Monday, May 27, 2019

Take The World: Brightburn (2019)

Brightburn (2019)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn

While I've read a fair share of comic books as a kid, none of them had as strong of an impact to me as the original Marvel Zombies limited series back at 2005. Not only did this very book introduced me to superheroes beyond familiar names like Spiderman, Wolverine or Captain America (pretty much opening floodgates of superhero comics for me to dive into and try), but it also catered to my love for zombie movies back then, giving me something out of the ordinary when it comes to the shambling undead.

To see these oh-so-beloved heroes as something worse, as gruesome super-powered flesh-eating monsters born out of an incurable infection, more or less taught me that, when things go downhill, the heroes we love can become the worst case scenario. This what 2019's Brightburn is. A super-powered worst case scenario.

Twelve year old Baron Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is experiencing a lot of strange things lately: he sleepwalks to the barn at night, hear voices in his head and finds out he has superhuman strength and invulnerability. It isn't long before he finds out he is adopted, that the parents he knew all this time (David Denman and Elizabeth Banks) found him as a baby inside a crash-landed space craft. Unfortunately for us, this isn't Smallville, Kansas and Baron happens to have a concerning fascination for human body parts as well as a nasty habit creeping on girls he likes. This isn't a superhero story. No. This is a supervillain's. Soon, those who crosses Baron's path or threaten to expose his dark side will know his true power as Brightburn.

Writers Brian and Mark Dunn pen this unique slasher/superhero hybrid about an unpredictable and corrupted young boy discovering his otherworldly origins and while it does show how dangerous and unstoppable said boy can be with his powers scarily (and gorily) well, the final product felt lacking on character development, ironically predictable and easily comparable to classics like The Bad Seed (1956), given that movie's bodycount was modeled after Friday the 13th-style stalkings with DC comic's Superman's abilities as murder weapons.

A lot of missed opportunities could have delve further into the plot and answer some vital questions, more of it concerning Brandon's sudden acceptance to be a death avatar in a cape since he starts out as this intelligent and loving boy who dearly loves his parents. This route could have given more weight to the scenes wherein our parental figures try to understand their son's murderous streak or why some of them is simply outright denying it but, on the other side of the coin, the absence of reasoning why we suddenly have Superman-Gone-Way-South here adds to the creepiness of Brightburn (2019), cementing it fittingly as a unique slasher horror that delivers the messy goods along its young alien villain.

As a slasher flick, it exceedingly subverts conventions while -again, ironically- building around them; we still have a masked killer out prowling around, stalking his victims and killing them with relentless brutality like any good slasher, though the superhero elements gave each kill that extra punch not just because of the detailed gore work (both practical and CG), but also on the fact that they're needlessly overpowered, a clear sign on how our killer kid lacks self-control over his powers, either due to him still figuring out his limits or him simply enjoying what he can unleash. Not to say that the stalk-and-slaughter antics here could genuinely make you feel real dread or fear, but I wont deny that they can be intense.

The movie is far from perfect, relying heavily on typical slasher and child-go-psycho movie tropes that, yes, I am sure many of which we've seen before, but Brightburn (2019) wins me over with its atypical choices, degrading superhero platitudes and, well, for just how good it looks for a film made around an estimated budget of $7,000,000. So if you happen to the that one guy who wonders what would happen if god-like status fall in the hands of someone who isn’t selfless and moral like a certain Mr. Kent, this is definitely one of many good films to answer that. (Next comes to mind is Chronicle (2012)) If the ending has anything to go by, though, this may not be the last we have seen of Brandon Brightburn Breyer...

1 female attacked, later found with her gut ripped open
1 male crushed inside a dropped truck, jaw smashed open and bled to death
1 male shot through the head with the killer's heat vision
1 male hit by the killer in flight at top speed, slaughtered apart upon impact
1 female beaten within the house, bled to death from wounds
1 female dropped to her death
268+ victims killed in passenger jet crash
Images (c) Google

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Curious Case of A Camp Counselor: You Might Be The Killer (2018)

You Might Be The Killer (2018)
Rating: ****
Starring: Fran Kranz, Alyson Hannigan, Brittany S. Hall

Meta-slasher gets another contender in the form of this surprisingly enjoyable backwoods kill-a-thon (formerly a Twitter thread) starring Fran Kranz of Cabin In The Woods (2013) (another awesome meta-horror and probable companion piece to this flick, among many) as a hapless camp counselor in the middle of a classic forest-set cat-and-mouse chase with a masked maniac. Or is he?

