Category Archives: Mystery

Inside Man (2006) Review

Time: 129 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence and offensive language
Cast:
Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier
Clive Owen as Dalton Russell
Jodie Foster as Madeleine White
Christopher Plummer as Arthur Case
Willem Dafoe as Captain John Darius
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Detective Bill Mitchell
Director: Spike Lee

The mastermind behind a bank robbery in Manhattan (Clive Owen) has planned the heist in great detail. A detective (Denzel Washington) tries to negotiate with him, but the involvement of a broker worsens the situation further.

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I recall Inside Man being the first movie I saw from director Spike Lee, I remember from that first viewing finding it to be a really good heist movie. Revisiting it more recently, it still holds up really well today, even if I wouldn’t call it one of Spike’s all time best work.

Inside Man takes the familiar heist scenario and has a fresh take on it, with large parts of it feeling different from your average American heist thriller. The story structure is unique and keeps you guessing, with some clever plotting. The story itself was entertaining and I was gripped throughout, I was interested as to how things would play out. It effectively builds up a lot of tension over the course of the film, giving you just enough information to put you on edge throughout. There is even some humour sprinkled throughout, even though its first and foremost a crime thriller. While on the surface, Inside Man seems like one of the only Spike Lee movie that doesn’t have a political edge to it, the movie is full of little moments of social commentary that we’ve come to expect him to include. Themes of racism, corruption and greed are threaded into this story of cops and robbers seamlessly. There are definitely some issues, you can definitely tell this is a movie whose script wasn’t written by Spike Lee. Although I liked some of the more humorous moments, there were some moments that I thought were a little too silly and even annoying. There are some really cartoonish and stereotypical side characters just to be random for a scene or two, and I think they really could’ve been dialled down. There is also a bit of clunky exposition towards the end, but on the whole I thought the ending works well enough.

There is a tremendous cast involved. Denzel Washington is in the lead role as the main cop trying to deal with this heist. Washington has the on-screen presence and charisma you’d expect from him, and he delivers on his part as to be expected. Clive Owen gives one of his best performances as the main bank robber, even when his face isn’t really shown for the majority of the movie he really makes an impression. Other supporting actors like Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Plummer and Chiwetel Ejiofor also play their parts well. The only acting that wasn’t working as well for me was some of the previously mentioned ‘random’ side characters, and some of the hostages. They could be annoying at times but not enough to bring down the movie that much.

Spike Lee’s directing is great and gives the movie such a contagious energy, enhancing the already solid script. The film is well shot, with some great and dynamic cinematography. At times it looks a little dated, like its very much a mid 2000s movie, however at least it works as a movie from that time period. The camera effectively spins and moves around the bank, enhancing the anxiety of the situation and creating a tense environment. Much of the film’s style feels akin to that of a Tony Scott movie. However, it is still a very much a Spike Lee movie with his trademark filming style on display, even the classic Spike Lee double dolly shot makes a memorable appearance.

Inside Man is a clever, suspenseful and well-constructed heist thriller, and very likely Spike Lee’s most accessible movie. The writing, directing and acting are all really solid and work together to make a very entertaining movie. I wouldn’t say that it’s one of the best heist movies ever made, or one of Spike’s best, but it is still really good, and it’s one well worth checking out.

Death on the Nile (2022) Review

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Death on the Nile (2022)

Time: 127 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Tom Bateman as Bouc
Annette Bening as Euphemia
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot
Russell Brand as Linus Windlesham
Ali Fazal as Andrew Katchadourian
Dawn French as Mrs. Bowers
Gal Gadot as Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle
Armie Hammer as Simon Doyle
Rose Leslie as Louise Bourget
Emma Mackey as Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort
Sophie Okonedo as Salome Otterbourne
Jennifer Saunders as Marie Van Schuyler
Letitia Wright as Rosalie Otterbourne
Director: Kenneth Branagh

Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot’s Egyptian vacation aboard a glamorous river steamer turns into a terrifying search for a murderer when a picture-perfect couple’s idyllic honeymoon is tragically cut short.

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I will admit myself as someone who liked Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express, even if it had its issues. So I was on board for Branagh’s next adaptation of a Hercule Poirot story with Death on the Nile. I didn’t really know what to expect going in, I just knew of the cast and premise. However it just kept being delayed for a number of years, and I began to lose interest. It finally released and again it opened to mixed reactions and again I enjoyed it, even with its issues.

