Category Archives: Horror

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Review

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Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer

Time: 83 Minutes
Cast:
Michael Rooker as Henry
Tom Towles as Otis
Tracy Arnold as Becky
Director: John McNaughton

Henry (Michael Rooker) is released from prison following his mother’s murder. He supplements his job as an exterminator with a series of indiscriminate and violent murders. Fellow jailbird and drug dealer Otis (Tom Towles) becomes a willing accomplice in Henry’s bloody killings. But as the depravity escalates and Henry forms a bond with Otis’ sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), things start to get out of hand. The film is based on the true-life story of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.

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I heard some things about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It’s a movie from the 80s where Michael Rooker played the lead role of a serial killer named (in apparently his best role to date), and it was extremely controversial, leading it to be censored and banned in many places. I did hear some positive things about it though, so I decided to check it out. I do think it is good, even though its very much not one I would ever want to go back to

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This movie is essentially the examination and portrayal of a psychopath and serial killer, focussing on protagonist Henry as he kills random people without any remorse or empathy. There doesn’t seem to be a point to these senseless killings, but that in itself seems to be the point. The film doesn’t dig deep into motivations or reasons for the killings, but I thought that it worked for the movie. From the very beginning, it establishes an uneasy tone and never lets up. There is very little humanity here; the only shred of empathy is in the form of a character played by Tracy Arnold. While I found myself locked in watching this movie, I will say that nothing substantial really happens with the plot. It’s a good thing that it is only 83 minutes long then, it might’ve suffered had it been any longer. There are some terrible and poor dialogue at times, but the roughness and rawness of the film’s approach does make it work in way, more so than if it was in a more polished movie. The story culminates with a very dark, bleak and chilling ending that lingers in the mind long after watching.

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The role of Henry is played by Michael Rooker, in what is quite possibly his best performance yet. He is outstanding, compelling to watch and unsettling, with a subtle menace to him. Despite his character being clearly a serial killer, Rooker makes him someone you are willing to follow (at least initially). He makes him more complex, and you are interested in seeing his interactions with other people. Some of the acting from the rest off the cast aren’t that good. However, much like the dialogue, with the tone combined with the realism, it worked.

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This movie is directed by John McNaughton and his work here really made it work. As said before, this film is low budget and it certainly looks like it, throughout it feels very dirty and raw. Its raw and grimy appearance gives it a sense of realism, helped by the 16mm cinematography and the grainy look. It almost makes it look like a documentary riding around with Henry. Additionally, it makes use of real locations and settings that give the story an added sense of realism, only making it more disturbing. Considering that this is a movie about a serial killer, a surprising number of the murders take place off screen and we usually see the aftermath, but they are no less impactful (or perhaps it makes them more impactful that way). The violence feels unsettlingly real with the movie never revelling in it, and the ominous tone and never lets you feel comfortable.

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Watching Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, I can definitely see why it caused such controversy at the time. It is uncomfortable to watch and not for everyone, however I found it a compelling watch, and it is at least admirable with how uncompromising it is. While the writing and direction is very rough around the edges, that helped the movie succeed as well as it did, along with a strong lead performance from Michael Rooker.

The Raven (1935) Review

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The Raven (1935)

Time: 61 Minutes
Cast:
Boris Karloff as Edmond Bateman
Béla Lugosi as Dr. Richard Vollin
Lester Matthews as Jerry Halden
Irene Ware as Jean Thatcher
Inez Courtney as Mary Burns
Director: Lew Landers

A brilliant but deranged neurosurgeon becomes obsessively fixated on a judge’s daughter who in no way wants him. With the help of an escaped criminal whose face he has surgically deformed, the mad man lures her, her father, and her fiancé to his isolated castle-like home, where he has created a torture chamber with the intent of torturing them for having ‘tortured’ him.

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I’ve been meaning to check out some older horror movies, and from looking for some recommendations, I had heard about some overlooked films including The Raven, a movie made around the same time as other known Universal Horror movies like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. The only thing I knew going into it was that it had something to do with Edgar Allen Poe and starred horror icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. It was very hard to track down a copy to watch, but eventually I did and I think it deserves more attention.

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The Raven begins as a sinister noir as Bela Lugosi’s deranged surgeon develops an obsession on a judge’s daughter. Eventually it develops more into a horror movie, especially with Lugosi’s house of torture devices. It has the feel of other Universal Monsters movies but doesn’t have much if any comedy to relieve the tension. It’s a very dark film for the 30s, especially with violence (or even concepts of violence) back then. Eventually it builds to a great and tense final act. The movie is very short at about 60 minutes long, but I think that length worked well enough for this movie.

