Friday, October 7, 2016

Worth Mentioning - State of the Genre 2016

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.

Cody takes a look at four high profile 2016 horror releases.


There is an overabundance of shark movies being made these days, many of which go deep into absurdity with their gimmicks and way over-the-top with their usually subpar special effects. With The Shallows, director Jaume Collet-Serra and screenwriter by Anthony Jaswinski scale the concept of the shark thriller way back, making a film that centers on the harrowing experience one shark puts one woman through.

A few other characters show up here and there, most of them ending up in the belly of the shark, but for the most part this is a one woman show for Blake Lively, who carries the entire film on her shoulders and proves quite capable of doing so. Lively isn't an actress I've paid much attention to previously, but I was very impressed by her performance here.

Lively plays Nancy, a young woman who has given up on her med school dreams after watching her mother lose her battle with cancer. In tribute to her mother, Nancy travels to a secluded beach in Mexico that she surfed back in 1991. After a day of fun, she finds herself alone in this location... alone except for the Great White shark that attacks her, leaving her stranded on a rock with a horrific leg wound.

Trapped too far from the shore to swim without being feasted on, Nancy has to figure out how to escape the hungriest Great White this side of a Jaws sequel.

That's really all there is to this movie, Nancy's struggle for survival, and Collet-Serra and Jaswinski tell that simple story in such a smart, involving, entertaining way that it made The Shallows not just a thoroughly enjoyable 86 minutes but also one of the best shark movies I've seen in a long time.

It has to be mentioned, Nancy does get some company on that rock she's stuck on. There is a supporting actor who deserves an Academy Award for the performance he delivers - a wounded bird who Nancy comes to care for and refer to as Steven Seagull. This bird is awesome, and you might even end up being more worried for his well-being than Nancy's.


Evil Dead 2013 director Fede Alvarez, his co-writer Rodo Sayagues, producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, and lead actress Jane Levy reunited for this year's Don't Breathe, a suspense-filled film that literally had my heart pounding at certain points. It's not as brutal as Evil Dead overall, but when the violence flares up it does get brutal, and it's not as gross as Evil Dead, but it certainly has some gross-outs.

The story puts a twist on the home invasion scenario by making our protagonists the invaders, a trio of youths who have broken into the home of a blind war veteran to seek out the $300,000 in cash he has stored away somewhere in the house - a settlement he received from the wealthy family of the young woman who killed his beloved daughter in a hit and run incident. How do you make characters who would steal from a man who has lost so much the sympathetic ones? First, Alvarez and his collaborators give them depth and purpose. Okay, so Money (Daniel Zovatto of It Follows) is just a scummy criminal, but his girlfriend Rocky (Levy) isn't just out to score easy money. A girl struggling to get by in the slums of Detroit, she wants to earn enough to get her little sister out of this area and away from their crappy situation at home. Alex (Dylan Minnette) isn't out to hurt anyone, and only agrees to pull off the robbery because he knows Rocky needs it to happen. And he has a major crush on her. They're not noble characters, but they're not reprehensible, Money aside.

The audience is drawn even more to the side of the burglars when it's revealed that the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) is a homicidal monster with some very dark secrets. When he realizes that someone has broken into his home, he has no intention of letting these kids leave or in getting the police involved. He sets out to execute them.

The majority of the film is set within the Blind Man's home as he and his targets play an extended, deadly game of cat and mouse. As Evil Dead proved, Alvarez is not one to pull punches, and he puts his younger characters through a night of absolute hell, dangling freedom in front of them repeatedly and then cruelly snatching it away, throwing in twists and turns along the way to keep things interesting.

As the night goes on, the Blind Man is shown to be more and more detestable... and he becomes seriously irritating. He is the definition of relentless as he goes after these kids, repeatedly thwarting them, overpowering them, and attempting to kill them. This isn't a guy who is just going to stalk people with a bladed weapon, either. He uses guns and does not hesitate to send bullets flying, and I got extremely annoyed at the amount of bullets he was firing in the general direction of these intruders we end up caring so much about.

I will admit that there are some serious lapses in logic within the story of this film, but Alvarez put his characters through such an engaging harrowing experience that I was fully willing to suspend disbelief and just soak up the tension that was being created on the screen. As I said, there were moments in here that had my heart pounding, and it is very rare for a movie to evoke a reaction like that from me. Watching Don't Breathe was a great time.


There has always been a political factor to writer/director James DeMonaco's Purge franchise, which is set in a future where crime rates in the United States have been wiped out by the institution of "Purge Night", an annual twelve hour period during which all crime is legalized. The idea is that it allows people to get their criminal urges out of their system, then they're good to go for the next year. What some in the country have come to realize is that the Purge generates profit for the wealthy while having the harshest impact on the poor population, which has led to protests and riots as citizens try to overthrow the "New Founding Fathers", the politicians who created the Purge and have been ruling the country for twenty-five years.