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Death on the Nile isn’t a great detective mystery film, but its pretty good for what it was. For me, the clearest issue was that the death at the centre of the mystery doesn’t happen till the halfway point, whereas in Murder on the Orient Express it happened by the end of the first act. While Death on the Nile gives us a considerable amount of time with the characters before the murder happens especially in contrast to the last movie, it’s a bit too much. There’s a long boat ride before it reaches that one death, and I couldn’t help but feel rather bored. When that death does finally happen, that’s where Death on the Nile really picks up as our lead detective tries to unravel the mystery. I was locked in and interested to see the twists and turns. However, I will say that the climax did feel a bit rushed. Also as someone who hadn’t read the book, with the way its presented in the movie, the twist was very easy to predict. One thing you’ll probably notice when watching the movie is that it might be taking itself a little too seriously. The previous movie also took itself seriously but there was lot more fun to be had with it. Here, it’s pretty dark from beginning to end and I’m not sure it always works, even if there’s little bits of humour. Even the ending was a bit of a downer. There are certainly some strange choices but I kind of admire them in a way. For example, there is an actual origin story for Poirot’s moustache in the prologue that’s played deadly seriously and honestly that could be a litmus test for whether the movie works for you or not. Also, like Orient Express (2017), there’s definitely a lot of cheesy, campy and over the top elements but I enjoyed those, if anything I wished it leaned into those elements more here.

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On the whole the cast is pretty good, even if they aren’t as strong as the cast from Murder on the Orient Express. Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as detective Hercule Poirot to perfection, and has great chemistry with the whole cast. Again, he plays the character in a humorous and entertaining way but we also get to see more of his dramatic side here, and Branagh plays it well. The cast of murder suspects are fairly generic here, but the acting was pretty good for the most part. Tom Bateman’s Bouc is the only cast member from the last movie to return outside of Branagh, and he gets even more to do more here. A lot of the cast members were good, with the highlights being Annette Bening, Emma Mackey and Sophie Okonedo. Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer were the worst performers, but they weren’t enough to take me out of the movie entirely.

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I liked Kenneth Branagh’s direction of the previous Poirot movie and the same is true with Nile. The cinematography is dazzling and impressive, every shot is colourful and pristine, especially with the scenes on the Nile and on real location. However the CGI is very noticeable and distracting at times, and there is a lot of CGI. Patrick Doyle also returns to do the score and it is good, matching the vibe and setting of the movie quite well.

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As someone who liked Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, I enjoyed his Death on the Nile almost as much. It has a decent cast with an intriguing murder mystery, and a very flashy style that I enjoyed, even if you wouldn’t put it among the best films in its genre. Overall it’s a solid if slightly unremarkable bit of detective fiction. However, I will say that the hour long build up to the central murder really let the movie down quite a bit, but I still enjoyed it for what it was. If you liked Branagh’s last Poirot movie, then I recommend giving his adaptation of Death on the Nile a look.

The Empty Man (2021) Review

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The Empty Man

Time: 137 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, horror & suicide
Cast:
James Badge Dale as James Lasombra
Marin Ireland as Nora Quail
Stephen Root as Arthur Parsons
Ron Canada as Detective Villiers
Robert Aramayo as Garrett
Joel Courtney as Brandon Maibaum
Sasha Frolova as Amanda Quail
Director: David Prior

On the trail of a missing girl, an ex-cop comes across a secretive group attempting to summon a terrifying supernatural entity.

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I went into The Empty Man blind and unaware of what to expect from it. All I knew was that it was a horror movie whose release was essentially shafted during the merger between Disney and Fox, but gained positive word of mouth. Knowing only that, I went into the movie open minded and I think that it may well be one of the most pleasant surprises from 2021.

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For what it’s worth, I do think it’s worth going into The Empty Man not knowing anything about it. The plot at first sounds like another creepypasta like the Slender Man, and the premise is simple at first as its about a missing girl and the protagonist detective trying to figure out what happened to her. However over time it becomes more than what is expected. Essentially The Empty Man is a psychological detective thriller with a supernatural element. It is definitely horror, but more of a hybrid horror film which mixes grim detective thriller with elements of cosmic horror and surreal doomsday cults. There’s even a surprising amount of existential dread throughout, with a constant ominous tone which keeps you unnerved throughout. There are some compelling ideas and the film isn’t afraid of being ambiguous at times. The opening 25 minutes are really strong, and it is practically its own movie as it seems so far removed from the rest of the film, but still ties back into the main plot in a meaningful way. I found the plot compelling and riveting as it takes its twists and turns, and I wanted to see where it would go. The final act is captivating and it has one of the most memorable horror endings in recent years. The movie is very long at around 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and it is definitely a slow burner, so it requires a lot of patience. However I was so invested with what was happening that the runtime didn’t prove to be a problem, even if the pacing stumbles here and there.

