Lights Out

lights-out-poster

Lights Out (2016)
Cast

Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello

Directed by

David F. Sandberg

Written by

Eric Heisserer, David F. Sandberg

Other Info

Fantasy, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 21min

4 Stars (4 / 5)
Horror movies are built on scares. Some are hugely successful because they get the scares just right. I think of A Nightmare on Elm Street, where the scares centered on dreams and finger knives. I also think of Halloween where the scare is in the immortality of the killer. For as many successful films that have come down the pike, there have been effective scares coming from powerful ideas. Usually, as it is in the examples I just mentioned, the formula is simple, based on some well-chosen banal and universal human fear like sharks for example.

Lights Out the short film got its start through trial run showings on Youtube via a 3 minute short of the same name. David Sandberg and his wife made the short and then it went viral. Soon after that, Sandberg was in talks with mega horror director/producer James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring …). Sandberg got a chance to bait a big screen audience and that audience bit.

While the short film has a rustic, bare bones plot, the film’s is quite extensive. IMDB gives this synopsis:

When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.

*The rest of this review may contain spoilers

lightsout_4Maria Bello, Martin’s mother Sophie in the film, does a great job and I think her performance deserves more press than it’s getting. I loved her in Payback with Mel Gibson and it was great seeing her on the screen doing so well once again. Her role is the crux of the story and while we aren’t supposed to understand the way she is until about the last 1/8th of the film, she lays the foundation in a stellar way. We could talk about so many psychological issues at play here. I think people interested in that topic could sit and chat for hours over coffee on that aspect alone. I love it when horror movies have a psychological component.

There is also a supernatural possibility here. Is it in their heads or is there a ghost  here? Apparently, this thing that disappears in the light has limbs and so it might lightsout_2be human. The character that brings clarity to the creature is Rebecca, Teresa Palmer. She reads a box of files that were in her mother’s storage. I can relate with this because I remember finding some of my parents things in the garage from time to time and revelling in seeing them so young. Once I even found a letter my dad had written to the draft board. That’s a powerful find when you’re a kid. It’s that much more powerful to Rebecca,Teresa Palmer, when she finds it and does some poking around. At that point she is able to share her opinions about her mom and this other “person” called Diana.

The little brother Martin, Gabriel Bateman, also does a great acting job. I especially liked the script written for his character. He really made me feel scared and at the same time, why he stays in a scary situation: he truly loves his lightsout_1mother. In the end, this film becomes a story of redemption of the relationship between mother and daughter. Rebecca is the star of the show here. She has clearly decided she wants no more of her mother out of a survival instinct and I respect that. At the same time, you wonder how she could have run out on her little brother. The creature is jealous for Sophie’s attention and she will wreak havoc on anyone who threatens that. Rebecca got out and left the brother behind. In the film, her crosswords challenge is whether to step in or continue with her life apart from her mother and brother.

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Sandberg’s wife, Lotta Losten, who stars in the short film also plays a small role in the beginning of the feature movie.

Apart from a complicated plot that I take points away for, there is a simple string of scares based on the creature and lights going off and on/ This is ingenious and it really works to scare. I even thought that the complicated plot sometimes got in the way of the simple scares that you can get a taste of for free on Youtube in the Lights Out Short Film. An interesting trivia is that Sandberg’s wife who stars in the short film plays a small role in the beginning of the film, warning Sophie’s husband there is something in the hallway. Fittingly this is derived from the short where some sort of creature is in the hallway coming closer with each click of the light.

It’s rare when a small successful short film hits big as a feature film. Lights Out has done it here. James Wan made the right choice and I don’t think he needs me to tell him because he has already signed Sandberg to direct Annabelle 2. This is one of the coolest success stories in film. Sandberg has said that the short film cost “zero dollars” to make. He traveled with that idea to a 5 million dollar feature horror film and it has been filled with audiences since it’s opening. I wasn’t ure if I would like it due to a few bad reviews I saw but on the whole, the critics love this film referring it to a Summer sleeper hit. I’ll make the obvious point of how this should encourage new filmmakers. Perhaps more will produce shorts at minimal cost. This will in theory increase to number of great ideas that make it to the theaters. This thriller/horror is one that will be in the discussion of horror for decades, maybe even indefinitely. I wonder id Sandberg ever marvels at how far that one idea has come since the night he clicked “upload” on Youtube. For horror/thriller fans, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It was a lot of fun.

Thanks for reading this review. You may want to read my other review of Lights Out Short Film.

