale. The promise of a free waffle maker drives the angry crowd into a frenzy, and they break through barricades and eventually into the store. Three people are dead, and dozens are injured in the event. The following Thanksgiving, a masked killer utilizes the name of real-life colonist John Carver and, in full pilgrim attire, begins stalking and killing the greedy people who played a role in the deadly events the previous year. 


The 80s-styled trailer from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's "Grindhouse" was one of four faux teasers to start and bridge the double-feature event. Eli Roth's Thanksgiving-inspired trailer felt the most authentic as a throwback slasher film. 


Roth expands and fleshes out the story as a modern horror-comedy, introducing the film with the worst kind of holiday consumerism behavior, which quickly fuels the vengeful masked killer while incorporating creative ways to punish the awful people of Plymouth. Much of the narrative execution rests on the shoulders of simplistic slasher movie troupes and paper-thin characters. Eli Roth has a particular character style in all his films; an easy term for these characters would be "toxic," and they populate the small town. It's hard to feel any sympathy for the residents of Plymouth, especially the young men who are walking bundles of testosterone in varsity letterman's jackets. The characters' behavior in the film's early moments makes everyone fair prey and easy to cheer for John Carver during the many ingenious sequences of gory violence. 


From the beginning moments of the film, the admiration in style and structure of old-school holiday-themed slasher movie vibes is on solid display. Roth and writer Jeff Randell craft "Thanksgiving" as an updated homage to 1980s genre cinema. The memory of the former faux trailer from "Grindhouse" arrives in different ways throughout this film; reimagining these moments is fun to watch. Where the trailer went for shock value, with extreme scenarios, the feature-length film is still graphic with its much better makeup effects but made for a broader audience interaction. 


Combining old-school vibes amidst a new-school influence offers some laugh-out-loud moments of satire. "Thanksgiving" never loses grasp of its campiness but maintains an intelligent understanding of the mystery underneath the masked John Carver character. While the unwinding of the plot in the final act struggles to retain its tight pacing that hides some of the B-movie seams, it doesn't keep the film from being a crowd-pleaser. 


There are only a few quality Thanksgiving horror films. Yes, the 1987 lesser-known "Blood Rage" is suitable for a few laughs with an eager theater audience, and the 2014 horror-thriller "Kristy" will satisfy with its suspenseful action. Still, the catalog for Thanksgiving horror is few and far between. Director Eli Roth understands the audience on target and the history of films within this subgenre, making "Thanksgiving" an easy addition to celebrated seasonal scary movies.  


Monte's Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Thursday, August 17

Fantasia Film Festival Capsule Reviews

 


Fantasia International Film Festival wrapped up on August 9 and it was another fantasic year of storytelling. And although I didn't get to screen as many films as I would've liked (damn full-time job), the ones I did watch varied from family-friendly to extremely dark.

Read my capsule reviews and how you can catch some of these films soon too.


APORIA 

Written/Directed by Jared Moshé 

Nothing seems to be going right in Sophie’s life. Her husband, Mal, is killed in a drunk-driving accident and she is left to parent their daughter, Riley, alone. Both are grief-stricken even a year after the accident and can’t seem to get their life back on track. Until Mal’s best friend and former physicist approaches her with an experimental machine that’s capable of bending time in specific ways. 

This film is an interesting concept for a sci-fi feature. It pulls at your heart strings first and has you question every decision the characters make in their journey back to normalcy. And just when you feel it’s getting a little redundant, the climax knocks you with an unexpected twist. 

All the actors hit it out of the park with their performances and I only wish this film could get a stronger marketing plug, so everyone gets a chance to see this film and dig deep into their own ethical codes. 

APORIA is currently showing at some theaters so check for showtimes near you.

4 out of 5 


 

RIVER 

Directed by Junta Yamaguchi 

Written by Makoto Ueda 

In RIVER, you’re an onlooker into the long-established Fujiya Inn, located in Kibune, a wintry valley town in the northern mountains of Kyoto, Japan. Mikoto, one of the establishment’s waitresses, goes about her work day taking care of the ryokan’s various tenants. As she stops to catch her breath from her work  by staring momentarily into the river nearby – suddenly something feels off. When she returns to work she discovers the inn is looping… two minutes at a time.  

What unfolds with this film is fun, quirky characters and small, heartfelt storylines that make you want to take two minutes to appreciate where you are in your life. And – fun fact for any educators out there – this film utilizes traditional Japanese dialog and would be a great film to showcase in any Japanese language classes. 

3.8 out of 5 


 

MOTHERLAND 

Written/Directed by Park Jae-beom 

The Yates are a nomadic, indigenous, reindeer herders who have lived on the sparse and unforgiving Siberian tundra for countless generations. Krisha, a strong-willed and impetuous Yate girl, is quick to fight for her way in things, whether it’s with her troublesome little brother Kolya, or with the bullying Russian military officer Vladimir. When the health of Krisha’s mother takes a turn for the worse, the village shaman offers her wisdom—follow the North Star to the Ancient Forest and find its guardian and master, the great red bear of legend which has haunted Krisha with visions. 

The stop motion animation in this film is stunning to watch and it’s a great way to tell the story of indigenous tribes and the dilemmas they face with modern society and honoring with their traditions in a family friendly. Stay on the lookout for this film for a nice family movie night. 

3.5 out of 5 


 

#MANHOLE 

Directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri 

Written by Michitaka Okada 

Top salesperson, Shunsuke, earns the respect, and maybe the jealousy, of his friends and colleagues. On the night before his wedding, he is greeted with surprise party where the alcohol flows freely. Once he heads home, however, things take a sudden downward turn as Shunsuke tumbles into a deep manhole. His cellphone is of little use, initially, as calls to friends go unanswered and, when he finally calls the police, they are unhelpful, So Shunsuke turns to social media, concocting a false identity to lure assistance. Unfortunately for Shunsuke, the attention he gets may not be the attention he ultimately wants. 

This film pulls you in thanks to the uncertainty of Shunsuke’s situation and then throws you a major curveball at the climax. With only the one main character and manhole as your main setting, you’d think the story would get old after 30 minutes but it doesn’t – and the audience is awarded with a surprise ending. 

3.5 out of 5 




PERPETRATOR 

Written/Directed by Jennifer Reeder 

In a city where images of missing girls adorn lampposts across town, 17-year-old Jonny has grown up used to fending for herself. As her 18th birthday approaches, her father becomes increasingly nervous and sends her to live with her mysterious Aunt Hilda for an undetermined period where she will learn about her family’s darkest miracles as her body begins to change and unimagined powers bloom.  

Jennifer is known for quirky, visual, feminist genre storytelling – and PERPETRATOR is no different. However, the story of PERPETRATOR seems to get lost along the way and I have a feeling many won’t be able to sit through it to get to the bloody conclusion.  

PERPETRATOR will be making its Shudder debut on Sept. 1.

2 out of 5