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Horror Necronomicon

REVIEW: False Positive

by @holocronGeorge for @horrornecronom

It’s difficult to talk about False Positive without referring to Rosemary’s Baby given the stark similarities between the two films. In fact, enjoying False Positive for what it is really requires a bit of distance from Rosemary’s Baby, or at least an acknowledge that these two films are strikingly similar. Nonetheless, False Positive is a tense and compelling cerebral horror film of pregnancy and paranoia that, despite falling apart in its final act, is an interesting new addition to the horror genre.

False Positive stars Ilana Glazer, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director John Lee, as a woman struggling to conceive. Her and her husband, played by Justin Theroux, visit a renowned fertility specialist brought to life wonderfully by Pierce Brosnan. However, it’s not long until Glazer’s character Lucy begins to feel like something is off with her pregnancy and the people around her.

As stated before, False Positive is very similar to Rosemary’s Baby. The films adopt essentially the same structure for their entire duration and really place you inside the lead of our lead protagonist. Largely due to Glazer’s commanding lead performance, Lucy is a deeply compelling character to follow. As a viewer, you’re constantly on board with her suspicions and aware that something is wrong with this whole situation, but, like Lucy, can’t put your finger on it.

The film really excels in its first two acts by capitalizing on these growing suspicions and tensions with a slow-burn approach. This is not a horror film overpopulated with jump scares or cheap thrills. It takes its time throughout, which helps build an intense urge to find out what’s really going on behind the scenes. In large part, False Positive works because of this pacing and Glazer’s performance carrying us through all the moments of mystery and intrigue. Unfortunately, it’s when some of these mysteries become a little more explicit that the film trips up.

False Positive relies quite heavily on the horror trope of: is this real or is this fantasy? Glazer’s character often sees or hears things that may or may not be there. And the film does an excellent job putting us in the shoes of Lucy as she navigates the horrors of her reality seemingly collapsing around her. The problem is that, by the film’s third act, it’s difficult to keep everything straight. This may have been the director’s intention to make the audience feel like they’re going insane as the lead character does, but, ultimately, the slew of hallucinations or dreams really detract away from what was a tense and horrifying story of pregnancy earlier on in the film. And, unfortunately, the film dissolves in its final moments with a series of underwhelming and rather predictable reveals.

Verdict: 6.5/10

False Positive draws heavily upon Rosemary’s Baby to deliver a slow-burn, tension filled film of the horrors of pregnancy and paranoia. Carried by an excellent lead performance from Ilana Glazer, False Positive excels by putting the viewer inside Glazer’s character’s head as her suspicions intensify, but deteriorates with excessive hallucinations and an underwhelming finale. Nonetheless, False Positive is an enticing 21st century rendition of Rosemary’s Baby that fans of cerebral horror will enjoy.

Images courtesy of Hulu & A24

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Horror Necronomicon

REVIEW: The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

by @holocronJosh for @horrornecronom

Over the past eight years, The Conjuring Universe has proven that it’s possible to execute a successful cinematic universe outside of the MCU. And, amidst a slew of mixed spin-offs ranging from haunting and fun thrills like Annabelle: Creation and Annabelle Comes Home to the disappointing The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, this franchise has always found its greatest successes in the core films. This time around James Wan takes a step back as director Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) helms the third Conjuring film. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It continues the journey of Ed and Lorraine Warren as they seek evidence to prove a young man was possessed while committing murder.

Like it’s predecessors, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It benefits from an excellent premise. A departure from the haunted house tales of The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, this film opens up with a wide range of intriguing directions for the plot to move to. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities are missed. The family dynamic was one of the understated selling points of the first Conjuring film, and there’s potential to do the same in this installment. However, as the film progresses, it loses focus and strays away from core family struggle, and the struggle of the accused man played by the underutilized Ruairi O’Connor. So much so that by the end of the film, it’s difficult to really care much about what’s going on with O’Connor’s character Arne as the movie had strayed away from him so heavily.

All of this would be tolerable if the film bolstered impressive scares, but, unfortunately, this is also not the case. James Wan’s deft hand at executing brilliantly crafted scare sequences is sorely missing here, making The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It by far the tamest of the franchise’s core films. Director Michael Chaves has a keen eye for framing shots and really capturing the era of the 1980s, but the unrelenting tension and menace of Wan’s films are absent here. The frights are serviceable, but anyone looking for sequences on par with the first two Conjuring films will be disappointed.

While The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It lacks in horror, it works as a mystery and investigation tale. In a poetic sense, The Conjuring heavily evokes The Exorcist, and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It feels more like The Exorcist III. The Warrens’ attempts to unravel the mystery are captivating and offset what the film lacks in focus and thrills. The mystery pans out somewhat flat, but it’s efforts to depart from the structure of previous films were commendable.

This third installment also benefits greatly from the leading performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga again. They are in large part what anchors this series and why so many of the spin-off films fail to capture the brilliance of the core Conjuring films. Ed and Lorraine feel so natural and comfortable together, a real testament to the work Wilson and Farmiga have put into these characters over the years. A b-plot in the film centers on a heart condition Ed has developed, although this angle is never really explored deeper than some huffs and puffs from Wilson’s character. That being said, the movie, especially in its latter third, does an excellent job showcasing the love Ed and Lorraine have for one another. At the end of the day, The Conjuring films have been as much about the Warrens as they have been about the demons they fight and, thankfully, The Devil Made Me Do It continues this tradition.

Verdict: 6/10

A steep decline from its predecessors, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It proves to be an unexpectedly tame installment in the successful franchise. Although the filmmakers fail to capitalize off of a captivating premise, the investigation plot and bond between Ed and Lorraine Warren do more than enough to compensate for the film’s shortcomings.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros and HBO Max

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Horror Necronomicon

REVIEW: A Quiet Place Part II

by @holocronJosh for @horrornecronom

John Krasinski’s feature directorial debut took audiences by storm, so much so it made many hesitant regarding whether a follow-up could ever live up to the first. Thankfully, A Quiet Place Part II does not disappoint whatsoever and is among the best horror sequels of all time.

A Quiet Place Part II picks up immediately after the events of the first film, following the Abbott family as they navigate the aftermath of the destruction of their home and the death of their father/husband. At a brisk 97 minutes, the film replicates the nail-biting tension and pace of its predecessor in superb fashion. Every scene is masterfully crafted by director Krasinski – rarely does a moment last too long or end too abruptly. This is partly a testament to the brilliant simplicity of the plot in A Quiet Place Part II. Like the best horror films, the characters don’t get bogged down in a convoluted plot. Rather, A Quiet Place Part II excels in its execution of a classic horror film premise.

One of the most unique elements of A Quiet Place Part II was Krasinski’s decision to set the film immediately after the events of its predecessor. Immediately, horror fans are sure to draw comparisons with Halloween II that continued right where John Carpenter’s original film left off. And, like Halloween II, A Quiet Place Part II feels like it naturally flows from the first film, never once feeling disjointed or too separate.

Part II continues the tradition of the series now in being anchored by an incredible cast. The film, as one would expect, is largely absent of dialogue, leaving the actors to rely on nonverbal cues and gestures to convey complex emotions throughout the film. The entire cast take this acting challenge in their stride scene after scene. Millicent Simmonds once again is a scene stealer as Regan. And the always brilliant Cillian Murphy plays an unexpectedly significant role in the film.

A Quiet Place Part II, however, inevitably suffers simply from it being a simple. The sheer novelty that accompanied the first film is largely absent here and, while the scenes are tense and the characters interestingly developed, Part II plays out much as how one would expect. There aren’t many game-changing risks, which isn’t necessarily a criticism given the brilliance of the first film’s formula and the concerns associated with straying too far away from this formula.

Verdict: 8.5/10

A Quiet Place Part II is easily among the best horror sequels of all time. While the novelty of the premise and world have certainly worn off, Krasinski’s minimalist script and tight directing culminate, yet again, in a suspenseful, emotional thrill ride that will undoubtedly please fans of the first film.

Images courtesy of Paramount

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Horror Necronomicon

REVIEW: Army of the Dead

by @holocronGeorge for @horrornecronom

Zack Snyder and Netflix team up for one of 2021’s most anticipated films in a zombie action thrill ride perfect for the summer movie season. Marking Snyder’s first non-DC film in a decade, Army of the Dead sees a group of mercenaries venture into the middle of a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas to pull off a daring heist with deadly consequences.

Army of the Dead excels from the get-go in that its premise is brilliant. Since George A. Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead released over 50 years ago, the zombie genre of horror films has seen a number of unique variations from 28 Days Later to The Walking Dead to Shaun of the Dead and more. It’s a testament to Snyder’s story, therefore, that Army of the Dead still feels like an original and fresh take on this long-standing genre.

And the credit for this achievement ultimately goes to Snyder himself. This is his project top to bottom. Not only does he direct the film, but he came up with the story, co-wrote the screenplay, produced, and even served as his own cinematographer. In a year that’s also featured the long awaited Snyder Cut of Justice League, it’s great to see a director of Snyder’s caliber enjoying total freedom to craft whatever film he likes. In this sense, Army of the Dead will do little to convert viewers who haven’t resonated with Snyder’s previous films. Nonetheless, Snyder’s fingerprints all over this film are really what makes it worth seeing. The film is gorgeously shot – the usage of slow motion and out-of-focus frames add a cinematic quality that demands viewing on the biggest screen possible. The action sequences, as is true of all of Snyder’s films, are thrilling from start to finish. The editing is crisp and there’s plenty of blood and gore to satisfy fans of the zombie genre.

On the down side, however, the film runs far too long. At 148 minutes, Army of the Dead suffers from a bloated runtime that probably could’ve done with at least 20 minutes of edits. The excessive runtime is particularly felt in the latter third of the film, something that may simply be attributable to the fact that this is a zombie film and it’s unusual to see such films last so long. It’s not that Army of the Dead will bore viewers. It just would’ve benefited from a little tightening up and removal of some of the more unnecessary scenes. Without delving into spoiler territory, Army of the Dead’s ending fell somewhat flat for me. This is in part due to character decisions throughout the film and the lengthy runtime.

Army of the Dead is driven by a diverse, ensemble cast that all add an interesting layer to the film. Dave Bautista assumes the leading role as the founder of a mercenary group called Las Vengeance. Bautista’s character’s relationship with his daughter (played by Ella Purnell) is the emotional anchor of the film, an arc that, for the most part, pays off well. The remaining characters vary from witty and investing to annoying and humorless. Of particular note is Tig Notaro, who replaced Chris D’Elia following accusations of sexual misconduct. Snyder seamlessly weaves Notaro into the film, so much so that an unassuming viewer would have no idea the behind-the-scenes trickery required to insert the actor in this role.

Verdict: 7.5/10

Zack Snyder triumphs with his return to the zombie genre. Despite its bloated runtime and somewhat flat ending, Army of the Dead is a worthy and unique installment in the zombie genre of horror films. Brilliantly crafted action sequences, gorgeous cinematography, and interesting character dynamics are abound in a film that perfectly kicks off the summer movie season.

Images courtesy of Netflix

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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

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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