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The biggest selling points of this movie was the duo of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and they were the highlight, it was great watching the two of them together. Karloff plays a criminal who receives surgery from Lugosi’s character and ends up being disfigured. The character wasn’t that interesting, but Karloff manages to effectively convey sympathy for a character you otherwise wouldn’t have any for. However, the standout of the whole movie for me is Bela Lugosi as this mad surgeon, who is obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and torturing people. He starts off charming yet menacing, and by the end of the film is outwardly raving mad. It’s a very imposing, threatening, and theatrical performance, and he has a great screen presence. Karloff might have top billing, but for me its Lugosi’s movie; he has more screentime and outshines everyone else. There is also a possibility that this is his best performance, even more so than Dracula. I think the weakest part of the movie might be the rest of the cast, who pretty much act like stock B-level horror people being put in dangerous situations. The characters aren’t interesting, and the acting isn’t that good either.

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The direction from Lew Landers is solid. There is a foreboding atmosphere throughout, which only intensifies as the film progresses. It’s well shot and the set design is great. This is mostly to do with Lugosi’s house, which is the setting for much of the movie. Its very gothic and elaborate with the secret rooms, traps, and torture devices. That’s not to say that this movie has dated the best, the worst aspect is probably the makeup to make Karloff’s character look disfigured, it looks really bad, especially a distractingly fake looking eye.

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Although I need to see more, The Raven from 1935 is likely one of the most underrated Universal Monster movies. While some of the technical aspects don’t hold up and the supporting cast and characters aren’t the best, the surprisingly dark atmosphere and tone along with the great performances from Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi make it well worth it. I highly recommend checking it out if you can.

I Saw the Devil (2010) Review

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I Saw the Devil

Time:  141 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Lee Byung-hun as Kim Soo-hyun
Choi Min-sik as Jang Kyung-chul
Director: Kim Jee-woon

On a dark road, taxi driver Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) comes across a scared female motorist stranded in a broken-down vehicle. He pulls over — but not to help her. When the woman’s head is discovered in a local river, her devastated fiancé, Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), a trained secret agent, becomes obsessed with hunting down her killer. Once he finds Kyung-chul, things get twisted. After brutally beating the murderer, Kim lets him go free, and a demented game of cat and mouse begins.

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I remember hearing about I Saw the Devil for a while, I didn’t know much about it except that it involved serial killers, and the title alone gave the impression of being a horror movie. I heard some great things about it going into it but it actually turned out to be better than I thought it would be. A gruesome yet engaging horror thriller, it was amazing on so many levels.

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I Saw the Devil is a revenge movie at its core, and there are plenty of revenge movies out there. There’s a lot more to it though, and so I do recommend going into it blind. It really is a blunt and graphic portrait of pure vengeance, intense, edgy, and unforgiving, yet thematically potent. From beginning to end, I was invested in which direction the story and characters would take. This movie really takes the typical cat and mouse and serial killer plots to a unique place. This time it’s the main character who is toying with the villain (and serial killer). Despite the killer being about as horrible as he could possibly be, it really shows that the main character really is losing it on his pursuit of vengeance, so it’s not just another gory revenge movie. I Saw the Devil is uncompromising in its darkness and brutality, yet never sadistic. It’s very graphically violent but never borders into torture porn, as the violence serves the characters and themes above everything. Despite it being sort of a thriller, I Saw the Devil arguably gives off horror vibes more than anything else, and you could argue it occasionally crosses into that territory many times. The movie was 2 hours and 22 minutes long, it’s pretty long but that runtime really flew by for me.

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The acting is great all around, with the two leads really being the standouts. Lee Byng-hun plays the agent hunting the serial killer as revenge after his fiancée is brutally murdered. While you know his actions are rooted in a sense of justice, it ends up being out of control. Lee effortlessly brings his immensely flawed protagonist to life, despite the dark actions that he commits, he’s far too wrathful and headstrong to see his crusades as anything other than completely justified. At the same time, it’s impossible not to sympathise with him because you know that his actions are rooted in some sense of justice. Lee’s performance is a calm and determined one, with subtle nuances and facial expressions to convey both his desire for revenge, as well as his grief. The serial killer is played by Choi Min-sik, I knew him from playing the lead character in Oldboy, and here he’s in a very different kind of role. Choi’s character is downright loathsome and monstrous in this, absolutely the worst of the worst. But he owns the part perfectly and convincingly, he’s such an immense presence whenever he’s on screen. Both Lee and Choi bounce off each other greatly in their scenes together.

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This film is directed by Kim Jee-woon, and his work is nothing short of excellent. First of all, it’s a fantastically shot film. The cinematography with its constant tracking shots is amazing and makes the dirty and grim sets and locations look more beautiful than they have any right to be. The scenes of action are great. There is a moment with Choi Min-sik in a taxi, and it’s a particularly impressive scene, and I still don’t know how they managed to pull it off. The violence on display can be so shockingly vicious that it verges on the absurd. Despite this, you feel the impact of these moments every single time.

