Hulu review: John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” (2018)

First, Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer (1927) popularized talkies. Then, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) distorted a single recorded word of dialogue just enough to influence the remainder of the narrative.

Next, A Quiet Place omitted spoken lines altogether for a mainstream, feature-length release, and the findings of this experiment are some of the most radical in the renaissance following the release of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014).

If you don’t know what to watch next, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (2018) is available to stream on Hulu. The postapocalyptic science fiction horror thriller was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.

Krasinski also co-wrote, co-produced, and co-starred in the production.

Lee Abbott (Krasinski) and his pregnant wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), along with their children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), are living in a world where almost all life has been hunted into extinction by alien creatures attacking anything which makes noise.

Fortunately for them, Regan is deaf, so the family knows American Sign Language and can communicate with each other in silence.

When one of the monsters kills the Abbotts’ youngest child, Beau (Cade Woodward), the rest of the family resolves to fight for themselves and one another.

Krasinski and Blunt are married with children off-screen, and so the filmmaker directs out of himself as well as his leading lady thoroughly personal performances, characterizing a husband, wife, father, and mother desperate to protect their home.

Simmonds is also deaf in real life, marking a sensitive casting choice for the disabled community. Rather than functioning as a handicap to overcome, Regan’s disability empowers her to survive.

What’s more, Krasinski’s directorial debut is a masterwork of its genre. Post-James Wan’s Saw (2004), jump scares have proven themselves to be most powerful when the sudden sound is paired with a horrifying image, instead of something cheaper and more mundane.

The hushed diegesis lends itself to effective jump scares like a dream (or a nightmare).

As progressive as the picture is with its positive, diverse (though not altogether intersectional) representation, and as much as it gets right about the scary movie formula, it is problematically regressive with what many critics interpret to be pro-life, pro-gun, conservative themes.

Some have even gone so far as to dismiss it as the antithesis to Jordan Peele’s social horror masterpiece, Get Out (2017).

Indeed, Evelyn still decides to give birth in spite of the mortal danger it poses to herself, and, by extension, her children.

While Lee’s altruistic parenting is good parenting, intentionalism is a critical fallacy, and it is irrelevant that Krasinski cites Get Out as a source of inspiration.

Art belongs not to the creator, but to the consumer, and one hopes Krasinski will learn throughout his promising career to handle his sociopolitical subtext with greater care.

A Quiet Place is important, effectual, “pure” cinema (according to the Hitchcockian school of thought), speaking to us with no words at all.

Amazon Prime review: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s “Pet Sematary” (2019)

Sometimes, the book is better.

Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Pet Sematary (2019) is available on Amazon Prime, and if you don’t know what to watch next, this one is better left alone.

An adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name by Stephen King as well as a remake of the 1989 Mary Lambert cult classic, the supernatural horror film was released to a mixed reception. Just fifty-seven percent of critical reviews aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes are positive.

Doctor Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) relocates from Boston to Maine with his wife, Rachel Goldman (Amy Seimetz), daughter, Ellie (Jeté Lawrence), and son, Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie).

New neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) warns the family about the pet cemetery in the local woods, where children bury their dead animals in the hope that they will come back to life, even if demonic forces are at play.

Once tragedy strikes the Creeds, Louis is faced with the opportunity to play God, and must live with the consequences of it.

The movie is not without its redeeming qualities. As an adaptation and a remake, it is confronted with scaring the audience as horrifyingly as did the original, and it does so through its own edits to the twist and turns in the source material.

For example, the denouement harkens back to Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007), one of the superior King interpretations.

Otherwise, the picture is a mediocre and forgettable affair. The pacing is better suited for King’s literary medium, which is empowered to internalize the themes of death more vigorously than the cinematic arts can articulate.

Pet Sematary isn’t so much an embarrassment against its production team as it is a waste of the viewer’s time.

They just need to let it die.

James Wan’s next film will be an “original horror idea” with “old school” special effects

In a Facebook post, James Wan says his next film will be released through New Line Cinema, and it will not be the remake of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) he was rumored to be working on, according to Bloody Disgusting. Indeed, Wan goes so far as to share that the “hard-R thriller” will be an original property – not a reboot, remake, or adaptation – and it will mark a return to his independent filmmaking origins with practical effects. The horror auteur also uploaded a series of pictures taken from the location scout for the movie; he is co-writing the script with Ingrid Bisu and co-producing alongside Michael Clear for Atomic Monster, and shooting is scheduled to begin this fall in Los Angeles.

Andy Muschietti’s “It” (2017) returns to the big screen with sequel footage

Starting Saturday, August 3, Andy Muschietti’s hit adaptation of the 1986 It by Stephen King, It Chapter One (2017), will be returning to theaters nationwide for two nights, according to CNET. This Fandango rerelease comes a month before the September 6 premiere of Muschietti’s It Chapter Two (2019), with a post-credits reveal of eight minutes of new footage from the upcoming sequel. Taking place twenty-seven years after the events of the first film, the now-adult Losers’ Club will reunite once more in It Chapter Two to confront Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who has terrorized the fictitious Derry, Maine, for centuries.

