A troubled couple, Ray and Joanne (Sam Worthington, Lily Rabe), stop at a petrol station where their daughter’s arm gets Fractured in a fall. They rush to the nearest hospital, but something is terribly amiss. Pushy staff keep mentioning organ donation. And when daughter Peri (Lucy Capri) and Joanne disappear during an MRI, the hospital deny they checked in — or even exist at all. Ray must fight to save his family and prove his sanity.
A kind of horror Flightplan, we are kept guessing until the end: abducted family, or imagined family?
Unsettling, thrilling, but slightly shlocky. A good romp.
Six strangers from very different backgrounds have been invited to take part in an escape room together. Escape rooms are a chance for people to come together, build social skills, be creative, and have fun — win or lose. But it soon becomes apparent that when it comes to this particular escape room, losing is not an option.
A strong concept piece featuring a motley assortment of characters, Escape Room felt like a horror movie in the model of a classic Twilight Zone episode, an exciting mystery . It had shades of movies I’ve enjoyed so much, such as Cube (1997) and Saw (2004), but very much did not feel derivative. Escape rooms themselves are all the rage now, probably because, as one of our players Danny (Nik Dodani) enthuses, they’re like real life computer games.And so this feels a very 2019 twist on those older movies.
Escape Room had plenty of well-judged humour, scares, moments of real tension interspersed with genuine mystery and a sense of the marvellous, and the characters didn’t feel like cut-outs waiting to be killed, but like real people. This definitely elevates Escape Room above most other examples of the survival game subgenre where character, motivation, and plot are so often very much secondary to the creativity of the games and the kills.
The movie began with a bang and then slowed right up in order to introduce all of the characters and the setting. But then the pace kicked back in and didn’t let up. Thrilling. I particularly enjoyed this playing with pacing and also of realism; the movie stretches and snaps back like a rubber band, never breaking nor going too far, but pushing the viewer to the limit.
Escape Room isn’t the first movie based on this concept — for example, we have the confusingly named and dated Escape Room (2017) dir. Will Wernick and, err, Escape Room (2017) dir. Peter Dukes –, but it’s the best so far. It really felt like I was watching this generation’s Saw. And like Saw, there were twists and turns — although, admittedly, none as shocking as that twist from the original Saw. Just as in Saw, each room / trial is brilliantly imaginative; you almost feel yourself “playing along” at home. And just like Saw, I felt myself thinking, “This could easily be a franchise. I think they could make more! I hope they make more! Although any sequel would be milking this concept dry” As it happens, the films ends not with the hint, but the definite confirmation, of a sequel. I felt excited, but also a little sickened by the self-assuredness of this film: gone are the days of teasing the audience and hoping for the box office receipts to make a second movie profitable, now are the days of the five film Netflix deal. None-the-less, the set-up for the sequel looks anything but milking the concept: it promises to be a thrilling and wonderful development, and it’s to be released in 2021.
A great concept, entertaining and real-feeling characters, thrilling, horrific yet fun, Escape Room was both familiar and yet refreshingly different. I loved it, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
Bol and Rial Majur (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku) had fled the brutal civil war in Sudan and fared a treacherous passage across the sea to the UK. After being given temporary leave to remain in Britain, their life looks bright–er. That is, until a menacing presence in their new home begins to interfere with their new lives.
His House begins with a wonderful premise that sees our characters trying to make a new life in a dilapidated council house on, perhaps, the worst council estate in England. The visuals are stunning and it’s genuinely scary — at first, that is, until the jump scare trick gets repeated once too many times. But there is some beautiful visual poetry.
This is a movie which, both for thematic and artistic reasons, I desperately wanted to love. Sadly, the wonderful premise and promise fall away rather quickly as the film really seems to fizzle out half way through act two. There is never enough threat to our main characters, nor mystery about what is going on. This is a real shame.
A film that the critics will wax lyrical over–it’s currently 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but believe me, it’s not that good–but which actually doesn’t live up to its promise. A visually-engaging albeit ultimately hollow movie.
A baby-sitter finds herself trapped in a house playing cat and mouse with a masked serial killer. Sound familiar? A Stranger Outside is standard ’90s Scream-style shlock, albeit without the self-awareness. But it wins points for some interesting plot ideas. For example, the baby-sitter is really a nurse who has taken the gig as a way of getting some easy cash after suffering a career and confidence crisis due to the death of a vulnerable child in her care.
The first half of the movie was trite, and the acting was a little over-the-top, although our lead Brittany Underwood was giving a decent turn. The less said of the performances by her co-stars Mark Grossman (boyfriend Jeremy), Michael Chandler (incompetent Dr Mixer), Jet Jurgensmeyer (baby-sittee Toby), or best friend Kaci (Shanica “No Relation” Knowles), the better. Things really fall apart in comedy style when the killer starts a-killing. The Scary Movie-like knife thrusts, slicing through pieces of paper, cowering beside counters, and hysterical screaming were beyond absurd; imagine a Scary Movie where the wonderful Anna Faris and Regina Hall actually thought they were giving solid dramatic turns.