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The acting from everyone is good but it mostly comes down to the lead played by James Badge Dale as a detective investigating the missing girl. It’s a very strong performance and he does very well at carrying the movie himself. He effectively captures the terror, confusion and even the pitch black humour of the character, and he was compelling to watch throughout the film.

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This is David Prior’s directorial debut, and this is a very confident and great first film from him, with evidently a clear vision. Prior has actually worked with David Fincher and you feel his influence throughout, especially when it comes to the investigation side of the story. The Empty Man is incredibly well shot with beautiful and moody cinematography. The visuals are interesting and the imagery is memorable. There’s also a very haunting sound design which goes towards helping its ominous atmosphere. The scares themselves mostly come from the eerie atmosphere and thick tension, and they are very effective.

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The Empty Man definitely won’t work for everyone, its slow pace and more subdued nature might turn some people off. However I thought it was great, a great mix of investigation thriller with cosmic and cult horror, making for a very effective film and one of the best horror films of 2021. I’m interested in whatever David Prior does next; I hope he gets to direct more because his work here is fantastic.

Lamb (2021) Review

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Lamb

Time: 106 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, offensive language, sex scenes & nudity
Cast:
Noomi Rapace as María
Hilmir Snær Guðnason as Ingvar
Björn Hlynur Haraldsson as Pétur
Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Man on Television
Director: Valdimar Jóhannsson

In rural Iceland, a childless couple discover a strange and unnatural newborn in their sheep barn. They decide to raise her as their own, but sinister forces are determined to return the creature to the wilderness that birthed her.

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I had been hearing about Lamb for a while, it was the new upcoming A24 horror film, this time focusing on a half human and half lamb baby. I didn’t look at the trailer beforehand, but I knew the central concept and went in just knowing that. Having watched it, I can say that at the very least it’s an interesting mix of ideas and elements even if it doesn’t do much with them.

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I’ll say right now that it’s probably best to go into Lamb not knowing much beforehand outside of the central concept. I also recommend not watching the trailer, it reveals about half the movie and misleads about the type of movie it’s going to be. It is also worth noting that while it has some horror elements, it is less of a horror movie and more of a foreboding and unsettling folktale. Much of the movie is focusing on the main couple raising this lamb-baby. It’s certainly a slow movie as it very steadily builds over time. I am fine with slow storytelling, and it does serve to build up the eerie atmosphere of the film. However, there is a bit of an over reliance on it. The most notable part of the film is the concept, and you certainly get that here. Surprisingly there are some fun family scenes with the half human and half sheep Ada, and I enjoyed those scenes. It also got much more interesting whenever it got odder. The film is so committed to being serious despite its absurdity, and I can’t tell whether its deliberate or not. Despite the cool premise, it really is squandered. It doesn’t go far beyond its initial intriguing idea. In fact, in a way it feels like a short concept film extended to feature length. Not much actually happens in this movie and it doesn’t build up to much. A weird inclusion of the movie were title cards letting the audience know of the different chapters, but this structure was ultimately pointless and doesn’t really add to much. There are some themes at play, including parenthood, loos, nature vs nurture, etc. Despite the amount of topics and themes around the film and concept however, there really wasn’t much to interpret in this allegorical film.

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There are some subdued yet solid performances from the cast, including Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason. The cast are small, but they do their parts well, especially Rapace.

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Valdimar Jóhannsson is the director and his work on the film is great, definitely the strongest part of the film. He does very well at building up this dark and cold atmosphere over time, helped by the ambient sounds and mostly absent music. The cinematography is amazing and takes advantage of its location with the fog and the mountains in the background. The score is minimalistic but effective when it’s there.

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I admire Lamb more than I liked it. It certainly has a lot going for it, it’s great on a technical level with gorgeous cinematography, the performances are good, it has quite a strong atmosphere, and I appreciate its very weird premise. However the main issue for me is that it doesn’t really amount to much by the end, feeling more like a concept film than a fully realised idea. If the premise sounds intriguing to you and if you like some of A24’s horror movies (even if Lamb isn’t exactly horror), then I think it’s worth checking out.  

The Night House (2021) Review

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The Night House

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, sexual references & offensive language
Cast:
Rebecca Hall as Beth
Sarah Goldberg as Claire
Vondie Curtis-Hall as Mel
Evan Jonigkeit as Owen
Stacy Martin as Madelyne
Director: David Bruckner

Reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep together-but then the dreams come. Disturbing visions of a presence in the house call to her, beckoning with a ghostly allure. But the harsh light of day washes away any proof of a haunting. Against the advice of her friends, she begins digging into his belongings, yearning for answers.

