Myths and thrills create a creepy night terror experience. Slumber – movie review

Everybody has been creeped out at least once by a friend or family member who sleepwalked or sleep-talked during the night, awakening us with a real-life jump-scare creepier than the entire Paranormal Craptivity franchise (definition by my friend Jimmy).

Slumber – an American/British movie that will have its wide release only in 2018 – plays with this primal fear and mixes it with ancient Eastern European myths.

Slumber 1Alice (Maggie Q), a doctor specialised in sleep disorders who’s been haunted by nightmares related to the sleepwalking death of her younger brother when she was just a child, is investigating on a family who suffered from the loss of their youngest kid. Mom, dad, brother and sister are dealing with recurrent nightmares who cause them dangerous sleepwalking episodes and terrifying sleep paralysis. Whilst this might depend on them coming to terms with grief and depression, the youngest boy, Danny (Lucas Bond), proves particularly vulnerable to physical harm during the episodes in which he sees a creepy figure lingering on him and preventing him from moving or screaming.

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Everything wrong with Alien: Covenant (spoiler filled)

Have you ever been let down – big time – by, say, a friend who turned out to be a huge disappointment instead of the amazing person you depicted him/her to be?

Well, said friend is Alien: Covenant (2017) for me. I love Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), I find Prometheus (2012) mentally challenging in the best way possible, I like Alien 3 (1992) and I even enjoy Alien vs Predator (2004) as a guilty pleasure.

Naturally, then, my expectations for Alien: Covenant were very high. I so decided to venture beyond the surface of the film to explain why Ridley Scott’s latest movie is a huge disappointment for me.

In order to do that, I will have to include spoilers for both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant – if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want its story ruined, check out my spoiler free review of Alien: Covenant. Also, I decided to focus on the negative elements of this motion pictures, meaning: the movie is not entirely rubbish, but here I’ll talk about everything wrong with it.

For a big fan of the franchise as I am, Alien: Covenant was really painful to (re)watch. Therefore, I have to thank my girlfriend who sat through it with me and endured my sarcastic and frustrated comments during the runtime.

The film opens with David’s (Michael Fassbender) backstory that we get to know through a dialogue between the synthetic and Mr Weyland (Guy Pearce). Although interesting, the scene raises more questions rather than starting to answer those left hanging in Prometheus. On top of that, it seems to set a Prometheus-ish tone that, on the contrary, will be betrayed as soon as the title appears on screen.

Soon enough, Alien: Covenant turns into an Alien movie, rather than a continuation of Prometheus. I’ll explain later why this is a bad thing.

Everything wrong 1.jpgWe are now on the Covenant, a spaceship directed to an uninhabited planet they hope to colonise. Out of 15 crew members, including Walter (another humanoid played by Fassbender as well), there are three married couples. This is the first sign of lazy writing.

No risky mission in the universe will allow couples to travel together… unless their inclusion has the sole purpose of convey emotions that, otherwise, would be lacking due to little acting skills of most of the cast members and non-existent chemistry on screen.

Basically, the first act of the movie is a big build-up in which nothing unseen happens and the characters appear one-dimensional: Walter-Fassbender and the dialogue between Daniels and the captain are the only enjoyable moments.

As you know if you saw the film or read my previous Alien: Covenant review, most of the crew lands on a habitable planet from which they received a suspicious signal by an unknown source.

Once they arrive on the planet, we are struck by incredible landscapes backed up by spotless cinematography and gorgeous visual effects.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere of awe is ruined in 0.2 seconds by a crew member who approaches a field saying: “Believe me, this is wheat, I know wheat”. No shit Sherlock! This brief sequence sums up both the disposability of the characters and the lazy storytelling featured in Covenant.

Finally, something relevant happens: two of the crew members are infected by an airborne unknown virus – which, who saw Prometheus, would recognise as the lethal weapon transported by the Engineers on their spacecraft.

However, the ‘infection sequences’ are highly predictable and reminiscent of those B-movies in which a teenager goes to take a leak and gets butchered by the killer. In fact, all the ‘thrilling moments’ are foreseeable in Covenant and, therefore, not as effective as they could have been.

Then, two monstrous creatures burst from the back and chest of our unlucky infected characters and furiously attack the rest of the crew and kill some of them in the goriest way possible. As I said in my previous review, these sequences would have been awesome if only horrendous Dutch angles, poor lighting, nauseating camera-work wouldn’t be there.

