It Comes At Night – Review

by Ren Zelen

(Possible Spoilers in Review) 

Deceptively titled and oddly mis-marketed as a horror movie, Trey Edward Shults’s second feature It Comes at Night might much more appropriately be viewed as a ‘post-apocalyptic psychological family drama’.

I’m often loath to place a movie under a genre classification, because certain movies might straddle several genres and don’t easily fit into pigeonholes. However, if you go to see It Comes at Night expecting a conventional horror film, you will be disappointed… or perhaps you’ll be surprised.

Shults sets his film in a vacuum – a cataclysmic event has occurred, what this might have been remains a mystery, but some kind of deadly, pustular contagion is one result. The virus may be in the air, as gas masks are often worn as a precaution, but it is certainly contagious and contaminated bodies are immediately burned.

There is no information as to where this virus came from or how civilization has been affected or what still remains. There are no amenities such as electricity or a water supply, there are no explanations via radio broadcasts or internet messages.

Living in an isolated, boarded-up fortress of a house in the middle of woods, is a father, Paul, (Joel Edgerton) an erstwhile history teacher who has had to learn to be a survivalist. His entire existence revolves around protecting his wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their 17-year-old son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). He goes by the motto, “You can’t trust anyone but family,”. The family survives by sticking to rules and a strict routine, and, being American, are careful to be armed at all times. They live a wary existence. Outsiders are not welcome.

When a desperate stranger named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house looking for water and provisions, the family’s paranoia goes into overdrive. He is knocked out and tied to a tree.

When it transpires that Will is himself a man with a wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and 4-year-old son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), he manages to convince Paul and Sarah that his family may be dying of thirst not too far away.

The now-allied fathers rescue and bring Will’s wife and son back to the house and the two families come to an arrangement to live together amicably. Clearly, if they join forces they will be safer together… or will they?

Indistinct voices are heard mumbling behind walls; muted shuffling occurs behind locked doors; eerie howls echo outside at night; the family guard-dog runs off into the woods in search of something – an atmosphere of intensifying dread pervades the film.

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It’s never made clear exactly what does ‘come at night’. Certainly nothing that manifests itself in any obvious way. What appears to come is fear and paranoia, and nightmares.

17-year -old Travis is particularly prone to bad dreams, and they only intensify when newcomers Will, Kim and Andrew arrive.  Hormonal adolescent stirrings begin to torment him as he becomes acutely aware that he is the only male without a partner and without prospect of one. He eavesdrops on the bedroom conversations of the young couple and begins to have discomforting dreams about pretty Kim.

Despite best intentions, allegiances begin to fray when paranoia again begins to raise its head.

Director of photography Drew Daniels keeps things in the dark, and the film is infused with a perpetual gloom, punctuated by close-ups of frightened faces by lantern-light. Even in the daylight the surrounding woods appears shadowy and threatening.

Houston-born writer-director Trey Edward Shults (still only in his 20s) presented a tense debut in his low-budget psychological thriller Krisha (2016). In It Comes at Night, he has contrived a situation which exposes the frailty of human connections under extreme pressure and insecurity – where fear forces kindly people to make brutal decisions. He places a tight-knit family in a post-apocalyptic world, where hunger and thirst are constant threats but other, less defined perils, prove to be even more deadly.

It Comes At Night is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

All Eyez on Me – Review

Tupac Shakur will always be remembered for his incredible contribution to music. Before Hip-Hop became about attainment and wealth, the early front runners used music as a form of social awareness.  The genre, always associated with violence and not without an aggressive tone, spoke of communities forgotten by middle America.

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The rapper’s music, poetry, teachings, and videos are some of the most inspiring from the Hip-Hop movement. Yet the rappers ‘Thug Life’ image, personal life and criminal record make him a controversial icon. The contradiction of someone who spoke out on the cycle of violence for black Americans, yet was involved in altercations, makes him a fascinating subject.

His life and music are brought to the big screen in a biopic named after his fourth studio album, All Eyez on Me. Despite a wealth of material from his life and work, as well as an intense lead in Demetrius Shipp Jr. the film falls flat. Without a strong central narrative and jumping from the most controversial elements of his life, it does not create a deeper understanding.

From his early life growing up in inner-city neighbourhoods, to his rise in hip-hop fame. Tupac Shakur came from a socially active background. His mother and step-father were Black Panthers and he was shown the inequalities of the system early. Moving around with his at times unstable mother, Tupac discovered his talents for music early and began his ascent to fame. Despite his musical abilities, he is faced with corporal interference, personal struggles, and multiple run-ins with the law. As his music grows in popularity, his rights to his work are under threat as the rivalry between Hip-Hop gangs threatens his life.

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The film is directed by Benny Boom, who is more known for his music videos than any feature film work. With many directors attached to the project throughout its development, (including John Singleton, who was approved by the rapper’s mother). His background makes him a commercial choice for such a project.

