Friday, August 23, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Every Day Has Its End

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Death and the multiverse.


As the title indicates, director Hèctor Hernández Vicens and writers Mark Tonderai and Lars Jacobson were drawing inspiration from George A. Romero's 1985 classic Day of the Dead when they made their film Day of the Dead: Bloodline, but Vicens makes it clear right away that his movie isn't going to be anywhere near the level of Romero's. He drops us right into a cheesy-looking zombie attack sequence that features the worst variety of zombie: the kind that not only run (running zombies are acceptable on occasion, see The Return of the Living Dead) but also screech and roar like animals while doing so. Zombies that screech and roar while running are never cool.

Heroine Zoe (Sophie Skelton) is introduced strolling through the middle of this zombie attack as if she's dealing with slow-moving zombies. We then jump back in time to get some back story. Zoe was a determined med student at Whittendale University when the zombie outbreak hit, and the first zombie attack she witnessed actually helped her out immensely. When a cadaver that appeared to have died of the flu rose off its slab and bit into its first person, the victim was Max (Johnathon Schaech), a man who donated blood at the university every week. Researchers were interested in him because the antibodies in his blood were a hundred times the normal level, but Max showed up just so he could perv on Zoe. He even carved Zoe's name into his arm to show his obsession, and was about to rape her when the zombie bit him. Good riddance to a bad guy and a lame story element. Oh, but Max will be back.

Jump ahead five years. Zoe is now a doctor at the High Rock Bunker, an military-run refugee camp located in a mine, much like the underground bunker in the original Day of the Dead. There aren't just soldiers and scientists in there now, there are also civilians that live in RVs, campers, and tents. The commanding officer here is Lieutenant Miguel Salazar (Jeff Gum), the only character whose name comes from Romero's film even though this Miguel is actually a variation on the Captain Rhodes character from the original. He is given some lines that would have sounded great being barked out by Rhodes actor Joe Pilato, but Gum's soft delivery doesn't make them stand out.

Things aren't looking hopeful. The bunker was reporting to the CDC, but it's been a year since they heard back and an even longer time since they saw any survivors during a supply run. When Zoe suggests they should go on a run to get meds from Whittendale, Max comes back into the picture. Zombie Max has just been hanging out at the college for five years, but as soon as he sees Zoe he kicks right back into stalker mode.

What's done with Max is some of the most ridiculous stuff I have ever witnessed in a zombie movie. It's because of those aforementioned antibodies that part of his brain continues to function like it did before. Still a creep, Max keeps a piece of Zoe's clothing so he can sniff it occasionally. He catches a ride back to High Rock Bunker by grabbing on to the bottom of one of the vehicles, and when they reach the bunker he infiltrates it like a stealth expert, dodging behind objects and jumping up into the air ducts. A zombie, sneaking around like John McClane. At least he doesn't start having in-depth conversations when the soldiers capture him; he mostly growls and screeches, sometimes sounding like a Tremors Shrieker.

Max won't bite Zoe, giving her the opportunity to examine him in the search for a zombie bite vaccine. Part of this search also requires the gathering of more zombies, but this bunker doesn't have a corral to work with like the original did, so they can only try to let a zombie or two in through a gate in the perimeter fence. That doesn't work so well, and of course this whole situation is going to go terribly wrong very soon, because that's what happens in zombie movies.

Day of the Dead: Bloodline attempts to have some depth, putting in dramatic scenes between Zoe, Miguel, and Miguel's brother / Zoe's boyfriend Baca (Marcus Vanco), but I can't get beyond the fact that the "zombie stalker" story seems dopey and wrong-headed to me from the ground up. It's watchable, but the characters and story made me cringe several times along the way.

There were some cool moments of gore, though. That was the best thing about the movie.

Bloodline was shot in Bulgaria, and genre fans who have seen other low budget horror movies shot there (like Wrong Turn sequels) will figure that out quickly, as the cheapness comes through clearly, there's some odd sound, and some cast members seem to have been dubbed while others have thick accents. Even actors who were brought in from their native England sometimes deliver their lines in a way that makes it sound like they're just getting accustomed to English, but that probably has more to do with their acting skills than the language.


Day of the Dead: Bloodline came along ten years after director Steve Miner and writer Jeffrey Reddick made their own zombie movie that claimed to be inspired by George A. Romero's Day of the Dead, but was more inspired by the success Zack Snyder's remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead enjoyed at the box office in 2004.