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I Saw the Devil is a grisly and grim yet excellent revenge horror thriller. It’s directed amazingly, performed greatly, and the story is engaging and visceral. It’s definitely not for everyone, if only for the extreme gore and violence. However if you like horrors and thrillers, I do think that it is definitely worth checking out, ideally knowing as little as possible beforehand.

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) Review

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The Strangers Prey at Night

Time: 85 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language & horror
Cast:
Bailee Madison as Kinsey
Lewis Pullman as Luke
Christina Hendricks as Cindy
Martin Henderson as Mike
Damian Maffei as Man in the Mask
Director: Johannes Roberts

A family’s road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family’s every limit as they struggle to survive.

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The Strangers originally released back in 2008 and became something of a horror classic, especially when it comes to home invasion movies. However, I was one of the rare people who didn’t think it was very good. Strangely it ended up getting a sequel 10 years later, and while I heard some mixed things about it, it gained something of a cult following. I decided to check it out despite my scepticism, especially since some people have said that it was distinctly different to the first movie. I’m glad to say that I enjoyed it, way more than I was expecting.

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First thing to note going in this is that its not essential to have watched the first Strangers movie beforehand. The only similarity between the two movies other than the title is that the killers wear the same masks and have the same names. The approach to the movie is also different, which extends to its style. Whereas the original Strangers was going for a realistic home invasion, Prey at Night is a 70s and 80s slasher inspired horror film. I never felt that the first Strangers movie really worked with its attempt at realism, but I think Prey at Night worked much better for me. I thought the first half an hour was a little bland and underwhelming to begin with. During this segment it tries to make you care for the characters by focusing on a family with some problems. While it doesn’t feel lazily tacked on, it is cliched and is almost forgotten about once people start being killed, so it doesn’t seem to matter. From the moment that characters notice that things aren’t right however, that’s when it started to work for me. Its filled with thrills and I had a lot of fun with it, culminating in an intense and bloody third act. Prey at Night is under 90 minutes, and I think that it was the right length for this film. I wouldn’t claim that this film is original by any means. There have been plenty of home invasions, slashers and 70s and 80s inspired horror films, and they stand out more and are better than this film. But for what it is going for, I think Prey at Night succeeds. It takes a lot from other movies, but gets away with it more here since its self-aware and blatantly a homage. As to be expected with this being a slasher movie, there are conveniences and implausibilities which do get a bit annoying. More frustrating are the dumb decisions made by the characters, and while they are almost a staple of slashers (and horror movies in general), the homage excuse can only go so far. There are some movies where the bad decisions are realistic, especially when it comes to characters who are in a state of panic, and so it makes sense. Prey at Night is not one of those cases however.

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Despite the character establishment in the first act, the characters are a bit hollow and shallow. However, the acting does make up for it. Martin Henderson and Christina Hendricks play the parents, and the brother and sister are played by Lewis Pullman and Bailee Madison. These four are believable as a family and they do some good work in spite of the writing.

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The direction from Johannes Roberts is great, it is definitely taking the old-fashioned slashers from the 70s and 80s as inspiration. This is especially seen with the cinematography; with the camera setups and slow zooms from the 70s, and the neon visuals from the 80s. The violence is very brutal and certainly does not hold back. At the same time, the movie manages to be genuinely tense. Even the killers are effectively intimidating here, more so here than the original movie. It definitely helped that they actually fitted in this kind of movie. One scene that I heard about long before I got to actually watching the film involves a pool, its probably the most well known part of the whole movie. Without saying too much about the context, the praise was well deserved. Finally, the soundtrack is great, very synth inspired and again the kind of thing you could imagine being in a John Carpenter movie.

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The Strangers: Prey at Night is not without its faults. The character development is weak, the first act is underwhelming, and it falls into some of the typical failings of slasher movies. However, I found it very fun to watch. The cast are decent and somewhat elevate their roles, its directed well, strong on a technical front, and does well at being a homage to some classic slashers. If you’re looking for more of the same from 2008’s The Strangers, you won’t get it with Prey at Night. But if you like those classic 70s and 80s slashers, I think it is well worth a watch.

Nope (2022) Review

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Nope

Time: 130 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence, horror scenes & offensive language
Cast:
Daniel Kaluuya as Otis Jr. “OJ” Haywood
Keke Palmer as Emerald “Em” Haywood
Steven Yeun as Ricky “Jupe” Park
Brandon Perea as Angel Torres
Michael Wincott as Antlers Holst
Wrenn Schmidt as Amber Park
Keith David as Otis Haywood Sr.
Director: Jordan Peele

Residents in a lonely gulch of inland California bear witness to an uncanny, chilling discovery.

