DeaconsDen Classic Reaction – Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

Psycho is my favorite film that Alfred Hitchcock directed. It was the first film of his I ever saw. It’s pretty much his most well known feature. It’s one of a few masterpieces that he had during his career alongside Rebecca, Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest. I have always been of the mind that Psycho is the film that Hitchcock’s whole career was building to. Everything that he did in the past, all the tricks he learned, all the sly elements to get past the censors all made it to this film in particular.

One thing that separates this film from others in Hitchcock’s filmography is that it’s about the average person. Most of the time Hitchcock’s characters can be sort or upper class, high society types who get caught up in these thrilling events. With Psycho, every character is someone you would meet in day to day life. We are first introduced to Marion and Sam. She’s a secretary, he works in a store. Finances are the barrier to them being together. Norman is man who runs a motel off the main highway. From Lila Crane, to the sherif to the psychiatrist each character is really just the average person. This makes the events of the film more palatable to the audience because this isn’t an adventure like North by Northwest, this is life.

Psycho is a film of passion. Marion’s whole story is driven by her impulse to steal the money. Her tragic demise is due to passion as well. I’ve talked about Psycho with others before and that’s something that gets lost in discussion. Some try to make every action be justified by what came before it, but these events are impulsive. It would be difficult to lock it down logically. In Psycho, people aren’t planning things. They are reactive.

There’s a theme of duality present as well in combination with their passion. Norman and Marion really mirror each other. Both feel trapped. Both see something that can get them out of their traps, for Marion it’s the money and for Norman it’s Marion. Both also show the trouble they have when questioned by authority figures. In both of their cases, especially Norman’s, they aren’t bad people, rather just distressed people.

Psycho remains a masterpiece for me. A tense, and even gothic horror film that still unsettles me even today.

The Invisible Man – DeaconsDen Reaction

A contemporary adaptation of the classic story by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man is brought into 2020 with a modern sensibility that makes this an early contender for best horror film of 2020. Horror veteran Leigh Whannell writes and directs a film that from the very first frame, oozes suspense.

Elizabeth Moss stars as Cecilia who is trapped in a controlling and violent relationship with optics scientist Adrian Griffin. Celia escapes from his home with the help of her sister and she stays with her childhood friend James. From frame one, Whannell crafts one of the most suspenseful sequences I’ve ever watched. For as much horror as I’ve seen, the opening was pure realism and I can not recall the last time I ever felt so much fear and concern for a character on screen. The opening also serves a purpose for the use of sound and visual cues that Whannell will use throughout the film. There is superb craftsmanship on didplay.

Elizabeth Moss is in sublime form as Cecilia. She puts on display a woman who was victimized and traumatized. You feel her fear, apprehension and paranoia at adapting to the world after leaving a reprehensible individual. The film’s title is also great subtext since people who leave toxic, abusive situations can have that haunting them later. The film deftly balances its thrills while maintaining its point of showing after effects of abuse and trauma. Whannell never makes light of the issue and it’s on full display for discussion and dissection.

I also want to give praise to Aldis Hodge as Cecilia’s friend James and Storm Reid as his daughter Sydney. The two of them provide a structure of safety for Cecilia and even though there isn’t much development for them (there isn’t much character development for anyone), both Hodge and Reid have meaty roles and feel vital to Cecilia and not just window dressing characters.

Earlier I mentioned there wasn’t much in terms of character development during The Invisible Man. However, I do not see this as a negative. Just because we do no necessarily see Cecilia go on a character arc as we are accustomed to, doesn’t mean she is under developed. Just being thrust into her situation worked for me because I don’t need tons of backstory to understand her situation and the nightmare that faces her. Another positive is scoring. It’s easy for a film like this to have strong musical cues, but Whannell uses music for the right moments and silence in many moments does just as mush of an impact. One other area of the film that stood out to me was the use of water. I haven’t come to any conclusion of my own on what it can mean, but it is something I look forward to breaking down in future viewings.

Anchored by a superb leading performance combined with outstanding direction, The Invisible Man is a great update for a classic story and an entertains horror film worthy of the legacy of the Universal Monsters. There is much depth to this film besides the titular character showing that monsters are human as well. Like the 1933 classic film, this will be watched many times by me and it’s already going to be a part of my personal favorites of the horror genre.

