Posts tagged "Horror"

“Come Play” A surprisingly complex horror flick

October 29th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Come Play” A surprisingly complex horror flick”

Young Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is a little different and that make him a social pariah at his elementary school and the victim of bullying. His overprotective yet extraordinarily caring mom, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) harbors the guilt of responsibility, undeservedly so, for the severity of his situation as Oliver isn’t speaking and can’t make friends, a result of autism. But most of all, the fact that Oliver does not make eye contact, connecting emotionally with his mother, is simply gutting for Sarah. Oliver’s disconnected loneliness makes him the target of Larry, a “misunderstood monster” and this is where the horrors of friendship begin.

Oliver is a bright yet non-verbal boy who uses a communication board on his iPad to express himself. And on that iPad, a new book pops up one night—“The Misunderstood Monster.” Drawn to the images, Oliver begins to read. The lightbulbs begin to pop and strange noises are heard. Unable to scream for help, Oliver hides beneath the covers, shuddering as to what is lurking behind the doors or in the closet. It’s absolutely chilling as writer/director Jacob Chase takes full advantage of every childhood memory of being scared of things that go bump in the night.

Larry is the book’s subject, a monster who is attempting to cross into Oliver’s world as he just wants a friend. The more Oliver reads, the closer Larry gets, but try as he might, he can’t shut Larry off. Oliver’s ability to communicate with his mom is rudimentary but Sarah begins to see the light…and Larry. However, it’s not until she follows Oliver’s speech therapist’s direction, Dr. Robyn (Eboni Booth), to help Oliver establish friendships that Larry begins to become a bigger part of everyone’s lives.

Making friends for someone like Oliver is obviously difficult, but the cruelty of a group of boys led by pack leader Byron (Winslow Fegley) is heartbreaking. Of course, Mom unwittingly invites Byron and the boys over for a sleepover to help Oliver make friends, but what happens when Larry invites himself creates a total nightmare for everyone.

To give anymore of the story away would take away the chills and thrills as well as the key points of an unexpectedly engaging story. Chase ticks all the boxes of what makes a horror movie captivatingly chilling, but he does much more than that. He blends a narrative arc of reality with our silly and irrational fears of childhood with characters who we not only care about but identify with. These elements combined with precision editing of both sound and sight give us a horror film that will haunt you long after the credits roll.

Are there stereotypical elements of classic horror movies that make you jump and chuckle at yourself for falling for it? Of course, but isn’t that the fun of a horror film? Additionally, Chase is skillful in his writing and directing as he holds out seeing Larry until just the right moment, late in the film. He teases us as he uses the illustrations in the book to give us a sneak peek into what awaits us. Little by little, we see more of Larry, and it’s scary, but not having the complete picture from the beginning creates incredible tension, building incrementally until the story’s climax.

A film isn’t complete with just the story, its cast of characters, in this cast rather small, is vital to the film. Each actor, no matter their age, skillfully plays their parts, but a heavy load is placed upon the shoulders of Robertson as he has no dialogue playing Oliver, the lead role. With his huge round brown eyes, he’s is like a sweet innocent doe who is hunted by a monster. He conveys every emotion and thought non-verbally or laboriously with his communication device. He has a firm grasp of some of the possible attributes of someone with autism, primarily the lack of connecting eye contact, and with Chase’s direction, Robertson all the necessary tools to create a believable Oliver. The role of mom is quite important in Chase’s story and Jacobs who exudes an air of authenticity in every role she has portrays Sarah, a guilt-ridden mom who’s on overload and wants nothing more than to have a “normal” son, with exceptional skill. While the remainder of the small cast is certainly noteworthy, young Fegley as Byron the bully stands out. To create characters and have performances which feel real and natural in a monster movie is certainly quite a feat and a team effort all led by the director.

“Come Play” is a smart horror film capitalizing on the familiar while making a few pointed jabs at our social dependency on electronics and the dangers within. But on the surface, it’s a fun horror movie with an ending that may just pull on your heartstrings. How many times can you say that about a horror movie?

Opening in theaters October 30th.

3 1/2 stars

“Extra Ordinary” blends rom-com-horror perfectly

March 15th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Extra Ordinary” blends rom-com-horror perfectly”

What happens when the lives of a paranormal communicator, a widower, and a narcissistic musical has-been converge? You get an “extraordinary” story filled with laughs and love sprinkled with a peppering of gruesome gore.

Watch the trailer here

Mike Ahern and Edna Loughman team up to direct Maeve Higgins as “Rose,” a lonely, guilt-ridden Irish driving instructor who wants to forget about her “talent” of reaching out to the dearly departed. Her talents are needed, however, as Martin Martin (Barry Ward) asks for help in exorcising his nagging dead wife. Initially refusing, Rose feels a spark between herself and Martin, but when his daughter becomes a possible virgin sacrifice for the one-hit wonder Christian Winter (Will Forte), Rose dives in head first, attempting to rekindle her skills she learned from her father, the former leader and television star in paranormal activity.

This dark comedy hits all the right notes from start to finish. The confusing initial scene, soon explained, introduces us to Rose’s father who also had the talent of perceiving those left behind in a state of limbo. We then meet Rose and her sister Sailor (Terri Chandler) reminiscing about their father’s untimely death. Rose, a sweet woman who could be everyone’s best friend, lives a simple life as a driving instructor, but the townspeople know she is destined to walk in her father’s footsteps. Flashing back in time, we learn more about her upbringing and her relationships which are all filled with bittersweet humor connecting us even more deeply with Rose. And when she falls for Martin Martin, she becomes our hero, and we root for her every step of the way.

The story unfolds in three parts: Martin’s ghostly situation which effects his teenage daughter; Winter’s deal with the devil; and Rose’s life intersecting with both Martin and Winter. This is when the horrific yet comedic story shifts into high gear.

