The 2020 Nicolas Pesce directed The Grudge is a woefully misguided reimagining. Replacing the inky black and blue aesthetic of Takashi Shimizu’s original Ju-On films (and even his 2004 remake) with a Texas–Chanisaw-esque vomit yellow is one thing, but sucking all the fun out of it is another. This is a dour movie, full of somber interactions, grisly violence, and tragic plot points. Pesce is a talented stylist, and there’s performances (Andrea Riseborough and Lin Shaye deserved better) and individual sequences that are promising but then get bogged down in way too much seriousness. The final shot of the film – a very darkly comedic and abrupt ending – almost works, but is proceeded by idiotic horror cliches. The whole movie is filled with bad jump scares and lame shots of ghost girls screaming. The violence is cruel and over-the-top for a movie that should just be about creeping us out; I never once felt scared.
Underwater begins on a note that pissed me off and I expected to hate it; There’s a narration by Kristen Stewart that begins with some really stilted dialogue about fate or some shit (I don’t fully remember because I immediately blacked it out), BUT THEN, the big event happens that gets the movie going and suddenly we’re in an action movie, full throttle, until the very end. I wish that narration was just cut out, but it’s a small gripe in the scheme of things because Underwater is a fun and scary thriller. It reminded me of those 80s Alien ripoffs like Leviathan and Deep Star Six that took place miles underwater in huge facilities. This movie has all that great stuff, plus the added benefit of Kristen Stewart, who is easily one of the most watchable actors working today. Unlike The Grudge, this movie has some solid jump scares and an uneasy atmosphere. I often found myself looking at the edges of the screen, expecting anything to happen at any moment. That’s a sign of a good thriller.
Gretel & Hansel
I feel like I hallucinated this movie, and I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or not. Director Oz Perkins delivers some truly haunting imagery here, and the production design is strangely unique and unsettling. There’s elements I really liked in this. Unfortunately, the movie feels longer than it is, and it never feels like it really gets off the ground. Even during the climax, where we expect to root for our heroes to escape the witch, it never feels like we should be caring about anything. There’s not much momentum to the events, and while the ending features a wonderfully metaphorical revelation, it comes too late. I will say this: It’s definitely a more watchable and visually interesting film than Perkins’ previous efforts, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, both of which (no offense to Perkins, who HAS the range I’m sure) are total snoozefests.
The Turning received an ‘F’ Cinemascore grade from opening night audiences. Cinemascore is a thing that apparently gives audiences at certain locations a chance to grade a new release film after they’ve seen it. An ‘F’, as you can imagine, indicates that generally audiences fucking hated this movie. I don’t put a lot of stock into Cinemascore grades because, really, it’s meaningless. Hereditary received a ‘D+’, so you get it. Anyway, all this to say that Floria Sigismondi’s film, based on the classic story The Turn of the Screw, is not THAT bad of a movie, certainly not ‘F’ material. It’s not the best adaptation of this source material, and in fact, it may be the worst, but it’s actually pretty stylish and well-acted. It satisfies the promise of seeing an attractive celebrity being chased around a gothic mansion by ghosts. The ending, which is what audiences really had the problem with due to its abrupt ambiguity, tries to be something the rest of the movie really wasn’t. It wants to make you think, but it leaves you just not caring.
Birds of Prey
Cathy Yan. Remember that name. Even though Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is not quite the box office hit it should have been, it is certainly one of the most deliriously fun DC movies, and Yan’s directing cannot be understated. She makes what could have been another Suicide Squad into a genuinely feminist film for the comic-book-movie-era, and a film that isn’t just wall-to-wall action, but also has personality and spirit and conviction. Together, Margot Robbie and Yan make Harley Quinn a character that went from annoying and unconvincing to a character that finally makes me realize what people must love about Harley. Yan and Robbie allow her to have layers, and even amidst silly comedy and action sequences, there’s weight to her, and the action has stakes.
This is a rough movie; serious and disquieting. If you don’t want to feel uncomfortable for two hours, don’t see it. Personally, I love this kind of thing, but I also have depression and anxiety. The Lodge begins with silent unease followed by a shriek of pure horror. That’s how a lot of the movie plays out. Riley Keough is – I cannot stress this enough – EXCELLENT as a woman who arrives at an isolated location with two children, unwanted and alone. Her eventual descent into repentance through nightmarish violence is truly bone chilling. Even if the movie requires you to suspend your disbelief and forgive some logic issues, this is a horror film in the coldest, cruelest sense; the kind of horror that you can feel in the pit of your stomach for days afterward. There’s one scene in particular – Keough walks around the pitch-black house with only the light of her flashlight illuminating the way, and there are voices getting closer and closer – that reminded me why I love horror while also making the hair on my neck stand up.
The Invisible Man
It’s only been two months into 2020 and here we have the sixth horror film I’ve seen so far, but good news, it’s the best one. The Invisible Man is a nasty piece of good-ol’ popcorn entertainment and a genuinely alarming social thriller about abuse and gaslighting. Director Leigh Whannell, known for his work on Saw, Insidious, and the recent (and badass) Upgrade, has taken a 100-year-old property, dragged it into a new century, and infused it with a real-world dread that is genuinely, truly, horrifying. This is a a very entertaining movie, courtesy of Whannell’s filmmaking skills, but it’s also a very scary movie, and possibly a triggering one for those who’ve been in an abusive relationship. I’m not saying that as a negative, because I think one of the most exciting things the horror genre can do is bring real-world issues to light; to expose them and bring some kind of catharsis. Elisabeth Moss is absolutely riveting playing one of those classic thriller characters that no one believes. We believe her and we fear for her. The ending, in its own way, delivers the same cathartic high as Florence Pugh smiling at the end of Midsommar.