With the film, director Boom has pieced together the more known and frankly controversial moments of his subject’s life. He has not weaved a narrative from his work, interviews and life to create a better understanding of such a figure. The script is uneven, moving from poignant and strong (usually sections taken from the rappers interviews), to flat and forced. Many aims of the film do feel admirable: His family’s Black Panther background and highlighting the issues faced by inner-city inhabitants, but these are stated rather than shown through a solid story.

Like any self-respecting musical biopic, the film makes use of the Tupac’s ncredible music, from his early tapes, poignant songs such as Brenda’s Got a Baby to his worldwide hits. Not a seat will be still when California Love comes on, making the music is of course a highlight of the film.

Walking in to such a film anyone who grew up with Tupac’s music would have expected a Boyz N the Hood tone for his biopic. Coming from his background tonally such a film should feel gritty. Yet Boom has gone for an over stylized and unnatural look. Most noticeable are a scene in which Tupac meets a girl in a club, which turns into a music video. Also, the film’s last scene, which should be harrowing, but is disrupted by slow-motion, smoke and ill-fitting music. The director’s music video background shows here and not to the film’s graces.

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In the lead role, Demetrius Shipp Jr. bears an obvious and striking resemblance to the man himself. At times within the film he captures the tone of the late rapper perfectly. His intensity, his movements, and his performance energy when he is seen on stage. Yet with a shoddy story, awkward direction, and a bad script, his efforts are wasted.

Danai Gurira is a force to be reckoned with as Tupac’s strong matriarchy mother but even her efforts are lost. In only a small role, Kat Graham plays actress Jada Pickett-Smith, a life-long friend to the rapper. Even with a cute opening dynamic, she feels misplaced and pointless to the overall story.

Despite focusing on one of the most talented and contradictory musical figures of our generation, the film fails to impress. Without a strong central narrative, and bad direction, All Eyez on Me is not the biopic such an artist deserved.

All Eyez On Me is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Unpopped Kernels: The Babysitter (2017)

The allure of the babysitter has transcended different genres of films. There’s the seductive thrillers a la The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, or the tortured victim as part of horrors, stalked by a ghoulish entity. They are usually dippy young girls thrust into Final Girl mode as they romp over the screen, trying desperately to save the kid, save themselves…or have sex with the Dad.

Anyway, horror film The Babysitter is an entertaining piece of horror action.

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The Babysitter revolves around 12 year-old Cole. He’s your atypical nerdy kid who is bullied at school and has exactly one friend. Well, two, if you include his babysitter Bee. Despite his age, and being the only child in his school still in need of one, Cole is happy that Bee is there. The two are massive cinema nerds and have a special kindred friendship. She is also super-hot and popular, which makes everyone somewhat jealous of Cole’s time with her. On the suggestion of his friend Melanie, Cole wants to figure out exactly what happens when he goes to bed…only to discover that Bee is part of a satanic cult and has been sacrificing people in the dead of night. Now Cole has to stop her before things get seriously out of hand.

Everyone’s obsession with the 80’s has really over-boiled to the point where it has become somewhat a bit tasteless. Whether it is a shrewd imitation of the tropes of eighties flicks or utilising synth scores and the era’s aesthetics, hungry, addicted fans can’t get enough of an era where shoulder pads were actually a thing.

The Babysitter certainly borrows from these recent obsession in it’s satire of 80s horror films and usage of ultra-violet colour and gaming visuals. However, director McG has amplified these tropes in a gleefully bloody and cheeky way. The film is over-the-top and with a sexual, seductive wink to the camera, it knows it. With no genuine frights, McGee relies on the splattering of bloody red stuff as really as some pretty humorous dialogue in a feverishly fast and enjoyable ride.

What makes The Babysitter so much fun is how briliant lead actress Samara Weaving is. Like, you can completely understand why Cole would want her around as a Babysitter. Heck, I’m 28 and I want her as a babysitter. She is impossible smart, witty, and quotes The Godfather, for christ’s sake. She is every 12 year old boys dream. Whilst that may be a fault: an extension of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, Weaving those a great job to play her with an assured depth. Opposite her is the young Judah Lewis who is terrific. He has to play complete nerd whilst also levelling up to hero status as he defeats, in particular gory fashion, the college kids turned satanic cult. They have bouts of chemistry as a friendship gone sour and it’s intriguing to watch this twist into prey and predator.
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A mix between The Final Girls and Stranger Things, The Babysitter may tire of the recent nostalgia resurgence and stumble half-way through, it is still a pleasurable and blood-splattering effort. A wildly entertaining film that will make for a perfect Halloween viewing this weekend or upcoming frightful Tuesday.

Happy Halloween! 