Ready or Not – DeaconsDen Reaction

Every year I see a movie that seemingly comes out of the blue, and ends up being one of my favorites of the year. This film is never one of the major releases that I’m already planning to see from the moment it’s announced, it’s typically a much smaller film. Last year it was A SIMPLE FAVOR. In 2017 it was HAPPY DEATH DAY. Along the lines of both of those films comes READY OR NOT, which is the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, READY OR NOT is the story of Grace (Samara Weaving), a woman who is getting married to Alex, a member of the wealthy Le Domas family. The craziness begins once Grace agrees to play a game on her wedding night which is a tradition of the Le Domas family to initiate new members into the family. Unfortunately for Grace, the luck of the draw gives her hide and seek. This results in the family taking up arms to hunt her down throughout the night.

READY OR NOT juggles multiple genres. There are elements of horror, thriller and comedy and it manages each of them perfectly. Normally this can be difficult for films, but this one manages to shift gears near flawlessly. One moment you are on the edge of your seat as Grace fights to survive and then you are bursting into laughter at the family’s failed efforts.

As the matter of performances go, Samara Weaving proves to be quite the lead with her comedic timing, physicality and a dash of vulnerability. Obviously with a character being in a situation like, you may expect one type of performance from the lead, but Weaving weaves (pun intended) from moment to moment just as the film’s tone changes. An honorable mention has to go to Adam Brody who gives a very conflicted performance as Daniel, who is at odds with his family’s garish history and his role in it. Also I must give a shoutout to Andie MacDowell, who it is always great to see.

It’s not just blood and laughs in this film. READY OR NOT has something to say as well. I felt it similar to Jordan Peele’s GET OUT, another recent horror release that also doubled as commentary. Here we have a comedic takedown of the concept of the wealthy and how it can be interpreted what they fee they must do to maintain that wealth and power. There is a reason the Le Domas family hunts Grace. The social subtext of the film becomes quite evident and enhances the experience.

READY OR NOT is a ride. With a length of 95 minutes, it covers a lot of ground early and covers it quickly while losing not an ounce of it triple decker of thrills, laughs and commentary.

Us – DeaconsDen Reaction

“Us” is the second film from director Jordan Peele. After a very successful career in comedy, Peele dropped the mic on his debut film, “Get Out.” That film won Peele his first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and was also nominated for Best Picture. Now will he continue his fantastic directorial start with “Us,” or does he hit a sophomore slump?

“Us” is the story of the Wilson family who is terrorized throughout one night by what appears to be their doppelgängers. The family is led by matriarch Adelaide, portrayed by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Her husband Gabe is played by Winston Duke, giving us a reunion of two actors from 2018’s “Black Panther.” Their two children, daughter Zora and son Jason are played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex respectively. All four actors give great performances, with Nyong’o in particular showing all emotional ranges with some of the best work of her career.

Peele’s direction continues to amaze with some great shots and keeping things very well paced. I was asked, “will it scare me?” I don’t think it’s a jump scare sort of movie, but with a movie like this it’s all about the atmosphere for me. It’s the situation that’s terrifying. To help highlight the horror is the score by Michael Abels, returning from scoring “Get Out.” Abels operatic orchestral sounds permeate the film with a haunted vibe that really underscores the beauty and horror of the people and their twins.

One question you will ask about “Us” is if Jordan Peele creates another “Get Out?” This film is different animal from its predecessor. With “Get Out,” Peele was making a specific point within the bounds of the horror genre. “Us” can be interpreted multiple ways. I will not speculate so as not to spoil anything, but the end of the film really brings home (at least for me) what sets in motion the events of the film. I’m not one for calling an up and coming filmmaker “the next” anyone because I find it unfair. However, as a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, “Us” really reminds me of his film “The Birds.” In that film birds attack the people with no explanation at all and it’s a masterclass in suspense while offering the viewer to make their own choice on what the events represent. “Us” works in that same regard.

Jordan Peele definitely continues this hot streak with the mind bending “Us.” It’s just as layered as his prior film while allowing us (pun not intended) the opportunity to see how we view it and view ourselves as well. I look forward to getting this on blu-ray for back to back views with “Get Out” and breakdown more of Peele’s commentary on society.

A Quiet Place – DeaconsDen Review

A Quiet Place is so quiet, I was afraid to munch on my snacks during my viewing. So yes, its trailers were certainly effective.

Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (who also co-wrote and directed) are a married couple with children who inhabit a world that is now overrun with creatures who are extra sensitive to sound and therefore silence is the only survival.

At 90 minutes, A Quiet Place wastes no time dropping us into the gut wrenching world where not even a pin drop may be quiet enough. It’s tense, unsettling and horrifying. The creatures themselves once you finally see them are nasty looking, yet like Jaws the threat of them is all the fear you need.

For communication, the family uses American Sign Language, too not only keep as quiet as possible, but also because the oldest child Regan is deaf (played by actress Millicent Simmons, who is deaf in real life). While dealing with surviving, there is also a great little personal conflict between father and daughter that further strengthens the theme of communication even when you can’t say so.

An element of A Quiet Place that I appreciated was the film’s score by Marco Beltrami. Since the film has thrust you into this world of silence, Beltrami’s score is used to relieve the audience in a way. It takes the edge off because you consciously find yourself limiting the sounds you make. In my viewing, I would hear people try to hold back their coughs. It’s fantastic immersive filmmaking I applaud Krasinski for also wanting to give you a break. And you’ll need it once things start to ratchet up.

A Quiet Place is a nice slice of creative horror that uses the performance of its casts as well as its concept to the maximum and never wastes a second of your time. For this reviewer who is a huge horror movie buff, this is something fun and unique and special.

Final Rating (4/4)

Film Review – Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Quick housekeeping note: I have made a change to the review format. It will now be out of 4 as opposed to 5 in reviews past. To see my reasoning Click Here.

Thank You!

Milla Jovovich returns as Alice in the sixth and reportedly final film in the Resident Evil film franchise. Does this film wrap up the story of this superwoman fighting zombies, monsters and evil corporations?
This film series is something that sits in the middle for me as a movie watcher. There are people who do not like that it shares the name with the beloved horror video game franchise that they are loosely based on. I don’t have that connection with the games, so that doesn’t play a role for me. I never found the movies unwatchable, but there certainly isn’t any aspiration to be found with them. Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed this installment as well as the first, fourth and fifth films in addition to penning all six never seemed to be a bad director to me. Just servicble. And that’s always how I see these films as well. I’d like to think that in 20 years these movies will be seen as fun distractions or Saturday afternoon movie marathons.

So what about the actual movie?

The story continues Alice’s battle against the Umbrella Corporation. Alive learns that the last settlements of humanity will fall within 48 hours unless she can return to The Hive, the location of the events of the first film. There she must retrieve a vial of the T-Virus’ antidote and release it to the world or see the extinction of mankind.

I’ve always found it great fun to see Milla Jovovich kick ass in these films. Regardless of what you think of the overall quality, it seems she puts her all into the role and enjoys making these movies along with her husband/director Anderson. We also have some returning cast and characters as well. Ali Larter is back as Claire Redfield, Shawn Roberts as Albert Wesker and Iain Glen as Dr. Issacs.

The film has a rough opening third. It’s basically 20 odd minutes of Alice killing creatures left and right before being captured in a pseudo Mad Max manner. In addition to the meandering going on, most of the action going on is edited in so many fast cuts you can’t focus at all. Once we move on past this we do have a sequence that is pretty cool. If you love the Lord of the Rings, this is basically Resident Evil’s Battle of Helms Deep. Once the film settles in a we follow Alice and crew to the Hive, the film then becomes your standard Resident Evil film experience. Take what you will from that. I did like that we got to see the setting of the original film again. Some nice fan service there. There also is a little bit of a character moments for Alice. It’s a shame that what you learn about her in this film wasn’t a thread in the previous five, it would have made those at the very least more interesting overall. Pretty much, if you’ve seen these films before and have enjoyed them, you probably will this one. If you’ve hated them since the first, then you’re probably gonna hate this too.

I won’t lie, as modern B-movies go I enjoy the Resident Evil films as chilling with my wife, popcorn entertainment. I don’t think they take themselves seriously at all and neither do I. However, if his is truly the final chapter for Alice, I would hope that Screen Gems takes the time to carefully reboot it and give it a much needed refresh with true horror cinema in mind.

Final Rating (2.5/4) Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is more of the same. It’s glaring issues are a slow first third as well as some tough to comprehend fight editing. It’s no surprise what you’re getting into.