Waking up blood-caked at night and surrounded by the bodies of his fellow Summer camp employees, Sam (Kranz) finds himself running and soon hiding in a barricaded cabin from a killer who's probably still out there, hacking up anyone at arm's length. Worse, however, is that he can't recall how any of this even started, so he dials up the only help he can get in a slasher situation: his bestfriend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan of the American Pie movies and Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV fame), who works behind the counter of Rings of Saturn, a local comic book shop and who's a happens to know a lot about horror cinema. Particularly the bodycounting kind.

Using her knowledge of tropes and cliches slasher movies are guilty of, Chuck asks Sam for as many details he can recall so she can piece things together and guide him out of this scary mess. From one flashback to the next, Sam's problem further worsens when everything that happens so far (and the matter of fact that he's in possession of a wooden mask and a bloodstained, gator jaw-adorned machete) all leads to the likeliest situation, much to his dismay: he might the killer.

Why and how is this movie's little mystery for us and, whilst the answer comes pretty quick (about twenty minutes or so into the film), the craziness of it all is just fun to watch thanks to the awesome chemistry of this movie's two main casts despite their characters' only interaction was through a phone call, as well as the non-linear flashbacks that help build the anticipation of what could come next and how all of this would end.

As a meta-slasher, jokey winks and nods are a plenty with You Might Be The Killer (2018) as it references its fellow slasher movies from the well known (Fred Krueger gets a name drop and Jason Voorhees' opening revival at Friday The 13th Part VI is suggested as a bright side for Sam. Come to think of it, Friday The 13th got a lot of love in this one!) to the obscure. (Maniac Cop (1988)'s titular killer gets his ugliness compared and I think they referenced either Basket Case (1982) or Sisters (1972) when they brought up a possible conjoined twin killer. That would have been terrible!) The killcount gets an onscreen scoreboard that's actually quite helpful in keeping us up with the flashbacks and the conventional plotting of the sub-genre gets criticized often in snide yet smart deliveries that carry the movie through, pointing out the flaws and improbabilities many horror characters make that are often overlooked for the sake of entertainment. (Not that said flaws and improbabilities are always an issue, mind you. They are, for most cases, what made the slasher sub-genre such a guilty pleasure to watch!)

Once in a while, the movie does subvert some expectations (most of it about Sam trying to survive being killed off himself from the very people he could have chopped to pieces), but at the very heart of it, You Might Be The Killer (2018) is a backwoods slasher and a decent one at that; the cursed mask campfire tale is a fair variation in the sense that instead of a killer being out haunting the woods, it's an object that has the power to possess and act out murder. It's a lore that isn't tackled much when it comes to slasher films so I'm all aboard this idea, especially when the resulting massacre is gory and savage fun, topping up a fairly hefty bodycount. The killer -or rather the evil mask- could have used some more work on its simplistic design as it look less like a wooden mask and more of something intentionally made out of resin fiberglass. Or painted vinyl.

After our main casts figure out what is happening and attempting to stop the mess while the survivor count is still passable, the last act of the film plays out the classic slasher final third wherein the final girl (or girls) gets chased and stalk before our unwilling killer gets one more chance to control himself. This is where the film falters for me as it slowly runs out of steam with the meta-humor and stretches out the final act in an intense yet overly foreshadowed conclusion. I guess I was looking for something out of the ordinary to keep in tone with the movie's strange yet welcoming diverted story, but at the least the bittersweet last minute twist saved the film for me and honestly put a sincere smile on my face.