The Horror Twist: Why Ghost Ship Had One Of The Most Inventive Scenes in Modern Horrors

Yes there are spoilers. Massive ones. Walk away before it’s too late, save yourself.

It’s safe to say that some guilty pleasure movies need constant talking about. They need their fans to climb to the highest level of buildings and proclaim their love, the awfulness and the good stuff. They need cheerleaders chanting about how bloody brilliant it is while elbowing out of the way the detractors. Movies like these, they need someone to lend them a helping hand, to guide people away from all the bad stuff within the movie and say things like “yes, however, look at who great this is.” Sometimes, stale treats need constant attention.

So yes, this is why I am talking about Ghost Ship.

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While I don’t want to go into too much detail about the movie because we have done that before. It basically follows sea scavengers (and no, that is not another term for pirates, they salvage shipwrecks,) who are lured into an infamous ship, Antonia Graza, which disappeared many years before. While on-board the ship, they soon realise that there are devilish reasons for the ships disappearance and that there may be spirits floating about. As their team start to get picked off one by one, Maureen Epps must discover the truth about the Antonia Graza before it is too late. Starring Gabriel Byrne, Karl Urban, Emily Browning, and Julianna Margulies, this is a cheesy but still excellent film.

Like I said, there is no point in going through what’s good and bad about it. What I will do is talk about the most important, iconic and unforgettable scene. Now, it is very hard to implement twists into horror movies without the audience guessing it. After all, there has been so many different endings. There have been dreams, mothers, fat girls, ugly girls, ugly men, gorgeous men, children, paintings, cars, religion, dogs and much much more that turn out to be the shocking killer. In ghost stories, it’s not much different and you always end up seeing what happens without. Predictable, cheesy…yawn.

Not with Ghost Ship. In fact, written by John Pogue (who directed, more recently,The Quiet Ones) and Mark Hanlon, directed by Steve Beck, they manage to implement such a corking twist that it actually brings Ghost Ship up from the usual yarn. Ok. So we all knew that Ferrimen (the guy who directed the crew to the abandoned ship,) was a bit dodgy but would you have guessed he was a demon, charged with collecting a quota of souls so he can be redeems from his sins? No. Me neither.

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But what’s more, you find out the massive twist in the film in an execution that, to my eyes, is damn flawless. It is told in flashback form, a trope so tiresomely used before. Set perfectly to Gabriel Mann’s “My Little Box,” the ghost girl that has been stalking Epps takes you on the harrowing true store of the fate of the passengers on the ship. Much more gruesome than the opening wire slicing scene, Katie (the girl,) sees the ship dissolve into madness. And the truth is? Ferrimen has been using people. In a hierarchy of blackmail, he seduces people into murdering over gold because he can claim them for hell.

It is a genius move for the writing team. It adds a new dimension to the film. It an incredibly creepy scene that show cases how greed can change a man. Of course, there are lots of gruesome deaths but the team behind this horror movie make you care about some of them. This mixture of emotions, fear and confusion makes your pulse beat and your hairs stand on end. A perfectly organised moment makes it utterly compelling in a truly horrific way.

Ghost Ship is one of those movies that proves the importance of music. “My Little Box” is timed evocatively well, able to add a layer of creepiness to the film. Not only is the sheer desolation of the scene scary and horrifying but Gabriel Mann’s haunting alternative melody makes your stomach turn. It is the perfect tune for an impeccable scene and it twists alongside the actions of the population of the ship. Innocence and guilty, criminals and victims, blood and gore, all combine for a shocking scene. And Desmond Harrington is the perfect charming villain as Ferriman.

This scene alone should tether Ghost Ship to the cult classic. The scene. That flipping scene. That’s how good it is. And need I say anymore. Take a gander at it, it is brilliant.

Happy Halloween! 

A Silent Voice – Review

Please allow me to preface this review with the fact that I am not an Anime buff. I went in cold to this movie, so here’s my outsider perspective on the latest Anime to hit the screen.

A Silent Voice follows our antihero, Shoya Ishida, a former junior school bully who was once so cruel to deaf student Shoko Nishimiya that she had to change schools. Ishida’s single working mum had to pay for her broken hearing aid, and then Nishimiya’s mum beat up her and it was a whole thing.

Flash forward to high school and Ishida has lost all his friends, worked a part time job until he could pay his mum back for the expensive hearing aid, learned sign language in order to find and apologise to Nishimya – all in preparation for his imminent suicide.

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However, his encounter with Nishimya goes a lot better than he expected; he finds the two of them becoming friends. After a talk with his mother in which she begs him not to kill himself, he continues his high school career, occasionally meeting with Nishimya and watching their friendship blossom.

Sounds quite touching so far, right? Well it kind of is; but that’s just the first fifteen minutes of the film. From that point the storyline becomes so convoluted and melodramatic that I could feel the visceral sounds of collective eye-rolls from the audience.