This film is also oddly disjointed. The first half, a 90s throwback cliché, albeit mildly entertaining. The second half, a spoof movie not realising it’s a spoof movie. Indescribably awful, but in its awfulness, thoroughly enjoyable nonsense. A jumble of decent scenes and terrible scenes, passable acting and insanely awful acting, make for a diverting 90 minutes.
Bird Box is a The Happening (2008) and A Quiet Place (2018) mash-up where an evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves (or, in the rare case, become homicidal maniacs).
Five years after an unseen and malevolent presence caused the majority of the world’s people to mysteriously commit suicide or else turn into blood-thirsty maniacs, mother Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is desperately trying to navigate a safe path through this post-apocalyptic landscape to a fabled safe haven for her two young children. The evil force manifests itself as a shimmer and a rustling breeze which seems to instantly infect people who gaze towards it. Therefore, the only way to avoid being infected is to stay indoors, or only go outside with your eyes covered at all times.
We join the story with Sandra Bullock rowing her children up a certain creek, and it might as well be without a paddle as they’re all blindfolded, to a fabled haven. The film is two narratives at the same time, cutting between her river-based journey and recanting the tale of how she got to be on this perilous solo mission cut
For years I wondered to myself how M. Knight Shyamalan could have got it so woefully wrong with his The Happening, based as it is on the absurd concept that nature is out to get revenge on mankind by inflecting us with suicide blown on the breeze(!), but Bird Box‘s set-up and premise is what The Happening could potentially have been. We don’t know the source of this evil presence, nor are the details made clear. Why do some people merely become homicidal lunatics whereas the majority immediately kill themselves? Why can the evil force not enter into buildings? But these questions do not matter as the technicalities of this blight are not the focus of the story; rather, the human drama is. And the film excels. Man versus himself, man versus man, man versus time, all three classic dramas are well-played to maximum tension.
At times, The Road-style post-apocalyptic road trip (well, river trip), at times an alternative reality good version of The Happening, at times “the enemy within” dramatic plot thread of 28 Days Later, this film deliver a tense and thrilling horror ride. The cast are all wonderful in their roles. However, this film surely deserves an award for the most bizarrely random cast of all time: Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, rapper Machine Gun Kelly (or should I say, ex-rapper, RIP, after Eminem (metaphorically) killed him in their 2018 diss battle), British comic actor from The Thick Of It Tom Hollander, jovial comedian Lil Rel Howery, and Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra. But despite this motley collection of all sorts, the casting never jarred: there was no Ed-Sheeran-in-Game-Of-Thrones-WTF moment. I was particularly impressed with Machine Gun Kelly’s supporting turn.
Scary, emotionally terrifying, thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.
Take 2008’s The Happening and 2018’s A Quiet Place, pop them in a blender with a pinch of Oscar (Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich) and a dash of randomness (British comic actor Tom Hollander, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra), and voilà! An evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves or each other (The Happening) when they look towards it (swapping A Quiet Place‘s sound for sight).
We follow Bullock as she paddles her two young children up a certain creek to an alleged haven. The film interweaves with the tale of how she came to be on this river.
Bird Box is a human drama of survival against odds.
Scary, emotionally terrifying, and thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.
Maria (India Eisley) is a quirky and lonely teenager, bullied and suffering a barely-fleshed out eating disorder, her only friend is merely using Maria as a personal side-kick and as a kind of depressive foil to make herself look good. A depressed mother (Mira Sorvino) and a philandering plastic surgeon father (Jason Isaacs) make home life equally unbearable. But everything changes when Maria looks in the mirror to see that her reflection is alive. The reflection is called Airam (because, ya know — I mean, work it out for yourself!) and claims to have Maria’s best interests at heart. But does she/it really? Things take a turn for the dark when they swap places.
There’s no real tension regarding who or what the reflection is, the very first shot of the movie spells it out: Airam is Maria’s twin sister who died at birth. There also isn’t any real tension to the way Airam gets justice for Maria. Justice would be served, and I would just go, “Oh, okay, so that’s happened, I guess.” There felt like minimal pay-off. There could have been a slow build-up to key scenes of “justice”, there could have been a creepier tension built between Maria and Airam. Jason Isaacs does steal the movie, however, with his off-kilter and complex portrayal. The film missed another pay-off with certain revelations regarding Airam’s true fate/identity; this twist was shocking, but I was more shocked at how poorly the film played this strong card. There’s an awkward aggressively sexual scene between Maria and her Dad, but this, too, felt like it could have gone in a more interesting direction.
This was an entertaining film, but it kept me wondering why they didn’t explore the concept more. What happens to Maria when she’s in the mirror? Is there a whole other dark world in there, like ours but the opposite? Or is it happy and light, making her not want to come back while Airam is unhappy in Maria’s world? Why wasn’t justice performed more ironically; for example, why was Maria’s school tormenter not, despite having a secret crush on her, punished in a way fitting his relationship with Maria? He just gets kyboshed. And why isn’t Maria made to be more likable? Self-deprecating sense of humour, perhaps. An interesting hobby, maybe. She’s just pathetic and characterless.
