Category Archives: Horror

Sweetheart (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

Sweetheart Review

Director: J.D. Dillard
Writers: J.D. Dillard, Alex Hyner
Stars: Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence

Let me first make a comment before I start spitting my opinion about “Sweetheart“. How the hell did this kid succeed in reaching the beach of this exotic island? I’m sure that after a few minutes of floating around in the ocean, she’d go down like a stone. That’s not entirely true, of course. Because, when I remember correctly, she was wearing a life jacket (with a backpack over it). I just wanted to point out that she had the most disastrous-looking swimming technique I’ve ever seen in my life. And the fact that not all tropical islands were used in commercials about “Bounty”, but are also the territory of evil, dark creatures from the ocean. And since shipwrecks don’t wash up on this island regularly, the creature was presumably on a fish diet before it could drag some human meat to his hole in the ocean once again. But this aside. “Sweetheart” is a fairly simple story about surviving.

Take the well-known story of “Robinson Crusoe” and mix it with the story from “Cold Skin” and you’ll get “Sweetheart” as a result. The difference with the Crusoe story is the key player. Here it’s someone of the female gender who’s being washed ashore on a beach. And also, she isn’t joined by a friendly native (such as Friday) but a scaly and life-threatening sea monster. And no, this ocean dweller doesn’t have the same amorous intentions as our gilled friend from “The shape of water“. In that case, the film would have gotten a more frivolous character and our survivor’s stay would have been much more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, this film doesn’t have much to offer. Actually, as much as Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) was wearing when she woke up there in the saltwater, feeling beach sand scraping between her toes. Nothing much. Only short jeans and a t-shirt. Fortunately, her knowledge of survival techniques was abundantly present. Without hesitation, this young lady runs through the checklist of the “Tasks to be performed when you wash up on an uninhabited island” list and starts installing herself on the island as well and as badly as possible. The first part is, therefore, a concatenation of moments where you can see Jenn handling these tasks. Estimating the perimeter of the island, developing hunting techniques, ensure a decent place to spend the night and thoroughly explore the island itself. Only the nocturnal threat was not on the list. Something for which she has to use her own personal inventiveness.

Most of the film consists of Clemons doing a solo performance. The success or failure of such kinds of films (as in “Mine” for example) is therefore entirely in the hands of that specific person. Should her acting be bad or unbelievable, the film will suffer a figurative shipwreck (how appropriate). Fortunately, that’s not the case here. She acts solidly and is convincing enough. The panic and subsequent calmness seem realistic enough.

Eloquence isn’t necessary here either. Most of the time the film is dialogue-free. Well, it’s hard to have in-depth conversations when you’re on an island on your own. And when an inflatable rescue boat appears on the horizon, with Jenn’s friends on board, it briefly creates some tension. Not for you as a viewer but for the participating actors themselves.

What remains is the aquatic creature. Yes, could this monster ensure some tense moments? Unfortunately, the creature is allergic to sunlight. In short, it’s only in pitch darkness (and an uninhabited island without artificial lighting is simply pitch dark) that you can see this rogue (partially). There are nevertheless some successful scenes in the film in which it shows how supreme it is in water. But except for a little growling and hissing, the monster is a bit disappointing. All in all, I didn’t think it was an exciting movie. Since it’s an exotic island, the film is peppered with breathtaking images of beaches and azure blue water. And isn’t that something an average earner can only dream of?

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The Curse of La Llorona (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

The Curse of La Llorona Review

Director: Michael Chaves
Writers: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
Stars: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez

“You used him as bait?
No. I used you all as bait.”

When I visited Eurodisney near Paris for the first time years ago (it seems like centuries ago), I was so overwhelmed and enchanted by the atmosphere and everything there was to admire. I literally hovered through this park for three days and had the time of my life. At the beginning of this year, I visited the park again (this time with my two young kids) and it was 3 days of fun again. However, it was far from the same as that first time. If you have been somewhere six times you know what to expect and you are no longer so impressed by it. The same applies to this film “The curse of La Llorona“. A horror movie that is part of the “The Conjuring” universe.

