Movie Review: It (2017)

Stats it_85b0f17c__36677-1496221062-450-659

Release Date: 8 September 2017 (USA)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenplay: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga Gary Dauberman
Actors: Bill Skarsgård, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff
Rating: skull emojiskull emojiskull emojiskull emojiskull emojiskull emojiskull emojiskull emojiskull emoji

Summary 

A group of bullied kids band together when a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of clown, begins hunting children.

(via IMDB)

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After months of teasers and trailers, It finally dropped in theatres last week to major box office success.  I’m assuming everyone reading this knows what It is about, but in case you don’t, the plot revolves around a group of kids who have to battle an evil presence that preys on the children in a small town in Maine. Compared to the novel and the 90s miniseries, the main story of It remains the same in this adaptation, though the director and writers did change the story from the 1950s to the 1980s. This means that a) we get some amazing 80s references, and b) the second part will take place in 2016 or 2017––which is interesting, because we’ll get to see the characters transported into our modern day. What will It look like with cell phones? Facetime? Internet that isn’t dial up?

I have a long relationship with It. I first watched the 90s miniseries when I was probably four or five, and my babysitter at the time gave me the choice of either going to bed or watching with her. I chose to watch the miniseries, and it straight up terrified me. For months I was terrified of sewer drains and clowns. I’m still not a huge fan of clowns, but they no longer terrify me to the extent they did when I was younger.

I’ve wondered, for a while, if It is the reason I’m such a horror fiend. I’ve wondered if there’s some small, unconscious part of me that’s waiting for another movie to scare me as much as It did when I was a child. The only movie that’s come close is The Ring from 2001, but even that didn’t quite match up to It. There’s something about the story and Pennywise that has been at the back of my mind for around twenty-three years. It is a huge part of my horror identity, which means there was a lot riding on this adaptation for me. I went into this movie with extremely high hopes. What I wanted the most was a closer adaptation to the novel than the miniseries––which wasn’t allowed to be as dark as the novel because it was on TV.

I wasn’t disappointed. This film is dark in moments. Georgie’s death is shown in quite a lot of detail––there’s nothing more horrifying than watching a six-year-old bleeding to death in the middle of the street before being dragged into the sewers. And, the film doesn’t shy away from Beverly’s abuse at the hands of her father, which is a huge part of her character. Apparently, there was a more violent assault scene cut on the editing room floor, which would have obviously added more complexity to this issue, but I don’t think the severity of the situation is lost to audiences without its inclusion.

The reason It is such a successful film (and novel) is because of the characters. The film does a fantastic job of getting you to care about each member of the Losers Club. You get the right amount of backstory for each child, and as you watch the relationship form between all of them, your relationship to the characters strengthens. If you don’t care about the kids, you’re not going to care about what they’re going through. The film (and novel) asks you to empathize and root for these poor kids who don’t quite know what’s happening in their hometown, especially when it comes to Bill’s sorrow over the loss of his brother.

Obviously, because this is only the first part of It, we don’t get much of a backstory of Pennywise. I like the fact that he’s just this evil, embodiment of fear that preys on Derry. The scariest thing about monsters with no backstory is that there’s no reason they’re present. You can’t reason away their presence. They’re just killing (and, in Pennywise’s case, eating) for no purpose. That’s terrifying, especially when you’re a kid. And, specifically, Pennywise preys on individual fear. Throughout the movie, he appears differently to some of the children, which makes him all the more frightening, because you really never know what he’s going to look like. You can’t plan for him. He just appears and fucks shit up. I found his depiction of Georgie whenever he went after Bill to be the most effective, and the most tragic, of all his “characters.”

Briefly, I’m going to touch on the acting. I just have to say, Bill Skarsgård does a fantastic job as Pennywise. He’s brutal, he’s creepy, and he apparently can actually make his eyes move independently, so it’s like he was born to play this role. He got the voice right, the laugh right, and the movement right. I know a lot of folks were skeptical, because Bill hasn’t done a whole lot prior to this film, but he nailed it. He made Pennywise his own character, which is awfully hard to do when you’re following an acting giant like Tim Curry.

The kids of the Losers Club were also fantastic. Each one played their character perfectly, and they worked well as a collective whole. There was never a moment when one of them felt out of place, or like they didn’t mesh with the rest of the group. Their energy with each other was organic. I particularly enjoyed Finn Wolfhard’s performance as Ritchie and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie. Their performances slayed; they made me laugh so goddamn hard throughout the entire film.