Spring

Small budget films achieve suspense and horror through little or no financial means. That’s one reason I love watching them. “Spring” makes the grade as a love story with a spoonful of creepy … Make that two.

Spring is a 2014 American romantic science fiction horror film directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.[ The film stars Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker. Wikipedia

I’m in the zone of avoiding spoilers at all costs today. For that reason, this is a short review. Nothing in the film is interesting except the parts that would be spoiled. The girl is well cast, the guy is meh. Oh yes, and those spoilers we won’t mention. It takes place in beautiful Italy, mostly in the streets where slithering things can hide. It’s a romance/horror. Don’t let me spoil anything more for you. I recommend this film.

The House on Pine Street

This film starts out with the cliche haunted house theme. Soon however, the plot picks up. Emily Goss shines in this one. Plus there is some original, scary material here for horror fans.

The House on Pine Street (2015)
Cast

Emily Goss as Jennifer
Taylor Bottles as Luke
Cathy Barnett as Meredith

Directed by

Aaron Keeling, Austin Keeling

Written by

Natalie Jones, Aaron Keeling, Austin Keeling

Other Info

Drama, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 51min

I’m of the opinion that the haunted house theme, while cliche, is a really cool one for a horror movie. The tricks these days is to make it original in some way. “The House on Pine Street” (Pine Street) does that very well. Jennifer (Emily Goss) is pregnant and she and her fiance are moving into the house the the beginning of the film. As she looks around in disapproval, the spooky sounds foreshadow scary events are coming.

We get the idea they are a new couple moving in to a new life together in the house but as the dialog unravels and strange things start happening, we realize something different about the couple. Jennifer expresses her dislike of the town and the house and Luke (Taylor Bottles) seems very happy there as he tries to get settled in his new job. Incidentally, he is very nice to his mother in law Meredith (Cathy Barnett.) I suppose ou could call him son in law of the year.

Meredith is a very strong and odd character in the film. She is Jennifer’s mother and this is her home town. There are lots of scares here and there but nothing is really explained and expanded until the last 1/4 of the movie. As a horror movie, it makes the grade. The only thing that put me off a bit was how it took so long for things to start happening. I think they told the backstory too long. I really enjoyed the ending, not what I was expecting at all. I think horror fans will like this film for it’s creepiness. There isn’t much blood or gore but we see what energies in people (and houses) can do, it’s pretty scary.

Nina Forever

“I’m so sorry.” Rob

I think viewers will find there isn’t much more that Rob can say. His girlfriend has come back from the dead to haunt him and his new love interest every time they have sex.

Nina Forever (2015)
Cast
Fiona O’Shaughnessy

as Nina

Abigail Hardingham

as Holly

Cian Barry

as Rob

Directed by
Ben Blaine
Chris Blaine

Written by
Ben Blaine
Chris Blaine

Other Info

Comedy, Horror, Romance
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, bloody images, and language
1h 38min

The film is a surprising triumph as a horror movie. I didn’t detect much romance. The black humor is such that we’ve never seen but you find remnants of it in “American Werewolf in London,” “Reanimator” and other campy horror extant. There is a lot of nudity but it’s hard to find it sexual given the subject matter. I kept asking myself, “What is really being said here?”

For me it worked on one level as that nagging depression one feels after a breakup or even after a romantic lover has died. Thankfully for me, I haven’t had to experience the latter. Rob has. He even unsuccessfully tries to commit suicide to escape his sadness. Nine is never going to let him forget her, or so it seems.

I like the tone of this film, both somber and scary with a bit of sarcastic humor thrown in. It’s blood along with sexual content is woven into a really great horror movie. I kept wondering what would happen next. For me that’s the sign of a great “any genre” movie. This one didn’t make me jump out of my seat but I liked being out of control, watching how far the movie would venture out beyond what we’ve seen before. There is a twist I didn’t see coming, nothing earth shattering but I applaud the writers for it.

I’ll look for more for this directing duo in the future. I did feel it got a little repetitive toward the final 1/4 of the film. We’d see the events go in a circle enough and it could have ended about 2-40 minutes earlier ad I would have been content. I think they fell victim to thinking their quirky idea was so innovative it would carry a movie of 1h 38min. For me, I wanted another smaller idea to break things up. Unfortunately, it dragged toward the end for me so it lost a star. For horror fans, this is a MUST SEE! I recommend.

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

A whole different concept than the first film and it worked on many levels to be what I feel is one of the strongest horror films of 2016.