Day '08 is clearly taking the wrong approach to the material right from the beginning, when the first characters we meet are a bunch of teenagers who have snuck off to a remote location to grope each other in peace. I don't want slasher clichés in a zombie movie of Romero lineage. One of these kids is sick with the virus that has hit their hometown Leadville, Colorado so hard that the military has moved in to quarantine the place. As expected, the people sick with that virus have soon become flesh-eating zombies, and these are the running type of zombies just like in Bloodline and the Dawn remake.

Day '08 don't have much in common with Day '85 aside the fact that they both involve soldiers and zombies, and near the end of the '08 film characters briefly find themselves in an underground lab. Some of the characters in this film are named after Romero's characters, though. The heroine played by Mena Suvari is named Sarah; she's in the military and follows the orders of Dawn '04 cast member Ving Rhames as Captain Rhodes; another soldier (played by Nick Cannon, who tries to provide comic relief but only manages to be annoying) is named Salazar; and Matt Rippy plays a doctor named Logan. The only reason they have the same names is so the filmmakers could point out a reason why this is considered a remake. The Bub zombie gets a goofy-ass twist with the soldier called Bud (Stark Sands). Early on Bud drops the information that he's a vegetarian, which is supposed to explain why he doesn't eat people when he becomes a zombie.

With some energetic action sequences, Day '08 does have some merit as a movie about a small town being overrun by agile zombies, but it's dragged down by the decision to associate itself with Romero's film. It doesn't live up to the movie it took its title from at all, so it gets written off completely by most viewers. It's not good, but it has a good amount of action.

But no matter what the title is, the idea of a zombie not eating people because they were a vegetarian when they were alive is laughable.


James Roday is best known for starring in 120 episodes of the TV show Psych, but I have never watched that show, so I'm not very familiar with his acting. I do appreciate that he is a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, as he showed in the documentary His Name Was Jason, and I enjoyed his feature directorial debut Gravy, so when it was announced that he would be contributing a film to the Hulu and Blumhouse horror anthology series Into the Dark, his movie immediately became one I was looking forward to.

Roday threw me for a loop here, though. Into the Dark consists of feature films that are released on the Hulu streaming service monthly, each one having something to do with a holiday or notable date in the month of its release. Roday's movie Treehouse was scheduled to be the March entry in the series, so I was curious to see what March holiday his movie would be based on. Fat Tuesday? I don't know, he already did the feast thing with Gravy (which was set at Halloween). Ash Wednesday? St. Patrick's Day? Sometimes Easter comes in March, that's a pretty obvious choice. But no, Roday went with the Ides of March, March 15th, a day I knew nothing about aside from the Shakespeare line, "Beware the Ides of March." I had to check Wikipedia to find out why someone would set a story on that day, finding out that it's "marked by several religious observances and was notable for the Romans as a deadline for settling debts."

But that doesn't mean much, because even though debts are settled here there's no focus given on the idea that the story takes place around March 15th / the Ides of March. This could have been any month, any date. Since the characters doling out vengeance are women, they could have just as easily said this movie was observing International Women's Day, which is on March 8th. So that aspect of the movie was a disappointment to me. After four Into the Dark movies that did reference the holidays of their month, this one dropped the ball.

Treehouse stars Jimmi Simpson as celebrity chef Peter Rake, who comes off as a douche for various reasons: he's rude to the cooks on the TV show he hosts, he's a bumbling drunk who makes inappropriate comments, he tells his young daughter he's too busy to hang out with her and then goes off to do nothing, and he's in legal trouble due to the way he has behaved toward women. He heads out to his childhood home, which he hasn't been to in a long time, to get away from it all... and at this secluded mansion, he finds himself surrounded by women. The same servant who worked at the home when he was a kid, Agnes (Nancy Linehan Charles), is still there. His sister Gwen (Amanda Walsh) is around. And in a neighboring place, a group of women are having a bachelorette party.

Peter decides to invite the bachelorette party over to his place for dinner, and that turns out to be a big mistake on his part. He has noticed some strange things around his home - blood in a toilet, a goat in the yard - but things get even stranger soon after he notices that Kara (Julianna Guill of Friday the 13th 2009), Marie (Shaunette Renee Wilson), Elena (Stephanie Beatriz), Morgan (Sophia Del Pizzo), and Lilith (Mary McCormack) all have the same Celtic tattoo on their wrists. This isn't just a tattoo to honor their friendship, it represents that they are a coven of witches, and they intend to make Peter pay for the way he has treated women during his life.