“Extra Ordinary” is a quirky yet exceptionally engaging film thanks to a succinct script and skilled performances. Higgins, Ward, and Forte as well as Claudia O’Doherty who portrays Winter’s wife, gel as a well-formed comedy troupe, all playing off of one another’s chemistry with perfection. Forte’s over-the-top “Winter” is hysterical, particularly as his tolerance is pushed by his wife’s superficially selfish demands. Ward stands out in this film as he embodies or takes on the attributes of many different characters. Using nuanced physical and vocal attributes of others is key to believing that what you’re seeing and hearing is actually another person.

The balance in the story, particularly if you’re not a huge fan of the horror genre, is what makes this a film that will appeal to everyone. It’s really more of a comedy, with an underlying love story and just the right amount of horror. And with a few references to “Ghostbusters” and other iconic supernatural movies, this horror film is refreshingly fun. There aren’t many films in this genre you can say that about!

The film is currently playing in theaters and is still available to see at the Gene Siskel Film Center with limited seats and “social distancing” procedures in effect. For more information go to: Siskel Film Center

3 1/2 stars

“Us” is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, and inexplicable twists

March 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Us” is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, and inexplicable twists”

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” pleased critics and audiences alike with an original concept that was as creepy as it was funny. We are expecting a lot from his newest film, “Us” which premiered to rave reviews at the SXSW Film Festival. Can it and he live up to all the hype? The answer is yes and no. It’s a mixed bag this time as he creates a crazy story that focuses more on the twists in the road than the road itself.


It’s 1986 in Santa Cruz, CA at an amusement park where little Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders off into a house of mirrors. With worried parents, the little girl returns, but seems traumatized. What actually happened in that house will haunt Adelaide forever. Fast forward to the current day and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family return to a vacation home near the fateful site where she disappeared as a youngster. With a gut-sinking feeling that she and her family are in danger, she wants to leave, but it’s too late. The apocalypse has begun and we witness the bizarre and gruesome tale unfold in the dark of night in a cabin in the woods.

Peele masterfully sets up an eerie and spine-chilling vibe as young Adelaide wanders off, slowly and deliberately, candy apple in hand, capturing her trance-like reaction to her surroundings. We are with her every step of the way, holding our breath as she enters a “Beetlejuice” type of house complete with a neon arrow showing the way. Jumping at the corniest of things, the image Adelaide sees before her makes her (and us) gasp. We now know what we are in for as the family comes back to the scene of the incident 30 years later.

“Us” showcases Peele’s seemingly innate ability to perfectly blend comedy and horror with the timing of a Swiss watch. Unfortunately, after the initial set up of the premise, the film becomes an exercise in typical horror gore. The family is being chased, they make stupid decisions, and blood is spilled…lots and lots of blood. Thankfully, Peele and his cast expertly continue the humor to pull us out of the shock of the brutality, allowing us to stick with it. As we learn the truth about what lies beneath our green grass, we yearn to find out how this family will survive. That’s great writing, but Peele sets up so many possible paths and red herrings throughout the film, that we feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us. And the use of a speech to explain everything in the last 20 minutes is a let down. It feels much like a classroom where the teacher dutifully spells out what actually had been going on deep inside this other realm.

While there are issues with the twists that still don’t quite square up, and to describe them would be a major spoiler, the acting from this ensemble cast is stellar. Curry’s portrayal of young Adelaide is exceptional as she is responsible for setting the tone of the entire film. That’s an incredible weight to carry and she does so with ease. Nyong’o creates two totally different personas and never do we question the “fact” that we are seeing two people on screen. Her eyes are wonderfully expressive, allowing us to understand her every thought immediately as the caring, loving mom who will do anything to save her children. Then there’s her doppelgänger who she portrays with a soulless void. Winston Duke (Gabe) adds most of the humor with his actions and reactions, both physically and verbally, lightening the heaviness of the brutal carnage that ensues. And the kids, Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora) and Evan Alex (Jason), find the depth to give us double performances, again never questioning that there are two different people before us.

With any horror film, camera work has to be as much of a character as the actual actors. Having actors portray two different people, frequently on screen at the same time, takes some heaving lifting and it works. Additionally, and with utmost skill, the cameras have a way of making us peer around the corner to see what’s ahead. It also gives a sense of dread as it follows the characters from behind or blinding us from seeing, allowing us to only hearing what’s to come.

“Us” is a typical horror film in many ways, but the consistent humor throughout elevates it, but not to the level of Peele’s first blockbuster that had powerful social statements, humor and horror. With “Us,” it feels as if he was more interested in surprising the audience with zingers and entertaining with gore than giving us a consistently good story. And it will behoove you to look in the Bible for Jeremiah 11:11 before you go. Trust me.

3 Stars

Netflix’s “Bird Box” serves as a powerful addition to the platform’s original films

December 18th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Netflix’s “Bird Box” serves as a powerful addition to the platform’s original films”

“Bird Box,” based on the novel by Josh Malerman, is written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Susanne Bier and stars Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich.

While the film opens in theaters this weekend in New York and Los Angeles (think Oscar, here), this Netflix dystopian horror film then will become available to stream to your home via the digital platform on Dec. 21.

“Bird Box” delivers a powerful punch in the first scene as we see two young children blindfolded and being directed as to what’s expected of them. Your mind races, wondering if these children have been kidnapped as they are addressed as “Girl” and “Boy.” It’s gut-wrenching to watch these terrified-yet-precious little faces react to harshness from a woman, but then we are spiraled to five years earlier, and we find out how we got to this lowly place.

To read the review in its entirety as published in the Saturday, December 15th, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal, go to


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