ReelReviews #118: Lights Out (2016)

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OCTOBER 21, 2017: Lights Out

 

 

BOO! There are two ways to frighten the audience in “scary movies”: The “jump scares” that startle the audience, and the “creepy folklore” storytelling that leaves views unnevered and uncomfortable. The latter is much harder to pull off, but gives people a film with much more depth when they successful use it. Not surprisingly, Lights Out uses the former technique (startling the audience) but does it very, very well.

Lights Out is a slim 80 minute movie, so it knows that it lacks depth, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. All these types of movies have some type of malevolent presence, and the one here is named “Diana”. That kept me thinking about the Princess of Wales, so I wish they would have gone with something more exotic sounding. Still, “Lights Out” came up with a cool twist where the evil spirit isn’t really an “evil spirit” at all. The backstory is actually rather interesting, since it appears the evil being here is actually a girl with a rare illness that seemingly “died” in the 1970s but is actually still alive. According to the film’s lore, they conducted an experiment on her to “cure” her of skin deformity, but instead it just destroyed her corporal form. This is hinted at through the movie, as the mother of the protagonist keeps telling “Diana” that “You can’t exist without me”.

Of course, this strange Dr. Manhattan type origin story is really just an excuse for what’s the meat of the movie: the premise that “Diane” can only be seen in total blackness, and cannot exist wherever there’s light. The film requires some suspension of disbelief because one would assume the characters would be sure to have portable light readily available at all times after they know such a being exists and is actively trying to hurt them. That being said, the movie milks this scenario for all its worth, and creates a final showdown that is extremely tense and frightening for a viewer watching the movie alone in the dark — which happened to the case when I viewed the movie.

After Lights Out was over, I couldn’t help but have to switch on the lights in the basement before exiting, and carefully look over my shoulder to make sure everything was OK. So as cheesy as it seems, did Lights Out accomplish its goal as a horror movie? It certainly did.

*** out of ****
 

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ReelReviews #117: A Cure for Wellness (2017)

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OCTOBER 20, 2017: A Cure for Wellness

 

 

Wow, how can I review this film?

A couple years back, I screened a Spanish language horror film called “Here Comes the Devil” and thought the film was a total piece of crap right from the start – until it finally got better and had me totally sold on the film by the end credits. “A Cure for Wellness” managed to do the same – but in reverse! Here is a film that I feel in love with from the very beginning, watching it slowly unfold and becoming engrossed in that world and the magic of the movie, as thoughts of “wow, this is BY FAR my favorite horror film since Let Me In, I’m gonna have to rewatch this gem later when I get whatever 3-disc special edition is out on Blu-Ray”) danced in my head. Sadly though, the movie completely unraveled by its third act – turning into some idiotic twist that required a huge sketch of the imagination (which would have been acceptable if the film was marketed as fantasy, but its not) and dragged me through a cringe worthily clichéd and through predictable ending, even up to the last line of dialogue in the film. I sat there in silence as the end credits rolled, crushed that “A Cure for Wellness” managed to screw that up so badly.

Still, A Cure for Wellness gets so much RIGHT in the first 2/3rds of the movie that its impossible for me to give this movie a “bad” review no matter how much the ending ruined it for me. One of my favorite non-horror movies of all time is the similarly titled “The Road to Wellville”, and this film very much plays out like a dark, twisted, evil version of that world. “The Road to Wellville” is a bizarre “based on a true story” historical romp/sex comedy about a turn-of-the-century “Health Clinic” that had cult-like followers and a very unorthodox “Doctor” who ran it with an iron first, the eccentric real life figure of Dr. John Kellogg — creator of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. In the case of this movie, “A Cure for Wellness” likewise is set in a very bizarre, unorthodox, Victorian-era looking “Health Clinic” that supposedly “rehabilitates” people, and is likewise run by a strange “Doctor” who has absolute control over the clinic’s methods and his patients. As the story unfolds here, a young man visits the clinic with the intent of having a patient there immediately discharged so he can attend to some important business involving stocks at his firm. The patient, of course, refuses to leave, and the man soon discovers that none of the “patients” ever seem to “get well” or want to leave, despite appearing to love the Doctor’s methods and being free to leave any time they wish. The man conveniently ends up in a horrible car accident when he tries to report back home, and then the clinic, of course, takes him in to “cure” him.

Everything about this movie falls into place perfectly from the start – and that means not only the story, but the art direction, music, cinematography, and especially, the general gothic/steampunk atmosphere. The casting was also impressive, and all the actors seemed a perfect fit for their role, including the brilliant choice of Jason Issacs as the twisted “Doctor” who runs the clinic. The film runs nearly three hours but didn’t seem bloated at all, because I found myself truly immersed in its strange world. Everything seemed to reveal a bigger piece of the puzzle, and I especially loved one aspect of the movie where a young (teenageish?) girl at the clinic wanders around randomly singing a haunting melody, and is eventually revealed to be a “special case” at the clinic, given that almost all the other patients are elderly. Our hero decides to take her out to town to see the real world one day, with devastating results and consequences.

And then, quite unfortunately, the “secret” behind the clinic was revealed, and the movie went downhill from there. It almost makes me want to recommend this movie since so much potential was being built up as the movie rolled forward, only to see it crushed into a complete disappointment and utter waste of time at the end. I truly have a love-hate relationship with this movie. I love the journey it took me on, but I loathe the destination it got me to.

 

**1/2 out of ****
 

ReelReviews #116: Cult of Chucky (2017)

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OCTOBER 19, 2017: Cult of Chucky

 

“Sorry Jack, Chuck’s Back!” was the famous catchphrase from the first Chuck sequel. We’re now up to the seventh movie in the series, and a horror franchise about a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer has lasted nearly 30 years. For most film franchises, that would probably mean the series has really gotten tired and stale at this point. But for Child’s Play, it’s still in full gear. I have to agree with the professional critics on this one. “Cult of Chucky” may be a low-budget direct-to-video afraid, but you won’t be sorry Chucky’s Back.

The vast majority of the film takes place in a mental hospital and it also features the return of Alex Vincent as Andy Barclay. The now adult actor had been the child star of the first two films, and did a brief cameo in the sixth movie. Here, he doesn’t seem to be used to his full potential, but he does kick off an intriguing premise where are multiple Chucky dolls seemingly going on “killing” sprees at the mental hospital, while Andy still has the served (and still very much alive) head of the “original” Chucky doll locked in his closet – which means the “Chucky” we all know couldn’t have committed those crimes. So who’s the true culprit? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

If there’s any flaw to be found in Cult of Chucky, its that the ending is pretty much just an obvious setup for yet another sequel, and without giving away what happens, it might be the only Child’s Play film where Chucky actually “wins” at the end. The only other issue with Cult of Chucky is thru no fault of its own – the sixth installment in the franchise, Curse of Chucky, was a clever “in-universe reboot” that tricked the audience into thinking it was a straight up remake of the first movie – until gradually revealing it was actually another sequel! Cult of Chucky follows up from that movie and just doesn’t have the same surprise factor. Many alumni from all six of the previous movies return, the mental hospital setting works well for the story, and aside from some rather blatant attempts to “update” things for 2017 (we just gotta mention some character is gay and married to another man, for example) the film stays remarkably fresh and true to its origins. Let’s hope the inevitable sequel to THIS movie is just as compelling.

 

*** out of ****