Oh, and it also would have been nice to have characters who don’t act like complete assholes!

Everything wrong 2Furthermore, the Neomorphs (these creatures born from the airborne virus that impregnates humans) feature very poor CGI: in both Alien and Aliens, the Xenomorphs are entirely practical and, therefore, frightening and timeless. On the contrary, the monsters in Covenant look already fake and, soon enough, will look dated.

The attack sequences, very fast-paced, are followed by a caped saviour who rescue the remaining crew members and take them to a ‘safe place’ (i.e. the now uninhabited city of the Engineers). The mysterious rescuer reveals himself as David, who landed on the planet with Doc Elizabeth Shaw 10 years before.

Now, the pace gets, once again, slow, showing how pacing and matching of tones represent one of the biggest issues of the film.

Everything wrong 4David carries the plot along and, while providing a very interesting backstory to his character, gives the audience some involuntarily laughable scenes (“look at me, I’ll do the fingering”) and spoon feeds the viewers, filling the gaps between Prometheus and Covenant.

David-Fassbender explains to Walter-Fassbender that the Engineers’ civilisation was, accidentally, destroyed by David himself who, unwillingly, dropped tons on lethal weapons on them and crashed the spaceship in the process, killing doctor Shaw in the crash.

Everything wrong 3.jpgIt’s very obvious, as it will be discovered a few scenes later, that David wanted to kill the Engineers in one of his delusions of grandeur. He, also, killed Elizabeth Shaw by infecting her with the virus in order to give birth to a new species. It’s clear, at this point, that David’s motivations revolve around his desire to be creator instead of mere creature.

However, the mass massacre of the Engineers seems clearly motivated by Ridley Scott’s decision not to continue the Prometheus universe expansion. In this way, we will probably never get answers to the questions cleverly raised in the 2012 film.

Anyhow, the story progresses with the Neomorph getting killed by the captain of the crew who, then, is guided by David to a Facehuggers nest where, obviously, he gets impregnated and gives birth to the first Xenomorph.

Wait a second, weren’t there two Neomorph? What happened to the second one? The film doesn’t bother to give us any answer, again. This is a humongous plot hole which I don’t know how can be overlooked by critics and viewers.

Also, at the end of Prometheus, a Xenomorph bursts out of the chest of the last remaining Engineer. However, in this case the creature is the product of a mixture of Engineer’s and big octopus-like monster’s DNA. How the hell two different DNA combinations (octopus + Engineer and human + Facehugger) can give birth to the same creature?

This goes beyond the suspension of disbelief. Mind you, I’m not criticising the genetic/scientific aspect of it. Instead, I’m pointing at the lack of coherence within the Alien universe.

everything wrong 5Back to the story: the first Xenomorph bursts out of the captain’s chest and David is before him, putting his hands up. What’s the reaction of the laughable CGI creature? It imitates David and puts its hands up as well! That’s too much to take. I can’t believe Ridley Scott turned the most iconic monster in cinema history (his monster) into a freaking pet!

Everything wrong 6.jpgObviously, the Xenomorph has an exponential growth, gets to the adult stage quickly and starts to hunt down the rest of the crew. Only Tennessee (McBride) and Daniels (clear replacement for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley) survive, after the two Xenomorphs (oh yeah, there is another one because another Facehugger previously impregnated another disposable character) kill the rest of the crew.

Meanwhile, there is a face-off between David-Fassbender and Walter-Fassbender, which ends with the evil David in disguise replacing the loyal Walter on the spaceship.

Before I conclude, I want to pinpoint two major issues that bothered me ever since I watched Covenant for the first time.

Firstly, David wants to create the perfect living creature and, finally, become a creator. However, in the original Alien movies, the Xenomorphs weren’t created by anyone in particular. Their society resembled a hive, with a queen giving birth to eggs filled with Facehuggers who stayed dormant until they got in contact with other living beings. Covenant ignores all of that and originates a parallel, less impactful Alien universe.

Everything wrong 7Secondly, why would David not be fully satisfied with the Neomorphs and want to improve upon them? In the original three movies (I refuse to consider Resurrection part of the franchise), the Xenomorphs are perfect killing machines. In Covenant, instead, the Neomorphs look faster, scarier and, above all, their system of reproduction is airborne, meaning they’re easier to create and spread.

