Happy Death Day: Movie Man Jackson

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It is birthday time for “Tree” (Jessica Rothe), a college student and sorority girl who pretty much epitomizes the worst of those stereotypes. She’s awaken from a drunken night in the bed of Carter (Israel Broussard), an old classmate. So college.

Her birthday takes her through the basic minutiae of any other day: Walks across campus, house meetings with her equally witchy sorority members, and a visit to see her professor for after-hours study. Being her birthday, it culminates with her going out to celebrate…only she doesn’t make it because she’s slain by a masked buck-toothed, baby-faced assailant.

But the next day, Tree wakes up—in the same bed of Carter’s—to the same alarm. The cycle repeats itself, with Tree dying again and again and again to the same assailant. To get to tomorrow, she’s got to solve the mystery as to why someone wants to kill her and possibly reexamine herself while doing so.

Starting like every other piece that will be posted, you can’t watch Happy Death Day without thinking about Groundhog Day. The time loop narrative is well-worn at this point, but at the same time, it is a narrative that honestly always seems to have some juice. Throw in a murder mystery with repeating the same day over and over, and Happy Death Day makes for a perfectly enjoyable movie that doesn’t care to ascend to lofty heights but rather content to be a fun, in-the-moment diversion of time.

Blumhouse Productions, the predominantly horror movie studio which sometimes whiffs and other times knocks grand slams with its horror movies (but always does so on a budget designed to maximize profit) is the home of Happy Death Day. Fright-wise, their latest installment pales in comparison to their own recent productions such as Get Out and Split. Happy Death Day itself is only a horror for, say, the first 30 minutes of runtime. While there are some extremely basic yet passably effective jump scares set up by director Christopher Landon (Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), Happy Death Day evolves more into a mystery/thriller and even comedy the longer it goes on.

It’s actually not as bad as it sounds. Horror-wise the PG-13 rating, in this case, does sanitize any substantial scares that could have been present (the trailer did no favors, either). On the mystery front, however, Landon and writer Scott Lobdell do present enough characters with legitimate motivations to offing Tree to keep the audience guessing until the actual reveal. The reveal itself, even for a film that is as self-aware as this, is a little underwhelming and even disappointing. But as it is often said, the journey is better than the destination. A caveat, though: Like Groundhog Day, do not expect any proper explanation as to why this day repeats.

Like that film, the day existed to serve as a redemption of sorts for its lead character. The same approach follows here. Despite the short runtime, writer and director do a good job in delving into Tree’s backstory and allowing her to grow organically in the midst of a bizarre scenario. This allows lead actress Jessica Rothe to showcase her burgeoning talent. Rothe does a lot, transforming from insufferable to comedic to emotional and bringing the audience in and along each moment of the way. She pairs nicely with the likable Israel Broussard; their friendship creating an unforeseen emotional aspect that keeps Happy Death Day enough on the straight and narrow path and providing Tree a reason worth living for. As for the rest of the cast, most fall into sometimes entertaining but mostly par-for-the-course side characters who slide in and out as the pieces in Tree’s day of death are altered.

 

In a specific subgenre in which every movie always gets compared to the Bill Murray original classic, Happy Death Day doesn’t reinvent the loop. But, it does add a fun wrinkle or two within it.

B-

Photo credits go to joblo.com, newsweek.com, and commonsensemedia.org.

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IT: Movie Man Jackson

Tears of a clown? More like fears of a clown. The town of Derry, Maine is a quite a peculiar one. People disappear at six times the normal national average, and that’s just adults. For kids, it’s worse—way—worse. No one knows why. The latest child to go missing is Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher).

Everyone around him, friends included, assumes he’s dead. Bill refuses to stop looking, and goes all in during the summer to figure out what happened. Along with Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), “The Losers Club” begins to witness firsthand what is going on in Derry. What they witness is some all-powerful presence known commonly as “Pennywise the Clown” (Bill Skarsgård) that feeds off children that can morph into anything IT wants to, by gaining power from those who experience fear. Standing no chance alone of defeating it, the club will have to stick together to overcome this entity.

