Film Brief: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

One scary story to tell in the dark would be pure awesomeness, more even better. But there’s nothing particularly scary here. In other words, yawn.  I understand this may be directed towards yungin’s, but that doesn’t mean it has to be such a boring rehash.

What is with no starting titles?  Are you so ashamed of your lead actors?  Of the movie title? 2/10

Comparison Notes: Creepshow, all haunted house movies, Pet Sematary, ItPan’s Labyrinth

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Hereditary Encumbrances

You go into Hereditary thinking it’ll be some sort of wonderful all-out creepfest.  There is a definite creepiness factor, but the film morphs into yet another fairly conventional haunted house/haunted spirit flick.  For all of its careful consideration of factors such as visual design, Hereditary pays much less attention to presenting a strong compelling story.

Which is not to say it’s not compelling.  Certainly not boring.  But if you remove the miniatures, I doubt I’d recommend.  An absent starting title for no reason doesn’t help.  At least A24 didn’t revert back to the square frame on this one.

I’ve largely forgotten about this movie already, but in its immediate wake it did get under my skin a bit.  So — a begrudging 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Thelma, Poltergeist, Drag Me to Hell, and others in my Spirit” post, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Psycho, The Ring, Cube, Mother!

It good

It often feels like a throwback to both classic ’80s Spielberg flicks and anthology shows like Amazing Stories, and to classic slasher-hackers.  The cinematography and direction are refreshingly old-school.  And while the occasionally scattershot film lacks cohesion, it makes amends with moments of lyric mirth and an intimacy among its characters normally lacking in such endeavors.

It, a.k.a. Stranger Things with a Clown, delivers a twinge of fear right at the beginning, with the clown in the gutter.  That moment when we don’t know what will happen is very effective — until something does happen.  And once it does, It traverses from scary to silly and never quite comes back.  Or maybe put another way, from adult-scary to kid-scary.  Once that edge is removed, It was not able to frighten me as much as it tried.

Then in the latter part of the film, the worst thing imaginable happens: It becomes draggy.  Nonetheless, on the strength of its assets, It rises to a marginal 7/10.

Comparison Notes (recommended & essential): Stand by Me, E.T., The Ring

What a Mother! [u]

Aronofsky certainly excels at bringing drama to a maniacal pitch, and then heaping mania upon mania to reach ever-greater crescendos.  But mania alone is not a substitute for story.  That’s why a film like Ex Machina is so much better than Mother!

Still, mania is not boring.  Bonus points for strong vision and not pulling punches raises Mother! to 7/10.

UPDATE: Now 8/10

Comparison Notes: Crimson Peak, Rosemary’s Baby, other Aronofsky films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, Iñárritu’s Birdman and The Revenant.

P.S.  You can consider Mother! to be Darren Aronofsky’s entry into the haunted house genre, in a season full of them.  Stay tuned for more on this, i.e. more on It.

Film Brief: Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak - poster

I figured somewhere on Rotten Tomatoes that I’d find a capsule I could swallow, but no such luck.

So, here’s mine: a terrific and unexpected first half, a let-down in the second half, and lots of great thematic elements and rich gothic atmosphere that’s never fully exploited.  Crimson Peak deserved a story with ever-more eventful intrigue, but it falls way short — as if the writers became further and further bogged down in their own thick red mire.  Still, there’s some enjoyment to be had, so a marginal recommendation.  6/10

The Conjuring of Little Emotion

The ConjuringIf you’ve never seen a haunted house movie, The Conjuring might be scary to you.  For a standard haunt-flick, it’s relatively well executed.  But the problem is : The Haunting (1963), The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Paranormal Activity all exist.  So do The Ring, Cure, Drag Me to Hell, and The Uninvited.  And so do about 180,000 other haunted house / haunted spirit movies.  The Conjuring did not bring anything new to the party.

I think there is a core popularity to the haunted house movie that connects to the public’s obsession with Halloween.  It’s not that it’s that outlandishly scary to people, but they are entertained nonetheless.  My problem is that I’m not entertained.  It’s — as Simon Cowell would say — all a bit boring to me.  I’ve seen this a thousand times before, so all the flagellations, spasms and contortions in the world don’t get my juices flowing.  What excites me is a good scary story.

The Haunting-1963 poster medMost often the scariest movies are ones that are solidly non-supernatural.  Give me something truly “Insidious” like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Dead Calm, Orphan, or The Shining.

In The Conjuring, the house wasn’t that creepy, and a pseudo-historical context wasn’t taken advantage of, and neither was a very cool boggy backyard pond.  At the beginning we are informed that the movie is based on a true story.  Yea right.  There wasn’t even anything conjured, especially not fear.  3/10