Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
Michael Dougherty’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” appears to be confused between spectacle and sense of wonder—something Gareth Edwards’ superior “Godzilla” understands without question. In this limp, barely written sequel we follow a group composed of scientists and military personnel whose mission is to stop a three-headed dragon from bringing about the apocalypse. But for a story involving a global emergency, the picture is tonally flat, the characters reduced to stereotypes, and the supposedly impressive visuals suffer from diminishing returns. By the third confrontation among titans that inevitably demolish entire villages and cities within minutes, it is apparent that the work has gone on autopilot. While we are able to see more of the monsters in this installment, there is a lower level of intrigue to them which matches that of generic action sequences that almost always end up with a massive explosion and characters escaping death in the very last second somehow. We never shake the feeling that the actors are acting in front of a green or blue screen because the circumstances are never compelling. The work strives to deliver entertainment but all it manages to provide is exhaustion.
★★ / ★★★★
The opening credit sequence of “Krampus,” a horror-comedy directed by Michael Dougherty, is right on target about what is fundamentally wrong about the holiday, must-have-it-all season these days, one cannot help but be very excited for the rest of the film. Not one word is uttered—aside from a classic Yuletide carol serving as the soundtrack—but the images are so vivid, so funny, one suspects that the material has many more tricks and social commentaries up its sleeve.
It is a disappointment, then, that the film does not deliver more on that front. Although the story involves an unhappy get-together between two families days before and during Christmas, one of the families is not spoiled and rotten enough as to create a strong enough polarity and create dramatic gravity off their rather unique situation. When the youngest son of Sarah (Toni Collette) and Tom (Adam Scott) named Max (Emjay Anthony) begins to lose faith in the spirit of Christmas, an ancient spirit called Krampus and his monstrous pals pay the household a visit. Each member of the family is taken and presumably killed.
What the picture does best is showcasing images that are not computer generated. While a number of CGI is utilized in the film—like a cloaked figure with hooves jumping from one roof after another and murderous gingerbread cookies—most curious and terrifying are real and tactile imagery such as a giant jack-in-the-box with a massive mouth and shark-like teeth and cloaked figures that are supposed to be dark elves who look like they came right off a Kubrick-inspired play. Humor can be found in these images.
This Joe Dante-inspired material ought to have focused more on the personalities and dynamics of the children. They have such an ordinary look about them that target audiences—pre-teens and young teenagers—are likely to find them accessible. However, because Max, his sister, and three cousins are not explored enough, especially having them relate or engage in conflict during scenes with no adults around, the message meant for the young generation about the value of retaining the spirit of giving during the holidays ends up rather off-target.
Written by Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields, “Krampus” offers more moments than is necessary for a horror film—or any genre—where characters simply sit around and exchange platitudes. Collette is arguably the one best able to break away from expressing frustration through ordinary dialogue because she tends to give her characters specific behaviors. Sarah might be saying something nice on the surface but notice how she rolls her eyes between certain pauses. We wonder if Sarah does such a thing out of habit because hosting Christmas in her home is just too much pressure or does she not really mean what she says?
The picture gets a marginal recommendation from me with significant reservation for reasons mentioned previously. In addition, in horror movies, even horror-comedies, I usually must walk away and remember at least three sequences that are so well-executed, it makes me want to revisit the material right away. Here, I was only able to remember two vividly: the chimney scene because it starts off quiet and then becomes chaotic mere seconds later and the giant jack-in-the-box scene that must be seen to be believed. And come to think of it, the animated flashback with Grandma (Krista Stadler) as a little girl is a lovely surprise, too.
Trick ‘r Treat (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, “Trick ‘r Treat” is a whole lot of fun to watch and it’s a shame it didn’t get a proper (and well-deserved) theatrical release. The film was an anthology of four stories that featured what would happen if the traditions of Halloween were broken: a virgin (Anna Paquin) who gets teased by her sister and friends for being awkward with men and saving herself for that “special someone,” a high school principal (Dylan Baker) who poisons his candies and has an even darker secret inside of his home, a group of friends (Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Isabelle Deluce, Britt McKillip, Alberto Ghisi) who pulls a prank on a lonely girl (Samm Todd), and a couple (Leslie Bibb, Tahmoh Penikett) whose first scene didn’t make much sense but became pretty important as the film started wrapping up everything. “Trick ‘r Treat” wasn’t particularly scary for me other than Sam, a child-looking sack-headed treat or treater with button eyes, but I thought it worked because all of the mini-stories had a commonality that was explored from beginning to end. However, don’t get me wrong because even though I didn’t think it was scary, it still had an element of darkness. For instance, the film was not scared to kill off children and even show the audiences their dead and sometimes mutilated bodies. This movie reminded me a lot of “Tales from the Crypt” because even though it explored morbid subject matter, there was always that element of humor and campiness which often remind us that it’s just a movie. I also liked that it referenced some of the other actors’ works through their characters outside of this project. For instance, Brian Cox’ independent film called “Red” and Anna Paquin’s popular television show “True Blood.” I admired that self-awareness because it didn’t get distracted from the storytelling, which is very difficult to be achieved, especially by Hollywood mainstream horror flicks. My only complaint about it is that maybe it could have used one more storyline for a slightly longer running time. I was so fascinated with what was going on so when the credits started rolling, I felt a bit sad that it was over. I will not be surprised at all if this eventually becomes a cult classic because it has a purpose, is smart and not afraid to be different. I wouldn’t mind adding this to my film collection.