IT has been a long time coming, literally and figuratively. The re-imagining of the original 1990 feature was in development hell for an eternity, suffering through casting and directing defections before finally getting everything in place for a 2017 release, ironically 27 years after. Figuratively speaking, while there’s certainly been a few smaller good movies over the last month and a half, nothing since Dunkirk has truly been a must-watch go see event. IT is the shot-in-the-arm the box office needs; short of a flawless horror but one worthy of praise.

You’ve got to start with Pennywise, right? The version that appears here is very much different than the one in 1990. No one’s going to call Tim Curry’s rendition mediocre because it wasn’t; but the gifs have been seen and immortalized and looking at it now, IT 1990 is a little bit campy. Bill Skarsgård’s rendition is much more menacing. He makes the killer clown, instead of the killer clown and all of the get-up making him.

And as a whole, this new IT is simply darker. Pennywise is the main attraction, but the mature themes and implied happenings are arguably more darker and unsettling than any jump scares or things the dancing clown can conjure up. There feels as if there’s a missed opportunity to go deeper into the source material and Stephen King’s novel lore (the town, why people can’t see certain things, etc.), but the execution of the story as is makes for a solid one; sort of a mash up of Stranger Things meets Stand By Me and John Hughes movies with a smattering of blood and gore.

For a film that runs at 2 hours and 15 minutes, director Andy Muschietti (Mama) rarely loses pace, save for a rushed stretch in the early middle that calls for almost every child to experience IT. Muschietti sets up the tone immediately, crafting an unforgettable opening scene with help from composer Benjamin Wallfisch that is essentially the original yet undoubtedly improves upon it. Many of his scenes make a lasting impression, utilizing great lighting and positioning to create the desired effect. Not all is perfect, though. Muschietti hooks his audience quickly and doesn’t let go, but IT reaches its peak around 30 minutes to go, making for a climax that isn’t as chilling as what came before. Part of that is due to the mediocre—sometimes shoddy—CGI that dilutes the experience.

What doesn’t dilute the experience is the overall impressive efforts of the adolescent cast that makes up The Losers Club. Some performances individually are more buoyant than others, but this is a movie that leans more on the collective chemistry and even levity (there’s much of it) of the group rather than particular standouts. To that end, each of the seven performers make the viewer care about the group, and by associative property, the viewer cares about them as individuals surviving this horror.

IT is event-viewing, steered by confident and passionate direction and a great cast. We’ll just have to wait and see if Chapter II can float, too.

B

Photo credits go to popculture.com, horrorfreaknews.com, and collider.com.

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47 Meters Down: Movie Man Jackson

If you’ve got to do this to win back an ex, he/she simply isn’t worth it. Two sisters in Lisa and Kate (Mandy Moore, Claire Holt) are vacationing in Mexico. Lisa has recently come off of a breakup, but still has feelings for her ex, Stewart, who broke things off because he found Lisa boring.

What better way to make Stewart jealous? By cage diving in a shark-infested ocean while taking pics of the expedition, of course! Despite Lisa’s reluctance and rightful unease, she agrees to do it. After a few calm and fun minutes, the cage breaks away from its rope, sending the sisters spiraling down to the ocean floor. Now, 47 Meters Down with limited radio contact, air supply, and numerous hidden sharks, Lisa and Kate must do whatever’s possible to stay alive and return to the surface.

After the success of The Shallows, it appears that we could possibly be entering a phase in which shark movies are coming back to the big screen during the summer months. Enter 47 Meters Down, a movie that was supposed to go straight-to-DVD last August from Dimension Films, yet was purchased and saved for wide release this summer by Entertainment Studios films due to the success of that Blake Lively vehicle. While there’s baseline genre thrills, 47 Meters Down takes only an average bite in delivering a harrowing tale.

47 Meters Down‘s main problems start with the script, penned by director Johannes Roberts. Particularly the first 10-15 minutes, which set up why the two females feel compelled to do what is ultimately their undoing. The reason, stated before in the first paragraph, is extremely shallow and stupid, considering that we as the audience never see the ex-boyfriend Lisa is referring to. He only exists in a response to a text sent from Lisa when she tells him how much fun Mexico is and how much better it would be if he were there. His paraphrased text? “That’s really cool…I’m moving out my stuff tonight.” He’s totally worth trying to win back.

