Directed By: Victor Salva
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Starring: Jonathan Breck, Stan Shaw, Brandon Smith, Gabrielle Haugh
It's never fun when a sequel comes out after years of setbacks only to disappoint instead of surprise. Arriving over 14 years after Jeepers Creepers 2 was released, the long-delayed Jeepers Creepers 3 is one such film, a sequel that had every opportunity to overcome the fact it's arguably a decade too late and capitalize on the potential left open by the ending of the last film only to squander it instead.
Rather than serve as a follow-up to where its predecessor left off, with the Creeper's hibernating corpse mounted to a wall with a harpoon pointed at it overseen by Ray Wise's vigilant farmer, Jack Taggart, Jeepers Creepers 3 bafflingly turns the clock back, with the majority of its narrative set directly in the aftermath of the first film and right before the events of the second. As you may recall, the Creeper wakes up every 23 years for 23 days to conduct its reign of terror, and plot-wise there's little more you need to know if you've seen the first two films, as this is just more of the same, with another group of people caught up in the Creeper's cycle and that's about it.
To its detriment, Jeepers Creepers 3' status as an interquel robs it of any tension, as we know that the Creeper survives for the events of the second film to occur. To balance that fact out, new wrinkles to the mythology are laced into the film, including the introduction of a group of hunters made up of people who have lost loved ones to the Creeper whose goal is to destroy it, revelations about the supernatural capabilities of the Creeper's signature truck, and the suggestion that the Creeper is less a conventional monster and something far more ancient. However, despite being interesting in concept, all of it is thoroughly underwhelming in execution.
Before I can explain why, I have to emphasize that the film's biggest mistake is its constant teasing of what's to come. The film ends on a note that reintroduces a familiar face to the franchise while leaving off with the promise of the same exact film Jeepers Creepers 2 did, but considering that it took 14 years for this film to even get off the ground, who's to say when - or if - a fourth one will ever materialize. Everyone involved here seems to be certain that the future of the franchise is guaranteed simply by virtue of the fact Jeepers Creepers 3 exists at all, meaning that the film feels more like wheel-spinning setup than something that truly moves this franchise forward.
Directed By: Andy Muschietti
Release Date: September 8, 2017
Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis
It's pretty amazing that only a few weeks after the release of one of the most disappointing adaptations of a Stephen King work, The Dark Tower, we get one of the better ones with Andy Muschietti's It. This isn't the first time King's novel has been adapted, of course; in 1990, the world was treated to a TV miniseries that showcased an iconic performance by Tim Curry, who left such a strong mark on pop culture with his turn as Pennywise that most people forget that the rest of the miniseries itself around him isn't too great.
But now here we are 27 years on and the story of a group of kids who live in the fictional town of Derry, Maine known collectively as the Losers Club is being retold properly. After a series of disappearances, including that of the Losers' leader Bill's own little brother, Bill and his friends, a motormouth named Richie, a hypochondriac named Eddie, and the neurotic Stan, set out to find out what's going on, as none of the adults in town seem to care, each missing kid quickly forgotten about as soon as the next one has gone missing. Along the way, they're joined by the new kid in town, Ben, an outcast girl named Bev, and the home-schooled Mike, each one of them finding solace in the company of each other and the strength to face the evil lurking in their town: It.
I spoke in my review of The Dark Tower about how that adaptation missed the mark by shying away from its source material, watering it down for the sake of making it as generic as possible in a way that became unappealing to newcomers and fans of King's epic series of books. It, thankfully, doesn't do that, embracing the book in an honorable way. Though it makes changes I'm on board with, like wisely shifting the action from the 1950s to the 1980s, and some I'm not, which I'll get into in a bit, what differentiates It from a failure like The Dark Tower is that the film captures the spirit of the book even with the liberties it takes, which is that of a coming-of-age journey for the kids who happen to be running through a gauntlet of horror.
It takes on many physical forms in its pursuit of children, including, obviously, everyone's favorite, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, but It's also much more than that. It preys on the kids' fears - Bill's grief, Eddie's hypochondria, Bev's emergence into womanhood, and so on - but in doing so, It allows, albeit completely unintentionally, the various Losers to overcome their individual issues. It represents the challenge of growing up or having to let things go in order to move on and get better, that intangible, indescribable "it" feeling we've all felt at one point, and if these kids can overcome the physical manifestation of It, then they can conquer anything. It's that focus on giving most of the kids room to grow throughout the story that's the film's real strength, rather than simply going full-tilt horror.
That's not to say the film has a shortage of scares, though. It is an excellent threat, and Bill Skarsgard's performance as Pennywise is stellar. It takes on a number of forms throughout the film, like a leper and a group of zombies, but Pennywise is, unsurprisingly, the real treat, so effective to the point it feels that we weren't given enough of him (which is usually not the case in horror films). His appearance is unsettling, his physicality is deliciously, playfully predatory, and even the way he taunts the kids, like mock crying in the face of a child breaking down or waving from the bushes with a hand he's chewing on as he spectates someone getting beaten up, is incredible. Skarsgard really makes the role his own; never once did I wish I was watching Curry instead, and I'm glad the two performances can go side by side for being such uniquely different yet perfect portrayals of such an evil character.
Directed By: Colm McCarthy
Release Date: September 23, 2016
Starring: Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Sennia Nanua
I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating here: I love a good zombie film. The subgenre more often than not pumps out dreck that's tough to get through, but I don't tend to mind wading through the muck to find a gem. They may be few and far between, but they're worth waiting for, as they're typically creative and engaging enough to prove that there is more than enough life left in the subgenre for passionate filmmakers to mine.
Colm McCarthy's The Girl with All the Gifts, an adaptation of M.R. Carey's 2014 novel, is one such film, one that caught me by surprise for its remarkable restraint. When George A. Romero defined the genre back in 1968 with his seminal Night of the Living Dead, he set a simple precedent that the best zombie films work less because of a preoccupation with shoving the undead down our throats and more because they put characters, stories, and messages first, and The Girl with All the Gifts lives up to that, using the "zombie apocalypse" as a backdrop for real human drama.
The setup is simple: The world has been devastated by a fungal disease that has turned most of mankind into "hungries," the film's version of zombies. In England, a group of survivors holed up at a military base, including Paddy Considine's Sgt. Parks and Gemma Arterton's kind-hearted teacher, Helen Justineau, keep watch over a small group of hybrid children who are infected by the disease to the point where they still hunger for fresh meat but otherwise present, physically and mentally, as human. Through studying these children, Glenn Close's Dr. Caldwell believes she can discover a cure for the disease, but when the base is inevitably overrun by hungries, Caldwell, Helen, and Parks and his men find themselves tasked with getting the last hybrid to safety: The smart, inquisitive Melanie, played by newcomer Sennia Nanua.
In broad strokes, it's easy to pass off the film's narrative as another saving the world story, but digging deeper, it's more about Melanie's own journey to figure out who and what she is in a world she's told is defined by only two sides: Humans and hungries. She is a true outsider, unable to exist among the braindead hungries but always kept at arm's length by the humans around her because of the risk she poses of slipping into her violent tendencies. Her hands are kept tied and she's fitted with a Hannibal Lecter-esque face mask as the group travels in search of safety, and the more she interacts with those that are both her captors and her saviors, as well as a world she's experiencing for the first time, the more her sense of self and identity solidify.
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