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Nope was one of my most anticipated movies of 2022, simply because it’s the newest film from Jordan Peele. I loved his past work with Get Out and Us, and while I didn’t know much about Nope except the cast and theories about what it might be about, I was very interested in it. I had to wait about an extra month before I could watch the movie, but I finally got the chance to watch Nope, and it did not disappoint.

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Much like Jordan Peele’s other movies, Nope is really worth going into blind, so I’ll try to keep details regarding the plot to a minimum. Nope has a considerably larger scale compared to his past movies, and I think the ambition paid off. This is definitely a genre picture and a love letter to sci-fi, there are even whimsical moments that are reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s movies. At the same time, it is thematically dense and layered with biting social commentary. I won’t go into too much depth with what the movie is about, but I can some of the prominent themes include, exploitation (particularly of animals), and how people can turn trauma, violence and tragedy into spectacle for the masses and profit; ironically, Nope is a spectacle about a spectacle. It explores the dark truth of what it means to create or capture an extravaganza, and asks whether it is worth it at all. There’s a lot here that can be unpacked and analysed, and it had me reflecting on some moments and choices hours after watching the film. As expected with it being a Jordan Peele movie, Nope has some comedy which fits surprisingly well and is entertaining. At the same time, it equally handle the horror well too. Between the three Peele movies, this is probably his least scary film thus far. Still, there is this a looming sense of dread throughout, with eerie tension and a terrifying atmosphere. It also has probably the scariest scene I’ve seen from his movies; its halfway through the movie and lasts for probably less than a minute, but it was one of the most unnerving scenes I’ve seen from a recent horror film. Nope is a long movie at 130 minutes and the slow pacing might turn some people off, especially early on when it’s setting up the story. However, it worked for me, and it culminated in a highly satisfying third act.

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The small but intimate cast give great, subtle and layered performances here. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play the protagonists, and they are fantastic here. They are very believable and share a convincing on-screen sibling bond together. The rest of the cast including Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Keith David and more are really good too, each of them adding something to the movie.

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Jordan Peele once again delivers on his direction, this time helming his biggest movie yet. The cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema is absolutely stunning. It excellently captures the sky at different times of the day, and particularly shines with the scenes taking place at night. The scenes of tension are also very effective, even simple shots of clouds manage to feel unnerving. It’s perfectly edited, and the production and set designs are great. The sound design was also a highlight, amazing and immersive, it was really something to experience the film in the cinema. On that note, the music from Michael Abels is dynamic and fantastic.

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Nope was fantastic, it is already one of my favourite movies of the year: a tense, thematically dense and spectacular sci-fi horror movie. Jordan Peele’s writing and direction are incredible as usual, and the cast deliver excellent performances, especially Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. There’s a lot to unpack with this movie with its themes and what its saying; there’s a lot there and it is definitely one I need to rewatch. But for now, I can say that it is another great movie from Peele, and possibly his best yet.

Predator 2 (1990) Review

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Predator 2

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language and sex scenes
Cast:
Danny Glover as Lieutenant Mike Harrigan
Gary Busey as Special Agent Peter Keyes
Ruben Blades as Detective Danny Archuleta
María Conchita Alonso as Detective Leona Cantrell
Bill Paxton as Detective Jerry Lambert
Robert Davi as Deputy Chief Phil Heinemann
Director: Stephen Hopkins

Lieutenant Mike Harrigan and his police force try to hunt down a vicious alien hunter killing drug gangs in Los Angeles despite the warnings of a mysterious government agent.

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I’ve been curious about checking out Predator 2 for quite a while. All I knew about it was that it was a sequel to Predator, only it isn’t as good as that first movie and stars Danny Glover instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger. So I went in fairly blind and I ended up liking it more than I expected to.

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Regardless of if you think it works or not, I think its admirable that Predator 2 is not just a lazy re-tread of the first movie. Instead of taking place in the jungle once again, it instead sets the Predator in the crime filled streets of L.A., I thought that it was refreshingly different when compared to the previous film. In some ways, Predator 2 is just a cop movie with an alien in it, but I thought its fun for that, like its combining completely separate genres. That being said, it can be messy with what it tries to be, and doesn’t quite works as well as the first movie. Plotwise it wasn’t the best, and it can be stop and start with the pacing. There are some other issues, despite the setting change it is in a way very similar to the first movie, and perhaps that works against it. Compared to Aliens where it builds upon the knowledge and events of the first Alien, Predator 2 has a new set of characters, so naturally they have learn about the Predators for the first time, even though the audience knows about it. Whenever the Predator is on screen and when it is facing off against Danny Glover however, it really shines. As such, the third act is particularly great. The movie is very over the top especially with it playing into the many aspects of the action crime movies of the 80s. It is very pulpy and cartoonish with the representations of LA gang wars and definitely falls into being cheesy (even more so than the first movie), but enjoyably so.