The entity La Llorona in itself is fairly well developed. But you could also say that about the evil nun that scared you in “The Nun“. I saw the latter at the beginning of this year and to be honest I found it rather disappointing. After two “The Conjuring” films, several “Annabelle” films and “The Nun” it starts to look like mass production. Now, it’s a golden rule that globally well-known brands always do the same thing. And that’s not to deviate from its formula for success. It ensures that people aren’t disappointed because they know the product very well. But with a product such as horror films, this can also lead to a worn-out formula. A worn off formula in such a way that it becomes boring and far from scary. And that’s exactly what you need in a horror. Creepy moments so that fear grabs you by the throat.

Not that I’ve ever experienced a feeling of fear while watching a horror. But this looked weak. I was looking at it as if I was watching the umpteenth repeat of “America got Talent”. Uninterested and numb. The La Llorona phenomenon isn’t remarkable. After a while, you come to know that it’s about a woman who drowned her children in a moment of madness and afterward killed herself. The legend grew into a sort of parenting trick that was used to teach children some discipline. I can already imagine how old grandmothers admonish their grandchildren with a standard sentence such as “If you don’t behave, La Llorona comes to get you.” Terrifying for the children. Not so impressive for an adult.

“The Curse of La Llorona” is full of jumpscares. That in itself isn’t a problem. At least when they are presented decently and preferably also in an original way. The jumpscares here, however, are so clichéd that you already know in advance where they will be used. The most intense and successful scene is the bathtub scene. Claustrophobic and effectively put together. It reminded me of “The Drownsman” (even though you can’t call that movie excellent). And maybe the involvement of Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz) can be called original. He’s not an average exorcist like the Warren couple in “The Conjuring“. I tend to think of him as more of a medicine man who performs voodoo-like rituals and lavishly sprinkles tree seeds and puts down a whole bunch of candles, just to stop La Llorona. To be honest I thought it was pretty funny. The moment when Olvera picks up his samba balls. And certainly his bone-dry reply in the end.

No, you can’t call this film successful. “The Nun” wasn’t that great, but I still place it above this film if I had to arrange them in a list. Perhaps it’s an interesting film for newbies to start with the horror genre. As a warm-up to discover the better stuff, as it were. For the seasoned horror film fan, it’s more likely to be a disappointment. So, I kinda have my doubts about the upcoming episodes from the “The Conjuring” Universum.

Doctor Sleep (2019) Review By Philip Henry

 

Doctor Sleep Review

Director: Mike Flanagan
Screenwriter: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran

Following up one of the most revered horror movies of all time is no easy task, especially when that movie was also directed by one of the greatest directors ever. It’s like having The Beatles as your opening act, so you have to give Mike Flanagan points for even attempting this mammoth task. And then you have to give him even more points because he actually pulls it off; giving us a sequel that can sit proudly on anyone’s shelf next to its 1980 predecessor.

The film starts several weeks after what happened at The Overlook. Rather than de-ageing the characters and making them look like their faces are wrapped in digital cellophane, the parts of Wendy and Danny are recast for these scenes, and special mention must go to Alex Essoe for getting Shelly Duvall’s voice down to a tee. She may not look exactly the same, but in a blind test you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart by their voices. Dick Halloran is also back, this time played by Carl Lumbly, who slips into Scatman Crothers’s blazer like it was made for him.

The story sticks very closely to Stephen King’s novel. The opening scene sets the dark tone that the film will take when a child is killed by the True Knot – a group of nomads who travel the highways of America searching for children who ‘shine’ and then devour their psychic powers in order to live hugely extended lives.

When we first meet grown-up Danny – now Dan – he’s a mess. The sins of the father have transferred onto the son and he’s diving to the bottom of a bottle and wasting his life away drifting from town to town. But then he meets some kind souls in a small town and gets a job, gets into AA and gets his life back on track.

We then jump ahead eight years. A young girl called Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) while using her ‘shine’ grabs the attention of the True Knot. They see in her enough power to sustain their group for years, but she’s also come to the attention of Dan, so it’s up to him to try to protect her as the True Knot close in.

