Dark Comedy

REVIEW: Freaky

Universal Pictures
Rated: R
Run Time: 101 minutes
Director: Christopher Landon

Alright, so Freaky! Unfortunately, this review wasn’t ready in time for Halloween (which is totally understandable considering the circumstances), and because of that, it may have gone overlooked. But here comes another surprisingly decent horror remake of a classic movie plot element. From the same director and movie studio that brought us Happy Death Day (2017), but instead of a reimagining of Groundhog Day (1993), you might have already guessed it: this is a horror revision of Freaky Friday (1976).

I think the twist on the plot by itself was enough to get me more than interested in seeing it. Instead of a mother/daughter switch for a day, it’s serial killer/victim. The concept is honestly a great idea, in my opinion. The kind of idea that you think you could’ve thought of yourself but failed to do so in time. Furthermore, the comedy that comes from a serial killer being stuck in a 17 year old girl’s body, and vice versa, really makes for some genuine laughs. 

I usually am not out-of-my-way stoked about Vince Vaughn leading a movie, but the highlight of the film ends up being the lead actors’ performances, which also includes Kathryn Newton.

Despite any potential flaws I mention, I was able to stay engaged throughout the entire duration. I did not feel obligated to finish this movie just because I had to write a review, but was really anxious to watch the whole thing. For me, that makes the movie qualify as a worthwhile watch. If any movie can generate this much interest off the bat, and then maintain that interest through the hour and a half runtime, it deserves a seat at the table. In the end, it’s definitely a 2020 horror highlight (which I guess wasn’t too hard to do since the competition was scarce). 

Now, much of the movie shouldn’t be held to a high standard of originality, but the writers often are too tempted to not play into some exhausted horror tropes to progress the plot. One of the more egregious is creating absolutely disposable characters. The kinds where a horribly violent death doesn’t faze the viewer as much, because the victims are such unrealistic scumbags. Examples include extraordinarily unashamed, non-virtual high school bullies, borderline abusive teachers, and the creepiest jocks you’ll ever see. Then again, the whole movie really is shockingly violent, so maybe this tactic works well for most people. Speaking for myself, it was a tad bit forced. 

Kathryn Newton in a scene of Freaky | Universal Pictures, 2020.

Some of the acting is a bit crummy. The delivery of lines from a lot of these side characters (who are often very young actors) gets distracting. There’s also a noticeable shortage in extras, which was maybe due to Covid. I’m not bashing on that, but it’s interesting to notice how they try to adapt from that.

I guess if I could wrap up my view on this movie’s weaknesses: It’s often formulaic, but the frustration comes when you realize that it really didn’t have to be.

Now, I do have to go off for a second. The most unfitting scene in the movie is when the love interest (who’s an underage kid) passionately kisses Vince Vaughn… I mean sure, there’s “an underage girl trapped inside the character” but oooooof, that scene was weird. It’s a very bold move by the writers. The moment could’ve just as well been prevented before lips met with an inevitable gag, but instead they use the same gag to stop the make out after it starts and before things “go for too long,” I guess. And the fact that it didn’t feel like it was supposed to be funny but rather a meaningful moment, makes it all the more uncomfortable. I hope I’m not sounding too obtuse with this critique. That scene was just totally bonkers for me.

Anyway, you can weigh the pros and cons. But I think it was worth the single view, and it definitely satisfied my excitement just with the premise alone. Being that it’s still available in theaters, and it does have some glaring flaws, I’m going to go ahead and designate this as matinee kind of movie, or wait to stream/rent/purchase digitally.

Recommendation: Maybe A Matinee

REVIEW: The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Orion Classics
Rated: R
Run Time: 83 minutes
Director: Jim Cummings

One more thing that COVID-19 has done to to the industry: The Indie movies that would’ve never been given a chance as a wide release in theaters are now camouflaging in with the blockbusters. I thought I was about to watch a straightforward, sobering, drama/thriller… Boy, was The Wolf of Snow Hollow NOT that.

Immediately following a beautiful and unsettling opening credit sequence, the off-beat, erratic editing, acting and dialogue begins and never lets up. You might be tempted to call it bad acting, or low budget, but give it a few minutes; once you get used to the rhythm of this truly odd movie, you start to enjoy the imperfections. It really doesn’t seem like a mistake, but rather intentionally other worldly. It reminds me a lot of how the same elements are handled in It Follows (2014); just a bit off and unfamiliar. But I think it works! Where as those little details gave It Follows a hipster feel, The Wolf of Snow Hollow brings more of an ironic comedy to the mix. And I wouldn’t classify this as “so bad it’s good,” it’s more grounded than that, and much more self aware. Whatever the film is, it’s good enough to get you engaged if you allow it 15 minutes of your time before giving up (the movie is only 83 minutes total). 