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Ouija: Origin of Evil
Cast

Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas

Directed by

Mike Flanagan

Written by

Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard

Other Info

Horror, Thriller
PG-13
Fri 21 Oct 2016 UTC
99min
IMDB Rating: 6.1

Like most horror movie fans, I was not impressed with the first Ouija film. It was flat and lacking in almost every aspect. For that reason, I didn’t plan to spend my hard-earned money on a prequel (this film takes place before the original). The surprise part of my story is that my daughters dragged me to see it and I really liked it. It was a whole different concept than the first film and it worked on many levels to be what I feel is one of the strongest horror films of 2016.

As with many horror films, it does take a while to really get going. In fact, despite some good scares and creepy atmosphere in the middle, the best scares are in the last 1/3. A story must be told so I get why they have to tell it calmly in the beginning. There are two daughters: an 18 and 9-year-old. They live with their mother and their father has died. The mother runs a psychic medium business out of a parlor in her house. She gets customers in touch with their dead ones and she knows what she does is a scam. She has no guilt because, as she tells her daughters, she is helping these grieving people. Her daughters know it’s all BS. I must mention this was directed by Mike Flannigan (Oculus, Hush) who I have tremendous respect for. He really made a good horror film here and I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. Spoilers ahead.

There is a rather intricate plot here which reminds me of recent horror films like The Conjuring 2 and Lights Out. In a way, it was too busy for me but I appreciated the story, it sort of came together and worked in the end. Again, it was very complicated. Does anyone miss movies like Halloween where horror is simple?

After one daughter gets seemingly possessed by a demon spirit and helps her mother do readings, the older one meets a boy and reports strange letters her sister wrote in Polish to the headmaster priest at their school. And, that priest is “sort of” dating their mother but not really because he made a vow he won’t break. See what I mean by complicated? It gets more complicated. Suffice it to say Nazi German history weaves in and … well, the ending is sad beyond what you normally would see in a horror movie. Bring your kleenex.

All in all, despite the convoluted, overlong plot, I really liked the scares and creepy atmosphere in this film. I would recommend it as a 7/10 for horror fans.

The Lesson (2015)

Being a teacher, I thought I wouldn’t like this dark gruesome tale. There’s however a license to savor things no matter how “out there” when seen in the horror genre. Don’t tell anyone but I dug this movie 😉

“All of this could have been avoided.” -Mr. Gale

Let me start out by saying this is a horror film but not in the broad sense. It’s full of violence and only those who are fans of the violence/horror genre will likely enjoy this film. Just wanted to stress that up front. Considering that, I dug it!

The Lesson (2015)
Cast
Robert Hands

as Mr. Gale

Evan Bendall

as Fin

Michaela Prchalová

as Mia

Directed by
Ruth Platt
Written by
Ruth Platt
Other Info

Horror, Thriller
Unrated Contains scenes of extreme violence.
1h 37min

Minor spoilers ahead.

This is a great horror film from the UK. The story surrounds a group of juvenile delinquents an their teacher. He’s trying to teach them but they just won’t have it. There is a sie story going on but it really just detracts from the main story I have described. Fin, a 16 year old hooligan, lives with his big brother and the big brother’s girlfriend, Mia. His life at home is brutal and makes his existence as a hooligan make some sense. Still, everyone has challenges. What makes a 16 year old go over the edge and vandalize his teacher’s car with a knife? That’s what he does along with his hooligan buddies.

The editing and camera work is very well done, especially in bloody scenes. We get a feel for Fin’s neighborhood and school. Make no mistake, it isn’t cozy or warm by any stretch. The setting is Fin’s home and school. We get the idea very quickly he doesn’t want to be at either. I sympathized with Fin. He didn’t have a mom or dad to seek advice from and his brother is a class a d***. At any rate, he goes too far one day.

The rest of the movie is the concept of kidnapping and torture. In this case it’s by a teacher. Mr. Gale does a great job as the monster villain. He brings Fin and his counterpart to a secluded garage and commences “The Lesson.” It’s a bloody barrage of hammers, nails, even nail guns, intertwined with the lessons of government and human nature through recorded time. Teacher and students are at their best. Unfortunately for Fin, he’s not fast enough for the high school teacher. Mr Gale does a lot of stuff to him, I leave the rest for you to see for yourself.

There is something like a twist you may not see coming at the end. It’s well written. This film was especially cathartic for me being a teacher of course. While I’d never go this far, I’ve often wondered what it would take to get certain delinquent types to become more focused. We all know students like that think. Thankfully, I don’t know of any teachers like this.  Mr. Gale is completely snapped, he has no remorse for what he does. It’s horror … remember that 2 word sentence before analyzing it, “it’s horror.” It lost a star with me for the home side story, I didn’t think it was necessary and it made the movie drag on a bit. Considering that, I gave it 4/5 stars. I recommend it to fans of the genre.