Ultimately, this is a slasher feature two-people act with Kranz and Hannigan powering through to the end with their comic charisma. You Might Be the Killer (2018) is still flawed with it lacking much development for the rest of the casts, some of the jokes falling flat and, worse of all, suffering from a weak final act, but looking at the bigger picture, its bloody machete is in the right place and does well enough to be quick and quippy. Packed with classic backwoods slasher tropes and well-timed comedy, this is very much a worthy watch for casual and hardcore fans of summer camp massacres. Don't miss out on this one.

1 male ran through the gut with a gator jaw machete
1 female had her throat cut with a gator jaw machete
1 male hacked with a gator jaw machete, gutted
1 male had his head chopped in half with a gator jaw machete
1 female drowned in a pool
1 male impaled through the chest with a gator jaw machete
1 female had her neck repeatedly crushed with a refrigerator door
1 female stabbed with a gator jaw machete
1 female decapitated with a gator jaw machete
1 male had his arms lopped off with a gator jaw machete, stabbed
1 female had her face repeatedly hacked with a shovel
1 male stabbed on the gut with a gator jaw machete
Total: 12

Up The Highlands, Down With A Maniac: Dark Highlands (2018)

Dark Highlands (United Kingdom, 2018)
Rating: ***
Starring: Junichi Kajioka, Steve Campbell, Mike Mitchell

A suicidal man (Steve Campbell) hikes up the Scottish highlands where he, after setting up camp, proceeds to snort up and beer down copious amount of drugs before taping a bag over his head, waiting for death to take him. One vomit-covered violent suffocation later, he apparently survives this and wakes up with a homicidal streak, attacking some students and their guide, killing most. This is iteration one.

Ten years later, a Japanese man (Junichi Kajioka) travels to the same wilderness to paint in peace, not knowing he is stalked by a heavy-breathing prowler who soon proceeds to shoot him with a tranquilizer. Waking up hours later to find his camping gear trashed, the painter learns that this figure, masked in gauze and decked in hunting gear, has strung him into a deadly cat-and-mouse chase, whether he wants to or not. This is iteration two.

Beautiful in a scenic sense and overly simple plot-wise, Dark Highlands (2018) is a survivalist thriller that, much as the case of films like P2 (2007), The Strangers (2008) and Hush (2016), took some cues from slasher movies and worked it around a plot that is essentially one overly long stalk-and-chase scene. What does set this film apart from most survivalist horror thrillers is that it's nearly devoid of speech, which meant Dark Highlands is the kind of film that demands full attention to be enjoyed as it heavily relies on visuals and a good set of scores to build tone and tells its story.

The the casts' physical acting, from gestures to expressions, is what drives the movie around its steady yet creeping pace. On that note, Kajioka does a remarkable job playing his character with realistic tire and desperation as their predicament increasingly becomes inescapable. The lack of name and backstory given to this character definitely made it easy for us to empathize with his plight, though I will admit the choice of making the antagonistic figure practically a slasher villain drops this movie a few points down into cheesier territories.

The masked killer, credited as either "Vomit-Head" or "The Gamekeeper" depending on which iteration, is pretty much a grungy variant of a backwoods slasher baddie, albeit with a thing for mentally and physically torturing his targets through means of exhaustion rather than direct contact. He forces his targets to run continuously and voids them of essentials like water via sniper shots, all the while leaving disturbing camera footages of themselves for their victims to watch, making sure as shit to make them understand he is watching. This, however, doesn't mean he shies away from ending bystanders with a swift kill, though I can tell his means of executing random bodycount fodders may not sit well for many slasher purists who prefer their killcount to be "bullet free". (Not me, though. So long as the slasher structure of stalk and kill is followed, they can shoot them down a hundred times for all I care!)

There's also a last minute twist in iteration three involving the killer's dog that place this movie further from being a realistic thriller and much closer to your shlocky horror movie. In fact, the point that this film labels its acts "iterations" onscreen felt more gimmicky than, perhaps, artistic. The story could have easily ran with the flow without them, only succeeding instead in hamming up this film.