All in all, Alien: Covenant is not an awful movie per se. However, is the worst film possible for the Alien franchise: it confuses the storyline, tones down the terror deriving from the Xenomorphs, tries unsuccessfully to recreate the same atmosphere of better Alien films and ignores the existence of Prometheus. Simply put, Covenant is a bloody mess.

If you are wondering my personal ranking for the Alien franchise, there you go:

 

Alien
Aliens
Prometheus
Alien 3
Alien vs Predator (yes, I’m serious)
Alien: Covenant 

Alien: Resurrection
Alien vs Predator: Requiem

The Classics of Horror #8 – The Exorcist (1973)

I knew when I started my blog that, sooner or later, I would have gotten the chance to review this genre masterpiece. And now I feel like I’m not ready to do it.

What can you say about an exceptional product that has been disected over and over throughout the years by the best critics in history? How do you approach the “scariest movie ever made” and make it justice? What smart comment can you add to what has been said millions of times before?

Reviewing The Exorcist is simply an impossible task.

However, I’ll try my best to pinpoint some of the incredible features that made this film so great and influential.

Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, the first game-winning decision by Warner Brothers in the making of the film was to hire the author himself as screenwriter and put William Friedkin at the helm.

The involvement of the author of the novel guarantees a substantial loyalty to the source material and its themes, whereas Friedkin’s direction adds the gritty realism and shocking value required for a movie like that.

We all know the plot of The Exorcist: a little girl, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), in Georgetown is possessed by an insidious demon. Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), a famous actress, takes Regan to several doctors, experts and psychiatrists, whose attempts to cure the girl are utterly useless.

Close-up of a bruised Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil sitting in chair.Despite being a devout atheist, Chris then clutches for the last straw and summons a priest to help her: Father Karras (Jason Miller), who himself is dealing with grief and anger due to his mother’s death, is however unable to provide the proper support, so that he uses expert exorcist Father Merrin to perform the exorcism and backs him up throughout the process.

Running for about two hours, The Exorcist never has a single dull moment. The build up to the climactic battle between good and evil, God and Devil, the two priests and Pazuzu is as compelling as the ritual itself.

The Exorcist 1The story, unheard back then in a first-class drama, is compelling because there are no disposable characters. Every single cast member is on point in their performance: the doctors are not just oblivious paper-thin figures; instead they cleverly try every way to improve Regan’s conditions, convinced they derive from some form of disease or mental illness that could be treated medically.

The accuracy with which Friedkin approaches the medical exams and attempts is mesmerising. From the machinery to the hospital procedures, every single scene involving a scientific feature is spotless.

The audience is, therefore, compelled to the story because it looks extremely realistic (even though the subject matter might seem absurd to the sceptics) and emotionally attached to the characters.

Ellen Burstyn’s performance, in particular, is truly Oscar-worthy: the viewer feels for her as a mother, mostly because her acting is top-notch and her love for Regan overcomes her fear and desperation even in the darkest (and scariest) moments.

Linda Blair, as Regan MacNeil, is also perfectly cast. Starting off as a sweet, innocent girl, she soon turns into one of the most iconic and scariest characters in cinema history.

The Exorcist 3The practicality of the effects, combined with Blair’s acting skills, make for gut-wrenching possession scenes. Although a couple of them were clearly sped up in the editing room, The Exorcist holds up better than 95% of the movies that came out in the 2000s.

This film is genuinely frightening on many levels: from the actual scenes depicted in the movie to the implications hidden in every dialogue.

Featuring no exposition whatsoever, The Exorcist is ahead of its time and, thus, an immortal motion picture that unlikely will lose impact in the years to come.

Since it’s an actual scary film that doesn’t need jump-scares to startle the audience, this movie is not an easy watch. For example, my parents (who are in their 50s) still can’t manage to sit through it in its entirety.

The Exorcist 4In particular, the sequences in which Regan stabs her intimate zone with a holy cross or those where she unnaturally twists her neck are genuinely off-putting and disturbing, no matter how old you are or how many horror movies you’ve seen.

Yet, the constant aura of angst and uneasiness is carried throughout the film because of the immaculate cinematography created by Owen Roizman and the soundtrack by Michael Oldfield, easily the best horror score in cinema history.

Besides a minute lack of explanation about the death of a doctor (probably killed by Regan under the control of Pazuzu), The Exorcist is a solid film that has it all. Do you really need me to recommend it?