Horror

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

REVIEW: The Invisible Man

I’ve always felt that less is more when it comes to horror. It’s about what you don’t see or what’s implied that makes something scary.

REVIEW: Brahms: The Boy II

STX Entertainment
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 86 minutes
Director: William Brent Bell

Released in 2016, The Boy is actually a film that I enjoyed. It told the story of a young housekeeper, played by Lauren Cohen, who was tasked to take care of a large porcelain doll named Brahms. Throughout the film the viewer is strung along into thinking that the doll itself was haunted—with the grand reveal that Brahms was not a haunted doll: but rather a grown man living within the walls of the house (who was, quite frankly, psychotic). While it is no work of art, I thought it was a quirky one-off film with a unique narrative twist… Regardless of how pedestrian and mediocre the story was.

Fast forward to 2020 and we now have the sequel, Brahms: The Boy II. Unfortunately, instead of expanding on the unique twist the first movie told, this sequel has reversed course so poorly that it actually makes the first film look weaker. That’s right folks: this movie is so bad that it actually makes its predecessor look bad. 

But where does Brahms: The Boy II go wrong? Let’s start with the story… The movie begins with a young family whose lives have been shattered by a horrific home invasion. While the father, Sean (Owain Yeoman) is out of town his wife, Liza (Katie Holmes) and son Jude (Christopher Convery) are left to fend for themselves as robbers break into their home nearly killing them both. The event is so traumatic that young Jude is rendered mute and Liza suffers from intense PTSD (which is just passed off as an excuse to give us jump scares). The family decides to retreat into the countryside of London to heal and overcome their trauma. They end up in the guest house outside of the mansion, which was the location and setting of the entire first movie (the guest house was not a location that appeared in the first movie at all). It is from here where Jude finds Brahms buried in the soil with its hand hilariously sticking out from the ground, and finds himself a friend within the lifeless doll. His family, desperate for him to leave his state of silence, encourages their friendship with the inanimate object until Liza finds disturbing clues that hint at something being awry; pictures of murder, torn up toys, and angry animals.

Christopher Convery as “Jude” appears in a scene of Brahms: The Boy II | STX Entertainment

If that story sounds at all familiar to you, do not worry: Brahms: The Boy II is very much a run-of-the-mill sort of horror movie. Its biggest crime is that for such a strange concept and such a bizarre adversary it chooses to go down the most generic and obvious paths. Nothing in this film scared or disturbed me in the least bit. The movie seems to prefer to startle the audience with abrupt jump scares, the likes of which are unequivocally telegraphed. For a slim 86 minutes I felt incredibly bored. I found myself checking my watch frequently waiting for something to happen. The film is happy meandering about with Brahms playing small pranks on his poor victim not caring to move the plot forward at all—and boy, is it mind numbing.

My greatest frustration with this film is not the bad writing, the poor direction, or even the frequent jump scares. It’s that rather than building upon a unique story with a good twist, it totally throws the story right into the dumpster, and goes with a supernatural angle. It hamstrings the film into a total snooze fest, devoid of any suspense or cleverness. It’s so badly paced that even the scares feel out of place, and it is too shallow to offer anything insightful or disturbing to get under your skin. Brahms: The Boy II is plain and lifeless, much like the porcelain doll it is named after.

Recommendation: NO GO

REVIEW: Fantasy Island

Sony Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: Jeff Wadlow

I have a pet peeve with Youtube. When I’m up late at night listening to calming music, I often find myself assaulted with a mandatory ad for an upcoming horror flick. It ruins my whole bedtime routine because I then have to watch a Disney movie to rid myself of the heebie-jeebies. I know it’s pathetic, but I can’t even handle scary movie trailers during the daytime, and I cover my eyes when they come on during previews at the theater. So, thank goodness for Fantasy Island: its existence feels like comeuppance for every time my Frozen sing-a-longs have been interrupted by screechy violins, panicked screams, and creepy voices. Based on a popular 70’s TV show of the same name, the movie Fantasy Island comes with a horror twist on the show’s theme: be careful what you wish for.  

The premise is that the titular island manifests for its visitors the deepest wishes of their heart; but gradually, their fantasies twist and degrade into lethal nightmares. It seems the island had the same effect on the producers of this film, as their fantasy project of recreating an intriguing concept eroded into the disappointing final product that I saw in theaters over the weekend. Everything the movie had going for it went bad like week-old pizza—uncompelling characters (despite being portrayed by seasoned, talented actors), eyeroll-inducing dialogue, and a total lack of fear or danger felt by the audience (remember, this is coming from a total wimp). If Hallmark made a horror film, this is what it would look like.  