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There’s a cast of enjoyable characters here. Danny Glover is on top here in this movie, its like his character was taken straight from one of his cop roles like in Lethal Weapon, cranked up and angry, particularly shining when he goes up against the Predator. There needed to be more from the supporting cast but there are some standouts, including Gary Busey, and a charismatic and fun Bill Paxton.

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Stephen Hopkins’s direction is decent enough, it is well shot and really leans into the gritty city setting. There are some good set pieces, especially one in a subway and the third act. There are some good special effects for 1990, the sound effects are good, and so is the score from Alan Silvestri. It is particularly violent, perhaps even more so than the first movie. The kills by the Predator are gnarly and the movie definitely leans into the absurdity.

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Predator 2 isn’t to Predator what Aliens was to Alien, but I thought it was pretty good for what it was. While the story wasn’t the best, it benefits from being refreshingly different from the original film, and having some solid action sequences and performances. Its an underrated, and if you liked the first Predator movie, I think its worth checking out.

Crimes of the Future (2022) Review

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Crimes of the Future (2022)

Time: 107 Minutes
Cast:
Viggo Mortensen as Saul Tenser
Léa Seydoux as Caprice
Kristen Stewart as Timlin
Director: David Cronenberg

As the human species adapts to a synthetic environment, the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. Accompanied by his partner, celebrity performance artist Saul Tenser showcases the metamorphosis of his organs. Meanwhile, a mysterious group tries to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.

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I was interested in Crimes of the Future. It looked quite intriguing, had a good cast which included Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart, but most of all, it would be David Cronenberg’s first movie in many years. Not only that but it would be a body horror movie, and the last one he made was in the late 90s. I’m glad to say that I quite liked this movie.

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Something worth noting is that David Cronenberg had previously made a movie called Crimes of the Future back in the 70s, although it seems that this new film has nothing to do with that. This newer film tells an intriguing and bizarre story that I was pulled into. It is certainly a weird movie with a strange potential future. Viggo Mortensen is essentially a man who can generate new internal organs and collaborates with Lea Seydoux as performance artists, with Seydoux removing said regenerated organs in front of live audiences. In Crimes of the Future, humans have adapted to live in a synthetic environment, with their bodies undergoing numerous transformations and mutations; most humans don’t even feel pain anymore. In this futuristic society, surgery has become performance art (which Mortensen and Seydoux takes part in). Cronenberg does some great worldbuilding, and it is an interesting setting to watch. It was a very unique vision of the future of human evolution, and I was interested in learning about this new world. Admittedly it can be full on, in the first hour alone it thrusts you into this world with so much jargon, and requiring you to keep up with the information provided so you can grasp what is happening.

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One of the most advertised aspects of Crimes of the Future was the body horror, not unexpected of course (especially with Cronenberg returning to this subgenre). So the trailers and images focussing on the gore and grotesque (including to by not limited to a man with ears all on his body) is somewhat understandable. That being said, its not quite the disturbing and graphic body horror that it was advertised as. It felt more like a dystopian sci-fi futuristic thriller with some body horror aspects and a good amount of neo-noir mystery elements. As for the body horror itself, it works to serve its concept and story and never feels like its there to provoke a reaction in the audience. That being said, if you don’t like body horror at all or can’t deal with gore, then you still won’t be on board with this movie. As you can expect, there is a lot happening thematically. There’s a clear fascination with the human body and how it evolves over time, and poses interesting and thought provoking questions. There are even little moments of humour throughout which accompany the bizarre nature of the movie wonderfully. The pacing is definitely slow, but I thought it worked; I wouldn’t want it to be rushed at all. Crimes of the Future was an hour and 50 minutes long, and honestly I wished that it was a little longer. It felt a little abrupt, to a degree I was hoping for more. I liked the note it ended on, but the story did feel incomplete. It left me wanting a sequel to see what would happen next, and I can’t tell whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.

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There is a good cast involved. Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux are great as the lead characters, while Kristen Stewart is a scene stealer in a very meek yet creepy and twitchy performance as a voyeuristic bureaucrat. She left an impression, but I just wish she was in the movie more. Other actors like Scott Speedman also play their parts wonderfully too.