I have to admit when I read the book I didn’t see the cinematic potential, but Flanagan pulls some really amazing, exciting and scary scenes out of the bag and delivers a film that doesn’t rush to get where it’s going, but never bores you either. I suppose he learned how to sustain tension over a long period while making the excellent Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House – for my money, one of the best TV shows of recent years.

There are a lot of nods to The Shining but they never just feel like fan service. These stories are intertwined and the structure of this story is nothing like Kubrick’s film. Flanagan hasn’t just tried to redo what the 1980 film did; he’s taken the elements he needs from it but very firmly crafted his own narrative with its own look and feel.

The film ends up back at the now-abandoned Overlook Hotel so there are a lot of familiar locations and faces popping up and saying: ‘Hello, Danny.’ McGregor plays this brilliantly; you really get a sense of his fear going back into the lion’s den when it’s the last thing he wants to do. The creepy feeling as he walks through the ruins of his father’s final rampage made the hairs on my arms stand up.

I only have a couple of minor gripes. Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) is from Northern Ireland (like me!) in the book and I was looking forward to hearing my local accent in this movie, but it isn’t there. I think she’s doing some sort of Irish accent in the opening scene, but it seems to get forgotten after that.

The other thing is the recasting of Jack. As I’ve said, I enjoyed most of the recastings, but Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining isn’t something you should try to duplicate – and they don’t. He isn’t the over-the-top crazed Jack we remember, and frankly the conversation he has with Ewan McGregor could easily be lifted from the film and not do any damage, so why they have this exchange which stops the film dead for a few minutes, is beyond me. It’s exposition we don’t need.

I enjoyed this film immensely. It’s one of the better King adaptations and a film I will undoubtedly rewatch many times. It succeeds on its own terms and doesn’t rely on terrible CGI for scares, nor does it hold back on the violence just to reach the under 12 demographic. This is horror how it’s supposed to be. By not trying to be Kubrick, Flanagan has delivered an inventive, emotionally engaging film that leads you into a maze of redrum and supernatural scares, and then shows you the way out.

Eli (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

Eli Review

Director: Ciarán Foy
Writers: David Chirchirillo, Ian Goldberg
Stars: Charlie Shotwell, Kelly Reilly, Max Martini

Do you know what happened to the boy who asked too many questions?
He got answers?

“Eli” is a horror you can watch on Netflix and it’s not bad at all. But it takes a long time before the conclusion in the story surprises you completely. The introductory part reminded me a bit of “Midnight Special“. A very young boy whose daily life is limited to a plastic-insulated room and who can’t leave the house without wearing a weird looking sort of spacesuit. Apparently Eli (Charlie Shotwell) developed an autoimmune disease at a later age and exposure to outside air and sunlight is life-threatening to him. Together with his parents, Rose (Kelly “10X10” Reilly) and Paul (Max “Spectral” Martini), he’s on his way to the only rescue that remains for him. A completely sterilized old mansion (a house that looks like a typical haunted house) where Dr. Horn (Lili Taylor) applies a specific gene therapy to treat medical cases such as Eli.
After this medically oriented introduction, the focus shifts to the paranormal. Before you realize it, clichéd ghost phenomena are brought out. So the whole shebang you encounter in standard ghost stories, also appear here. From seeing ghosts in a mirror. To writings appearing in Eli’s breath on a window. Although these are standard horror-film tricks, they are effectively used to startle you. But despite that, it’s a long wait for the most important turn in the story at the end of the film. And this story-turn makes it a completely different story. At that moment you realize that all your guessing was completely wrong. So it’s recommended to watch the film as a whole, so you get an answer to all the questions you asked yourself.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of “Eli“, is its mysterious character. What kind of treatment is it that Dr. Horn is practicing? Because you’ll see that it’s not such a conventional treatment. It’s a rather painful procedure whereby a virus is injected into the spinal cord to repair the failing genes. And who are the ghosts tormenting him? Are they good-natured? Or malicious? That’s something Eli is trying to discover for himself while locked up in this sterile cage. His parents and the medical staff blame the medication for these sightings and dismiss it as hallucinations. The only one who believes Eli is Haley (Sadie Sink), a local girl with whom Eli sometimes talks through a huge window. Where Haley comes from and what she does there is again a mystery. As time passes, the whole thing sounds a bit fishy to Eli.