Looking at it as a production, Dark Highlands (2018) has at least a modest budget and crew, not surprising seeing the focus of the film centers heavily on two characters either stalking or being stalked. Its edited nicely and many of its shots showcased beautiful scenery, but camerawork has its shortcomings, often looking stiff and dull only to be remedied by its flashier scenes of mayhem and grue.

All in all, withstanding its cheesier elements, Dark Highlands (2018) is a fair watch that did its best to make most of a simple yet dire situation and the effort is commendable. Thrilling and intense, with scenic route that leads to a balanced amount of horrifying visuals, this is a movie that, despite its flaws, brought something a bit more from what could have been a cliched slasher or a mundane survival thriller.

1 male caught on killer's chokehold, strangled to death
1 male killed offcamera, blood splash seen
1 male found dead from an injected drug
1 male shot on the head with a sniper
1 female shot dead with a sniper
1 male shot dead with a Luger pistol
1 male gets a portrait stand leg hammered through his back, pinned to the ground
1 boy injected with drug, brained with a wooden board
1 female implied dead, method or cause unknown
Total: 9

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Gamer Blood a Spoiling: Stay Alive (2006)

Stay Alive (2006)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong, Frankie Muniz |

Released around the time Japanese horror movies were focusing their creative energies on stories about cursed objects, Stay Alive (2006) did to video games what movies like The Ring (1998) and One Missed Call (2003) did to VHS tapes and telephone calls respectively: get involved somehow and you die. The key difference between these Asian fright flicks and Alive, however, is that while the former did their best in the scare department and mostly succeeds, Stay Alive has scares comparable to someone clapping behind you without your knowing, only for them to do it over and over again for the next 80 plus minutes.

While attending his adoptive brother-slash-bestfriend Peter's wake, Hutch comes into possession of an underground game called Stay Alive which Peter was testing before he bit the big one along with two others. In memoriam to his late bro, Hutch invites his dorky gamer friends (one of whom played by Frankie Muniz of the Malcolm in the Middle fame) to play the mysterious demo, not knowing that by reciting a prayer to start the game, they have also unleashed the game's villain unto themselves in real life. Now, whenever one of them dies at the game, they'll meet a similar grisly fate no soon after (similar to a certain nightmare man named Kruger's motive), thus forcing these kids to uncover the secrets behind the game before its too late.

Asinine and predictable, Stay Alive (2006) really didn't do much of an effort to make itself a worthwhile horror flick, may it be scare factor, emotional turmoil or even creativity for its bodycount. (Offscreen. Why must the gorier deaths be offscreen?) The CGI villains may look pitiful and the backstory behind their existence just didn't make much sense, a failing factor that doesn't help the sloppy direction and lackluster I'm-trying-to-be-serious-but-really-I'm-all-bull tone of the movie. (Apparently the villainess is Elizabeth Bathory, who founded a plantation in Louisiana in the 1800s where she tortured many girls for her oh-so-beloved literal bloodbath, which the game's premise is based on. Doesn't add up, however, since Miss Bathory's  already dead before the USA even existed...)

If there's anything good to say about Stay Alive (2006) is that I really dig the game featured. It's supposed to be very advanced with voice-activation and a very open-world to explore and survive at, with on-and-off co-op gameplay and decent character customization. Any gameplay shown in the movie does look fun to play and I wouldn't mind taking a swing at it myself if it ever existed. Aside from this, the movie is plainly forgettable and barely staying alive as a fright flick...

1 male found hung up in chains dead
1 female found slaughtered
1 male hanged with a length of chain
1 male stabbed to death offcamera
1 male ran down by a phantom horse carriage
1 female caught inside a burning house, dies from smoke inhalation (flashback)
1 male had his head slaughtered offcamera, blood splash seen
1 female had her throat slashed with a pair of shears
Total: 8

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Prom Night In Da Hood: Thriller (2018)

Thriller (2018)
Rating: **
Starring: Noah Abbott, Johnny Alexander, Jessica Allain

Imagine the classic Jamie Lee Curtis-starring Canadian 1980 slasher Prom Night taking place in a modern ghetto neighborhood and its casts being mostly black, with a touch or two of Hispanics. Boom! You got Thriller (2018), one of Blumhouse studios' uninspired duds. Yippee? Not.