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David Cronenberg’s direction is on point as ever. The cinematography is outstanding and beautiful. That and the production design helped to convey the vision of the future excellently, and it feels very lived in. The practical effects, especially those involving the body, are fantastic. There are definitely moments of gore, but they are used sparingly and when appropriate. If you’ve seen some of Cronenberg’s other movies, Crimes of the Future doesn’t push boundaries on that front, in fact it feels comparatively tame. Howard Shore composes the score and its one of my favourites of this year as well as one of his best yet, and that’s saying a lot.

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Crimes of the Future is a welcome return to form for David Cronenberg. It’s a bizarre, fascinating, intriguing and thought provoking film, which is directed excellently and has some great performances from the cast. There are parts where I wanted more and it was a little incomplete, but I liked what we got. If you really don’t like body horror, then this won’t be one for you. With that said, don’t go in expecting a gore fest, it’s a lot more than just that. So far, Crimes of the Future is one of my favourite movies of 2022.

Men (2022) Review

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Men

Time: 100 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language, suicide themes, nudity & content that may disturb
Cast:
Jessie Buckley as Harper Marlowe
Rory Kinnear as Geoffrey
Director: Alex Garland

In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Harper retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, hoping to find a place to heal. However, someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread soon becomes a fully formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears.

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Men was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I like Alex Garland as a writer and a director, and I particularly liked his directing work with Annihilation and Ex Machina. His next film would be a full-on horror movie and would have the excellent talent of Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear. Unfortunately, I had to wait an extra month before I got the chance to see it here, but in that time, I heard the very mixed reception from people who watched it. Men finally released here and I’m glad to say that I liked the movie, even if I didn’t like it as much as I hoped I would.

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Men starts off well at the very least. The first hour is very intriguing as we follow main character Harper (Jessie Buckley) as things about her traumas are revealed to us, and tensions rise as she encounters unsettling things in her new environment. There’s an uneasy atmosphere and seemed to start out as a mystical folk horror, which I thought was effective. Much of the movie can be a bit vague and leans more into atmosphere and vibes over the story, and while not everyone will like that, I thought it worked. I was intrigued to see what would happen next. The tone was interesting; some moments were a bit funny, but I couldn’t tell whether they were intentional or not. This is especially with the ‘horror’ moments. Intentional or not, they result in an off-kilter tone which I actually enjoyed. The third act of is one of the aspects of Men that will linger in the minds of most people who watch it. Some may call it “craziest movie ever”, its really not that crazy or insane for the most part, but the ending certainly is. I can certainly see the metaphor that this gory and grotesque climax is going for, so I won’t reveal too much about what happened, nor the message it was trying to convey. But it just can’t shake the feeling that its only here to be disturbing and memorable. The worst part may be that despite its efforts to be shocking, it generated more laughs than scares with how over the top and goofy it is. This combined with Jessie Buckley’s underwhelmed reactions made me wonder whether it was another intentionally funny moment from Garland. Shock and gore aside, it just doesn’t work as a satisfying conclusion in any way. The ending is so abrupt with no sense of closure, and doesn’t even work as a horror movie ending. Men is a tight film at just over an hour and a half long but it felt like it needed more, the narrative was a little underdeveloped by the end. I think it would’ve been better if it was made as a short film, or if it was longer and fleshed out more of its ideas.

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Third act and tonal issues aside, the problems stack up most of all when you look at the film on a thematic level. Unfortunately, you can’t really watch the movie and understand it without looking at it metaphorically in some way. It doesn’t work when you watch as a simple horror movie, it won’t make sense on any level. Some viewers have labelled Men as pretentious. I try to refrain from calling movies pretentious, not only because it’s a rather blanket statement, but its also very easy and there’s usually a better way at highlighting the specific problem. It is certainly a movie that wants to say something, from some of the conversations and all the symbolism and imagery especially with religion. Despite that, it doesn’t end up having much to say. The themes in Men are blatant which isn’t inherently bad; my problem is that they are a bit too easy and simple, yet the film lingers on them for so long. Men is yet another horror movie about trauma. There seems to be a lot of those especially nowadays, and if you are getting tired of these kinds of horror movies (especially with it being another one from A24), the film might irk you because it practically ticks all the boxes. I will say that it is a decent portrayal of trauma, but it is not an exploration of it by any means. It’s definitely a present aspect throughout the film, but it doesn’t go into depth any depth, and is overall a very basic take on grief. This is probably because even though we spend time with Harper in pretty much every scene, we don’t learn much about her as a character. The other main theme which you can probably guess from the title is about men, masculinity, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, etc. As far as I understood, the theme of Men boils down to “men are all the same, and men are all bad”. Perhaps Alex Garland has a lot more to say, but whatever that is, it doesn’t come across here. Now that theme isn’t necessarily bad, but it doesn’t really lend itself to much interpretation or analysis. It really doesn’t help that its not as propound as the movie seems to think it is. Looking at the plotting and the themes, Men’s script feels like it is very close to being really good, but could’ve done with more drafts in order to nail it. As it is, it felt like it just missed the mark.