The few efforts to flesh out the two lead roles do not work, be it via early movie cringey dialogue, or mid-movie “sister-talk.” Mandy Moore and Claire Holt do their best—they’re not insufferable and they’re good at screaming and hyperventilating (Moore, especially) —but with lazy writing, neither is charismatic or talented enough to overcome script deficiencies and make audience truly care for their characters here. Every other person in 47 Meters Down is disposable or inconsequential, aside from Matthew Modine who exists to deliver status updates and key information via radio.

47 Meters Down can’t completely be dismissed, however, because it mostly gets the things right in a shark movie that audiences come to see. While not quite up to the technical quality of better Great White features, Roberts directs most moments and shark attacks with skill, and the addition of rapidly declining oxygen tanks adds some tension. The sharks look very believable, and many different types of shots are used to convey the disorienting and dark depths of the ocean. Most shark movies don’t go as “deep” as 47 does, so that in itself is sort of unique. Although predictable when it is first brought up, there’s a cool final act “twist” that gives some life to the film. Unfortunately, 47 ends flat, with no aftermath follow-up of what comprised most of the runtime.

 

47 Meters Down is OK enough to not be deep-sixed into oblivion, getting by with staple shark movie thrills. But, it’s better to wait and watch this in the format Dimensions Films originally intended.

C

Photo credits go to variety.com, dailymail.co.uk, and movieclips.com.

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It Comes At Night: Movie Man Jackson

So…what is It? Whatever it is, it’s best to stay inside. The world has suffered some unknown catastrophe, one in which it is easy for people to contract some mysterious disease that reduces individuals to a gray, sickly, unresponsive zombie-like state. Living in the woods is a family of three—patriarch Paul (Joel Edgerton), matriarch Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr). They only go out when absolutely necessary, and rarely at night.

The whole structure of the family gets thrown out of consistency when an intruder, Will (Christopher Abbott) comes into the family’s home. After initial distrust, Paul and company show Will hospitality when it’s determined all he’s looking for is a little food and shelter for his own family—wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). However, hospitality eventually turns into hostility when doubt begin to creep into each person’s head as to how safe they ultimately are. Whatever’s out there at night isn’t comparable to what’s going on in this home.

It Comes At Night. Surely, that means that there’s something in this film that terrorizes the main characters at night, right? Well…not exactly. The latest feature from the little studio that could in A24 has become quite the polarizing one, critics appreciating it yet audiences being let down by it, evidenced by a “D” Cinemascore. Is it deserving of all of this audience criticism, much of it seemingly founded on bait and switch trailers?

From a production standpoint, It Comes At Night is damn impressive, possibly even spectacular. Sophomore director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) clearly is a rising name in the genre of horror, possessing a great eye and technique for all that unnerves. And it isn’t blood and gore and demons and whatnot. Along with cinematographer Drew Daniels, the most unforgettable moments are ones like where only an electric lamp illuminates the path that Travis walks through in the isolated cabin, and lingering shots of an ominous red door. Plenty of long and methodical takes exist in this movie that only amp up the claustrophobia, along with a minimalist score courtesy of composer Brian McOmber.

It Comes At Night comes from a very personal place and experiences of of writer/director Shults. The underlying trepidation, and general unease of how the two families—almost tribe-like—interact with each other comes from personal experiences and inspirations of its director. It feels fresh. Humanity is the main question posed with a family dynamic essentially asking “How far would you go to save yours?” “Can a person go too far in doing so?” The ending, much talked about, works for me when looking at it through the prism of family and sticking by one another. Hopefully without spoiling, I compare it to a parent who deep down knows their kid is wrong in some matter, but refusing to believe so despite all of the evidence points against him or her.