Let’s move on to aesthetics, because this is an important category for me when it comes to films. It is a pretty, pretty film. It’s filmed so beautifully, which makes sense, because Chung-hoon Chung was the director of photography. If you’ve seen Oldboy, The Handmaiden, Stoker, or Thirst, you know that Chung is a fantastic cinematographer. His movies are beautiful––the color, the way shots are aligned, it’s all utterly extraordinary. If you’re a fan of well shot movies, especially well shot horror movies, you’ll appreciate the time and consideration taken to achieve the visual components of this film. The 80s elements of It are great, as well. This movie utilizes nostalgia well, and captures the look and feel of the 80s well without seeming over the top or corny.

One issue I had with the film was the CGI, at times. It bordered the line between well done and over stylized a bit too much at times. I do think that the CGI reflects children’s terror (by which I mean––experiencing horror as a child is to experience horror in all of its extremes; the horror is larger, louder, etc), but as an adult, it seemed a bit clunky at times. I also wish that Pennywise moved a bit differently each time he rushed towards a child. When you see Pennywise running towards Bill in the trailer, you’ve seen Pennywise running towards each member of the Losers Club throughout the duration of the two-hour movie. The shots are chaotic, rapidly moving, and all kind of look the same. I wish there had been a bit more variety there, especially because we know that Bill we Skarsgård worked pretty hard with body contortionists while making the film. I wish more of that movement was brought into his character.

That said, I would highly recommend seeing this movie in theatres, because the (polished) CGI and Pennywise look awesome on the big screen. I went to a local Alamo, which is always a fun time. Some of the ushers were dressed as clowns––a both creepy and amazing detail, and they even had a later showing that was “clowns only,” which I found hilarious. I didn’t go, because no thank you, but I appreciate the sentiment from afar. My fellow audience members were great, as well. I was next to a young woman who would mutter “oh god, don’t do that. No. No, don’t do that. Don’t go in the room” whenever tension rose, and I found it hilarious. It didn’t bother me at all, and it was nice to hear someone be so terrified while watching, because I, personally, didn’t find it very scary. (This is not a point against the film––finding shit scary is so subjective, and I enjoyed everything else about this movie, and could still appreciate the creepy, disturbing imagery that was in the film without being scared).

To conclude, I would (obviously) highly recommend this movie. It has a lot of heart, it’s hilarious, the acting is fantastic, and it captures childhood horror well. You may not find it visually terrifying if you’ve seen a lot of horror movies, but I don’t think that takes away from enjoying the movie. It’s so nostalgic, and makes you think about your own childhood terrors, especially if you have a long history with the story. If you’re interested in the movie at all, please go see it in theatres. It’s such a great experience.

I’m excited (though nervous, I’m not going to lie) to see the casting for Pt. 2. Apparently, it’s going to be pretty dark. Perhaps, then, it will be more visually terrifying? We shall see. It’ll be a challenge to find a set of actors to represent the Losers Club after the amazing group of kids in Pt. 1,

I did just write a piece responding to those saying It isn’t a horror movie. If you’re interested, see “Defending Horror.”

I know this was a long post, but I had a lot of feelings about the movie. Clearly. It’s times like these I wish I had a podcast.

Have you seen It? What did you think? Let me know!

Until next time, stay scary.

––E.

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Review: The Visit

Stats 

Released: 11 September 2015 (USA)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Actors: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan

Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her thirteen-year-old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) visit their estranged grandparents for a week in order to get to know them. While they’re visiting, their mother goes on a cruise with her new boyfriend. assuming the kids will be fine. What they find, however, is that their grandparents are a little less Mary Poppins, and a little more Hansel and Gretel.

Atmosphere/Setting

The Visit takes place during the winter time in Pennsylvania, so there are some great snow shots–which really add to the isolated feeling the siblings start to feel once things begin to seem a bit odd. There are some great shots in this movie; it’s cinematically quite gorgeous at times. The small town setting drives home the more ‘fairy-tale’ esque moments in the movie. And I normally don’t agree with the decision to make horror movies found footage, but I thought it worked well for this movie, as DeJonge’s character wants to be a filmmaker, so her documenting their trip worked well.

Acting/Characters

The acting in this movie is great. I’m always skeptical of child actors, but DeJonge and Oxenbould were amazing in this movie. Oxenbould was hilarious (particularly while rapping), and they both handled more heavier, emotional moments with mature complexity.  I thought it was great that they included a lot of filmmaking terminology, and almost poked a bit of fun at the process. I thought they carried the movie well. I also thought that Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie were fantastic as Nana and Pop Pop. Dunagan, in particular, played creepy awfully well. All in all, the movie was cast well, and made the movie.

Disturbing Moments/Scare Factor 

I wouldn’t say this movie is scary, but it definitely has its creepier moments. Especially once 9:30PM hits. The movie does have some jump scare moments, which we all know I hate, but this movie at least follows through with something actually creepy after said jump scares. If you’re someone who doesn’t like bloody/gory horror movies, I would recommend this as an alternative. The horrifying moments come from the tension and creepy movements, but never relies heavily on gore. I’d also say this might be a good movie for those who just don’t watch horror movies often, because it does have some great dark ‘fairy-tale’ moments, and has a good overall moral to it (which, of course, fits with that fairy-tale trope). There are some moments that might disturb folk who don’t like seeing people crawl at fast speeds across the floor. So, be prepared for that. Other than that, it’s a pretty ‘tame’ horror movie.

Overall Rating 

I’m so glad to say that I enjoyed The Visit. As we all know, Shyamalan has been pretty miss these past few years, but I think The Visit is a turn for the better. It has a great setting, amazing acting, and a lot of complexity. It has its creepy moments, but it also has moments that are emotional and full of a lot of heart. It’s a well done found footage movie, and it has some great commentary about filmmaking and its process, too. And it’s really well paced; I never felt like moments were dragging or taking too long in between scenes. I recommend it! I give The Visit seven out of ten skulls. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

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Until next time, stay scary.

–E.

Review: Jennifer’s Body

Stats

Released 18 September 2009 (USA)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Actors: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody

Synopsis

Popular cheerleader, Jennifer, convinces her best friend Anita (or Needy) to attend a concert at their town’s local tavern. Once there, Jennifer catches the eye of the lead singer (Adam Brody) who, convinced that she’s a virgin, steals her away and uses her as a sacrifice to Satan in order to gain popularity for the band. As she is not a virgin, though, Jennifer comes back as a succubus and feeds on teenage boys at her school. Once Needy figures out what’s going on, she has to figure out how to stop her best friend.

Setting

The setting of the movie is pretty perfect. It takes place in a small town called Devil’s Kettle, where everyone knows everyone else. It’s always great to see things go awry in small towns. They also used the environment well. The forest where Jennifer is sacrificed looks like something out of a creepy fairy tale; the mist and the darkness that creeps into the movie once she’s a succubus fit with the genre; and setting the movie in the high school space created some great commentary on both the horror genre and our contemporary culture.

Acting/Characters

Megan Fox is brilliant in this role. As someone who was (still is?) criticized in the media for her appearance and (assumed) intellect, she plays the role of Jennifer in a way that’s kind of a middle finger to those criticizers. Jennifer manipulates the men that she devours based on the way that they see her. She uses her body, the situation, and a specific set of words, etc. It’s great the way that she uses the perception of her in order to get what she wants–even before she’s a succubus. Megan Fox plays the role of Jennifer, who’s playing the role of the perfect high school cheerleader, and she really shines. Amanda Seyfried was great as Needy, too. She fit the best friend role well, and it was fun to see her try to piece together what was happening. The secondary characters were good; I really enjoyed Adam Brody’s role. He was ridiculous and hilarious.

Scare Factor

As this movie is set up to be a black comedy, it isn’t scary. It uses some horror tropes within the movie to spoof on the genre, but it ultimately isn’t a creepy or scary movie. There is quite a bit of blood and gore, though, so if you don’t like that, I’m not sure you’ll enjoy it. I, however, love blood and gore, so it was perfect.

Overall Rating

I think this movie is just flawless. It’s a black comedy that takes a satirical look at horror movies and has some fantastic one-liners and dialogue. It’s not for everyone, so many might contest this, but I give it ten skulls. Perfect. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys black comedies, and who will also enjoy the feminist undertones it has within it. Be aware, there are moments that are amazingly outrageous in this film, but it adds to its charm and satirical mindset. And I can’t stress enough how perfect the dialogue is.

Until next time, stay scary.

–E.

Review: Chernobyl Diaries

Stats

Released 25 May 2012 (USA)
Director: Brad Parker
Screenwriters: Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke, Shan Van Dkye
Main Actors: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Nathan Phillips, Devin Kelley, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Ingrid, Bolso Berdel

Synopsis 

Three friends–Chris, Natalie, and Amanda–are traveling across Europe when they meet up with Chris’ brother Paul in Kiev. Once there, Paul convinces the group to deter from their plans to visit Moscow in order to take an ‘extreme tour guide’ of Chernobyl. Naturally, the three agree, taking off with their tour guide, Uri, and another couple that joined in the ride to the destroyed city. Once there, terror ensues.

Setting

I’ll admit, I was hesitant to watch this movie. I feel it’s, in a way, tasteless and glib to set a horror movie in Chernobyl. What happened there was terrible and unimaginable. However, it’s hard to say that the area doesn’t lend itself to the genre. Look at any photo of the deserted town online, and it looks like a horror movie setting, complete with a derelict ferris wheel that never got the chance to run (which does make an appearance in the movie). It’s creepy, it’s unsettling, and (fortunately or not) it feels horrific. The movie captured the unsettling nature of the town well, and I liked the way the environment was subdued and cold. It was the strongest aspect of the film. The atmosphere definitely carried the movie. From the creepiness of Chernobyl as a town, to the way that the crew worked with shadow and darkness.

Acting/Characters

The acting wasn’t horrendous; I’ve seen far worse. But, it also wasn’t the best. It just was. No one stood out above the others. The characters seemed pretty stereotypical of this type of movie; they were one-dimensional, which made it hard to connect to their plight.  There was nothing out of the ordinary in this category.

Scare Factor

As with the characters, the scare factor of Chernobyl Diaries was nothing new. There were a couple moments where figures stood shrouded in darkness either behind or in front of the characters, which lends itself to some creep factor. As I mentioned previously, the use of shadow and darkness was used well, but sometimes it meant I couldn’t actually see what was happening on the screen. Once (as with many horror movies that depends on the figures to be unseen save for their shadow for the first half) I saw the figures, I grew less interested. The movie relied on many jump scares, which I don’t care for.

(Spoiler)

I liked that we didn’t have any explanation about how these radiated people came about: were they real? Were they ghosts? Not knowing made them more enjoyable. I thought it was a pretty cheap ending to have them be people that the scientists or governments just let loose in Chernobyl. Were they radiated patients from the blast? Had they always been there? I assume so, but it just ended with this ‘huge twist’ that the government knew they were there without going into more detail. It seemed like a quick way to wrap up the movie that just let me like ‘meh.’

Overall Rating

Not a horrible movie, but nothing completely special. If you don’t watch it, you’re not really missing anything. If you do watch it, you’ll be fairly entertained for the ninety or so minutes. If anything, it’s a movie to have on while you’re working on something else.

Chernobyl Diaries gets 4/10 skulls from me.

Until next time, stay scary.

–E.

Review: Silent House

Stats 

Released on 9 March 2012 (USA)
Director: Chris Lentis, Laura Lau
Screenplay: Laura Lau
Adapted from screenplay by Gustavo Hernandez
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens

Synopsis

A young girl goes with her father and uncle to the family’s lakeside home in order to renovate and clean it. The situation goes horribly awry when the girl finds herself trapped in the home through supernatural means, trying everything she can to get away from the inhabitants haunting every corner. The movie, a remake of La Casa Muda (The Silent House), is apparently based off of real events that happened in Uruguay in the 1940s.

Setting

This movie was a slow burn, which I enjoyed. A majority of the film takes place inside the house. While it first appeared pretty spacious, it felt more and more claustrophobic as the movie progressed, which went well with the overall ‘feel’ of the movie. Because they did everything in one take, technical difficulties and all, there were moments when the lighting was off, but that added to the atmosphere of the piece. I thought the use of lanterns in the darkness was used well, and added to both the ambience and the claustrophobia. I enjoy works of horror that take place in one small area, because they force the audience to feel how the characters feel, and contain elements of tension that are hard to replicate in works that span a larger space. The movie also uses the theory of the uncanny well, switching from the normal, pleasant house in the beginning, to a more sinister place as the movie progresses.  

Acting/Characters

I was surprised by Elizabeth Olsen’s performance. She did well considering she had to act in one take per the allotted 12-15 minute segments. She’s not the best of actors, but I felt for her character. Her acting didn’t feel forced or fake; she seemed to really step into the character and situation. There were moments that seemed to drag too long, because of the continuous take, but that didn’t really deter from my overall watching experience. Though I didn’t quite need to see her run for so long about halfway through the film. And the acting from the two males was fine. It wasn’t terrible, and it wasn’t outstanding. Other actors could have stepped into the role, and the movie would have felt the same.

Scare Factor

I wouldn’t say this movie is scary. I would say that there are certainly creepy moments–the typical creepy moments that come in any sort of intruder movie. The movie did a great job of subtly showing the forces within the house. I liked the fact that I didn’t get to see what was happening. I was stuck in Olsen’s POV, so I saw what she saw: shoes, a shoulder, etc. It added to that feeling of unknowability, which I think made the movie more successful. The tension created through these subtle moments is what made the movie unsettling.

(Spoilers)

I went into this movie blind. I didn’t look up the event in Uruguay, and I didn’t really look the movie up before I watched it. Knowing the type of movie it was, and based off of the synopsis, I figured that it would go one of two routes: either the house would just be overrun by an intruder that slowly picked off the family members, or this would be a psychological horror/thriller where the main character learned something about herself and her past while cleaning. I wasn’t all that surprised, then, when it turned out that Olsen’s character had created another persona and was the one who had tied up/beaten both her uncle and father, because he had sexual molested Olsen’s character in the past. The ending was okay. I didn’t particularly love or hate it.
Overall Rating

I enjoyed the film. It achieved what I think it set out to do well, and I liked watching it. It gets six out of ten skulls.

Until next time, stay scary.

–E.

Review: Woman in Black 2–Angel of Death

Stats

Released 2 January 2015 (USA)
Director: Tom Harper
Screenplay: Jon Croker
Actors: Helan McCoy, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox

Synopsis

Forty years after the first haunting at Eel Marsh, a group of children and two teachers evacuate London during the Blitz in World War II. Once there, the house’s dark inhabitant awakens and latches onto a particular boy, Edward. Eve (Phoebe Fox) realizes that something sinister lives in the house, and that it’s taken a liking to Edward. Once she’s come to this realization, she tries to solve the mystery of Eel Marsh and save the children.

Setting

Hammer productions nailed the environment and atmosphere in the first Woman in Black, and they’ve done it again with this film. This movie is beautifully done. The costumes were great, as well as the town and London scenes. What really elevates the film is the house itself and its surrounding marsh. The house stands in a state of decay, abandoned for years, yet retains its strange beauty. The mists curve around both the structure and the marsh in a way that both evokes an unsettling horror and a sense of serenity. The filters give off a cool blue or grey tone throughout most of the film, which adds to the house’s fantastical allure. Eel Marsh remains one of the best horror environments I’ve seen.

Acting/Characters

The acting was pretty good in this film. I enjoyed Phoebe Fox as Eve. She had a quiet beauty and strength throughout the movie. We didn’t get to know too much about her character, but what we did learn I liked. She was a good protagonist. I especially liked her relationship with Edward and how she acted with the children. Jeremy Irvine was also good; his role never felt forced. I liked his character. The children were your basic run-of-the-mill school children group, and Helen McCoy played the traditional stern headmistress figure well. All in all, a solid cast.

Scare Factor

Unfortunately, this movie relied a bit heavily on jump scares. I liked the first one, because the horror was subtle. It was a slow burn with some creepy elements smattered throughout the film. This one had its subtle moments (and were the moments I enjoyed the most), but a majority of it relied on those jumpy moments, which always feels cheap. So, I was slightly disappointed with that. The subtle moments that it did have kept the movie interesting, and I thought that the creepiness of the house and atmosphere also helped save the movie. The movie definitely plays with the uncanny, using common childhood objects to create tension and disturbance, which is always fun.

Overall Rating

The atmosphere of the Woman in Black movies bumps them up a bit higher than they would probably be if I judged strictly by plot. They’re beautifully done. This one was well acted, though the plot was kind of…meh. We didn’t really learn any new information with this addition. With everything in consideration, I give Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death seven skulls. I liked it, but it wasn’t fabulous. I recommend it for those that like slower burning horror movies that have a strong, beautifully sinister environment.

Until next time, stay scary.

–E.