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I didn’t go into The Night House expecting a lot. I just heard it was a horror movie starring Rebecca Hall that’s meant to be good. So I went into it fairly blind. However it was one of the biggest surprises of the year, especially for horror.

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The Night House is a psychological horror focusing on a widow who is going through a journey uncovering his life and who he was. Horror movies that explore grief and trauma isn’t anything new, in fact it’s becoming more prominent and overdone these days. However for what it’s worth, The Night House breathes new life into this very specific horror subgenre and is one of the better examples of that in recent memory. There’s a lot of genuinely scary ideas as it plays on the fear and acceptance of death. When the film eventually introduces supernatural elements, it fits in well with the rest of the plot and doesn’t feel out of place. Despite how it leans much stronger into horror in the third act, I really like how subtle and less flashy the horror is in the first two acts. The scares are there, but its not to the point where it’s too jarring or takes you out of the film. Helping the movie is the eerie atmosphere, there’s always something intensely uneasy that lingers throughout the runtime of the film. It is definitely a slow burn of a horror movie, but I appreciate how it took it’s time to build up its atmosphere and tell its story. In terms of faults, I did have some issues with the ending. While I liked the direction it went in and the overall idea, the ending itself was a little too abrupt.

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One of the highlights of the film is Rebecca Hall in the lead role, who gives one of her best performances yet. We spend most of the film with her alone for the most part, and she conveys so much even when she has very little support. This is her show, embodying her character’s feelings of loss and emotions when she makes some discoveries about her dead husband. The performance definitely helps the film work as well as it does. There are some decent supporting performances from the likes of Sarah Goldberg and Stacy Martin, but again this is Hall’s film.

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Another strong aspect of the film is David Bruckner’s direction. Some years ago he made The Ritual, another horror movie which I thought was good. However his work on The Night House is superb and another level. I love the visuals, the cinematography was striking and made great uses of optical illusions, architecture and symmetry. The sound design is also effective, and it has a fitting score from Ben Lovett which added to the atmosphere. The film delivers in creating an eerie and creepy atmosphere filled with tension. There are definitely jump scares, especially in the third act, but they don’t feel cheap and don’t break the atmosphere its been building up.

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The Night House was one of the biggest surprises of the year, especially for horror. The take on trauma and grief felt fresh, the direction is superb with a tense atmosphere, and Rebecca Hall’s performance was phenomenal. It is well worth checking out.

Last Night in Soho (2021) Review

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Last Night in Soho

Time: 116 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, sexual violence, offensive language & content that may disturb
Cast:
Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise “Ellie” Turner
Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie
Matt Smith as Jack
Michael Ajao as John
Terence Stamp as Lindsay
Diana Rigg as Alexandra Collins
Director: Edgar Wright

An aspiring fashion designer (Thomasin McKenzie) is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s, where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer (Anya Taylor-Joy). However, the glamour is not all it appears to be, and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something far darker.

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Last Night in Soho was one of my most anticipated movies of 2021. Along with a cast that includes Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, it’s Edgar Wright’s latest film. While I’m not a massive fan of his non-Cornetto trilogy movies, the premise sounded quite intriguing, and I was interested to see him take on a full-on horror movie. I heard some mixed things from people about the movie before going into it, which was surprising considering most people seem to love his films. While I do like the movie, I agree with most of the criticisms its been receiving.

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The first half actually started off quite well for me, despite some issues. You do notice a distinct difference from Wright’s other movies, definitely less quippy and witty, and with less humour. I don’t have a problem with this though, this is a different sort of Wright movie. Not only that, but the attempts of humour in the film don’t hit at all so decreasing the amount of humour was only for the film’s benefit. Wright is more subdued here, I might be in a minority here but I appreciate him trying something different. When it gets to lead character Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) beginning to when visions of the 1960s and seeing Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), that’s where it really picks up. This is where the film is at its peak, it was intriguing and held my attention. Something I do like is that its going back to a setting with nostalgia (particularly a setting that Eloise has nostalgia for), only to show the seedy and dark side of it. It is a cautionary tale about the dangerous of romanticising the past and I do like that idea (even though the execution is not the best).