All that being said, It Comes At Night is a mystery that mostly does well in leaving matters up to the viewer. This is a world that the characters know little about, as do we as the audience. Still, the storytelling and details deliberately left out can sometimes be frustrating. Certain plot points are introduced, but never go anywhere beyond their initial introduction. Some of the final act comes off as a little too vague and shapeless. Not a complete detriment to the film, but, even just one to two more moments of clarity for these respective parts in the film would be beneficial to the finale.

The cast works wonders together. Joel Edgerton is rapidly becoming one of those actors who can seemingly do no wrong, gravitating to smaller, ambiguous pictures. He’s a forceful alpha father presence in this one, who co-exists with Christopher Abbott, also playing an alpha patriarch. Scenes the two share together are full of tension. Can’t diminish the work Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keogh, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr contribute, either. Granted, there aren’t really any character arcs or characters to really latch onto, but this isn’t a story about characters; rather, it’s about people and basic human nature when confronted with massive unknowns.

Not as completely polished as it could be, nevertheless, It Comes At Night is an overall strong, well-put together and acted feature. Freaks may not come out at night, but fear and paranoia certainly do and that’s more than enough here.

B

Photo credits go to indiewire.com, highsnobiety.com, and cinemavine.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Phoenix Forgotten: Movie Man Jackson

Some things seen cannot be forgotten. March 13th, 1997. Bright, odd lights appear hover over Phoenix, Arizona. No one knows for sure what they are attributed to, but some in the city believe them to be UFOs.

One of those people is Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts). He, along with friend Mark (Justin Matthews), and love interest Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) decide to take it upon themselves to find out exactly what happened. But, the three go missing days after the sighting, with nary a sign as to what happened. Now in 2017, Josh’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan) is committed to solving the mystery of what happened to her brother and his company, going off of the documentary-style tapes that were left behind.

The most noteworthy thing about Phoenix Forgotten, a movie American moviegoers probably didn’t forget but rather, just not cared for based on the box office reports, is one of its co-producers being the legendary Ridley Scott. The producer connection seems to be in name only, going no further than an Easter egg featuring the Xenomorph on a poster. So that leaves Phoenix Forgotten as a traditional found footage movie more or less, not scraping the bottom of the genre barrel but not exactly leaving an imprint, either.

Almost any film in this genre ilk is going to be compared to The Blair Witch Project, fairly or unfairly. Really though, the story presentation of Phoenix Forgotten is a little Sinister-lite with mockumentary style injected, so not entirely found-footage delivered. In his first full-length feature, director Justin Barber toggles the first 40-50 minutes of the runtime between the present and the past, having Josh’s sister play her missing brother’s tapes and trying to piece together what exactly happened. The present-day scenes are adequate, but the fun exists (for a little while) in seeing the late 90’s recreated through the granular tapes and audio effects. To an extent, the particular story with these three teenagers does feel like it could have actually happened, which is a credit to Barber for balancing an actual real event with mostly fictional characters.

After around this 50 minute benchmark, Phoenix Forgotten transitions fully into the mode one expects it to. The film’s final act isn’t without a few thrills, but in the process ends up casting its main character/narrator aside and never brings her back. Which is odd, if only because the movie teases the question that what the audience is viewing cannot get out to the public, only for that possibility to go nowhere. As such, Phoenix Forgotten ends with a “That’s it?” type of feeling.

Barely being 80 minutes doesn’t really allow for signature character exploration. Phoenix Forgotten looks more at the idea of conspiracy obsession and the basics of how a family, especially a husband and wife, can be pulled apart after a terrible incident. Playing the father and the mother, respectively, Clint Jordan and Cyd Strittmatter do an excellent job of portraying parents who struggle to cope everyday with a missing child.

Although relatively brief, their character work is noticed. However, the four crux characters are surprisingly pretty forgettable—in part due to the lack of aforementioned runtime—but also in part because the cast playing them does so in the most bland of fashions. Outside of a few impressive moments from Chelsea Lopez, it’s hard to see anyone in this foursome getting increased high-profile work from their work here.

Even with a little of successful early movie genre subversion, Phoenix Forgotten doesn’t rise, as it eventually settles into the same repeated ashes and clichés that make up the genre it belongs to.