This story portrays a moment in the life of an unstable, small town sheriff’s deputy along with the rest of his office, and what would happen if a murderer (or something else) started going on a homicidal rampage. What ensues is a series of incompetent decisions, mental breakdowns, and desperation to stop the carnage. It’s honestly so great. 

Once you get used to the insane editing, the non linear, almost hyperactive story telling becomes one of the film’s strong suits…even if it’s just that it’s unique. It shows just how scatterbrained an amateur cop from the boonies would be dealing with something this HUGE (tease).

From left to right: Riki Lindhome, Marshall Allman, Robert Forster, Neville Archambault and Jim Cummings in a scene of The Wolf of Snow Hollow | Orion Classics.

So many moments of otherwise bizarre behavior feel so relatable, to the point where you’re surprised how much you’re laughing. Honestly, guys, from one scene in particular I ended up laughing uncontrollably for like 5 minutes.

To wrap it up, the horror factor is unnervingly mysterious and creepy by itself. Along with that, there’s a clever, whacky twist followed by a satisfyingly tranquil ending.

Side note: veteran actor Robert Forster, who co-stars in The Wolf of Snow Hollow, passed away during the filming. His character and performance end up being a coincidentally nice goodbye and a highlight of the film. Jim Cummings is the writer, director and lead actor. Being that he decidedly pulled off such an unlikely accomplishment, I’m excited to see his one other film he has to date, Thunder Road (2018), where he helms all three jobs again.

I’ll stand by The Wolf of Snow Hollow as one of the best and likely most underrated dark comedies of the year.

Recommendation: Go See It!

REVIEW: Extra Ordinary

Cranked Up Films
Rated: R
Run Time: 94 minutes
Directors: Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman

While perusing the lineup of films available through the Salt Lake Film Society (SLFS) “At Home” streaming theater, I came across the trailer for Extra Ordinary. Normally (as a matter of personal choice) I tend to stay away from horror movies that deal with demonic possession, but seeing that this was a comedy (and an Irish comedy at that) I decided to give it a go…

BOY, WAS I GLAD I DID.

Crazy Plot

Words cannot express how unbelievably BONKERS the plot of this movie is, but I’ll try my best to explain. Rose (Maeve Higgins) is the daughter of a famous ghost hunter and has inherited the ability to communicate with spirits; but she is afraid of her talents to the point that she swears off ghost hunting forever. Martin (Barry Ward) is a widower who lives with his daughter Sara, and they are haunted by Martin’s deceased wife, Bonnie. Christian (Will Forte) is an untalented one-hit-wonder who makes a deal with a devil in order to regain popularity. He targets Sara as the object of his sacrifice, causing Martin to turn to Rose to help save his daughter. 

There’s quite a bit going on in this film, and fortunately the script is tight enough that it never becomes muddled. It allows these crazy characters to move the crazy plot along without anything becoming overly confusing or convoluted.

After the film had concluded, I was sitting back and thinking about everything that had happened in the movie, and I realized that I would gladly watch a mini-series or a TV series about these characters just getting into mischief. The plot was so fun to watch—I want to see more of this world!

Irish Charm

This sort of story in the hands of a more mainstream movie studio would have surely overblown the setting and the humor. The Irish setting and location helps the movie stay more grounded, and provides the movie with all the quaint and charm of a Celtic countryside. It reminds me of other ‘Irish’ films like Leap Year (2010) with Amy Adams, or Waking Ned Devine (1998). The humor is a step below the quips and over-the-top physical humor of Hollywood, but a step above the complete deadpan humor of British comedies like The End of the F***ing World (2017). It coasts in the middle for a slightly deadpan, whimsical,  charming comedy. Plus, I’m a HUGE fan of Irish accents, so every bit of character dialogue was music to my ears.

Barry Ward and Maeve Higgins appear in a scene of Extra Ordinary | Cranked Up Films

Characters

The characters are what truly make this movie absolutely hysterical; all of them are extremely likeable and fun to watch. Rose is a super relatable protagonist just trying to get by in life and maybe find someone to share it with.It is such a joy to watch as she and Martin quickly become friends. Speaking of Martin, Barry Ward does an EXCELLENT job acting seeing as he has to portray being possessed by different spirits throughout the film. I am always impressed by actors and actresses that can just disappear into their roles and make it believable. Christian (a really ironic name for a satanist) is HYSTERICAL as a man who just wants to sacrifice a virgin to the devil, but keeps getting interrupted by literally everybody. All the characters are so fun and really make this movie a joy to watch.

Final Thoughts

Extra Ordinary is a funny Irish film that is a perfect remedy during this time of confusion and fear. It’s nice to just relax, kick up your feet, get some microwave popcorn, and have an enjoyable time. I loved every minute of it and I will be sure to get it on Blu-ray when it comes out!

In the meantime, check out the catalog of new movies that the Salt Lake Film Society is making available to viewers at home through their “At Home” streaming service. Click here.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: The Hunt

Universal Pictures
Rated: R
Run Time: 90 minutes
Director: Craig Zobel

Ever since I had an unfortunate incident involving a flight of stairs and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, I’ve insisted that my life is better off without horror movies. But The Hunt lured me in; resembling The Hunger Games more than The Exorcist, it’s a dark political satire about a group of Liberal elites hunting “deplorables” (a.k.a. non-elite Conservatives) for sport, and an awesome protagonist who flips the game on its head (she also literally flips a lot of people—it’s her signature move). The movie was set to release in 2019, but the plot caused a lot of discomfort in the wake of multiple mass shootings and even prompted criticism from the President, and thus was delayed until now. The controversy created a fair amount of buzz—not enough for me to know about it in 2019, but enough to prompt the marketing team to use the slogan, “The most talked about movie of the year is one no one has seen yet!” I thought, “Well, duh, it’s only February,” but I was intrigued! Surely any movie bold enough to make that kind of statement is worth a watch, right?

Well… Not any movie.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I thought, “This is getting good!” and a few seconds later thought, “WTFB (what-the-flying-bananas).” I imagine a middle-aged Vegas fortune-teller writing the script, musing mysteriously and waiting with a hairy mole and misty incense for me to fill in the gaps for myself. Vagueness, it seems, is their attempt at brilliance. I get that you have to suspend disbelief for movies, but my disbelief was so suspended that I was floating aimlessly in the endless space of ideas and theories without ever being grounded by an intelligible story. I couldn’t spoil the ending for you because I’m not exactly sure what happened. It was probably all a dream, but whose dream is anybody’s guess.

Justin Hartley and Emma Roberts in a scene of The Hunt | Universal Pictures

My top two complaints were the gratuitous violence and the unending stream of political mudslinging. Obviously, I expected more than pillow-fights, but I felt that the movie kept trying to push the boundaries of gore for the simple sake of “going there.” What’s worse is the combination of bloodshed with humor that falls sickeningly flat, leaving you feeling really, really uncomfortable: it’s the level of awkward that has you looking for the exits. It’s not like I never laughed, but I certainly cringed more than I chuckled. As far as political commentary goes, you’d get the same level of subtlety from the protagonist’s shotgun. The original title of the film was Red State vs. Blue State, and it should have stayed that way. The 90-minute runtime consisted of extremists saying and doing awful things to each other, like a brutal Shakespearean yarn based on Twitter comment sections. Rather than feeling “woke” about my own political leanings, I just felt more frustrated with the people whose opinions I disagree with. To remain unbiased, the film’s main character has no obvious political leanings. Her core beliefs could be summed up by a perverted version of the Barney theme song: “I hit you, you hit me, let’s go on a killing spree”.

Hilary Swank and Betty Gilpin fighting in a scene of The Hunt | Universal Pictures

Speaking of which, if this movie has any chance of earning the price of admission, that chance’s name is Betty Gilpin. She plays Crystal, one of the victims of the Hunt who is really bad at being a victim. She disappears into the role of disaffected, totally deranged Mississippi-trailer-trash, and yet makes the character relatable, entertaining, and engaging. You definitely wouldn’t want her to be your coworker or your neighbor, but you can’t help but root for her on her quest for survival. Both the actress and her character are placed in really crummy situations (Crystal being in the Hunt and Gilpin being cast in The Hunt) but they shrug it off and start running the show. Gilpin quite literally does it all: the bad-bossery of Sigourney Weaver, the captivating presence of Sandra Bullock, the emotional range and control of Jennifer Lawrence, and the action-hero skills of Gal Gadot. She’s surely headed for bigger and better things, so be sure to catch her in GLOW on Netflix or keep an eye out for her next Hollywood venture. 

In all fairness, everyone I knew was shocked I picked this film, so maybe my expectations were way off. Maybe I’m just crazy; I certainly felt crazy walking out of the theater. But assuming I’m sane, maybe wait until March’s other movies feel safe enough to get released.

Recommendation: NO GO

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