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Then the second half happens. The plot stops being interesting or intriguing as Eloise goes through a descent into madness as she sees visions and ghosts, and we see less of the 60s setting. I think its at this point where I realised that I was more interested in the 60s plotline, and Eloise’s story wasn’t that interesting on its own. It definitely tries to have twists and turns but by this point the twists are very easy to predict. Last Night in Soho is a horror movie and its this second half where you really feel it. I’m not inherently against horror movies not scaring me, since only a few really scare me. However the horror falls shockingly flat, even Wright delivered better results with Shaun of the Dead. I distinctly remember the point that the film started to go downhill for the moment it introduces jumpscares and ghosts that haunt Eloise. Wright must think they are scary because he places these ghosts throughout this second half, and none of them are scary in the slightest. Maybe if it was intended to be camp then they would’ve worked, but Wright is aiming for genuine horror, and as a result it just comes across as really silly (in a bad way). While jumpscares can be used effectively, all of them feel completely clunky here. Even the gore and violence (and this is Wright’s most violent film) doesn’t really have any impact despite it intending to be shocking. The closest the film gets to being scary is a scene halfway through the movie where Eloise/Sandie is running through a club, and it does well at being effectively unsettling and creepy. Outside of that, none of the horror hits.

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As the movie enters into its second half, it touches on some really heavy material which I won’t mention by name for the sake of spoilers. It’s certainly ambitious to tackle difficult subject matter like those as long as enough depth is given to it, but the handling felt rather careless and glib here, particuarly with some of the horror sequences. Initially I was wondering whether I was just thinking too deep into it, until I reached the third act. Speaking of the third act, it’s been said by others that this is where it’ll make or break the film for many. I wouldn’t say it breaks the movie for me as I still like it overall. I will say that it certainly breaks the chance of me looking back at the plot in a positive way. It reveals its predicted twist and then rushes its way into a climax. While I predicted the twist earlier on, what followed the twist was something I didn’t predict because it was quite possibly the worst direction you could take the story in after everything that came before. The situation in the climax already feels contrived, forced and avoidable. However, even the simplistic message gets completely confused with the direction it takes in the third act, and just feels misguided at best, tone deaf at worst. Even the ending made me confused as to what kind of movie it was supposed to be, and not in a good way.

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This has to be some of the worst character work that Edgar Wright has done. The characters are 2 dimensional and feel like stock roles to fill rather than believable people. The innocent girl, the creepy old man, the mean girls, etc. So it is a credit to the cast that they pulled off good performances playing them. Thomasin McKenzie plays the lead character Eloise and she’s fantastic in this part. While I was not that invested in Eloise’s journey in the second half, McKenzie’s performance kept me on board with the character and with what she was doing. Anya Taylor-Joy is also excellent, embodying her character very well. In a way you could say that she’s underutilised given that she’s only seen during the visions and time travel scenes. However she is great and her presence is felt throughout. Other supporting actors are great too, especially Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, and Diana Rigg in her final performance.

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Edgar Wright directs and you do feel it, though refreshingly he does pull back on some of his filmmaking trademarks. For example the editing is still sharp but isn’t as snappy like his previous movies, and I appreciate him being more restrained with it. It is visually stunning to watch with Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography, I particularly liked the use of colour. It is far Edgar Wright’s best looking movie. The recreation of the 60s time period is solid too, especially with the production designs, costumes and more. I like how they show the time travel, sometimes having Eloise and Sandie in the same room with Eloise being an observer, sometimes Eloise seeing Sandie in her reflection in the mirror. The soundtrack is great as expected given that this is an Edgar Wright movie, the score from Steven Price is also great and fits the tone of the film really well.

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I do like Last Night in Soho but it’s by far Edgar Wright’s messiest and most frustrating movie. It’s a shame because the first half showed itself to be a film with great potential, but the second half squandered all of that by the end. Even outside of the plot, there’s still a lot of issues. The characters are rather flat and one note, and the attempts at horror don’t succeed at all. However, I still like the film generally. The first half is good especially the glimpses into the 60s, the visuals and soundtrack are nice, and the actors are great in their parts, especially Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy. For what it’s worth, I do think it’s the best of Edgar Wright’s non-Cornetto movies, though I’m not in love with Baby Driver or Scott Pilgrim as much as other people. It’s not really a movie I want to revisit anytime soon, if only because I feel like my thoughts on it will sour even further. With all that being said, I do think it’s at least worth watching.

1408 (2007) Review

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Time: 104 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains supernatural themes & violence
Cast:
John Cusack as Michael “Mike” Enslin
Samuel L. Jackson as Gerald Olin
Mary McCormack as Lily Enslin
Tony Shalhoub as Sam Farrell
Director: Mikael Håfström

A man who specializes in debunking paranormal occurrences (John Cusack) checks into the fabled room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel. As he settles in, he confronts genuine terror.