Nice idea, some good acting, an entertaining albeit mindless way to spend 103 minutes, but devoid of tension. A Horror-thriller without much of either. The ending also felt incomplete. This film is a wasted opportunity.
In the Tall Grass is based on the novella co-written by one-man-novella-industry Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. It’s a high concept mystery-horror-thriller that seems like it would have made a cracking little episode of The Twilight Zone.
We meet a dilapidated and forsaken church, as much a character in this story as any of the humans, whose carpark is a de facto layby for weary travellers. This is the only thing for miles around apart from motorway and countless acres of thick, tall, grass. When heavily pregnant Becky (Laysla de Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) stop to rest, they hear a small lost boy (Tobin, Will Buie Junior) stuck within the thick growth pleading with them to help him get out. So far so simple. But when they enter the tall grass, they find themselves trapped in a nightmarish and constantly-changing maze where the very grass seems alive with an evil presence which is determined to keep them captive.
Such a high concept could backfire (see M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Happening). But In the Tall Grass initially worked quite well, particularly since it seemed like we were watching the marvellous Triangle (2009) but rebooted on a farm instead of the open sea. A silent, evil presence at the centre of the shifting grass maze had serious shades of King’s own The Tommyknockers and was quite convincing.
Unfortunately, what wasn’t convincing was some of the acting, particularly that of the usually great Patrick Wilson. Wilson hams it, chewing up the scenes like a demented Ash from Evil Dead III. Unfortunately, that acting did not sit tonally at all well with the rest of the film. As my wife put it when Wilson cracks open the can-o’-ham, “This is just silly now”. She left the room.
From this point onwards, the film really struggles with its own lack of source material, although this needn’t have been a problem: King’s own novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption proves that a novella can be weighty enough for a magnificent film treatment. Sadly, this novella just didn’t have enough to it. The whole venture descends into a shlocky slasher movie. There is some surreal and disturbing body horror, however, which was gruesome and great!
The film does manage to just about pull itself together for the conclusion which is satisfying. And, Wilson and Whitted aside, the acting is compelling and convincing. But the whole thing just about careens off the tracks as it finishes. It would have benefited greatly from curtailing its length from 101 minutes to an old school 90, maximum; 81 would have done fine. Even if Wilson hadn’t channelled Army of Darkness, there’s no escaping that this film was a Twilight Zone episode spread too thin. A very uneven, albeit enjoyable, result.
The Hole In The Ground is the remarkably well-accomplished debut feature from Irish writer-director Lee Cronin. Single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) has upped sticks to the remote Irish countryside with her eight year old son Chris (James Quin Markey). After Chris goes for a mysterious midnight stroll in the nearby forest, Sarah begins to notice disturbing changes in his character. Is this even her son at all? Cleverly, rather than Cronin have Chris’s behaviour deteriorate, the opposite occurs; where once he was sullen, withdrawn, and shy, he becomes calmly positive, controlled, and popular at school. But there’s just something off about this change of character, something that only a mother would notice, and I have to say wonderfully sold by young actor James Quin Markey. Seána Kerslake also convinces.
A gut-churning slowburn, this horror-thriller reminds me distinctly of 2014’s equally nerve-shredding The Honeymoon. It also shares DNA strands with The Babadook; has her son really been replaced, or is it all in her own mind? Just as in The Babadook, we start to fear for what this tormented mother might do to her own child, whilst also fearing that she is right.
The dank forest is beautifully shot and feels ancient, like nefarious creatures from Celtic myths might indeed dwell there, every tree seeming to have its own personality. The sinkhole in the centre of the wood projects an eerie and malevolent presence.
We are kept guessing until the very end: has Chris been replaced, or is his mother losing her mind? Credit again to Lee Cronin for eschewing any of the tempting and obvious potential twist-endings that the film could suggest. Rather, I found the ending befitting and equally horrifying. Without giving the game away, I can say that this family will never be quite the same again.
Genuinely disturbing, the psychological horror builds slowly but powerfully. How does it compare to other “forest horror” films? Fans of The Honeymoon should definitely watch this, fans of The Blair WitchProject might like it, and fans of CabinFever could probably give this movie a miss.
The Hole In The Ground is the remarkably well-accomplished debut feature from Irish writer-director Lee Cronin. Single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) has upped sticks to the countryside with her eight year old son Chris (James Quin Markey). After Chris goes for a mysterious midnight stroll in the nearby forest, Sarah begins to notice disturbing changes in his character. Is this even her son at all?
A gut-churning slowburn, this horror-thriller recalls 2014’s equally nerve-shredding The Honeymoon and shares DNA with The Babadook. Convincing central performances and potent sound design and cinematography.
We are kept guessing until the very end: has her son really been replaced, or is it all in her own mind? A true delight.
Film and Writing Festival for Comedy. Showcasing best of comedy short films at the FEEDBACK Film Festival. Plus, showcasing best of comedy novels, short stories, poems, screenplays (TV, short, feature) at the festival performed by professional actors.