C

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, buzz.affcart.com, and blastr.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Life: Movie Man Jackson

Let’s have the rapper Big K.R.I.T tell the people what he has to say about life. All aboard the International Space Station resides a crew of six individuals. In their space exploration, the crew recovers a probe from the planet Mars. This probe ends up containing extraterrestrial Life.

Tests show that this tiny organism—dubbed “Calvin”—is multi-celled, reacting to stimuli quickly and evolving rapidly. However, a specific test ends up making Calvin “aggressive” in ways that cannot be believed. With the crew’s safety compromised, they have to contain the threat and eliminate it before coming back to Terra firma. Good luck.

With the arrival of Life in theaters, I think we’ve officially reached peaked space disaster survival movie levels, if we haven’t already. They’ve always been present, but, pun intended, they always felt spaced out release date-wise from one another. From Gravity to Interstellar to The Martian to Europa Report to Passengers, all may be slightly different in the questions they pose to audiences (sometimes, none), but they are kind of the same when boiled down to the core. This is a way of saying Life has some solid good thrills and chills, good direction, and yet is still sort of underwhelming.

All of those aforementioned films are survival films to an extent, but Life, directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), carries a noticeable horror lean, which slightly separates it from its like minded brethren, even if ever so slightly. Taking cues from Alien, Espinosa creates palpable tension and a real feeling of isolation once s*** officially hits the fan. It’s a good looking movie overall, too, incorporating much more CGI than anticipated, but it blending seamlessly with the real-life cast. Some moments truly do stand out.

Generally speaking, yours truly likes his sci-fi to be thought-provoking, and raise a question or two. In the case of Life, that sadly never happens. Scriptwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick opt for the extremely conventional route here, settling into a (I hate this phrase, but it applies) by-the-numbers affair. Remove the organism, replace it with Jason, and voila! You’ve got Jason X. That’s not to say things aren’t still tense, but more predictable. The ending certainly leaves things open to more installments, though the prospects of this happening with the projected box office are slim to none at the moment.

Life boats three big name leads to carry matters, and they all do relatively good work despite being pretty flimsy. At times here, the great Jake Gyllenhaal looks like he’s sleepwalking through the proceedings, as a result of not having much to latch onto from a character perspective. But he, like all of the cast, still sells the fear that arises in being in space on a derelict ship with an unpredictable entity effectively.

This is a film that doesn’t concern itself with character information, just the scenario its characters find themselves in. The highlight of the movie is easily Ryan Reynolds, who brings levity to the situation without undermining it (in addition to having the most memorable scene). All of the cast members feel right at home as doctors and crew members in space, which does a lot for the believability aspect. Don’t expect to connect with any, though.

The fact of Life? It generates a passable pulse, taking similar jolts from other films to make a competent, if unspectacular, horror in outer space.

C+

Photo credits go to Youtube.com and Comingsoon.net.

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Get Out: Movie Man Jackson

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Tell em, Jojo.  Meeting the parents is always a nerve-racking moment for any couple. That time has come for Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). Chris is Black, Allison, White. Not a big deal, but Chris, nonetheless, is nervous about what her parents may think.

Immediately upon setting foot on their estate, something doesn’t seem right. Rose’s parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener), are overly accommodating to Chris to prove they are fine with their daughter dating him. And then there are the “keepers” of the land, each African-American, which looks a little suspect despite Dean giving reason why they are there. Could it all be in Chris’ head? Or is there legitimate reason for him to Get Out of this place immediately?

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No matter what color a person is, race and effects of it exist on a daily level, especially for minorities. Occasionally it is overt, but it often isn’t. The comedy sketch show Key and Peele did a lot of interesting and hilarious things, one of them being race relations and the minuteness of matters, especially from the perspective of black men. Now, first time director Jordan Peele takes a prolonged aim at black/white race relations in Get Out, using the horror/thriller genre as a lens for satire. It’s very well done as a whole, even if it falls short of top-notch greatness horror genre greatness.

In Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, it’s evident from the first shot that he knows what he is doing. Key and Peele consistently featured a high level of camera work and cinematography not often befitting of a sketch comedy show, and though Peele himself never officially directed, what he was exposed to technically carries over here. He builds a bevvy of memorable scenes with minimal cuts, a harp-heavy score (fitting, actually), appropriate camera angles, and good lighting. Get Out couldn’t be called a pure horror, but for two-thirds of it, there is a real notable atmosphere and mystery (and the requisite jump scare here and there) that compels the viewer to keep watching and feel uneasy.

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From a true horror movie sense, the scares that will keep someone up at night don’t really exist in Get Out. From that sense, it is a little of a disappointment. But, it is frightening in a sense because the scenario Peele exhibits is rather spot on. It’s a fear aspect. Relating just a bit to the main character, the small things, like being the only minority in a room, representing an entire group, or people saying how much they like something to appeal to one’s emotion registers the most—well—emotionally. Serious look, but also a legitimately humorous one that utilizes a good mix of humor and thrills for much of the runtime.

But, then there’s the last act. While still very entertaining, it comes off as feeling pretty Key and Peele-ish. Less like a feature film in this part, and more of a sketch. Again, this does not take away from the film’s enjoyment—especially in a packed house—it just prevents it from being truly classic in my opinion.

There are a couple of star-making performances in Get Out. Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington is a great protagonist, written with a nice backstory. He’s asked to do a lot more than trailers and TV spots would indicate, selling the psychological toll that this place may or may not be having on him. There are some really difficult moments that Kaluuya pulls off easily. His chemistry with Allison Williams doesn’t feel cheap or forced, either. Williams, especially, does a job that may go unappreciated until after multiple watches. Tons of analysis can and will be written with regards to her.

Everyone contributes to the humor, written of course by Jordan, but don’t underestimate the delivery and timing aspects that can mar good humorous dialogue if executed poorly. Wouldn’t be surprising if Lil Rel Howery went on a Kevin Hart-esque run after this, he steals scenes whenever he’s in front of the camera. Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Keith Stanfield, and Milton Waddams himself (okay, Stephen Root) may not have big time roles, but they do not take away from the movie. They keep the focus on Kaluuya but always maintaining presence.

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A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Thankfully, Get Out doesn’t waste the viewer’s. Impeccable horror it’s not, but biting social commentary (with some horror thrills mixed in), it is.

B+

Photo credits go to BET.com, blumhouse.com, and bollywoodreads.com

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Split: Movie Man Jackson

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If a crazy person tells you something’s real, believe it. Shortly after a party held by one of her high school classmates, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) gets a ride from the party host, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), accompanied by Claire’s best friend Marcia (Jessica Sula). Before even making it out of the parking lot, they are attacked by an unknown assailant.

Upon waking in what appears to be an underground lair, the trio of girls discover that the assailant is Kevin, certainly an off-man simply because he took three girls in broad daylight. But quickly, Casey, Claire, and Marcia realize that Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and each of his 23 personalities mean a different interaction each time. They’ve been abducted for a reason. A 24th personality, which Kevin’s therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) doesn’t believe to exist, could spawn, and this could mean trouble.

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Having back-to-back successes isn’t a streak, but it does point the proverbial arrow up, or at least stabilizes it. With 2015’s The Visit and now Split, it would appear that director M. Night Shyamalan is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, or a “Shymalanaissance” as everyone seems to be calling it. Outside of the awards circuit, Split is a reason to hit the local cinema when typically the month of January doesn’t provide many, if any.

Yes, Split is a film aided by a view in the theater. Much like in the vein of 2016 features like Don’t Breathe and 10 Cloverfield Lanealmost all of the events that take place in the runtime are confined to one location. The feeling of claustrophobia runs at a pretty high level throughout, and Shyamalan captures the various chase scenes and perspectives of his antagonist brilliantly with differing high-low camera angles. Simple things such as conversations take on a higher level of importance here, and the camera fixates itself in extreme close-up mode often to display what characters are thinking, or transitioning into/out of. The score composed by West Dylan Thordson (Joy, Foxcatcher) is rather minimal, but one track in particular becomes etched into the brain and invokes a sense of dread.

