Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Hitman Blues: Safe House 1618 (2021)

Safe House 1618 (2021)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Matison Card, Jasmine Day and Maddie Steele

In this mish-mash of psychological thriller, crime drama and home invading slasher horror, three sisters kidnap and murder a senator's scumbag son in revenge for a past crime he committed. Tagging their getaway driver along, the trio lay low at the titular safehouse until the heat of their vigilante killing blows over, unbeknownst to them that the senator, well aware that they're the ones responsible for his boy's death, has sent a hitman against them, a supposed professional killer with a murder count high enough to be called a "grim reaper". (all the while wearing a suit made from tape and garbage bags, mind you)

A commendable plot, one that has the full potential to be an interesting sub-genre hybrid if only the execution itself is anywhere as good; once the sisters and their accomplice settle in the safe house, the movie opted to drag this experience to a slow burn crawl as we get into the psychological troubles of living with the crime they committed, the trauma that started the vigilante killing and good old-fashioned cabin fever with a side of some guy tripping on drugs for padding's sake, I guess. In fact, the killer gets introduced twenty minutes into the nearly two-hour running time and the asshole mostly spent his screentime skulking around, murdering one guy who knew one of the girls and ordering an copious amount of take-out salads as he waits for more need-to-know information of the girls' whereabouts.

Add in the pain of sitting through the casts' underwhelming acting chops, obnoxiously artistic editing and a weak sound design, the film was nearly a lost cause for me if it wasn't for the alright last act where the hitman finally makes his to the girls and starts eliminating them one-by-one. I say "alright", not "great", as while I do find it nifty that the kills were a mix of standard slasher stabbings and action thriller gun shots via rifles with silencers, I still cannot get past the fact that this "professional" goes around doing jobs looking like a do-it-yourself slasher villain with his attire of ski masks, goggles, black garbage bags, duct tape and dishwashing gloves. You gotta be snorting a lot of cheese to think this would look badass onscreen. 

For a little film made with about eight grand, I again commend its high concept story but I'll be damn lying if I say the experience was painless and exciting. For fans of low budget filmmaking may find a cozy stay with Safe House 1618 (2021) but, personally, I think I'm gonna feel more at home with something exploitative, cheeky and not overly draggy.   

1 male had his arms slit open, bled to death
1 male shot on the head
1 male stabbed to death with a buck knife
1 female shot on the head (flashback)
1 male had his throat cut with a kitchen knife
1 female shot on the head
1 male attacked, presumably killed
1 female shot
1 male ran over with a car
Total: 9

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A Ghostfaced Legacy: Scream (2022)

Scream (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette

A sequel with elements of a reboot. A "Requel", if you may. To see a Scream film made with this treatment in this day and age without the late Wes Craven can be a bit of a stretch, frankly, but rest assured it does work. Mostly.

Taking place where it all began, Woodsboro, California, the scene starts with practically a tradition with these Scream movies as we follow a girl, Tara Carpenter, alone at home and answering a phone call. The further the conversation goes, the more it becomes clear that whoever is on the other line has a sick game in mind, one involving horror movie trivias and deadly consequences. One wrong answer later and Tara gets attacked by someone dressed up as Ghostface but, a first in the franchise, she survives.

The following morning comes, Tara is recovering at a local hospital and her estranged older sister Sam, driving all the way from another state while towing along her geeky boyfriend Richie, comes to comfort her. It appears this is the first time Sam is stepping back in Woodsboro after years of avoiding it and this all may have something to do with a dark family secret she's trying to keep to herself. (I'll throw you all a hint: she hallucinates a ghostly vision of Billy Loomis, one of the two killers from the first Scream movie)  

Another attack soon happens one night, this time finally claiming a life, and Sam finds herself also targeted by the Ghostface killer when she got real close to being the next murder victim during another hospital visit. It isn't long before she and, too, Tara's little circle of friends figure out that whoever is behind the mask is targeting people linked to the original 96' Woodsboro Massacre, comparing the recent killing spree to a real life horror legacy sequel that forces survivors retired sheriff Dewey Riley, news anchor Gale Weathers and long time "final girl" Sidney Prescott to come out and aid these kids in stopping a madman on the loose. But with the killer seemingly one step ahead of them all, do they even stand a chance against a maniac who knows the rules and breaks them?

Much like the rest of the movies before it, Scream (2022) takes a stab on horror film conventions as both a gimmick and a plot point, tackling this time the tropes of legacy sequels and how it's basically a mixed bag of rehashed plotlines that somehow still exist within the continuity of the original work, taking place further along the timeline and focusing on new characters all the while the original ones are still present in the plot. In turn, the film opted to play the legacy part here with a near literal sense as the main set of teen characters all have ties to the ones from Scream (1996) and, curiously enough, they only talk about the events of the first film while mostly completely ignoring the sequels that came after. (I say mostly coz we do find out the fate of fan favorite movie geek Kirby Reed. It's a blink or miss moment but, spoiler alert, she's okay, folks!) 

Plot-wise, Scream (2022) basically runs the typical standardized murder mystery slasher plot the franchise is known for, with characters trying to survive a mad slasher while pondering about the identity of their attacker in order to stop them. What sets this film apart from the rest, though, is that its execution is notably darker; the humor is more bleak, the atmosphere is dreary and the fact that some of the rules are being broken here and there meant that anybody can bite the big one. The kills here are also a lot more gruesome compared to the previous titles, simply savage with a few of them hitting a bit harder in the gut seeing who ended up in the knife. 

This said, I am a little disappointed by the lack of creative scenarios for the movie's share of scares and flair; we do got one intense moment of a mother getting a call from the killer who taunts her of what they'll do to her kid at home but apart from that, most of the stalk-and-stab scenes are played with a stronger emphasis on gore factor rather than striking premises. It also doesn't help that the new generation of characters are a little limp in substance and depth despite the near two-hour running time and all the steady pacing given to properly develop them, making the film lacking of strong, interesting casts to completely root for outside the franchise's recurring lead trio of Sidney, Gale and Dewey. 

Still, these are minor huddles for a workable plot that does manage to pull some good tributes to the franchise within its bundle of twists, turns and shock value, elements that help simple slasher flicks go a long way, or at least far enough to be an acceptable one. Throw in some satire on toxic horror fans and their gatekeeping ways and, too, a little discussion about the line of "elevated horror films" of today and I find Scream (2022) a stable enough sequel/remake hybrid albeit its shortcomings, one that I openly welcome warmly as a new chapter to Woodsboro's long running history with bloody horror and murderous mayhem. 

1 male jabbed in the neck with a hunting knife, bled to death
1 female stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 male gets a hunting knife through his throat
1 male found dying from a throat cut
1 male eviscerated with hunting knives
1 female shot on the head
1 male slaughtered with a hunting knife and repeatedly shot
1 female burned on an open stove, shot on the head
Total: 8