The Conjuring 2

From scares like a creepy toy that plays “The Crooked Man” to a phantom nun with yellow eyes, the Conjuring 2 will please horror fans many times over. Furthermore, I hope a third sequel gets made soon!

From scares like a creepy toy that plays “The Crooked Man” to a phantom nun with yellow eyes, the Conjuring 2 will please horror fans many times over. Furthermore, I hope a third sequel gets made soon!

 

The Conjuring 2
Cast

Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe

Directed by

James Wan

Written by

Carey Hayes, James Wan, David Leslie Johnson

Other Info

Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rated R
2h 14min

Like its predecessor, this movie features a story about the Warrens. In real-life, Ed Warren was a WWII Naval officer who, after the war, became a self-taught demonologist alongside his wife Lorraine who is a self-described clairvoyant among other titles. They are highly documented investigators of the paranormal. Ed is the only non-ordained demonologist, or one who performs exorcisms, recognized by the catholic church. They have published many of their famous investigations and claim to have done tens of thousands of them. In the film, Patrick Wilson plays Ed and Vera Farmiga plays Lorraine. The movie is based on their experience with The Enfield Poltergeist.

Director James Wan is well known for scaring moviegoers. His Saw and Insidious franchises have netted hefty sums from the wallets of people looking for that thing they’ve never seen before. He’s a master craftsman of the horror genre. There isn’t nearly as much blood and gore in The Conjuring 2 as you will find in Saw movies. Still, there are well crafted scares throughout. A spinning toy that sings “The Crooked Man” is part of one scare that has stayed with me.

Vera Farmiga does an excellent job as Lorraine Warren. You can see in her eyes and movement she has such a profound love and respect for her husband. When he picks up the guitar at one point to bring some peace and music to the haunted place, she is just as captivated with him as the daughters are. It’s interesting how Ed in many ways is the hero of The Conjuring 2. When I saw the first film, I didn’t know he was a real person. Knowing a little about Ed Warren’s history helped me appreciate him immensely in the second film. There is a lot of info on the internet and the Warrens even have their own website that is still up today. Ed has passed on but Lorraine is still with us. She speaks about her paranormal experiences at various events. This film concerns the possession of a young girl and how her family saves her with the help of the Warrens.

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There is no doubt there will be another sequel since there are other stories about the Warrens that remain to be told. I think the first two in the franchise are both very scary horror movies with interesting real-life foundations. Because I was shocked and thrilled, The Conjuring 2 loses no stars from me. I highly recommend it to horror fans.

Below is a real treat, an interview with the Hayes Brothers, the writers of the 2 Conjuring films.

Dead Silence (2007)

Just after James Wan directed “Saw” he created “Dead Silence,” a creepy tale of a ventriloquist’s puppet.

Dead Silence (2007)
R | 1h 29min | Horror, Thriller | 16 March 2007 (USA)

A young widower returns to his hometown to search for answers to his wife’s murder, which may be linked to the ghost of a murdered ventriloquist.
Director: James Wan
Writers: Leigh Whannell (screenplay), James Wan (story) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg

A happy-go-lucky fellow and his girlfriend have recently moved into their new home. They find it to be everything they want, but then this puppet is delivered to them.

James Wan is a phenomenal Horror director who has now become a producer as well. One thing I can say with certainty is that James Wan can craft a scary movie. Even though it feels a bit like something is missing here, Wan has left us with a very scary horror movie from credits to credits. All horror fans will find it worth watching I think.

Furthermore about James Wan: H seems to include a scary prop of some sort in his movies. You see it in the little doll and the mask of Jigsaw. Here, you see it in this ventriloquist puppet hell-bent on terror. It works quite well for scares. I don’t think you can ever get too jaded to not jump when a puppet like that moves all of a sudden. It’s creepy and probably has been in film and stories way back to the early days. Speaking of props, think about the bear trap in Saw along with the many gadgets and machines engineered to kill. Wan is definitely a prop director.

The acting is fine, there is nothing spectacular. It’s worth noting that Donnie Wahlberg was in so Saw sequels and he plays the detective here in this film. Much emphasis is put on the puppet and as a result, not much else is developed in the story. So, even though I really like the premise and the puppet, it loses some points with me for not being as well rounded a film as I would have liked.

7/10

Southbound

Short horror stories that come together on the road, the southbound road if you take my meaning of South.

A series of interconnected short films, “Southbound” is pure horror reminiscent of the 1970’s-1980’s minimalist styles.

