At times, The Night House feels like a paint by numbers psychological horror film with a surprising amount of visual flair. Other times, it’s a vehicle for a really fantastic and varied performance in lead actress Rebecca Hall. And yet, it is also guilty of being a convoluted mess housing bizarre occurrences in a maze of barely coherent plot threads. When it works, The Night House delivers effective jump scares and clever visual frights. Ultimately, however, the good parts of The Night House fight an uphill battle against a story that doesn’t quite know what it is until the last several minutes, when you’re likely to have stopped caring enough to piece it together.
John and the Hole, the debut feature from Pascual Sisto, is a psychological thriller that’s filled with a disturbing coldness with a sliver of dark comedy undertones. For the most part, John and the Hole works as a mood piece, showcasing just how disassociated its central character is with his actions. It’s a film that sees a 13 year old boy drug his family, trap them in an open hole in the ground, and then go about his newly independent life without much thought given to his captors. Aside from a couple peculiar and out of place side tracks, John and the Hole manages to stay compelling and unsettling throughout.
Jungle Cruise, Disney’s latest film based on one of its theme park rides desperately wants to be the mouse house’s next Pirates of the Caribbean style box office juggernaut. Unfortunately, the film fails on this endeavor almost every step of the way. Whether it’s jumping from contrived set piece to contrived set piece, or in the uninspired and incessant bickering among the film’s central triumvirate (not to mention the utter lack of romantic chemistry in its leads), Jungle Cruise just doesn’t work as a complete experience.
Following his work delivering slasher hijinks to the time loop trope with Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, Christopher Landon affixed his horror-comedy eye on the body swap genre with 2020’s Freaky. The film stars Kathryn Newton as Millie, a teen whose family suffered the loss of her father a year ago. Vince Vaughn co-stars as the nameless Blissfield Butcher, a deranged killer whose urban legend has him operating for decades in the Everytown (well, in California, at least), USA hamlet of Blissfield. When an ancient Aztec artifact causes the two to switch bodies, gruesome killings and funny misunderstandings ensue.
Settlers, the debut feature from writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller, is a sci-fi character study that never quite gets off the ground. Set on a lone Mars colony, it tells a tale of frontier desolation and isolation in a meandering and slightly unfocused way. A single family lives on the land and has to face the threat of people who appear to be marauders at first glance. As the film progresses, not much backstory (save for the bare essentials) is given as to who these people are or why they have staked their claim on the land. It becomes a moot point, however, as the film immediately becomes a 3-person character study with not much energy to the plot.
Throughout his tumultuous career, M. Night Shyamalan has been singularly focused on trying to surprise audiences. What’s most surprising about his latest film however, is just how little has changed in his bag of tricks. Old has all the hallmarks of Shyamalan’s storytelling style. There’s a preponderance of silly, inauthentic dialogue, tons of on the nose exposition, awkward comic relief that rarely lands as intended, and what seems like an active hatred for ambiguity. Yet, for all of Old’s silliness and lack of depth, it does provide a decent amount of suspense and is home to one really interesting concept.
Concluding a trilogy is a tricky proposition in any context. When it comes to the Fear Street trilogy however, its weekly release schedule means the first two entries are incredibly fresh in the audience’s’ minds going into the final chapter. So it stands to reason the conclusion had a lot to live up to and the potential for a lot of scrutiny to be levied at it. To add to that pressure, Part One and Part Two had the benefit of mostly disappearing into their respective time periods whereas Part Three had the unenviable task of serving as both an origin story and conclusion. Fortunately, Netflix’s ambitious gamble of releasing its Fear Street trilogy (based on the teen horror books by R.L. Stine) in weekly installments has paid off with a fun and satisfactory end in Fear Street Part Three: 1666.
As the middle part of a trilogy, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 suffers pacing issues and rehashed ideas and lore established in Part One. While Part Two never quite reaches the levels of fun and inventiveness present in Part One, it does further deepen the lore of Shadyside and sets the stage for Part Three in interesting and surprising ways.
In the 1990s, R.L. Stine’s Fear Street was like a big brother horror book series to Goosebumps. While Goosebumps was geared toward preteens, Fear Street catered to a more mature (relatively speaking) teen audience and featured more gruesome scares than its kid brother counterpart. Set in the town of Shadyside, Fear Street told anthologized stories of gore and horror throughout the cursed land. Now director Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon) and Netflix are delivering a trilogy of Fear Street films, with each entry telling a Shadyside story from a specific year. The trilogy is releasing weekly and is off to a terrific start with its bloody and energetic first entry, Fear Street Part One: 1994.
What started in 2001 as a street racing, DVD player heist movie shamelessly patterned after Point Break (Point Brake, anyone?) has become a globe-trotting, doomsday device stopping, spy team-up franchise. It’s nothing short of commendable (and, to some, probably perplexing) how this franchise managed to become a box office juggernaut. But nine movies and one spin-off is enough to wear down the tread on any long-running franchise. And while F9: The Fast Saga does deliver on plenty of ridiculous physics-breaking spectacle moments, there’s no mistaking that everyone’s favorite film family is showing signs their adventures may need to be parked for good.
Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead can be seen as a homecoming of sorts for the filmmaker. After years of dark and gloomy comic book adaptations (from a moody Man of Steel to a CrossFit Batman), Snyder’s latest film is his first original IP and non-superhero film since Sucker Punch in 2011. It’s also his second ever zombie apocalypse movie since his directorial debut, Dawn of the Dead in 2004. But even the good-will gained from the surprisingly refreshing Snyder Cut of Justice League earlier this year (and the noticeable absence of a lot of Snyder’s more distracting director traits), Army of the Dead still falls short of what it could have been.
Overall, The Lie is a solid thriller that could have been more if it stuck its landing. The pacing is strong and the performances by Enos, King, and Sarsgaard carry the tension of the film really well. It is unfortunate that The Lie’s vagueness in respect to character motivations and a lackluster presentation of its ending ultimately holds the film back.
George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Midnight Sky, tells of a world evacuated and a dying man keeping the light on to notify the last remnants of humanity. Unfortunately, what could have been a thought-provoking exploration of regret and isolation ultimately turns into a piecemeal rehash of genre and wilderness survival elements that were done much better in the films from which Clooney draws inspiration. He forsakes exposition in favor of needless ambiguity that leads to a payoff lacking the emotional resonance the film desperately needs. What’s left is a hollow and joyless expedition into the last days of Earth that’s devoid of any real intrigue.
Boseman’s powerhouse performance as Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom underscores what a tremendous loss his passing was to the film community. It’s easily one of the best performances of the year and potentially the best performance of Boseman’s entire career, tragically short as it was.
Although this brilliant Cold War time bomb thriller has lived in the shadow of Kubrick’s satirical masterpiece Dr. Strangelove for decades, it’s deserving of just as much high praise. The fear and tension at play in Fail Safe is just as palpable and relevant today as it was in 1964. The film provides us with horrific solutions to impossible problems delivered through the vessel of a relatable President who commands our respect immediately. As such, it will leave you with a lot to consider and debate long after you see it.