As I said before: “Wait for the ultimate revelation“. Until then you have to endure a typical ghost story without too many highlights. Some praiseworthy words about Charlie Shotwell’s acting. For such a young guy it’s not so obvious to use a whole range of emotions. But to be honest, he convincingly did it. The other characters’ contribution is fairly limited. Max Martini plays the determined father. Lili Taylor the mysterious doctor. And Kelly Reilly is no more than the worried mother who wants to hug her son again. It’s not Reilly’s most breathtaking acting performance. That’s reserved for her role in “Eden Lake“. All in all, “Eli” is not immediately an exciting film. But it’s not extremely bad either. The only thing is, that it requires some patience. So waiting for the end is the message. And that’s the last time I’m going to say that!

This quote I found grossly exaggerated: “New Netflix horror movie Eli is terrifying viewers to such an extent that some have claimed to be “seeing demons” after watching.”

Scary Stories to tell in The Dark (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Review

Director: André Øvredal
Writers: Dan Hageman (screenplay by), Kevin Hageman (screenplay by)
Stars: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush

“You don’t read the book.
The book reads you.”

A few years ago there was already the movie “Goosebumps“, based on the stories of R.L. Stine, with the not so funny Jack Black. The only thing I can remember about this film is that an immense amount of figures from that book series were used to make life miserable for the protagonists. Fortunately the film “Scary stories to tell in the dark” doesn’t make the same mistake. This film is based on an iconic series of stories of the same name written by Alvin Schwartz. A series of three bundles, full of scary horror short stories about dark revenge and supernatural events. Books that caused a stir among concerned parents who felt that these stories (and especially the lurid illustrations) weren’t suitable for young children. Well, that’s something that arouses my curiosity.

I myself was a big fan of television horror series such as “The Hitchhiker“, “Tales from the crypt” and “The Twilight Zone” in the 80s. Short stories with a sinister undertone and a scary story. In short, horror for beginners. The same kind of stories are being used in this film. The movie won’t scare a hardcore horror-fan though. It’s all too soft. It’s clear that they aimed at a slightly younger teenage audience. A perfect movie for adolescent boys to watch with their first girlfriend. Hoping that the lovely girl will be so scared to death that she’ll snuggle close to him seeking protection in his arms.

A big name in the film world, Guillermo Del Toro, is a fan of the original “Scary Stories” stories as well and has therefore contributed to this film by working on the script. That means that my expectations were high. The result is a well-cared-for ghost story with a hugely successful 60s setting. Subtle horror with fragments of intense moments. You could clearly feel the influence of the grandmaster himself. Of course, it’s once again situated during the Halloween festivities. The cause of all the misery may not be called earth-shatteringly original. And the way in which the problem is solved is perhaps dull. That means that “Scary stories to tell in the dark” nestles itself in the range of horror films that don’t exceed the average. But that doesn’t mean that you should avoid this film. There are too many positive things to discover for that.

First the acting of the youthful cast. They didn’t do so bad. The gang of teenagers to which Stella (Zoe Margaret Coletti) belongs is as usual a collection of personalities with their own distinctive traits. First of all, you have Stella’s best friends. The phlegmatic Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and scatterbrain Chuck (Austin Zajur). Then you have Tommy (Austin “Paper Towns” Abrams) the chief bully of the village. A good-for-nothing guy who joins the army to fight in Vietnam and who’s actually the cause of the teenagers ending up in the haunted house where Sarah Bellows lived. The only people who accompany them as well are Ramon Morales (Michael Garza), a Mexican boy who tries to avoid something, and Chuck’s sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn). These persons are the ones who, after Stella has discovered a lurid book full of horror stories, become victims of their own fears. Personally, I thought the acting performance of Zoe Margaret Coletti and Tommy Miller were the most successful.