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Another reason to simply watch in theaters is the likelihood that the longer one goes without watching opens the chance of the movie being spoiled. This really deserves to be watched without any knowledge of what the major reveal is. With any M. Night movie, obviously, there’s the twist and/or ending. I’m honestly torn on how I feel about it. While being as un-spoilerific as possible, I’ll say I love the execution, but am not so psyched about where the ending strongly suggests things will go.

Regardless on how a person feels about the final moments, Split carries an efficient script. Weak in spots, sure, and not that deep considering the subject matter of Dissociative Identity Disorder, but it holds interest throughout. It is very reminiscent of 2003’s Identity, without the slightly deeper look at DID that movie possessed, but way more engaging and a much less dopey ending.

Split features better acting than that movie had from its leads, however. Can’t really say that James McAvoy carries this, but without his impeccable talent switching, sometimes mid-scene, this would be a feature that would probably split apart at the seams. McAvoy doesn’t get to act out all 24 personalities, but he probably could. The few he does show are all different and feel like full-on characters, He dials up humor when the script needs it, but transitions into menace effortlessly. He’s an obvious standout, but Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley create a triangle of great performances.

Taylor-Joy’s work takes a little while to appreciate, if only because it takes a while to see how she fits into everything, but she has an amazing arc that provides Split with a real emotional component. With some roles, believability is everything, and from the moment Ms. Buckley appears on screen as a therapist with a wealth of information, she has a way of making the audience believe everything that comes out of her mouth. Unfortunately, the roles of the latter two girls played by Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Lula go nowhere, to the point where one does wonder if the movie could have still been written without them.

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After a long stretch of poorly-received films that could make one believe that a once-promising director could have lost his mind (or at least his passion and skill), I think it is safe to say that with the conlusion of Split, a directorial beast has re-emerged, and his name is M. Night Shyamalan.

B

Photo credits go to movieweb.com, broadwayworld.com, and joblo.com.

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Shut In: Movie Man Jackson

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Naomi Watts and bathtubs simply do…not…mix. Psychologist Mary Portman (Naomi Watts) is under a lot of stress. Six months earlier, she lost her husband in a car crash, and her stepson Stephen (Charlie Heaton) is now comatose from the same accident, confined to a wheelchair. She’s thinking about sending him away to specialized care.

Adding to her stress is one of her young patients, Tom (Jacob Tremblay), who is being taken away from her care despite breakthroughs being made. However, one night, he appears in her isolated home, only to vanish minutes later in the cold. With a heavy storm incoming, the boy could die, if he isn’t abducted. Complicating matters is an intruder who seems to want Mary all alone.

 feeding

As stated before, 2016 has been a pretty strong year for small budget thrillers, especially of the home invasion/confinement variety. Don’t Breathe, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Hush immediately come to mind. Unfortunately, a fourth movie will not be joining that group. Shut In is 91 minutes one could spend doing a lot of things as opposed to watching this feature.

The thing is, Shut In doesn’t aspire to be a particularly great horror/thriller. It is evident within the first five minutes that director Farren Blackburn (Daredevil Netflix show) and debut Hollywood writer Christina Hodson (a name that appears like it is going to be heard a lot of in the future) aren’t that concerned with making something that stands out. Cheap, telegraphed jump scares and dream scares are used to an overkill level. Script-wise, the build-up is nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but Hodson manages to keep a little suspense as to what is happening in the film, at least for the first two thirds.

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And then, the big twist happens. To not spoil anything if one decides to view Shut In, all I’ll say is that it is one of those twists in which one immediately starts thinking about how it is possible in the first five seconds of its reveal. Honestly, it spits and pisses in the face of logic, and it is probably the most laughably awful twist since The Loft in 2015. From here, anyone who’s had experience viewing these types of movies knows exactly how, even where, the climax will take place and how it’ll end.

The one sole positive of Shut In is the uber-talented Naomi Watts, who gives this movie her all despite the movie not really deserving it. She sells all of her character’s difficulties and fears and possible craziness. If only she had someone to play off of. That person should have been Jacob Tremblay, but he’s a poor man’s version of what he did in Room without the bond he and Brie Larsen possessed and the character to boot.