Four years ago, a gang of kids decided to prank the local slow kid, Chauncy, by luring him inside an abandoned house and scaring the bejeebus out of him while wearing matching skull masks. It's all fun and games for the lil' tykes until their victim fights back, pushing one of them off a floor and to their death. The kids, shocked from the sudden drastic turn of their prank, cut their loses and vowed to keep their involvement a secret, all the while pinning the entire death to Chauncy, making him look like a murderer and throwing him into juvie.

After one opening credit featuring some very decent artwork (Probably the best part of the movie), we jump to the present where Chauncy, having paid his debt to society, is now a free man and his return is as warm as you would expect from someone with a reputation involving child murder: intense and disturbing to a lot of people, save for his own mama. Those involved with the incident, now teenagers readying for life after highschool, try their best to brush off Chauncy's presence in the hood by busying themselves with football scholarships, homecoming weekend and getting in the pants of a visiting rap star, but this soon proves to be difficult when they start being killed one-by-one by a hooded figure.

At best, Thriller (2018) is watchable for some of the drama it unfolds, particularly the interplay between its teenage casts among one another and some red herrings introduced that, frankly, would have made a better storyline for this movie. (A character, for one, talks to herself in a mirror and then talks back in an altered voice like lil' Danny Torrance from The Shining. Why aren't we focusing on this one?) These, however, hardly mattered in the end as the plotting and direction this film went for is just bland and overdone, recycling and re-using a lot of situations and tropes one would find at other (and probably superior) slasher movies, more evidently the aforementioned original Prom Night.

Lacking a central character, the pacing hobbles its focal point from one face to another in an attempt to build as much development as possible and while I can definitely see this as a way to put the human drama first to heightens the tension, its rushed and threadbare, candidly not enough to make the ensemble stand out of their archetypes and making caring about the increasing human casualties difficult.

It also doesn't help that the anticipated killing spree lacks a punch, which is normally the saving point of a slasher film if everything else that matters story-wise starts rolling down the ditch. Sadly (its low-budget to blame or not), the murders in Thriller (2018) are irredeemable on a visceral and/or a creative level, a large portion of them watered down by terrible lighting, cheap cuts and frantic editing.

Honestly, I have no problem with a cliched teen-friends-bonding-and-then-dying-over-a-shared-secret shtick if its handled properly. Unfortunately, too many hindering factors couldn't save the film from being a routine slasher with an unremarkable mystery that is just a chore to sit through. Thriller (2018) is just a tired run and the title alone reflects that. (I'm sure, without typing in "slasher" and/or "2018 movie", Googling this movie would likely show search results of a dancing zombie in a red jacket...)

1 girl pushed off a floor, falls to her death
1 male gutted with a knife
1 male bludgeoned to death with a bat
1 male found with his throat being crushed under the killer's foot
1 female bashed with a rock
1 male had his neck snapped
1 female dragged off a car, killed offscreen
1 male hacked on the back with a machete
Total: 8

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Just saw Detective Pikachu...

And it's exactly what I expected it to be; a fun, funny and adorable feature length adventure centered on a standalone take on a game franchise from Japan that's still running strong to this day. (Including its namesake) I may not have played every game in the series but I can't help but feel a bit of nostalgia seeing most of the pokemons showing up in the film (I say most coz two to three of them, I hardly recognize. Can you blame me? There's 807 of these guys now, not including their alternate and regional forms...) and that's just a fair icing on the cake since the story is, while predictable, does have an entertaining direction and some neat ideas. 

Highlights include a surprisingly hilarious interrogation scene between our two main casts and a mime pokemon called Mr. Mime, and a very expressive take on an adorable pokemon called Psyduck which, honestly, makes me feel proud that one is in my Platinum team. (Although she's a Golduck now, but still, memories!)

Nightmare fuel, though, is this movie's Ditto. Just....see the movie and you'll know...