Southbound (2015)
Cast
Chad Villella

as Mitch

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin

as Jack

Kristina Pesic

as Sutter

Directed by
Roxanne Benjamin
David Bruckner
Patrick Horvath
Radio Silence

 

Written by
Roxanne Benjamin
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
David Bruckner
Susan Burke
Dallas Richard Hallam
Patrick Horvath

 

Other Info

Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Not Rated
1h 29min

These small films fit into one another just like the Twilight Zone movies. If you’re looking for a common theme, you’re likely to be disappointed, There are these giant devilish skeleton bats that chase some of the characters, apparently for justice. Other than that, it’s just a fairly well made, and simply made, horror movie with a few clever twists.

There is one part where a man is distracted by his phone while driving and he hits a girl who had just escaped a satanic sacrifice ceremony. He calls 911 only to become more confused by what has happened and of course frustrated. Some of the stories are like that, unsatisfying.

Th giant bat effects ARE satisfying, along with the final scene where we are brought up to speed about what’s happening in the chase in the opening scene. The movie works like a circle, setting you on a path and then replacing you there after you’ve finished another story.

This film has a lot of killing and blood in it. There isn’t much explanation for any of it though. I suppose you could draw the conclusion that if you live an immoral life, you’ll have to reckon with the grim reaper or the devil or some being at the end of your life. Not a very original idea for a horror movie but there are enough clever twists to keep you guessing. It lost two stars with me for the lack of explanation about many elements in the stories.

I suppose it could be seen as the devil is coming for those who have killed or sinned terribly but they never say why. If you don’t mind open ended movies, you’ll probably not get my criticism. I like finding out why the mysterious things happen. It pleases me when everything fit, Southbound is a good movie but seems to leave so many thinking projects up to the viewer. For plain text horror with minimal production, I recommend it!

The Shallows (2016)

This is not Jaws but several times it spikes the same level of scares. From beginning to end it had my attention, I was never bored, and a few times I was shocked out of my seat by what I saw.

Blake Lively shows some incredible strength as an actor carrying 2/3 of the film on her own in the water trying to get to safety against a gargantuan shark. Along with excellent writing and acting/directing, the effects are effectively terrifying.

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The Shallows
Cast

Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Angelo Jose

Directed by

Jaume Collet-Serra

Written by

Anthony Jaswinski

Other Info

Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rated PG-13
1h 26min

There are quite a few films out there that feature a blond girl surfing. Blue Crush, Soul Surfer, Aqua Dulce, and more. The posters are like this one, full of a beauty with a board. That is usually all it takes to bring a big crowd. In this case, while the image is the same, this is not just a girl surfer movie. Blake lively had a surf double, Isabella Nichols, who is the no. 1 junior champion surfer in the world. But with surfing scenes excluded, Blake did most of her own stunts. This is a very physical film and sometimes her physicality is crucial to telling the story. Plot is limited. Nancy (Blake Lively) is recovering from her mother’s tragic death by traveling to Mexico for some serious surfing. IN a very beautiful and secluded cove, she finds some near-perfect waves and starts enjoying them. There are two Mexican dudes there and they seem much more at ease with the beach than she is. They call to her but she never gets close to them. The guys leave and Nancy is face to face with a shark. What happens next is what makes it a thriller.

The following 2/3 of the film consists of basically one actor (Blake Lively), a big scary shark, incidentally the shark looks great, and an endearing seagull that Nancy talks to and is comforted by. shallows2You wouldn’t think that thrills and suspense could be generated with such minimal props but they can be and they are in the Shallows. There is an excellent use of 1/2 above 1/2 underwater camerawork. Instead of being clueless what’s going on under the surface, the director shows you and it’s even scarier. I have to take issue and challenge the movie calling itself horror. While there are unpleasant jumps here and there that shock the viewer, it’s a bit too “woman-against-nature” Survivor-like to be considered horror. If one of the surfers was a serial killer as a side story, I might accept the label as accurate. As it is, I see it as a thriller and a great one at that.

shallows3This is not Jaws but several times it spikes the same level of scares. From beginning to end it had my attention, I was never bored, and a few times I was shocked out of my seat by what I saw. Much care has been given to the CGI and props to make the shark attacks look real. The “final battle” between the shark and Lively is the stuff that award-winning thrillers are made of. I absolutely loved the way the director handled that. The Shallows is a top-notch thriller made with simplified tools. Blake Lively gives a strong physical and emotional performance. The film looses no stars with me, I give it a 5/5. Go enjoy it while it’s still in theaters.