Film Review – Split

Three young women are kidnapped by a man who has severe dissascociative identity disorder. The girls focus on their escape while dealing with a man who houses 23 individual personalities and a soon to arrive 24th called The Beast.

This is the premise of the new psychological horror thriller Split from M. Night Shyamalan.  It stars James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, the man with multiple personalities. The film also stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson as Casey, Marcia and Claire, the kidnapped girls. Also starring is Betty Buckley  who also played a role in Shyamalan’s The Happening.


Shyamalan has had his ups and downs over the years. We’ve gotten great films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. We’ve also gotten some awful films suck as The Last Airbender, The Happening and After Earth. After watching Split, I feel it’s a return to form for the director that I hope continues on.

First, the best aspect of Split is the performance of James McAvoy. Each persona of the main character feels like a complete individual and not as merely derivative versions of the same. Even though we see McAvoy, as an audience you get to know many different characters with their own stories, traits and idiosyncrasies. Sadly, this is the only quality acting that I felt existed in the film. The remaining cast just felt like they were going through the motions. It wasn’t bad acting, I just didn’t feel much to them. There is a revelation about one of the characters who isn’t played by McAvoy about 2/3rds though, and while it is an important moment, I never felt sold totally on how it affected the character. However this may be attributed to my own ignorance at how one processes trauma.

Shyamalan reminds us that he is certainly a talented director. From a technical perspective Split is on par with his better films. He knows where to put the camera, when to move it, where to move it. He knows how to visually set up tension and draw the audience in while we wait to see how the scene will resolve itself. 

There were some elements I did not enjoy. In addition to the acting past McAvoy, I also had an issue with the flashback scenes. My issue was not that they were there, but more that they would come in at a moment where I was really getting into the prior scene. Considering that they really don’t come into play until the end of the film, they sort of make things come to a sudden halt. I didn’t find that they enhanced the narrative they way they were designed to. I understand the purposes, I just didn’t find them as effective as they should have been. 

Once Split finally settles in and becomes the film it wants to be, it becomes a really good thriller. Especially during its climax which Shyamalan had me on the edge of my seat. 

Oh and that final scene? Yes! That’s all I’ll say about that.

M. Night Shyamalan puts the movie world on notice with Split. The man who came into the scene like gangbusters in 1999 is still there. He is still capable of putting out quality work and Split is an example of that. Despite its flaws, this is a really good thriller that may play a role in how he develops his future work. This is a really good film.


Final Rating (3.5/5) Split is a return to form for its director. Aside from some storytelling decisions and questionable acting from its supporting cast, Split is tense and well filmed.

Film Review: The Shallows

Don’t worry. Jaws still has its place as the king of shark movies. 

The Shallows is a survival thriller from director Jaume Collet-Serera (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night). The film stars Blake Lively as Nancy Adams, a young woman who after the death of her mother is seeking out the beach where he mom once visited. While out surfing Nancy is attacked by a great white shark and subsequently stranded on a rock in he middle of the water. Between her injuries, the shark constantly circling and the rising tide threatening her sanctuary, Nancy must use all her knowledge to survive this encounter.


Blake Lively is front and center here as Nancy. She does a pretty good good as her character is put through the ringer. Now her performance isn’t going to garner awards accolations like Sandra Bullock in Gravity,  but she certainly does an admirable job of conveying a wide range of emotions throughout the film. Not once during the film does she seem unbelievable in her performance or appear to be phoning it in.

Unlike a classic in Jaws, The Shallows isn’t attempting to showcase the magic of movies, but it does do a fine job in presenting the dangers of a shark attack. When Nancy is injured we see the damage done and it certainly isn’t pretty. For a PG-13 film, it does not shy away from the brutality of these type of events. It certainly could have. There are some truly harrowing moments in this film and I found myself holding my breath or getting anxious quite a few times. The limited setting also adds to the suspense.


The film is pretty adequately directed. There is a page taken from Jaws in that the most suspenseful moments with the shark are best served when the animal is not seen. The threat alone puts he audience on edge. There is some gorgeous photography of the surfing scenes however the beginning of the film features a decent amount of slow motion during these scenes that began to annoy me just a tad. The only other issue I had was with the film’s final act. After 2/3 of the film being pretty intense, the final third plays out like a standard Hollywood thriller. It’s still well filmed, but it just slightly betrays the quality that was built up before. At 1 hour 27 minutes, it move at a great pace and never outstays it welcome.


