Horror, social commentary and satire all rolled into an unexpectedly thoughtful and entertaining feature.
The death of both parents in a freak accident leaves 9 year-old Cady (Violet McGraw – Doctor Sleep, A Christmas Mystery) living with a virtually unknown aunt – a workaholic robotics engineer at a toy company. But enlisting the M3GAN doll prototype she’s developing to help with Cady provides Emma (Allison Williams – Get Out, The Perfection) with totally unexpected results and challenging consequences.
Splendidly creepy as M3GAN – Model 3 Generative Android – is a next-level robot that looks like a real girl for the most part and is responsive to its user. Something of a lonely outsider dealing with grief, Cady is a target for bullying. But science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s first law is that a robot shall not harm a human, or by inaction allow a human to come to harm…
With AI under the spotlight, the creepy doll trope is expertly explored in M3GAN as directed by Gerard Johnstone (Housebound). It’s not the scariest of horror films, but its full of suspense and uncertainty and a toy story like no other!
Psychological horror in the suburbs of Adelaide as a single mum confronts the fears of her son and the monster contained within their home.
Struggling with the grief of losing her husband in a car accident several years earlier, Amelia (Essie Davis – Nitram, Babyteeth) is exhausted by the demanding Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) nighttime routines and daytime aggression. As their relationship unravels, so the Babadook increases its presence in their everyday.
A sublime study of psychosis and PTSD as Amelia subconsciously blames Samuel for her husband’s death, The Babadook, with its excellent central performances, is a provocative and scary horror movie directed by Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale) in her feature film debut.
Winner of the 2015 AACTA award for best Australian Film.
Unexpectedly engaging, The Black Phone works by weaving psychological fears with the supernatural as 13 year old Finney finds himself imprisoned in the basement of a child killer.
Director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) sets the scene of a slight, bullied Finney (Mason Thames – TV’s For All Mankind, Walker) struggling at home with an alcoholic father and a tough, younger sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw – American Sniper, Ant-Man and the Wasp) who has visions. Young teenagers are disappearing from the delapidated neighbourhood. Eventually, The Grabber takes Finney. Alone in the basement, a disconnected black telephone provides a connection with previous victims.
It’s a chilling narrative as Finney must find a way (quickly) to survive whilst his sister tries to tap into her visions to find him. More insight into The Grabber and the duality of personality would have helped provide depth but The Black Phone is ultimately about the relationship between the two siblings and the boy’s confinement along with more than a passing social commentary.
An unquestionably tough act to follow up on the original A Quiet Place, the equally intense second part sees the Abbott family forced to move on from their home and face the terrors of the unknown.
With the teenage Regan (Millicent Simmonds – A Quiet Place, Wonderstruck) leading the family to the fabled island sanctuary, mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt – Sicario, A Quiet Place) is as wary of the threat to their safety by human survivors as by alien creatures. Teaming up with an initially reluctant neighbour Emmett (Cillian Murphy – Inception, 28 Days Later), they look to survival in a world determined by silence.
Director John Krasinski (The Hollars, A Quiet Place) picks up where he left off as the family unit treks across the unfamiliar of the once familiar facing threats to their lives. A sense of ominous foreboding exists in a narrative that, unlike its prequel, has a sense of achievable closure. The result is a film that almost equals the innovative A Quiet Place but its plot veers towards the predictable post-apocalyptic adventure. But it remains darn good storytelling.
Whilst not a fan of the horror genre, Barbarian is a surprisingly effective chiller of a thriller as the airbnb rental is not what it seems.
It’s bad enough for Tess (Georgina Campbell – TV’s Suspicion, His Dark Materials) when the house rental proves to be double-booked, with Keith (Bill Skarsgård – It, Eternals) already ensconsced in what proves to be an almost abandoned, derelict neighbourhood of Detroit. Against her better judgement, she stays. Meanwhile, in LA, the owner of the house, AJ (Justin Long – Live Free or Die Hard, Going the Distance), needs to make himself scarce and decides to return to Detroit.
Whilst undoubtedly a tongue-in-cheek poke at the genre, written and directed by Zach Cregger (Miss March, TV’s Newsboyz) Barbarian proves to be simultaneously tense and humorous as the subterranean claustrophobia of suburban Detroit reveals its chilling secrets.
Unexpectedly black, The Voices mixes comedy, whimsy and horror in equal – and surprisingly effective – measure.
Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Mississippi Grind) is chillingly perfect as the nice-yet-tormented Anthony Perkins/Bates Motel type of guy. A cute, good looking doozy fancied by most of the secretaries at his local place of work, Jerry lives alone above an abandoned bowling alley with Bosco (the dog) and cat Mr. Whiskers. But not everything’s right in Jerry’s head as advice from the angelic, supportive Bosco is balanced by the vitriol that comes out of Mr. Whiskers’ mouth. Things go horribly wrong when he is stood up by Fiona (Gemma Arterton – Their Finest, Rogue Agent), much to the concern of his court-appointed psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver – Silver Linings Playbook, Animal Kingdom).
It loses momentum in the last quarter but with candy colours contrasting the darker material of Jerry’s mind, director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken With Plums) in her English-language debut creates a genuinely funny yet shocking feature with Reynolds pitch-perfect as the immensely likeable psychopath!
Famed for the half-court basketball shot, Alien: Resurrection sees Ripley (Sigourney Weaver – Alien, Working Girl) revived as a powerful human/alien hybrid clone 200 years after her death on Fiorina 161, the maximum security prison of Alien 3.
Genetic cloning is the key to director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (Amelie, Bigbug) foray into sci-fi. The Company is looking to extract the alien from the then pregnant Ripley. But experiments have seen her DNA fused with the queen, resulting in one kickass superclone. Restricted to the science lab space ship where more experiments on the aliens are taking place (who, of course, escape), Alien: Resurrection is an oddball haunted house tale as the likes of Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence, TV’s Stranger Things) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Nightmare Alley) look to destroy the labs – and survive.
To be honest, the whole thing is something of a mess that adds little to the development of the franchise – but it’s an eminently watchable mess.
The big budget follow up to the deeply disturbing Alien, James Cameron’s (Avatar, The Terminator) Aliens sadly lacks the psychological undercurrent of its predecessor. Instead, Aliens is simply a testosterone-fuelled high adventure war film.
With Lt Ripley (Sigourney Weaver – Avatar, Paul) the only survivor from the ill-fated Nostromo, she finds herself disbelieved and dismissed from duty. The Company refuses to accept her story. In the 57 years Ripley has been in hyper sleep, there’s been no reported problems from LV-426 on which the Nostromo landed. But then communication with the planet is lost.
Reluctantly agreeing to travel, on arrival the planet settlement is found to be deserted – with the exception of Newt, a surviving young girl. Taking her under her wing, Ripley discovers she is in the company of trigger happy grunts – and a Company representative (Paul Reiser – Whiplash, Diner) determined to recover the aliens for biological weapon research.
It’s a full-on, blast-your-way-out-of-trouble approach from Cameron that ultimately becomes dull and tedious – not helped by a Newt that spends most of the time she is on screen screaming.
Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1987 including best actress, editing, art/set direction, won 2 for best visual and sound effects.
Arriving in London from the quiet of a remote Cornwall home, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie – Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit) finds herself struggling in the fast, judgemental life of a fashion student. Frequent visions of her dead mother do not help.
Directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), nothing is straightforward as Eloise’s grasp on reality is threatened by the presence of the spirit of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma, Split), a feisty, wannabe singer from the 1960s. As emotions heighten and the story flips into a dark, eerie supernatural horror flitting between the 1960s and the present day, so the pace increases and the narrative slides into a hyperactive, delirious frenzy.
The presence of ’60s stars Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg (in her last film) and Rita Tushingham is a nice touch but sadly Last Night in Soho degenerates, after a promising start, into a messy let down of predictability.
Pedestrian and predictable it may be but there’s something about the feature from directing duo Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote (Open House) that makes it strangely enjoyable – dare I say even hypnotic….
Depressed following the break-up of a relationship, Jenn Thompson (Kate Siegel – The Haunting of Hill House, TV’s Midnight Mass) meets renowned hypnotherapist Dr Collin Meade (Jason O’Mara – TV’s The Man in the High Castle, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) at a party. Reluctant at first, Jenn is encouraged to attend sessions with Meade – only to discover strange things begin to happen around her. Yet no-one except Detective Wade Rollins (Dulé Hill – TV’s Suits, Ballers) believes her.
It’s all pretty dumb – but enjoyably dumb in its immediacy.