One teen who was Ishida’s friend, and then wasn’t, and then was, and then wasn’t – I don’t know – had shrieking breakdowns at every little thing he said that she didn’t agree with. One character was just an awful bitch for no real reason. The entire script felt like it had been pulled directly from the diary of an over-dramatic teenager. Granted, it made a very realistic pass at how important teenagers think everything is, unable to see the rest of their lives ahead of them – but it went a step to far in expecting adult audiences to sympathise with these problems, and take them as seriously as the aforementioned teens.

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The story, comprising nonsensical twists and turns, dramatised the very mundane (bickering among friends over some name-calling) and completely overlooked the deeper discussions (Ishida’s depression, his mum’s struggle to raise two kids and a granddaughter whilst running a business). Overall, both the story and script felt juvenile and listless (again, I’m an anime novice, so I don’t know if this might be something that got lost in translation?).

Character development-wise, the group of teenagers were shallow and unsympathetic. Sure, they were likable (mostly) but very difficult to care about. Their problems were minor, their arguments pointless. It felt long and arduous to watch them bicker for two hours.

Animation-wise I got the same feeling – that the creators had tried incredibly hard to create something artsy and moving but ultimately missed the mark, on a knife’s edge between beautiful and tacky.

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Plus points – Ishida’s niece, Maria, is my new favourite character in anything and is totally adorable. Sadly, she couldn’t save the rest of the movie.

Ultimately, A Silent Voice felt like a story that didn’t need to be told; the woe-is-me attitude of the emotional teenager dressed up to be something it wasn’t – deep and artful. It watched like a first draft, with the somewhat unneeded in-between scenes left in and the aspects that could have made a touching film left unexplored.

A Silent Voice is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Stranger Things – The Weekend Binge

There are television shows that will bounce around your friend’s conversations and permanently sit on their tongues. You can’t escape watercooler catch-ups without hearing about that cool thing that Jon Snow did (you know, spoiler alert, he came back to life.) or how a cancer ridden man can start a drug empire with the help of a school drop-out. There is so many television series that you -“OHMYGOD HAVE TO SEE BECAUSE IT’S LIKE THE BEST!”-  see that it’s natural to be a little late to the party like a person still clapping after the lovers have kissed and parted.

Anyway, I’m just saying that at We Make Movies On Weekends, our overwhelming obsession with Stranger Things developed later than most. But we love the Netflix original so much that we just had to talk about it, even if you already know that it is, like, the best. Especially because Season 2 is out TODAY!

Stranger Things is an eighties science fiction thriller romp that revolves around the disappearance of a young boy Will Buyers who goes missing on the way home from his friend Mike’s house. With the small town of Hawkins impacted by the unusual case, his mother Joyce is convinced that she can hear and sense him in their house. When weird events start to happen, Joyce could very well be right and it becomes a race against time to figure out the mystery. Meanwhile, the distraught Mike comes across a mysterious and near-mute girl named Eleven who may be the link to solve the case of Will Buyers.

Throwback nostalgia from The Duffy Brothers echoes the heart-swelling action of classic family adventures such as The Goonies or ET whilst still maintaining a lot of terror and horror to keep your heart pulsating. The gripping storyline that is handled by a multitude of directors is impeccably paced so that the chills are daring and plentiful. From the beginning you are immersed in this strange world of parallel universes, gifted girls with powers, shady government practises, and a small town rocked by disaster. Each twist and turn is lovingly nuanced with palpable thrills and a mystery plot that makes you want to equally grab a bicycle and go on an adventure and hide underneath your Care Bear addled blanket. It’s a superbly tense and engaging science fiction affair.

Great characters only add to the enthralling mystery with different age levels tackling different poignant storylines. Seasoned actors such as Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder grapple bigger adult themes of loss and addiction. Ryder’s Joyce is a spectacularly fleshed out beyond the grieving mother and her anger and rage at the circumstances mixed with the hurt and abandoned make her one of the actress’s better roles.  David Harbour as Sheriff Hopper is equally brilliant. His gruff manner may be typical of a lot of shows and movies but his reason and rhyme plus sensitivity and emotion graces the character with an originality. Charlie Heaton and Natalie Dyer as teenagers Jonathon and Nancy follow their own arcs that are gloriously and realistically embellished. The younger actors such as Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin) deal with the unusual entities with alarm and a captivating presence and their chemistry together sells this fantastic comradery.

With a synth heavy score and eighties addled soundtrack, Stranger Things is a unique yet familiar show that is embroiled with the right amount of fear, drama, visceral tension, and an unravelling other-worldly enigma. Captivating to the very last episode, Stranger Things will pull you into the Upside Down and never let you go.

Stranger Things is available on Netflix now!