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I heard about 1408 for some time, I knew it as a horror movie based on a Stephen King book that starred John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson and involved a specific hotel room. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect from it, though I did notice some reactions to the movie to be a little mixed. I actually ended up enjoying it, even if I wouldn’t exactly call it a great movie.

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The setup of the movie is pretty simple, and the plot moves at a reasonable pace, really picking up from the moment that lead character Mike Enslin (played by John Cusack) first enters Room 1408. The story is pretty fun and kept my interest, especially with the mystery of the room even if by the end it doesn’t live up to its potential and build up. The movie does fall into some typical clichés of the genre and doesn’t surprise too much. With that said, I can say it very much feels like a Stephen King story, for better and for worse. It’s not scary but it is suspenseful and creative as everything is thrown at Enslin and he tries to figure out what to do next. I can’t tell whether some of the scenes are intentionally funny or just unintentionally funny, but some scenes were so over the top that I had fun with them, and not necessarily in a bad way. A particular scene involving a very agitated John Cusack and a mini fridge does make me feel like there was some self-awareness while making the movie. At the same time, there are some genuinely effective scenes, especially in the second half of the movie. I should point out that there are two versions (and apparently somehow three endings) of the movie. Strangely enough, the director’s cut is now the version of 1408 mostly on display for people to watch on Blu-ray and streaming services. Also strangely enough, the theatrical cut ending ended up being superior to the director’s cut. While I liked the initial idea and different direction of the director’s cut ending, ultimately the execution just ends up being really nothing and was unsatisfying. The ending in the theatrical cut, while seemingly less dark, was actually a lot more effective; sadly, you’ll probably only get to see that version if you have the DVD copy of 1408. So in saying that, directly after watching 1408 (it’ll no doubt be the director’s cut), I would recommend looking online at the theatrical cut ending.

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Much of the movie belongs to John Cusack, it’s basically a one man show for him and he does very well. His character is a strong sceptic about ghosts and hauntings as a writer, who is confronted with so much while inside this room and it’s very entertaining to watch him. He’s super into his scenes and embraces his character and all the emotions he’s tasked with delivering. Much of his acting can be hilarious at points, but I think that accompanies the tone of the movie very fittingly. On a side note though, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would’ve been like if Nicolas Cage was in the role instead simply for the over the top insanity scenes (that aforementioned mini-fridge scene certainly felt like a moment right out of a Cage film). Samuel L. Jackson is second billed in the cast but wasn’t in the movie much. However, he’s very memorable and good as the manager of the hotel who warns Cusack’s character about the dangers of staying in Room 1408.

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One of 1408’s strongest aspects was the direction from Mikael Hafstrom. The look of the movie outside of the hotel (and especially during the day) looks a bit off, but otherwise the film looks really great and is shot and composed well. Some strong atmosphere and tension are created early on, and again it shines particularly in the scenes in Room 1408. I don’t think the scares were particularly good, some the jump scares are honestly rather lame and ineffective, but the atmosphere and mystery portions of the film were good. The editing at points can be a little uneven but nothing movie breaking.

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1408 does have its issues and I wouldn’t place it as the top tier of Stephen King film adaptations, but I think it’s pretty good. The intriguing and entertaining story, the solid direction and the committed lead performance from John Cusack come together to make a decent horror movie. Don’t expect something at the level of like The Shining, but I do think it’s a movie you might have a lot of fun watching, worth a look.

Noroi: The Curse (2005) Review

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Noroi The Curse

Time: 115 Minutes
Cast:
Jin Muraki as Masafumi Kobayashi
Marika Matsumoto as Herself
Satoru Jitsunashi as Mitsuo Hori
Rio Kanno as Kana Yano
Tomono Kuga as Junko Ishii
Director: Kōji Shiraishi

A prominent paranormal journalist named Kobayashi (Jim Muraki) goes missing shortly after completing a documentary. What begins as an investigation into strange noises soon evolves into the chilling mystery of a demonic entity named Kagutaba.

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I had heard of Noroi: The Curse as an underrated horror movie. All I knew about it was that it was a found footage horror movie from Japan, and apparently it was quite scary. I had been meaning to watch it for a while, and having finally seen it I can say that while it has some issues it was quite good, and definitely should receive more attention.

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Interestingly, Noroi: The Curse aims to be both a found footage movie and a documentary style movie. Though some of the way it is edited doesn’t quite make sense in the context of the story, I went along with it. I’ll admit that for the first hour I wasn’t quite into the story. It does try to approach the story as a documentary which I understand, but I just wasn’t quite as invested as I’d like to be. The first hour is dense with a lot of information to keep track of, with elements introduced like psychic variety shows, many characters introduced, rituals, backstory, there’s a lot happening. It’s a lot but I admire the commitment to it. It is also a slow paced movie for sure, but even at its slowest I was still paying attention to the plot. It’s in the second half where it picked up for me. That’s when the footage moves beyond being used for a documentary and moves more into the people recording encountering spooky things themselves. There were some effective and creepy moments, some of them were effective, especially in the latter sections of the movie. While I won’t go into too much depth with the plot, what I can say is that the payoff at the end is worth it for sure.

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The acting is all around pretty good, it’s not the main focus of the movie but the performances are sincere. Whenever characters are reacting to creepy situations or information, their reactions feel genuine.

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It’s directed by Koji Shiraishi, and for the most part I think he did a good job. One of the strengths of found footage horror is that it often feels very real. That is definitely the case in this movie, especially in the second half and the last third of the movie. As previously mentioned, it does try to seem like a documentary with the way its edited, however some of the attempts don’t always work out so well. The most annoying parts were the subtitles and title cards at the start of some scenes, which give information of what’s happening, particularly because it doesn’t always commit to having a voice over, nor does it make an attempt to explain what’s happening within the video footage presented. As for the scares, sometimes it worked, and at other times it didn’t work so well. There’s one moment when the camera freaks out during an intense moment, glitches happen and we can see a creepy image through the glitches. After this moment however, the cameraman shows the footage to Kobayashi (the paranormal researcher in the movie), and we also get to see that glitched footage in slow motion, and that felt kind of pointless since we already saw that and it’s not going to make it any scarier. There are also some moments where some visual effects were added into the movie, and they are pretty bad and silly, and can take away from some of the moments. Thankfully they weren’t in the movie a lot.

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Noroi: The Curse does have some problems, some of it is to do with the direction and its approach as a mockumentary style film, and I wasn’t fully on board until roughly the second half of the movie. However I still think it’s worth watching, and it’s definitely an underrated movie. It is a found footage movie, but if you at least like any of the movies in that genre, find a way to seek it out, because it deserves much more attention.

The Thing (1982) Review

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The Thing

Time:  109 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady
A. Wilford Brimley as Blair
T. K. Carter as Nauls
David Clennon as Palmer
Keith David as Childs
Director: John Carpenter

In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. When they take in the dog, it brutally attacks both human beings and canines in the camp and they discover that the beast can assume the shape of its victims. A resourceful helicopter pilot (Kurt Russell) and the camp doctor (Richard Dysart) lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the vicious creature before it picks them all off, one by one.

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John Carpenter’s The Thing was underappreciated on its release back in 1982, in fact it opened to very negative responses from audiences and critics alike (not helped that it came out around the same time as E.T.). However it found an audience when it released on home video and television, and today it is considered a horror classic, and for very good reason. It remains an incredibly effective and influential horror movie that holds up decades later.

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The Thing is a great mix of sci-fi, mystery and horror. It is gripping from beginning to end and I appreciate and notice new details every time I watch. Essentially it is an intriguing whodunnit mystery, that just happens to have a lot of thrills and gore in it. It has a feeling of claustrophobia and isolation throughout, which is on point and well tuned with John Carpenter’s classic minimalist aesthetics and atmosphere that are present in some of his other movies. It does so well at selling us on how hopeless it is trying to escape from this alien, you feel that sense of chilling paranoia around every corner, much like the characters do. Carpenter’s deliberate pacing and emphasis on the lack of escape also steadily increases the tension. Something which also increases the suspense is the lack of knowledge of who The Thing is at any given time, not to mention the lack of knowledge of what it even is. We also only see it react when its actually being threatened or exposed, and we don’t see the alien and becoming the person. This movie might be known for its effects, but there’s a lot of suspenseful sequences, one involving a blood test especially is a great example of suspense and shock. The ending is also haunting and fitting for the overall movie.

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There are some top-notch performances from the cast. The lead character is that of MacReady, who is brilliantly played by Kurt Russell, one of his best performances and roles. He is believable as a hardened but normal guy finding himself up against an all too real alien threat. The same goes for the rest of the cast, for what they lack in development, they still feel like real human beings stuck in a dangerous situation. Every character feels so lived in and shine with what they are given, really playing into the paranoia considerably well throughout. The script doesn’t delve into everyone’s backgrounds, but it does give each of these people their deserving moment.

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John Carpenter directs this movie, and this is some of his finest work. He is great with atmosphere in his movies, and The Thing is no exception. His use of the cold arctic landscape in this setting further emphasises the crew’s helplessness and isolation from the outside world. All the cinematography and production design are immaculate. There aren’t many jumpscares, but the ones that are here are done well. The Thing contains some of the most mindblowing and gruesome practical effects and makeup in a horror movie, and they hold up after nearly 40 years. The sound design is great, really putting you in the moments. The scores of John Carpenter’s movies are usually done by himself, this time it’s composed by Ennio Morricone. Despite this, it sounds exactly the way he would’ve score it, with simple synthesised tracks that help enhance the sinister mood of the movie. Incredibly simple yet effective.

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The Thing is fantastic and an absolute horror classic for so many reasons. Its script is finely tuned to near perfection, the characters are simple but given enough believability and are performed well, and John Carpenter’s direction is fantastic, making the film effectively suspenseful and unnerving from beginning to end. It is John Carpenter’s best film to date, and it has aged very well over the years. If you are a horror fan, definitely check out The Thing as soon as you can.

Malignant (2021) Review

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Malignant

Time: 111 Minutes
Cast:
Annabelle Wallis as Madison Mitchell
Maddie Hasson as Sydney Lake
George Young as Kekoa Shaw
Michole Briana White as Regina Moss
Jacqueline McKenzie as Dr. Florence Weaver
Director: James Wan

Madison (Annabelle Wallis), a young woman, is terrified by visions of the murders of strangers. Later, Madison decides to find and save the victims.

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I was quite interested in Malignant, not only was it director James Wan’s newest film, but it also his first original horror movie in a while (the last instance being The Conjuring in 2013). I also found the initial reactions to the movie to be quite intriguing, with some people having no idea what they just watched. Honestly, I wish I had the chance to watch the movie in cinemas to hear the reactions, because it was quite an experience.

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It’s unsurprising that the trailers didn’t sell the movie that well considering how weird the concept sounds on paper. This is James Wan’s craziest film to date, and that’s saying a lot. There are some over the top moments and even comedy throughout the film, yet it somehow all fits together, managing to not ruin the grounded and dramatic moments. It is definitely an absurd movie, but it is self-aware of what it is, while still taking itself somewhat seriously. You can feel a mix of other horror directors’ influences, including Dario Argento, David Cronenberg and Sam Raimi, it feels like a perfect mixture of different horror subgenres. However, it is still all James Wan, while feeling so totally different from what he has done in the past. You could probably see elements of Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring, but Malignant still has its own distinct tone and feel. The first two acts build mystery around lead character Madison, intriguing you and locking you into the central mystery as she sees a lot of murders being committed by a mysterious killer. However, it is really the big reveal and the whole third act which is the point where you’ll realise whether you’re on board with the movie or not. Even if you’ve predicted the twist beforehand, the details surrounding the twist are so nutty that they have to be seen to be believed. I for one didn’t quite expect it, the third act was surprising, fun and satisfying and I had a blast with it.

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Annabelle Wallis is really good in the lead role and puts a lot into her performance. The rest of the cast aren’t bad, but they are serviceable. A lot of them act very odd at times especially with how they deliver their dialogue. However, it does work well for the movie’s campy feel at least. Ray Chase is also superb as the voice of the main antagonist of the film.

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This is a James Wan movie and as usual his work is really fantastic. This movie is visually beautiful to watch. There is also a great atmosphere throughout, greatly helped by the slick camera work as well as the sound design. It really should be said that this is by far James Wan’s goriest movie yet. Without going into the details of the scenes, there are some set pieces that are truly a sight to behold, especially in the insane third act. Everything from the choreography, the blood, the camerawork, everything in that last 30 minutes just turns everything to 11. The design and presentation of the main killer in the story is creative and truly memorable. The soundtrack from Joseph Bishara is great too. There’s particularly a piece of music that sounds like Where is My Mind by The Pixies, and it actually works as the main theme of the movie so well.

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Malignant definitely won’t be for everyone but I found it to be quite a satisfying and surprising horror film, with plenty of thrills, bloody and fantastic set pieces, and is absolutely bonkers. I’d go so far to say that it is one of James Wan’s best films. If you like horror movies, I do highly recommend watching it. Go into it blind, and if you find yourself not feeling it within the first 20 minutes, I recommend at least getting to the third act because it is worth watching the film for that alone.