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The performances are some of the best parts of the film. Jessie Buckley as usual delivers another outstanding and powerful performance here. You follow along with her as Harper, and while the film really doesn’t give the character much, Buckley sells it so well. She feels like a believable person and makes it all work whether it be conveying the trauma and grief, or the reaction to the present horror events at her new location. I would say that Buckley’s performance alone makes the movie worth watching. The overall cast of the film is quite small, Rory Kinnear makes up most of the supporting cast. He plays almost all the men in the film, separate characters with their own personalities but with the same face. It is an interesting and intriguing gimmick. However outside of a metaphor about men being all the same, the movie really doesn’t do much with that concept. There isn’t even a moment where Harper reacts to this, even when she’s in a room with 4 Rory Kinnears. Nonetheless, he is great here, and his performances are ambitious to say the least. He effectively jumps between different levels of sinister and conveys the differences between of the characters. Kinnear is generally a supporting actor who is in the background in most movies he’s in, but he really gets to shine in Men.

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I think that Alex Garland’s work is once again great here, for all its faults, it is strong on a technical level at least. Rob Hardy’s cinematography is amazing, the visuals are stunning and really take advantage of the beautiful locations, with nice shots of the English countryside and the great production design is put on display well. Without spoiling what happens, the effects for the third act are strong and effectively gory. One of the first things I noticed in the movie was the sound design and sound mixing, which are excellent and were integral to some intense scenes working as well as they did. The soundtrack by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow is really good at setting the right tone for the film and helps to make you feel uneasy. There are a couple of hiccups on a technical level, there is a boy who has the face of Rory Kinnear CGI’d onto him. It looks very weird and uncanny, but I guess it works to make him look unsettling. As previously mentioned, the film didn’t succeed at scares despite its attempts, and came across as being funny than anything.

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Men is a very flawed movie and I think it is definitely the worst of Alex Garland’s directing work so far. I do understand why some people really don’t like the movie. It could’ve used a lot more fleshing out for many of its ideas. While there are clear themes on display, the movie doesn’t seem to have much interest in exploring them despite fixating on them so much. Even outside the themes it does suffer from other issues, including some failed attempts at horror and a third act which might be trying just a little too hard to provoke a reaction. With that said, I still like the movie. I enjoyed the atmosphere and off kilter tone, Alex Garland’s direction is pretty strong with some outstanding visuals (which were amazing to see on the big screen), and the performances from Rory Kinnear and especially Jessie Buckley were fantastic. Men is a divisive movie and its hard to tell who the movie would be for, but I do think it has some great aspects that make it worth checking out if you’re into horror.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955) Review

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Godzilla Raids Again

Time: 82 Minutes
Cast:
Hiroshi Koizumi as Shoichi Tsukioka
Setsuko Wakayama as Hidemi Yamaji
Minoru Chiaki as Koji Kobayashi
Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane
Director: Motoyoshi Oda

Fishing scout-pilots are startled to discover a new monster named Anguirus alongside a second Godzilla. The monsters make their way towards Osaka as Japan can only brace for tragedy and relive the horror of Godzilla once more.

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I was surprisingly impressed with the original Godzilla released in 1954. Despite how old it is, it has aged very well and remains a stunning, thematic and all around great monster movie. It was such a hit that 6 months after its release it got a follow up titled Godzilla Raids Again. Unfortunately it just did not work nearly as well as that first movie despite its moments.

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First of all I should clarify what kind of film Godzilla Raids Again is. Whereas the first Godzilla was a political thriller with a dark and heavy tone, the sequel abandoned that in in favour of being more of a popcorn action flick with a lot of monster fights. It also lacks the thematic weight of the first movie with its themes of nuclear holocaust and the fear of the H bomb, so there’s much less to analyse and unpack. So at its core it is a dumb monster movie, but I don’t necessarily think that approach is a bad thing. Godzilla Raids Again is essentially about Godzilla fighting another new Kaiju monster, which seems like the most basic direction to go with for a sequel, but there’s some potential and novelty in that concept. However even as this, I feel like it could’ve been a lot better. Unfortunately the film just doesn’t really fully commit to campiness as much as it should’ve. The story itself is boring, underwhelming and feels rather dull. The human story in the first movie was surprisingly strong, however the obligatory story in Raids Again is just bad, it just sort of exists and I barely paid attention to it. Really none of the characters are worth getting invested in and it was difficult to stay invested when they were on screen. This movie is also very poorly paced even at 80 minutes long. It spends too much time rehashing the events of the first movie, and it drags when Godzilla isn’t on screen.

