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Horror Necronomicon

REVIEW: Spiral

by @holocronGeorge for @horrornecronom

Ever since there were initial rumblings of a Chris Rock-driven Saw film, Spiral has easily been one of the most intriguing horror films on the horizon. Now that the film has finally been released (after several date shifts due to COVID-19), it’s unfortunate that Spiral ultimately fails to live up to its potential as a unique, timely installment in the long-standing horror franchise, despite being a serviceable and entertaining reentry into the series.

The ninth installment of the franchise sees director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV) renter the fold with James Wan and Leigh Whannel returning as executive producers. Spiral follows Detective Zeke Banks, played by Chris Rock, as he and his rookie partner investigate a series of grisly murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s dark past and loop in Zeke’s father Marcus, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Ultimately, Spiral is more of a continuation than a reinvention. The Saw franchise dominated for much of the early 2000s, but eventually fizzled out with uninspired sequels of dwindling quality. Spiral was billed and heavily marketed as a novel take on the Saw franchise, forging a pathway to take the series into a unique future. The focus on corrupt police officers evidenced in promotional material seemed particularly timely and something ripe for exploration in a post-Get Out landscape of horror films. However, it’s not that the film fails to reinvent the franchise and explore more nuanced themes – it simply doesn’t try. The budget is notably higher, the production design is more refined, and the cinematography is spectacular, but, aesthetic differences aside, Spiral feels more like a Saw X than it’s own thing. This is likely to please hardcore fans of the franchise yearning for customary suspense and deadly traps. Otherwise, fans hoping for a little more will likely leave the theater somewhat disappointed.

Another unique element of Spiral is its casting choices of Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson as the leads. It’s difficult to pin down whether this is a fault in the writing, directing, or acting, but Rock seems somewhat miscast in the film. This is particularly evident in the earlier parts of the movie as we grow accustomed to his role in the franchise, such that by the end of the film we’re comfortable with him in the role. Samuel L. Jackson, meanwhile, is fantastic again as – well – Samuel L. Jackson. He adds a much needed sense of gravitas and humor to the movie, albeit with relatively little screen time.

This isn’t to say, however, that Spiral is unwatchable. In fact, Spiral is an incredibly entertaining and thrilling film. The movie is a tight 93 minutes and flies along at a brisk pace. Sometimes, it would’ve been nice for a bit of breathing room between sequences of great intensity, but, nonetheless, the film is unlikely to bore or lose the attention of any viewers. The traps are captivating, the quick-cut and flashy editing has returned, and Spiral features many of the brilliant twists and turns we’ve grown to love in the Saw franchise that keep you guessing to the end.

Verdict: 6/10

It’s difficult to fault Spiral too much given that, perhaps, it falls victim to expectations of something more novel and distinct than it ultimately ended up being. It’s a shame that the film falls flat in exploring more nuanced themes and carving out its own unique sect of the Saw franchise. Nonetheless, Spiral is an incredibly entertaining film elevated by polished production design, cinematography, and trap sequences, with some unique casting choices that are bound to intrigue fans.

Images courtesy of Lionsgate

Categories
Horror Necronomicon

REVIEW: Godzilla vs. Kong

by @holocronGeorge for @FilmCodex

If you watch Godzilla vs. Kong to see (as the title suggests) Godzilla fight Kong in a movie full of unhinged destruction and mayhem, you’re likely to enjoy the newest installment in the Monsterverse. Buildings are destroyed, punches are thrown, Titans butt heads, plots don’t really matter, and human characters don’t do much in a film that, at best, looks stunning and feels epic, yet, a worst, is a dull and semi-interesting crossover event.

The Monsterverse has been met with mixed reception after its three initial films. Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was an unexpectedly nuanced film, gorgeously shot by Seamus McGarvey, but disappointed some for its titular character’s lack of screentime. Godzilla: King of Monsters addressed this criticism by pitting Godzilla against King Ghidorah, Rodan, and more. Unfortunately, the gorgeous looking film was marred by messy plotting and disposable human characters. Kong: Skull Island marks this burgeoning cinematic universe’s high-point so far as Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivered a lavish project that was the perfection, uncanny intersection of a monster flick and Vietnam War film. So, needless to say, the Monsterverse has been a mixed bag so far and, for better or worse, that pattern continues.

Godzilla vs. Kong sees Godzilla unexpectedly wreaking havoc on the world and Apex Cybernetics assembling a team, including Kong, to combat this threat by traveling to Hollow Earth. The vast majority of film is split in two halves, as we follow the team of scientists carrying out the mission (Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall) and, on a separate mission, Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison join forces with a friend and a conspiracy theorist to investigate Apex’s duplicitous plans. It’s a shame that, ultimately, the human characters in this universe continue to be a weakness. No one is particularly charismatic or likable or interesting, with Kaylee Hottle’s Jia being a rare highlight. Now, I know no one goes into a film called Godzilla vs. Kong to be consumed by the human characters’ arcs. That being said, Adam Wingard’s film spends an excessive amount of time with these characters in many scenes that mindlessly drone on as we eagerly await the next battle between Titans.

And it’s the battles between Titans where Godzilla vs. Kong really excels. Adam Wingard expertly handles these action sequences, making them the best of the Monsterverse so far. The lighting of a Hong Kong city or ships on the ocean are stunning. Unique camera decisions, like placing the audience’s view on the side of a Titan’s arm as he throws a punch, add an epic, visceral feel to the film. And epic is a perfect way to describe these fights. They are grand, loud, and high-stakes, so much so it makes it difficult to watch without a massive smile on your face. As I said, if you want Godzilla vs. Kong, you will not be disappointed.

Without delving into spoiler territory, Godzilla vs. Kong makes several intelligent narrative decisions that really further the film. The battle between Godzilla and Kong doesn’t seem thrown together, but, rather, each Titan’s place in the story is meaningful and understandable. Although the film struggles with some of the convoluted world-building it attempts, the final conflict is brilliantly crafted and helps take your mind off some of the dull moments and characters in the film.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Godzilla vs. Kong more than lives up to its title with fantastic action sequences brilliantly crafted by director Adam Wingard. Although the film is hampered by dull human characters and convoluted attempts at world-building, the fourth installment in the Monsterverse is a thrill ride that won’t disappoint fans of these classic characters.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment and HBO Max