The scenes Watts shares with Oliver Platt, playing as a shrink to Watts’ shrink, or David Cubitt, a potential love interest to Watts’ character, do little to nothing for the movie. Lastly, Charlie Heaton of Stranger Things fame is pretty bad here. 22 is not much older than 18, but he doesn’t have one of those faces that can pass for 18, so it becomes somewhat comical when he’s consistently referred to as a teen. As the feature progresses, his performance becomes a bad rendition of similar roles.

"Shut In" ©2015 EuropaCorp - Transfilm International Inc.

Want to see a film that devolves from “cliché but harmlessly average” to “pathetically illogical” by the end of its runtime? Shut In is that film. Otherwise? Stay in, and stay far away.

D-

Photo credits go to horrorpedia.com, yahoo.com, and traileraddict.com

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Sinister: Movie Man Jackson

sinisterposter

Some crimes are not meant to be solved. Or written about. True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is attempting to reignite his floundering career; it has been 10 years since he’s had a bona fide hit. Hoping to draw inspiration for his latest novel, Oswalt moves his family into a home in which a terrible crime that he is researching took place.

Immediately, mysterious snuff films turn up in the attic that give additional insight into this matter. Turns out that a series of grisly crimes have been committed within decades of each other, having similar connections. The connection is all is a vague face and ominous symbol that appears in each film. Something isn’t right here, and unwittingly, Ellison may have stumbled into a timeline from which he and his loved ones cannot escape from.

 hanging

An opening scene can be so powerful, so effective in setting the tone for the rest of the movie, especially in the horror genre. From the get-go, Sinister sets up an eerie tone with its unforgettable opener. It’s a tone that’s present in just about every moment of the movie. In other words, it does its job as a horror, to a really exceptional level.

Directed by Scott Derickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), Sinister is a very tight looking film. Obviously, the standout from a technical perspective are the snuff videos, each being as unnerving as the one that preceded it, if not more so. The violence is implied, not explicit, and the effect is stronger because of it. As a whole, Derrickson definitely subscribes to the less is more approach. Yes, there are cheap scares, and a particular moment with ghastly children is more eye-rolling than frightening, but a fair amount of them are actually legitimate, instead of the “loud noise made by a cat” variety.

Despite the bulk of the runtime taking place in some type of dimly lit home, I’d hesitate to use the word “claustrophobic.” There’s no “confinement” per se, but Derrickson makes the viewer wish there were, only because there are so many avenues to which the horror can infiltrate into. Sound design and score are superb. Both only better the feature.

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Derrickson not only directs Sinister, he also writes it, and he manages to make a pretty compelling mystery all in all. The mystery doesn’t really lie in what’s going to happen, but rather, how. While the end result can possibly be too predictable (and certainly a tad rushed) for some, I personally find the ending to be extremely effective and frightening. Sometimes, the predictable ending is the best one.

Derrickson does a good job with the plot, but does an even better job with the characters. Granted, none except Hawke are layered, but they aren’t cliched, either. Hawke turns in a truly committed performance that gets more and more unhinged as the plot gets…more sinister. His character may lack a little common sense, but Elliott is not without reason for doing what he does, even if it is very very misguided reason. The rest of his family is perfectly solid; those who play the kids aren’t annoying kids in horror who can’t act, and the wife, unremarkable on her own, has a few compelling scenes with Ethan.

Two supporting characters in particular standout in this horrific tale aside from Hawke. Vincent D’Onofrio has probably less than five minutes total, and though he’s relegated to exposition, he manages to be somewhat more than an information dump. It’s James Ransone as “Deputy So and So,” however, who balances the delivery of information with being an interesting character one doesn’t know what to make of, while bringing a little humor that doesn’t undermine the movie.

Ethan Hawke in a scene from the motion picture "Sinister." Credit:  Summit Entertainment [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Much like the image Ellison gets exposed to, Sinister stays in the head of the viewer long after viewing. Easily one of the best horror films of the decade.

A-

Photo credits go to imdb.com, inquisitr.com, theathleticnerd.com, and usatoday.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson