Hansel and Gretel (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
Eun-Soo (Jeong-myeong Cheon) was on his way to visit his mother in critical condition when he receives a phone call from his pregnant girlfriend. The conversation does not go so well and just when he hangs up, he sees something in the middle of the road and swerves to avoid it. The highway is quite windy so the car ends up across the rail and onto a forested area.
Unconscious for what it seems like a couple of hours, he is found by a girl named Jung-soon (Ji-hee Jin) who takes him to her home and introduces him to the rest of her family. They are nice enough to let Eun-Soo stay overnight, but when he tries to find the highway the next day, he ends up back at the house. The looks on their faces suggest that they expected this would happen. Eun-Soo looks for another way out to no avail.
Based on the screenplay by Pil-Sung Yim and Min-sook Kim, “Henjel gwa Geuretel” is composed of many creepy elements from the dark fairly tale and is able to deliver the necessarily visuals designed to establish an off-kilter, isolated world located in the heart of from what it seems to be a magical forest. However, its interesting story is so often dampened by over-the-top sentimentality that it comes off manipulative.
The scenes shot indoors are so catching, I felt like I was right there with the characters as they sport fake smiles in order to hide the fact that something sinister is hiding behind the sugary confections and cute portraits of rabbits on walls. It is typical that each room is well-lit so we can appreciate the flood of colors that manage to complement one another. The camera is quick to focus on specific decorations that appear cute or harmless the moment we glance upon them. But the longer we look, there is a darkness and uneasiness emitted from the objects which reflect how we end up feeling toward the three children (the other siblings played by Eun Won-jae and Ji-hee Hin, both wonderful in providing piercing glares).
Eun-Soo’s early attempts to find a way out are interesting. By about the fourth time, however, it begins to feel repetitive. The problem is that we have been convinced that he is not going to find a way out until he decides to ask the necessary questions. It is most frustrating when the character is much slower than us to pick up on rather prominent clues. Worse, he does not seem to have a plan on how to outsmart the children in question. Halfway through, I began to lose interest because the level of menace has waned somewhat and the pacing has slowed down considerably. While Eun-Soo remains to encounter strange happenings, there is a lack of urgency to them.
The picture’s daze is broken when a flashback involving the children takes center stage. Finally we get to understand how they end up being so clingy to their guests. The explanation is superficial but at least one is offered. However, it does not save the material from the eventual waterworks toward the end. Instead of being in the moment, I started to wonder whether the tears flowing down the performers’ faces were real. The crying feels like a desperate tactic to create a semblance of sadness when it should have trusted us to interpret our own feelings.
“Hansel & Gretel,” directed by Pil-Sung Yim, is successful is setting up a portentous mood but there is not much else to it. Without its wonderful art direction and set design, it emits little magic because the screenplay does not offer enough excitement outside the usual horror pitfalls. Of course Eun-Soo will go up to the attic after hearing thudding noises from above. Naturally, we brace ourselves for the eventual sudden appearance of something hiding in the dark.
★ / ★★★★
Although “Malevolent” is based on the novel “Hush” by Eva Konstantopoulos, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ben Ketai, it does not feel like one because there is a lack of mythos behind the story being told. Instead, it is more in line with badly conceived and even more poorly executed horror films in which paranormal investigators are paid to investigate dark basements, bedrooms, and other creepy areas with a certain horrific past. Naturally, from time to time we observe the action through a grainy or shaky camera. Its tricks become old quite quickly and it tests the patience.
Its premise is promising because the so-called ghostbusters are simply university students who swindle desperate people, often bereaved, for extra cash. The team (Scott Chambers, Georgina Bevan) is led by Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) who is hinted to have drug problems and owing thugs some cash and so he seizes every potential job despite the fact that his sister, Angela (Florence Pugh), simply wishes for them to have a fresh start in Scotland. (The siblings are Americans.) Unbeknownst to Jackson, Angela has recently developed powers that enable her to see the dead. This is a great runway to lift off from—but the screenplay fails to do anything interesting with the usual machinations of horror films.
From 2000 to 2006, there was a television show called “Scariest Places on Earth” in which a documentary crew visited locations across North America and Europe where paranormal phenomena had been reported. Clearly fake in retrospect, it captured my imagination at the time because it bothered to detail the history of each place. Each episode worked to establish a thick atmosphere of mystery and, eventually, terror. We even learn about some of the equipments employed that allowed us to hear ghostly voices or see shadows that human eyes are unable to see. Take any episode from this show and it would be better than this film. At least each one was only about forty-five minutes. On the other hand, this picture is twice the length and significantly less entertaining.
Spanish and Mexican filmmakers have such talent in changing the gears halfway through—or two-thirds of the way through—by introducing convincing twists and turns. While this film attempts to surprise the audience by moving toward slasher territory during the final thirty minutes, it does not work at all. The reason is because the majority of the work is dedicated to silly jump scares as we follow Angela down dark hallways. There is no story—no meat—to bite into that could then lead to a believable pivot that makes sense to the plot. In other words, the change in tone is superficial and unbelievable. It comes across as a gimmick.
“Malevolent” is low on scares and even lower on imagination. The latter, I think, is the key to telling effective ghost stories. The funny thing about horror films is that they don’t need to be scary as long as they are well-told. It must engage us intellectually and emotionally. Doing so allows us to forget how stupid it is to go down a dark basement after hearing raspy whispers. The best of the genre makes us to want to explore that basement in morbid anticipation.
Devil’s Doorway, The (2018)
★ / ★★★★
Here is yet another found footage picture in which the filmmakers feel the need to shake the camera so relentlessly during the climax, it is near impossible to tell what’s going on. Couple this with a resolution that makes no sense whatsoever, the viewer is certain to enter a world of great frustration. Had the screenwriters—Martin Brennan, Aislinn Clarke, and Michael B. Jackson—been more astute, or have the slightest awareness, that their material actually has the potential to unspool at least a mildly intriguing story, despite the numerous clichés, they would have made the choice to do away with the found footage gimmick and tell the tale in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner.
Instead, what results is a forgettable horror film that lacks human drama, especially when it is set in a time and place (1960 Ireland) in which there was a lot of conflict and anger. Father Thomas (Lalor Roddy) and Father John (Ciaran Flynn) are sent to investigate a claim in a Magdalene asylum—to determine whether a statue of the Virgin Mary that weeps blood is in fact a miracle.
The former is convinced it is but convincing trickery, but the latter is willing—too willing—to embrace the phenomenon as supernatural. The clash between the two ideals is ripe for the picking, but the material appears to be more interested in providing cheap jolts rather than exploring the difference between the veteran and the tyro soldier of the Lord. It is likely that under a more standard narrative, the differences between the two men may have had a chance to be put under a more dramatic magnifying glass.
As for the scares it attempts to deliver, only one or two are inspired. Less intriguing are the ostentatious displays of the supernatural—body parts suddenly aflame, a pregnant woman (Lauren Coe)—suspected of being possessed by a demon or Satan himself—suddenly levitating from the bed, and eyeballs rolling in the back of one’s head. The special and visual effects look and feel cheap. They probably are. It is an excellent example of wanting to appease the modern viewer even though these flashy displays do nothing but hinder the film.
Its strength lies in the more subtle but exponentially horrifying moments. For instance, observe the scene in which the camera is simply placed right next to the pregnant woman’s face as a nun digs into her to acquire the infant. Because the camera is fixated on the subject’s face, the tearing of the flesh, the scraping of metallic utensils, and seeing the blood-soaked sheets in the background leave plenty to the imagination. Even though this woman is seemingly possessed by evil, in this scene, we relate to her anyway. Because during this moment, she is a woman first and a victim of demonic possession second. This is the level in which the movie should be functioning at all times.
One of its theses is good or evil coming from places or people one may not suspect. (Another is the Catholic Church’s hypocrisy.) Had the writers been more focused on what type of story they wish to tell—and how—they would have strived to make every moment count. Instead, for a movie with a running time of about seventy-five minutes, nearly half of it is senseless filler. One could go to the restroom for ten minutes and not miss a critical plot development. In place of realism, “The Devil’s Doorway,” directed by Aislinn Clarke, offers a lot of noisy decoration.
Curse of La Llorona, The (2019)
★ / ★★★★
For a supernatural entity specific to Mexican folklore, it is astounding that “The Curse of La Llorona,” written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, is decidedly content in delivering vanilla jump scares that can be found in other equally generic and exhausting modern horror pictures. It is an excellent example of how difficult it is to pen a genuinely scary or creepy story; take away the sudden deafening noises, shrill screaming, and over utilized CGI, all there is left is desert-dry boredom in which characters run around without much purpose. It is insulting and a waste of time.
We are asked to relate with a family whose patriarch, a cop, had recently died in the line of duty. Clearly still mourning the loss of her partner, Anna (Linda Cardellini) holds the fort by ensuring that her children, Chris (Roman Christou) and Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), continue a life normalcy. This deep sadness in the family ought to have been the very element that connects us to the material emotionally, but it proves uninterested in establishing a convincing human drama first. It is interested only in providing jump scares—which would not have been a problem had there been a higher level of craft or effort put behind each one. Instead, it is formulaic. Each beat offers no surprise. When the camera pans around the corner, it is easy to guess whether the scene is setting up a false alarm or yet another assault to the eardrums.
The appearance of The Weeping Woman is neither memorable nor scary. She has black hair, dressed in a white gown, and is well-known for drowning her two children after she learns that her husband left her for a younger woman. Her face, so computerized that it is laughable more than menacing, is shown on glass and mirrors, at times drenched in shadows. Nearly each time she is shown, I caught myself flinching at how awful her face looks, quality-wise. Would it have been too much of a bother to create a scary appearance using only cosmetics? The irony is that although the ghost is supposed to be dead, putting some life or tactile quality about the face would have made this figure more terrifying. I found her look to be as lazy and uninspired as the screenplay.
Its numerous attempts at injecting humor most often lead to a deafening thud. There is a character introduced more than halfway through the film, a former priest (Raymond Cruz), who agrees to help free Anna and her children from La Llorona’s terror. The would-be jokes are so out of left field that they take away tension rather than amplifying them. Laughter should turn into gasps of horror, or vice-versa, but in this case, it is simply cringe-inducing. Once again, the writing is at fault. It does not bother to establish that Rafael has a playful personality. So when he cracks jokes involving eggs, for instance, it is simply awkward. At times we feel as though such scenarios do not belong in the film.
“The Curse of La Llorona” is directed by Michael Chaves, but I wondered if he did so while half-asleep. Filmmakers in control of their first feature usually exude a level of enthusiasm so effervescent, so over-the-top, their fervor floods the picture, for better or worse. Here, I felt as though he was not passionate or did not care at all about the project. There is not one unique shot, not even one genuinely terrifying scene that is worthy of being labeled horror.
Little Stranger, The (2018)
★ / ★★★★
This is not a movie but a dirge. Based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Walters, “The Little Stranger” relies on mood and atmosphere to create a dramatic horror film, but substance is nowhere to be found. It is proof that simply parading around sad-looking faces, increasingly dilapidated eighteenth century estate, curious accidents and deaths, along with a melancholy score does not magically conjure up interest. What results is a film that works as an effective sleeping pill even for the worst insomniacs.
I get what it is trying to do. The filmmakers wish to tell a story of a man so desperate to escape his class, one that he is deeply ashamed of, that his presence around the once marvelous and enviable Hundreds Estate triggers a possible supernatural phenomenon. Dr. Faraday’s deep yearning—ever since he was a boy—of wanting to belong in the estate, to own it, inspires the house itself to get rid of its current inhabitants (Charlotte Rampling, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter) by driving them to madness. The story is a metaphor for self-fulfilling prophecies, of childhood dreams and traumas, of insatiable desire for upward mobility. There should have been heft to the material.
It might have worked as a novel because written pages allow for internal monologues. However, translating the original material onto film is a monumental task for a tale like this. Because there is no narration designed to communicate a range of unexpressed thoughts and emotions, it must find or create a source of urgency in order to capture the attention and imagination of the viewer. Instead, we are given one soporific dialogue after another; notice that every other scene is meant to explain the overarching metaphor and so the material does not get a chance to truly take off. I got the impression that Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay does not fully trust the audience to understand the type of story being told and why. And so, due to its constant need to elucidate, boredom is created.
The commoner with a medical degree is played by Domhnall Gleeson. In the middle of it, I began to feel sorry for his efforts. Clearly most comfortable in dramatic roles, notice how he milks the seconds whenever the camera rests on his face. Dr. Faraday need not say a word because we feel him—by carefully observing his face and body language—wrestling with the potentiality that he may in fact be responsible with the recent misfortunes of the Ayres household. He is a man of science but science fails to explain the increasingly bizarre events. In other words, Gleeson’s performance attempts to elevate the material, but the work is so thin that lifting a dead horse proves futile.
Director Lenny Abrahamson is correct in not showing ghosts, poltergeists, or apparitions outright. Instead, he employs flashbacks and photographs to underline the fact that people have come and gone in the Hundreds estate. Their memories are the ghosts; maybe they can even see the living through their well-framed photographs. Despite its restraint from showing the literal, there is not enough urgency that propels the drama. For instance, the current residents lack the required character details so that when one of them gets taken out of the equation, we feel his or her absence. Ironically, this is comparable to extremely obvious slasher flicks in which we end up not caring about the characters dropping like flies.
Dark Song, A (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Compile the usual images of black magic rituals often encountered in horror movies and throw them out the window. “A Dark Song,” written and directed by Liam Gavin, provides an alternative: a ritual that takes place over days, possibly weeks, but one that leaves the possibility that, despite the ritual having been performed, nothing has come out of it. Viewers expecting tried-and-true scares are likely to be disappointed, but those looking for magical realism will certainly find at least one admirable quality about the project.
The plot is seemingly straightforward initially but quickly gathers intrigue. Sophia (Catherine Walking) is a grieving mother who rents a mansion in rural Wales so she and an occultist, Joseph (Steve Oram), can perform a ritual. It is believed that if they were successful, each person would be granted a favor—any favor. Sophia wishes revenge upon those who murdered her seven-year-old son in a cult ritual. Joseph doubts her resolve.
I enjoyed that the picture does not follow a typical dramatic parabola—especially at the cost of entertainment. There are sections that are downright soporific because it adopts a molasses-like pacing in order to establish a certain tone and mood. But because the expected rhythm and beat is absent, it makes for an interesting experience because one feels the possibility that anything can happen in a story where, at first glance, nothing much happens at all. Not many projects dare to wear its skin without compromise.
Perhaps it is the point but I wished Walking and Oram had more chemistry. Not in a romantic kind of way, since that is not what the screenplay is going for, but in an overall rapport, especially when the two characters must clash, sometimes violently, and then share personal details because they are trapped in a situation they have created for themselves. However, I thought it was a fresh choice to cast performers who do not look like typical movie stars. Because they look like anybody who can be seen in a public place, it contributes to the believability of the film.
There are instances of creepiness or uneasiness but never any jump scare or standard way to alarm the viewer. However, it proves plenty of opportunities to doubt. Given that Sophia is secretive with what she hopes to accomplish, is she a reliable protagonist? Is Joseph a fraud, truly only in it for the eighty thousand pounds? Is something really happening in that house or are the strange coincidences products of their imagination? After all, the ritual involves grueling trials like abstaining from food for days, not leaving a marked area for hours, and not having enough sleep.
“A Dark Song” is not the kind of picture where one walks away not thinking about anything. And for that, it might be worth seeing at least once even if at times it is an experience to be endured. So many mainstream horror flicks exist simply to waste time and money. At least with this film, one can tell it is made with love and effort. I recommend it most to adventurous audiences.
Patient Zero (2018)
★ / ★★★★
Horror films without a third act must offer something so special in order for the final product to be satisfying, or least to avoid coming across as lazy. With a running time of around eighty minutes, “Patient Zero,” written by Mike Le and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, still feels bloated, from its interminable exposition, dialogue designed to explain rather than to further the plot, to generic flashbacks involving key characters being attacked by the rabid Infected for the first time. Just when it is about to get interesting, it simply… ends. I cannot imagine anyone begging for a sequel.
If being stuck in an underground bunker with uninteresting survivors is your idea of entertainment, then this picture deserves a most enthusiastic recommendation. Still, it is not without curious ideas. For instance, we learn that Morgan (Matt Smith), our protagonist, has been exposed to the rabies-like virus. But instead of being turned, he remains very much human and he is granted the ability to communicate with the Infected (side effect: intense headaches).
As a result, he has become an indispensable member in the government-sponsored research led by Dr. Rose (Natalie Dormer) to reverse-engineer a vaccine that might cure billions. To do this, they must find Patient Zero, the first human infected by the virus, and extract his or her blood. Morgan can essentially interrogate the physically restrained Infected—a species that, in theory, is so driven by animalistic urges, they are incapable of telling lies or deception.
Despite this intriguing idea, the character is a bore because there is a nagging subplot involving love interests. Every time romance becomes the focal point, the material screeches to a halt. It is maddening that Le is so uninspired by his own story that he felt the need to touch upon—but not explore in meaningful or fruitful ways—generic romantic feelings. It might have been different had such relationships commanded strong urgency—at least as urgent as the calamity that had befallen the planet. In a way, the screenplay, too, must function as an effective drama for us to buy into the human relationships, particularly a romantic kind, but it is clear that the material is not that ambitious.
The zombie attacks are not at all memorable. The makeup coupled with special and visual effects are convincing enough, but there is not one ambush or chase scene that stands out from either the technical standpoint or from a visceral perspective. Not once was I scared or was I forced to jump out of my seat. Both suspense and terror are so lacking, I found myself slouching in my seat just waiting for something—anything—to happen. The cast is exciting, from Smith and Dormer to Stanley Tucci, Agyness Deyn, and John Bradley, but not one of them is a standout. (Never mind the inconsistent American accents.)
“Patient Zero” is pedestrian to the bone. Due to the screenplay’s lack of commitment, a willingness to engage the viewer by assuming we are smart or that we had seen countless of undead pictures, not a minute of the film is believable. Even the underground base looks like a set.
★★★ / ★★★★
Although the final reveal is likely to be apparent during the first act to the more seasoned fans of the horror genre, Jordan Peele’s “Us” remains to be an entertaining flick with curious ideas about doppelgängers and imagined goings-on right under our feet. It is well-paced, suspenseful and thrilling at times, and there is care put into its images, particularly during an early sequence in which we asked to follow a little girl making her way from the loud and busy attractions of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk toward a creepy, silent house of mirrors that directly faces the beach. This traumatic event propels the film’s plot.
Lupita Nyong’o plays Adelaide, a former dancer whose past trauma continues to impact her every day life. She is on summer vacation with her husband (Winston Duke) and two children (Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) at their family beach house which just so happens to be only minutes away from the boardwalk. A series of bizarre coincides compels Adelaide to believe eventually that something terrible, perhaps even her greatest fear, is about to occur. Build-up is one of the picture’s greatest strengths but not all elements introduced fit perfectly into the narrative.
I enjoyed Peele’s active use of the camera. Even when a scene is taking place at the beach in the middle of a crowd, it pushes the viewer to feel uneasy. Despite a beautiful scenery, notice its generous use of uncomfortable close-ups. During tracking shots, it gives the impression that we are seeing the images from the perspective of a creep or stalker. There is even detachment in the content of conversations between people who are supposed to be friends. Clearly, the sequence is designed to make the audience feel as though an external force is certain to disrupt a peaceful and happy occasion. And so we are on toes. We anticipate that something will happen. Peele dances gleefully with the tease. He knows the difference between suspense and thrill.
Particularly glaring to me is in the way the family members interact with one another. I never had a sense that the Wilsons are a real family. I considered the acting. I watched closely as Nyong’o and Duke navigate their way through their characters’ disagreements. I observed Joseph and Alex’ connection as siblings and the manner in which their characters relate to their parents. It does not feel like a convincing family. It comes across scripted, fake, forced at times. I wondered if a few more rounds of rehearsal might have helped to solidify a level of believability.
And then it occurred to me: Perhaps the disconnect is part of the point. What social commentary, if any, is being broached regarding a black family whose story is being told in a horror film of a sizable budget? What is it saying about our fear of The Other in the context of a mainstream and commercial project assuming that the viewer is not black nor an American? It’s curious to think about. Then another layer: The opening title card claims that there are numerous underground railroads and tunnels across the United States. Their function is mostly unknown.
While I appreciated its ideas, most of them do not get in the way of telling a horror-thriller. There are powerful images like close-ups of scissors being used as a threat… and yet there is not one close-up shot of the blades piercing the flesh. This is fresh because too many generic horror pictures appear to be interested only in showing off gore, practical effects, or (the very worst) CGI blood. As for its undercooked ideas, particularly the doppelgängers’ national plan, a few more passes of the script might have provided us stronger, better answers.
★★★ / ★★★★
Luca Guadagnino’s interpretation of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” is fresh and exciting because, unlike its inspiration that has proven to be influential and has gained a cult following over the years, a work that I found to be generic and boring despite its would-be shocking images, the new perspective is actually interested in plot and less so when it comes to delivering shlock. What results is a horror film with class: even though there are gruesome images, the terror lingers and festers in the mind. It is an effective genre exercise not because we encounter with blood, guts, and bones snapping like twigs, but that, once delivered, we anticipate the next left field happening and attempt to put together the handful of curious pieces surrounding a Berlin-based dance academy run by witches.
I was piqued by its use of color and sound. Notice how in the beginning of the picture, the color red stands out like a punch in the gut. I was reminded immediately of “Schindler’s List” and how director Steven Spielberg forces the viewer to focus on the girl wearing a red coat amidst the depressed, barren, dead black and white. But the tinge of red in this film is paler, as if nearly devoid of life and about to reek of death. It made me think of the funeral parlors: the couches or carpets there, the various hues of roses placed next to coffins, lipstick painted on corpses to make them look presentable. This color is almost like a character because it can be seen throughout—and yet, like the picture’s human characters, it is never predictable or tedious. It does not simply appear when a key moment is about to occur. At times it is there to be noticed as if to remind us that a pair of eyes may be watching nearby or that a witch is able to see the scene psychically. Close-ups reveal creepy knowing in their eyes.
And then there is the sound. Dialogue is often whispered, at times mumbled, barely audible occasionally. When words can be heard with clarity, the content can be cryptic at times. On the outside, the work embodies the horror genre. On the inside, there are mysterious, curious elements meant to create an unsettling feeling. Suspense grows in the not knowing. And yet—the spattering of rain, dancers’ bodies hitting the floor, bones cracking, antique doors opening and closing—these are almost always amplified, at times to the point where the sound is deafening, overwhelming. It shows that Guadagnino has an understanding of classic horror pictures: there are instances when sound is—and should be—enough to send a tingle up one’s spine. Truly horrifying experiences require synergy of the senses, allowing the mind to draw a picture. Notice that in modern, certainly mainstream, horror pictures, it is often about what you see in front of you.
“Suspiria” is not without shortcomings. For instance, I found the final fifteen minutes to be, for the most part, pretentious drivel. There is one too many exploding heads for my liking; a denouement I expect from 1980s B- or C-grade sci-fi and horror flicks that must be wrapped up due to budgetary constraints or lazy writing. Although a few strands that lead up to such a conclusion do make sense, it is one of those bizarre final acts that feel forced or tacked on. (The final minutes of Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” quickly comes to mind.) I would have preferred a subtle or ironic ending, an approach that the project has proven to excel at—quite impressive for a horror film with a running time of almost one hundred fifty minutes. In addition, to a lesser degree, dance sequences usually running in parallel with other critical scenes gets tiresome eventually. At times I wanted a chance to appreciate the choreography, not the skillful editing. A bit of variation might have been more effective.
Immensely watchable performances throughout: Dakota Johnson as the gifted new member of the dance academy, Tilda Swinton as one of the most respected matrons who takes a special interest in the new girl, Mia Goth as our protagonist’s friend who discovers the role of witchcraft in the place she considers home. These performances, and the characters, are so interesting, at one point I thought it would be neat to experience the story through each of their perspectives.
Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
★ / ★★★★
The sequel to the surprisingly creative and entertaining “Happy Death Day,” both pictures directed by Christopher Landon, is correct to bring up “Back to the Future Part II” if only because both works are noticeably inferior to the original. Initially, there is great promise because it is apparent that “Happy Death Day 2U” is less interested in slasher elements and more so in exploring science-fiction ideas such as doppelgängers and multiverses. However, only ten minutes into the film, the writing proves it neither has the intelligence nor the energy, not to mention the focus, to deliver a modern twist on the genres from which it hopes to extract entertainment value.
It is wonderful to see the entire cast again. Each of them is charismatic, from Jessica Rothe as our heroine named Tree who must die repeatedly in order to get to the bottom of the new mystery, Israel Broussard as the geeky-chic romantic interest, Rachel Matthews as the “fun bitch” sorority leader, to Ruby Modine as a homicidal medical student/Tree’s roommate. The problem is, however, that their characters are not given anything compelling to say or do. There are a few wrinkles introduced, particularly in Modine’s formerly villainous character, but the changes are superficial at best. And because the story tackles multiple dimensions, it is strange to ask us to invest in new relationships that do not have the proper background or context within the universe we are visiting.
At least there is a heart to the story and it involves Tree having to choose between going home or staying in the new dimension where her mother (Missy Yager) is alive and well. Exchanges between mother and daughter are mildly touching not because of the script but because of the performances. For instance, when Rothe is required to cry, tears and facial expressions are convincing because her whole being comes alive; we even notice how her hands shake uncontrollably because she is so into the moment. Yager, on the other hand, exudes a maternal strength in every one of her scenes—a quality about the character that Tree sorely misses. And so we understand why our heroine is torn between going back to her world and staying where she doesn’t belong.
The sudden shifts in tone are particularly bothersome. Make no mistake: comedic moments are present in the predecessor. They feel natural to the story, like the utter disbelief and frustration of having to reset the day even when things appear to be going all right. In this limp and uninspired sequel, though, would-be amusing scenarios are so often forced, they are grating on every level imaginable. The sorority sister pretending to be blind in the dean’s office comes to mind. Another example is the romantic interest’s roommate coming across as though he was dropped off from another film altogether. These supporting characters are reduced to boring caricatures.
“Happy Death Day 2U” is a horror film without thrill or suspense. Although it bends toward sci-fi territory at times, there is only minimal commitment to its ideas. One gets the impression that the screenplay had been hurried simply because a sequel must be made as soon as possible out of trepidation that viewers would forget how much fun they had with the predecessor. It is clear that not enough love and effort were put into this project.
Para entrar a vivir (2006)
★ / ★★★★
Mario (Adrià Collado) and Clara (Macarena Gómez) are in a bind. If they do not secure an apartment within fifteen days, they will have no place to live. But Mario has good news. In his hand is an ad for an apartment that claims to be spacious, affordable, and located in the suburbs. It sounds just like what they are looking for so they meet with an eager realtor (Nuria González). However, when they get there, the place seems to be located in a dangerous area and though the inside offers a lot of room, it is dingy, dirty, and requires a lot of work. Mario and Clara wish to leave but the real estate agent does not let them.
“Para entrar a vivir” is a fifteen- to twenty-minute short film, at best, stretched into seventy minutes of bad survival skills and a whole lot of unpleasant screaming. While the premise has some potential given that the apartment complex functions as a sort of house of horrors, there is not enough meat and juice to make it a satisfying experience.
The screenplay by Jaume Balagueró and Alberto Marini does not give the characters a chance to be remotely likable by allowing them to behave like normal people responding to a life-threatening situation. What always bothers me is when a character has the body size and frame to match and perhaps overpower her assailant—in here, the villainous realtor is frail-looking—and yet she either stands around waiting for a bad situation to turn worse or when she does decide to fight back it appears as though she has never seen a horror movie. Is Clara being a couple of days pregnant supposed to be an excuse for her idiocy? I don’t think so. On the contrary, she should be written smarter, hungrier to survive because the little guy or gal inside her is worth fighting for.
The formula of a chase followed by an act of violence and then another chase gets tired fast. Because it is unable to break from this pattern, the picture becomes a predictable bore. The camerawork does not help the situation. When a chase dies down and the booming score is on the verge of disappearing, the camera remains to shake left and right. It is uncomfortable to watch especially when it goes in for a closeup of a terrified victim’s face. The point is to get us to feel safe again before that inevitable “Gotcha!” moment. It is impossible to get to that point with the camera wobbling about.
We know absolutely nothing about the couple being chased around the building. Clara got on my nerves. She is whiny in the car on the way to the appointment. She is whiny (and disrespectful) when they are getting a tour of the place. And she is whiny when there seems to have no escape route. You’d think she’d change her strategy because her whinging gets her nowhere. It is not the actor’s fault. She is not given anything to work with. Maybe if we were provided background knowledge of Clara being privileged, snooty, and everything always going her way along with her boyfriend endorsing such behavior, perhaps the constant whining would make sense.
“To Let,” directed by Jaume Balagueró, lacks creativity, technical understanding on how to structure and execute good scares, as well as characters worth championing to make it to the end. And with such a deliberately ugly ending, it only supports that the writers could not care less about the people suffering on screen.