And so the second half of Treehouse, named after the location where Peter did something terrible in his youth, deals with the witches tormenting Peter physically and psychologically. Somewhere along the line, my attention starts to drift.

Written by Roday and Todd Harthan, Treehouse has an interesting set-up and tells a story that's very topical in this age of celebrities getting accused of and/or busted for sexual harassment and worse, but the execution just isn't that engaging. Maybe that's because Peter is thoroughly unlikeable from the moment we meet him, so it doesn't stir up any interest or sympathy to watch him get put through the wringer. It's just something that's happening on the screen, and how long is this going to go on?

What is interesting is how many scripts for Into the Dark take the same economical approach as many indie scripts do - the writers set out to tell stories that involve as few characters and locations as possible. To this point, only a couple (The Body and Pooka!) didn't limit themselves that way. But Flesh & BloodNew Year, New YouDown; and Treehouse all put a small group in one spot for most of the action. Of the ones that took that approach, I feel like Treehouse was the least effective.

Treehouse is okay, but underwhelming.


I was perfectly fine with the explanation of the 2017 film Happy Death Day being a horrific take on the concept of Groundhog Day - nightmare sorority girl "Tree" Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) was trapped in a time loop because the universe wanted her to become a better person. The day she was forced to relive over and over just happened to be one in which was she was being stalked by a killer wearing a baby mask, so not only did she have to change her approach to life, she also had to solve the mystery of who was trying to kill her. (And who was successful at killing her several times, causing the day to start all over again.) Bill Murray didn't have to deal with the slasher issue in Groundhog Day.

After Happy Death Day was released, though, I saw some people complaining that the reason for the time loop was never explained. I assume they would have the same complaint about Groundhog Day. Regardless, anyone who wanted an answer has been granted one in the sequel Happy Death Day 2 U... And once that explanation was given, I saw people complaining that it changes the genre of the movie. Sometimes you just can't win. Myself, I wasn't too bothered about the switch-up of the slasher comedy Happy Death Day being followed by sci-fi adventure comedy of Happy Death Day 2 U, which does still have some slashing in it.

Writer/director Christopher Landon's appreciation for the Back to the Future franchise is pretty obvious in this sequel, which finds Tree once again getting stuck in a time loop and having to fight off another killer wearing a baby mask. This time around, though, she has also been knocked into a different dimension, once which is slightly off from the reality she knows: her boyfriend Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) is dating her frenemy Danielle Bouseman (Rachel Matthews) in this dimension, her homicidal roommate Lori Spengler (Ruby Modine) is actually really nice here, the married doctor (Charles Aitken) she was having an affair with before she changed her ways doesn't even know her in this reality, etc. Most importantly, Tree's mom Julie (Missy Yager), who passed away in her own dimension, is still alive in this one.

The fact that Julie is still alive here presents a major problem for Tree. Does she go back to her own dimension, where she's with Carter but no longer has her mom, or does she stay in this dimension and enjoy having more time with her mom? I wasn't entirely satisfied with the way this plot element was handled, but it was still something that was very effective for me on an emotional level. I didn't expect to cry while watching Happy Death Day 2 U, but I did, and I think this idea is something that anyone who has lost a loved one would find touching. Regardless of what's going on around them, the scenes where Tree and Julie are together are enough to make me consider this sequel a good movie.

Luckily, what's going on around those scenes happens to be entertaining. While trying to figure out what's going on and how she could bounce from one dimension to another, Tree has to work with the a trio of aspiring students - Phi Vu as Ryan Phan, Suraj Sharma as Samar Ghosh, and Sarah Yarkin as Dre Morgan. They're a fun bunch, and they're the reason Tree is in this mess in this first place. They created the device that caused the time loop in their college's science lab.

Rothe delivered an awesome performance in the first Happy Death Day, and continues to be awesome in the sequel, where she is surrounded by a strong supporting cast. While she was a revelation in the first film, the revelation here may be Rachel Matthews, who made her screen debut in the first movie. There she did fine work as the stereotypical bitchy, bullying sorority girl, but this time we really get to see how well she can handle comedic material. Her career is just getting started, and I hope we're going to be seeing her get a lot more work soon.

I had a good time watching Happy Death Day 2 U. I had more issues with it than I had with its predecessor, but overall I found it to be a worthy sequel that is both very similar to what came before and also quite different.

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