Overall, I recommend it for the young and young at heart!

Sure, it looks squishy and cute now, but once it transforms...

Friday, May 17, 2019

Backwoods Funk: The Ranger (2018)

The Ranger (2018)
Rating: ***
Starring: Chloë Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu

Backwood slashers. Many's the films I've seen with this backdrop and I'm sure there will be many more in the future, so I often take heed of what I would subject my eyes to in this day and age as a slasher fan. Will the next backwoods slasher be a dime a dozen masterpiece or a predictably clichéd trip down a familiar bloodstained forest?

Well, why not look into it first once in awhile and give me some idea of what I could be getting myself into?

This is what I did for The Ranger (2018) after hearing and reading about its festival run and a few favorable reviews. I was hoping to see it one day and find out if the hype was well worth the trouble, so when it finally came out available for viewing, I hesitated not and, well, let's just say I am glad it at least didn't made me fall asleep halfway.

When the show they're attending gets raided by cops one night, Chelsea and her punk rocker friends drive off to her late uncle's cabin to hide after her boyfriend Garth stabs one of the lawman to save her. There, they run into the titular forest ranger who appears to have some history with Chelsea and is quick to dislike the new crowd she's hanging out with. The encounter, while troubling, seems to be done and over with no soon after so most of the gang more or less thought nothing of it. Most of the gang.

While her friends and boyfriend punk out mother nature with spray paint, hard rebel rock and drugs, Chelsea finds herself face to face with a troubling memory involving her uncle and the ranger, but before we could uncover more, shots are fired and one of her friends goes down with an increasingly fatal neck wound. The remaining kids are soon forced to hike back to the edge of the woods only to discover their van missing and the only help left for them is the local ranger they encountered earlier.

Problem with this, though -and this is an very obvious problem- the ranger doesn't like them. Like on a we're the wolves and they're the sheep homicidal level. So it isn't long before Chelsea's friends starts biting it and she's left to fend for herself.

The Ranger (2018) runs its first half hour considerably watchable at most with its decently directed stroll into punk culture and PTSD, with a fun-sized mystery focusing on the relationship between the creepy ranger and our obvious final girl steadily unfolding throughout. The fact that a lot of the characters each have a varying level of assholeness does qualm my enjoyment for the film a bit (most of them were tolerable for punks, dare I even say likeable for their strong bond, yet there's always that one guy you really want to suffer a slow or very brutal onscreen death), the biggest offender that really knocked this film down a few steps back, though, is how the middle act is basically a retread of pretty much any backwoods slasher flick out there.

Granted that one or two kills were eye-candy practical, bloody and gory, this doesn't do much to set the movie's generic forest-based bodycounting antics apart from others like it, even more so when the characters devolve from loud yet somewhat passable troublemakers into horror movie bad decisions incarnate and getting offed way too soon. Thankfully, the last act didn't made it any worse (though a far cry from making it a rave-worthy masterpiece neither) as The Ranger (2018) decided to end on a bloodstained note as the titular homicidal lawman tries to worm his philosophy of being hunters and other righteous ramblings to a drugged and captured Chelsea, only for her to exact brutal vengeance with a hunting rifle and an unusual choice of blunt weapon on an admittedly intense finale. (All of this after treating us with a trippy scene where a stark-naked madman walks on fours while wearing a wolf pelt and howling. Yeah.)

While it's a fine addition to the continuously growing line of backwoods slasher titles, The Ranger (2018) honestly made any dents on the familiar formula of kids going to the woods and dying despite juggling its own brand of black humor, backwoods horror and hard punk. Perhaps not a bad thing for hardcore slasher fans, but for those hoping to see more, this is just a solid "okay".

1 male body found rotting with a mangled face
1 female shot through the head with a shotgun
1 male gets an axe hacked up his throat, later found in half
1 male mauled offcamera by a wolf
2 victims found rotting inside cages
1 male found with a shotgun (flashback)
1 male found tied to a post and dead from gut wound
1 male repeatedly beaten with a pair of binoculars, pushed off a watch tower
Total: 9