Amazon Prime review: Jordan Peele’s “Us” (2019)

Once upon a time, there was a girl, and the girl had a shadow…

If you don’t know what to watch next, Jordan Peele’s Us (2019) is available on Amazon Prime.

The psychological horror film had the all-time second-best opening weekend for a live-action feature after James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), and the third-best behind Andy Muschietti’s It (2017) and David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018), but the best for an original horror script.

Peele, who won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his directorial debut, Get Out (2017), is also the screenwriter for Us.

On Rotten Tomatoes, ninety-four percent of critical reviews aggregated for Us are positive.

Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke star as Adelaide Thomas and Gabe Wilson, who visit the family lake house in Santa Cruz with their children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).

Adelaide is doubtful about the trip because of the mysterious, traumatic event which befell her at the beach when she was a child. Their first night there, a family of four strangers invade the Wilsons’ home and reveal themselves to be their doppelgängers as the Wilsons fight for survival.

Together, Us and Get Out showcase not only Peele’s genius for the horror genre, but also his talent for filmmaking in general.

His background in comedy does not arrest his passion for horror, but rather refines it with laugh-out-loud dialogue that endears you to the cast all the more devastatingly when the terror comes to claim them.

Us is as rich with subtext as its predecessor, yet speaks with a voice all its own. Where Get Out is a slow-burn suspense thriller, Us is a fast-paced horror show.

Nevertheless, between the two, Get Out is the superior movie, but only because it is so difficult to meet, much less exceed. Get Out is one of the greatest pictures of our time, and one of the most important horror pictures ever, a once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece.

This isn’t to say that Us isn’t still a scissor’s cut above the competition, because it is. Nyong’o’s dynamic performance alone, characterizing both hero and villain, deserves multiple viewings in order to truly experience each layer of nuance she delivers to this dual role.

In a way, Us is more subtle and sophisticated than Get Out, a thematic cocktail of motifs and visual metaphors and double meanings as open to interpretation as a hall of mirror is infinite with reflections.

Us might have been stronger, in fact, if it was more ambiguous, but as it is, it is still a horror piece more lovingly choreographed than the mainstream, cheaply-shot Hollywood release made for no other reason than to rake in an easy profit.

And that twist ending will echo through you forever.

“Midsommar” actor says cast was speechless at first screening

Leading man Jack Reynor is quoted as saying the cast of Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019) sat thunderstruck through their first viewing of the horror film in New York earlier this month, despite knowing everything about the narrative, according to Entertainment Weekly. Reynor says the first two acts of the follow-up to Hereditary (2018) are brimming with gallows humor, but the final third is artfully crafted to overwhelm the audience a la Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976). Reynor co-stars alongside Florence Pugh as an American couple who visit a secluded Swedish commune while travelling across Scandinavia, where a cult awaits them.

Hulu review: Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” (2017)

A film that receives both boos and a standing ovation during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, is a film that demands to be seen.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017) is available to stream on Hulu. Sixty-nine percent of the reviews aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes for the psychological horror film are positive, but audiences polled through CinemaScore graded it with an “F.”

Its opening weekend marked the worst debut for a Jennifer Lawrence vehicle in which she earned top billing.

A plot synopsis is not easy for a reviewer to put down in words. Suffice to say, the movie opens with an unnamed poet (Javier Bardem) and his wife (Lawrence) living in an idyllic country home evocative of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism.

When a man (Ed Harris) and a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) come to stay as guests at their house, this paradise begins to fall apart.

Although not a narratively straightforward picture, mother! is an exercise in production value.

The performances of its four decorated stars are dramatic tours-de-force, and Matthew Libatique’s kinetic cinematography externalizes the surreal panic characterizing Lawrence’s titular “mother.”

Whispering alongside them is Johann Johannsson and Craig Henighan’s atmospheric sound design, echoing with the breathy non-diegesis of Aronofsky’s own Black Swan (2010) like chills running down your spine, and creaking with all the dread of the poet’s house.

The trailer misrepresents mother! as an homage to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), which arguably answers for much of the popular disappointment in the final product.

Indeed, the text can be interpreted as an allegory for Biblical creation, or the artistic process, or sociopolitical and environmental decay (or all three.. or something else).

It is an experimental release marketed as a mainstream scary movie about creepy neighbors, and it fails to meet its own expectations.

But even in its true, arthouse context, mother! can be self-indulgent and pretentious. Some of its metaphors are heavy-handed, and others try too hard to be “ambiguous,” instead coming off as “half-baked.”

The filmmaker wrote the screenplay in five days, and it shows. At its stylized, dreamlike best, that’s a compliment. At its forced, incomprehensible worst, it’s not.

Whether it gets you to cheer or jeer, mother! is sure to be unlike any other film you’ll ever see.