Given the political aspect, it was a brilliant move on DeMonaco's part to take advantage of the fact that the latest installment in his series is coming out in a Presidential election year. The politics fully come to the forefront in this one, where one of the main characters - Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) - is an anti-Purge Presidential candidate who's running against the New Founding Fathers candidate... and as Purge Night approaches, Roan is gaining ground in the polls.

Roan has a very personal reason for wanting to abolish the Purge. Eighteen years ago, she was the sole survivor when a purger wiped out her whole family. The New Founding Fathers perceive her as such a strong threat that they revoke the Purge rule that protects government officials, making Roan fair game to be murdered during Purge Night.

Another brilliant decision made by DeMonaco was to bring back a character from The Purge: Anarchy, the badass Frank Grillo as Leo Barnes, a.k.a. Sergeant. In Anarchy, Barnes was a man out for vengeance who came across very much like a version of the Marvel Comics character The Punisher. Here, Barnes is the head of Roan's security detail, tasked with keeping her safe through twelve hours of attacks from both hired mercenaries and random lunatics. Barnes/Sergeant isn't quite as cool as he was an Anarchy, but he still gets ample opportunity to be tough, crack skulls, and blast down baddies.

After Roan's safehouse is breached, she and Barnes have to go on the run through the mayhem-filled streets of Washington D.C., along the way encountering some other good people, like Mykelti Williamson as Joe, a shopkeep who just lost the Purge insurance on his store, Joseph Julian Soria as his employee Marcos, Betty Gabriel as a woman who drives around offering medical assistance to people from the back of an armored ambulance, and Edwin Hodge as Dante Bishop, a character who has been in every Purge movie and now leads an anti-Purge militia.

With each new Purge, the scope widens and the action gets bigger. The first movie was set in the confines of a house, while the sequels have each had action on the streets of large cities. There are moments of action in here that I'm surprised they were able to accomplish on a $10 million budget, like a helicopter strafing a city street with machine gun fire.

If you liked the previous Purges, especially Anarchy, you're likely to enjoy The Purge: Election Year as well, because it delivers more of the same but in a movie that feels even bigger. The story is interesting, the characters are likeable, the action is cool, and DeMonaco even managed to make me jump at one point.

As much as I was on the side of the heroes, the most entertaining character to me was a villain, someone who might be annoying to a lot of viewers. In the first half of the film, Joe's store is under siege by a couple of maniacal schoolgirls and a costumed companion, and Brittany Mirabile delivers what I found to be a delightfully over-the-top performance as killer teen Kimmy.

I've enjoyed all three of these movies, so if they choose to continue the franchise I'm totally on board to keep watching them. A fourth seems likely, since each movie in this series makes more money than the previous ones.


The experience of seeing Lights Out, which I saw (like The Shallows and Don't Breathe above) in a theatre in Brazil while visiting my Remake Comparison co-writer Priscilla, provided a cinematic first for her and I. We both go to see horror movies frequently, and while we're used to hearing female members of the audiences fill the air with the sound of screaming, this was the first time either of us ever heard a man add to the cacophony with his own legitimate screaming at the scares.

Directed by David F. Sandberg and produced by modern master of horror James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2), Lights Out is based on a three minute short film Sandberg made a couple years back. The short just centered on one woman (Sandberg's wife Lotta Losten), who finds that some kind of supernatural creature, which can only be seen lurking in the darkness when the lights have been turned off, has invaded her home. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer has fleshed that concept out into a story about a family that is plagued by such a creature.

Teresa Palmer stars as Rebecca, a wild twenty-something who has commitment issues, even though her good guy boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) is trying hard to break through her defenses by being kind and loving. When Rebecca's younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) starts having trouble at school, Rebecca traces the issues to her troubled mother Sophie (Maria Bello), who appears to be succumbing to the mental illness she has suffered from all her life.

And this mental illness might be somehow tied to the supernatural creature that starts appearing in the darkness around Rebecca and Martin, seemingly intent on removing Sophie's children from her life. Just like it has previously murdered her husbands.

While Rebecca tries to save her brother, figure out how to handle her mother, and drive the monster out of their lives, Bret remains by her side, and anyone familiar with the horror genre has to be feeling certain from the moment this guy appears on screen that his days are numbered. This adds a whole other level of fun to the sequences when the supernatural force is on the attack, as we know Bret is going to die, but how is he going to get it and when?

Lights Out is a really fun "haunted family" creature feature with a smart and simple idea for the monster at its core. It's always a plus when a horror movie can justify people's inherent fear of the dark, and Sandberg does a great job presenting the characters' endeavors to stay in the light.

The jumps in the film weren't all that effective for me, jumps in movies rarely are, but they were definitely working for the guy sitting behind me. He was jumping, he was cursing, and yes, a couple times he did let out screams. It was awesome to be sitting in the same screening room with that guy.

The original Lights Out short can be seen below:

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