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There’s really nothing to say about the human characters except that they are boring and feel one dimensional. There’s really no one to gravitate towards or like.

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The direction from Motoyoshi Oda is a mixed bag. On the surface it does look similar to the first Godzilla movie. Some shots are nice, and the miniature work is impressive. The action is passable but doesn’t have the same gravity or weight that the original did. The fighting between Godzilla and Anguirius (the new monster) can be pretty fun. With that said, on a technical level, Raids Again it has held up worse than the first movie. The effects really do feel dated, and the fight scenes aren’t nearly as hard hitting. The fights particularly feel like two wrestlers in large rubber suits who can’t see anything slamming each other into buildings. Not that some fun can’t be extracted out of watching that however.

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Godzilla Raids Again is a major step down in quality from the previous film. I wouldn’t say that it is bad by any means, I’m guessing that a lot of the Godzilla movies are at this level of quality anyway. However, it is really something when you compare it to the movie that came beforehand. The scenes of the fighting can be entertaining but at the same time its at the film’s expense given how silly it looks now. The plot is uninteresting, the characters are dull, and the film drags despite its short runtime. Even a silly B-level Godzilla movie should be better than this.

Sunshine (2007) Review

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Sunshine

Time: 107 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains violence & offensive language
Cast:
Cillian Murphy as Robert Capa
Chris Evans as James Mace
Rose Byrne as Cassie
Michelle Yeoh as Corazon
Cliff Curtis as Searle
Troy Garity as Harvey
Hiroyuki Sanada as Kaneda
Benedict Wong as Trey
Director: Danny Boyle

A team of astronauts is assigned the huge responsibility of saving the sun. Things, however, take an ugly turn when an accident occurs and the lives of the crew members are endangered.

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I’ve been meaning to watch Sunshine for a while. I knew it was a sci-fi thriller directed by Danny Boyle that a lot of people liked. I went in knowing about the cast, director, and that it apparently had some horror elements. It more than lived up to the praise.

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The script by Alex Garland is great. The movie at its core is about a crew and their mission to save humanity by reigniting the Sun, and doesn’t only shows the events on the large scale, but also shows the crew trying to maintain their sanities and morals during these times of isolation and ethical dilemmas. The film really does well at showing the stakes and emphasising how one small mistake could snowball into a colossal obstacle. The film starts itself off by introducing its characters, exploring their personalities, their roles, and their chemistry. It does a great job at establishing the importance of each crew member, even though some characters definitely get more screentime and attention than others. There is very atmospheric throughout, it’s bleak, emotional and suspenseful. There are also some effectively unnerving moments, with both physical and psychological horror on display. In that sense, Sunshine reminded me of Event Horizon at times, which also had a blend of interesting sci-fi concepts with traditional horror thriller beats, especially in the second half. I thought the horror elements were weaved into the story rather nicely. Where most of the criticism of this movie lies is in the last third, specifically the last act. After the first two acts of fairly serious sci-fi, the film suddenly has something of a slasher-esque climax. While this shift is a jarring mismatch in terms of the film’s tone, it does still work as a great conclusion for the film thematically, and it felt right for the movie.

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The cast is excellent and give wonderful performances. The main cast are the 8 crew members of the ship, and they act very well in their parts. With a small cast and a large amount of special effects, there was a risk that the visuals would overshadow the characters. However the cast hold their own, even though some get to do more than others. There aren’t any weak links, but some characters aren’t given much to do, and a longer running time probably would’ve benefitted the characters more. Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, and more are great, with Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans giving the best performances of the film.

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Sunshine is definitely elevated by Danny Boyle’s stylish direction and visuals. In fact, even for a sci-fi movie, a lot of Boyle’s style can be recognised here if you’ve seen some of his other movies. While it’s not a horror movie from beginning to end, it still manages to be tense and gripping throughout, with a claustrophobic atmosphere. When it becomes a slasher movie it maintains the tension when it could potentially go off the rails quickly. This movie is also visually striking with some amazing cinematography and special effects. The production and set design is also strong too, especially for the interiors of the ships. The editing is brisk, and adds a lot to the movie. The soundtrack by John Murphy and Underworld is magnificent, epic and operatic. It perfectly fits the tone of the movie and further adds weight to some of the most dramatic moments of the film.

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Sunshine is an amazing and visually spectacular sci-fi horror thriller. It is definitely ambitious and I’m not certain if it sticks the landing with everything, but I thought it was great. It holds up well today with some fantastic visuals, it is directed excellently, and I was invested in what would happen from the very start to the very end. The story is given a lot of stakes and weight, and it is further elevated by the excellent performances. One of my favourite movies from Danny Boyle, and one well worth checking out if you haven’t already.