The perfect description of this movie lies in one of its characters—Dr. Torture. A giant with bulging, veiny muscles (imagine Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove, but bent on murder and wearing scrubs); he avoids asserting his size, and instead chooses tiny, surgical tools to intimidate the protagonists. He spends most of his screen-time jabbing a 1-inch blade at people or waving a bone saw with the diameter of a Girl Scout cookie. He could probably kill you with his bare hands, but instead he goes about attempting to murder the protagonists in such inconvenient ways that it almost feels like a spoof. Likewise, the movie itself felt full of untapped potential, yet clumsy and confusing in its execution. 

Portia Doubleday and Lucy Hale in a scene of Fantasy Island | Sony Pictures

What can be said for Fantasy Island, however, is that it was entirely unpredictable. I kept thinking I had it figured out, and every time I was proved wrong. I found myself leaning closer and closer to the screen, brows furrowed and resting my chin on my hands, as if those extra movements would somehow help me solve the mystery. I was surprisingly invested in the wild roller coaster, even if it all seemed to have no rhyme or reason.  By the end, it still lacked rhyme or reason, and even though I found the cinematic journey entertaining, I would skip this one and go see one of the many other horror flicks available this month.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you share my YouTube pet peeve), the horror genre has survived worse and will no doubt survive this, too. I fully expect the next venture by Blumhouse Productions to be bone-chilling and terrifying. But for now, Fantasy Island has me sleeping easy.

Recommendation: NO GO

REVIEW: Gretel & Hansel

United Artists Releasing
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 87 minutes
Director: Oz Perkins

Sophia Lillis is on her way to become this generation’s “scream queen,” and that is not without merit.  When I first saw the teaser trailer for this film I was filled with glee. Another art house horror film like The VVitch?  This was gonna be fun! I eagerly awaited the movie and was delighted at the really creepy prologue. The movie proper began and I was instantly reminded of The VVitch. As the movie kept going I just kept getting reminded of that movie, for better and for worse.

My Quibbles… 

Commitment issues: Like The VVitch, this story takes place in the Middle Ages and tries to keep the language and the dialogue within that time frame. However, there are times when the choice of words is very clearly modern, which can take you out of the movie. At one point, a dish falls and breaks on the floor, and the witch literally says “another one bites the dust.” It’s a small quibble though, and I understand that they had to compromise to make this movie more accessible to people. 

The prologue’s connection with the rest of the movie: I won’t get into spoilers here… Just a thought about the witch, and how the movie sets up her character. Her character arc takes a turn in the third act that never felt like it paid off. It left me wondering why the story chose to bring up certain aspects of the witch and her background, only to see those aspects go nowhere.

Too many nightmares – not enough development: During the second act of the movie, Gretel has two nightmares that play out in different scenes. Each nightmare last about five minutes. They are fairly terrifying, but I think one nightmare scene would have sufficed; the extra time could have been used to develop the witch’s background more instead of providing us with clumsy exposition near the end of the movie.

The ending: I honestly believe this was the studio’s fault. They tried to have their cake and eat it too. It felt as if they couldn’t decide on how the movie should end, and what message it would give, so they chose to go with both— happily scary ever after? I really wished they would’ve committed to one or the other.

Alice Krige as “Holda” (the witch) in Gretel & Hansel | United Artists Releasing

My Enjoyments…

Sophia Lillis and Alice Krige: Gretel and the witch made one of the best parts of this movie. Like I said in the introduction, Sophia Lillis is making her mark on the horror genre, and she’s excelling at it. But it was Alice Krige as the witch that carried the movie. She brings actual depth, and even sympathy, to a role that could’ve just been played as another monster role. 

The visuals: Okay. This is where the movie really EXCELS. This isn’t an R-rated film, so it doesn’t rely on blood and gore. It makes incredible use of visual imagery. The movie is shot beautifully, and thankfully, not too dark. The character design is out of this world. They were able to make people and creatures terrifying without much frill. There is a lot of “Halloween costume” potential in the movie. 

Fairy tale nods: There are a lot of little nods to other fairy tales cleverly hidden throughout the film—mushrooms from Alice in Wonderland, the ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz, wolves from Little Red Riding Hood; maybe hints of a larger, shared universe, perhaps? It was fun to notice them.

Final Thoughts…

There were a lot of good things about this film: the atmosphere and visuals were excellent, the two main leads were fantastic, most of the script was really interesting—but the final act felt rushed and poorly written. I wished there was just a little more effort put into the character development and screenplay. Ultimately, if you like arthouse horror movies, I would recommend you see this as a matinee, or wait until it is available streaming.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

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