Like I said before, the horror moments aren’t terrifying. But “Harold” the scarecrow, “The Big Toe” and “Jangly Man” were the most amusing moments from the series of creeps that showed up. Really such figures that would fit perfectly in a Stephen King’s collection of short stories. And the way the stories manifest themselves in the book was also a nice touch. And finally, I thought the overall atmosphere this film bathed in, was wonderful to see. Oh well, maybe the fact that Stella is portrayed as a misfit and her personal torments about a mother who left the family, was a bit too corny. And in terms of shock effects, it also fell short. However, if you like an entertaining and well-told ghost story, then this “Scary Stories to tell in the dark” is perfect for you.

Pledge (2018) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

Pledge Review

Director: Daniel Robbins
Writer: Zack Weiner (as Zachary Weiner)
Stars: Zachery Byrd, Phillip Andre Botello, Zack Weiner

Do I tuck my shirt in?
I don’t care, you look like you’re gonna fix the computer anyway.

This straightforward movie “Pledge” managed to surprise me. At first, I didn’t expect much from it. But as the story unfolded, I thought that the makers of this horror story had incorporated some strong elements into it. Those who have experienced the rush into a fraternity personally will be happy that they didn’t have to endure a similar experience. It’s extremely difficult to stand out with horror when you see the number of horrors being released these days. After the first 20 minutes, it looks like you are going to watch a remake of “Porky’s“. Or better still, “Revenge of the Nerds“. You could say it was funny one way or another. But the fun part soon made way for the disturbing section. An atmosphere of panic, fear, and despair prevails until the end of the film.

Three close friends, who probably always sit on the sidelines when it comes to social events, do their utmost to be admitted by a fraternity. Hence the title of this film. The film starts with David (Zack Weiner, writer of this film), Ethan (Philip Andre Botello) and Justin (Zachery Byrd) who visit one clubhouse after the other. The three nerds, however, are rejected, ridiculed or simply denied access everywhere. Until they suddenly receive an invitation from a hot looking girl to attend a private party somewhere on a remote domain. An orgasmic experience with ditches of alcohol in the company of a horde of ravishing looking young ladies. Young ladies who they refer to as being “out of their league” most probably. Not surprisingly, all three (and a few other “freshmen”) over-enthusiastically agree with Max’s (Aaron Dalla Villa) invitation to join this exclusive student association. An elitist club with only a limited number of members.

Unfortunately, the hazing procedure is rather rough on our 3 friends. It’s well known there are often oddities and extreme things involved during hazings here in Belgium. Binge drinking, beating with a cricket bat, sexually charged assignments and eating disgusting things. Other academies are taking it a bit easier. There, students have to work out a translation or explanation about a certain topic as an assignment. Boring! The club our three nerds want to join has another agenda. The assignments are painful, disgusting and especially deadly in nature. It’s not really terrible “torture porn”. So don’t expect situations as in “Hostel” or “Saw“. Could be I’m insensitive to that. When you’re able to watch a movie such as “Martyrs” without feeling disturbed, the humiliations the newbies have to undergo are of Sesame Street level.

There’s a lot of decent acting in “Pledge“. The three silly friends portray those typical characters who are mostly the center of mockery and bullying in American schools. A chubby dude who’s always asking for something to eat and cannot really be praised for his speed. The nerdy guy who most likely spends his days sitting behind a screen and always says the wrong things. And finally, a kind of a sissy who reacts girlishly to threatening situations and most certainly will jump on a chair when a mouse appears in front of him. Three types that are convincingly interpreted by Zachery Byrd, Zack Weiner, and Philip Andre Botello. But especially Aaron Dalla Villa made an impression. That demonic look and sadistic tone fit perfectly with the cruel Max.

Thanks to the short playing time, “Pledge” is suitable as an in-betweener during a weekday evening. Thanks to the pace of the film, it never gets boring. And although I found the horror level quite average, they managed to deliver an intense and exciting film. And despite the fact that it was a low-budget film (“Pledge” was funded through Kickstarter), I thought the cinematography was of high quality. The lurid and threatening atmosphere was not only delivered by the story but certainly also by the supplied footage. To be honest, “Pledge” is one of the better Low-Budget indie horror movies I’ve seen in the last year. Certainly a must-see for lovers of the genre.