The Shallows is a solid survival thriller with some genuine tension and great thrills. Blake Lively does a good job in her performance and with the exception of the kind of standard 3rd act, it is certainly an entertaining thrill ride for the summer season in the midst of all the blockbusters. This one is a gem.

Final Rating (4/5) Thrills from start to finish, yet a typical Hollywood third act takes just a little bit away from what was built up.

Quick Film Review: Hush


Hush is my kind of thriller. 

A young author (Katie Seigal) who is both deaf and mute is stalked within her own home by a masked man. 

That’s it. That’s the premise. And it works. Hush is a thriller that is all lean and no fat. Very quickly are we introduced to our principals and the action gets going.

Hush has a lot of things going for it, but the most important thing is that it really doesn’t waste time. It’s under 90 minutes so it’s an easy watch. Even though the main character is deaf, I’m both surprised and relieved that there are no gimmicks with the sound design to imitate her deafness. It’s established early on so we don’t have to experience it in order to comprehend the dire situation she is in. Also I’m glad that the score never overtakes the action as it has been know to happen in a great deal of thriller films.

All in all I really enjoyed this film. It’s a well paced thriller who knows from minute one what it wants to do and does everything in its power to not waste your time. If you have Netflix, check this one out.

Final Rating (5/5) Some economic storytelling and filmmaking make for a really fun to watch thriller here.

Film Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane

 
Produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by Temple University alum Dan Trachtenberg, (Shout out to Philadelphia) 10 Cloverfield Lane is a science fiction horror thriller much like its spiritual predecessor Cloverfield that was released in 2008.

The film starts with a bang. Quite loudly in fact as Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is involved in a car accident that send pusher careening out of control. The sound design in that scene alone warrants some award recognition as you can feel the crunch of metal and glass. After the crash she awakens in a bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman) who informs her of an attack that has happened outside and that they can not leave. There is also another occupant of the bunker Emmet (John Gallagher Jr) To avoid spoilers I will stop with the plot description here. Everything written so far you can mostly see in the trailers and tv spots. 

 I love films that have a limited setting. As a major fan of the works of Alfred Hitchcock, I always appreciate the capabilities to tell a complete story that takes place in 1 location with a cast of less than 10 people. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a great modern example of that kind of storytelling. It is tense and does not waste time getting going. It is very economical with its  story. There isn’t really an exposition to speak of and it doesn’t matter. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes it uses every second to the fullest to make you feel tense and uncomfortable. Legit tension operates in this film not just modern horror jump scares. Where does this apprehension come from? Some of it is in the sounds that the characters hear from outside that are uncertain in nature. Most of it however is from the fantastic performance of John Goodman. Throughout this film the man is a human time bomb and the moments when he is not speaking you find yourself even more terrified of him because if he is not being verbal, his physical acting takes over and puts you more on edge. Winstead and Gallaher Jr play off Goodman well as they figure how to live with this man. Winstead also shines as she plays Michelle with a very proactive personality and in one of a few direct character moments expresses her regrets and resolves to change that about herself. 

 

There were a couple of nitpicks I do have with the film. At times I felt the film was overscored. There were moments where I just thought no music would have sold the tension far more effectively. It comes across as bombastic and unneeded since we know and understand he severity of the situation. Another issue is that there is a mystery that is introduced during the film that was really intriguing but does not receive any resolution. Personally I would have loved to see this played out and trim down the film’s actual climax a bit to make room to develop this thread a bit more. 

 I appreciate that this is not a direct sequel to the original film. Also that this was not quickly churned out. The time taken to create this really shows in the craftsmanship of the story. Director Dan Trachtenberg doesn’t really waste a shot here for his directorial debut. With this entry I really hope that Cloverfield becomes a series of separate stories like a cinematic Twilight Zone.  

 10 Cloverfield Lane decides what it wants to do from the start and immediately pulls you in with tension that is enhanced by some great performances and excellent sound design and keeps you there for its lengths. I hope this trend can continue for future installments and that the creators take their time to get it right. This is a pretty damn good thriller.

Final Rating (4.5/5) John Goodman gives a terrifying, unhinged performance. Great tension and atmosphere. Musical score can be overbearing at times and an unexplored plot thread are the negatives for me.