Directed By: Gregory Plotkin
Release Date: September 28, 2018
Starring: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus
I love Halloween. It's no secret, and judging from the number of horror films I've written about here to date, any regular readers are probably well aware that the season speaks to my tastes. And outside of the films that gleefully embrace the holiday, few things really embody what this time of year is all about as much as horror haunts.
For nearly a decade now, it's been pretty much tradition amongst my friends and I to visit haunt events, such as Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios or Knott's Scary Farm, where wandering fog-laden pathways in which creatures lurk, waiting to frighten victims, or exploring elaborate mazes where danger could be hiding in every corner is part and parcel to getting us in the spirit of the holiday. Whether they're at big venues, like the Universal Studios-set event, or smaller ones, there's a culture that pervades the whole experience that has established certain expectations and rules no matter where you go.
Gregory Plotkin's Hell Fest is a film made with a clear awareness about what said experience is like. From the security checkpoint its characters have to go through to enter the park to the sliders and stilt-walkers and chainsaw-wielding maniacs that roam the streets of the titular event to the long wait times of mazes, it's obvious that everyone involved in bringing the film to life has actually been to these types of events and love them just as much as those of us who look forward to going to them year in and year out.
Unfortunately, though, said adherence to that very experience also makes where the film veers away from reality for the sake of maintaining its narrative flow jarring to the point that logic is all too frequently thrown out the window, undermining the film's simple, effective premise in a way that's distracting more than engaging. And when I say simple, Hell Fest truly is, as the film's entire plot boils down to a group of six friends, including nervous Natalie (Amy Forsyth), her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards), and the overexcited Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), going to Hell Fest, a traveling horror haunt, only to be stalked by The Other, a mysterious masked killer.
Directed By: Shane Black
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Thomas Jane, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes
31 years after it kicked off in the summer of 1987, the Predator franchise is back with The Predator, the sixth big screen outing for the iconic alien game hunter. It's been eight years since we last touched based with this series in 2010's Predators, and this time around director Shane Black – who had a supporting role way back in the original film – has taken the reins in an attempt to revitalize the series for modern audiences.
The Predator sees one of the alien creatures crash landing on Earth after its ship is damaged by a pursuing one, landing smack dab in the middle of a military operation being led by Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), whose men are killed by the alien. McKenna escapes and is able to ship off some of the Predator's equipment back home – where his young son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), discovers it – before he is caught by the government and branded as crazy in an attempt to cover up the Predator's existence.
As for the Predator, it is captured by Agent Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and his men as part of a secret program that has been studying the species since at least the events of the original film, and biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to help study the living specimen. Of course, it doesn't take long for things to go haywire, as the Predator escapes and sets out to reclaim its stolen equipment from Rory, forcing McKenna and a slew of military misfits (Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera) into action to stop the Predator and save the young boy.
Of course, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, including some new developments injected into the overall mythology of the franchise, but I'm going to boil the overall texture of The Predator into one simple comparison: The Predator is to Predator what Jurassic World was to Jurassic Park.
Directed By: Corin Hardy
Release Date: September 7, 2018
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Demian Bichir, Jonas Bloquet
A good horror movie has the capacity to leave you smiling, perhaps even nervously, when the credits begin to roll and you find yourself walking back to your car at night in a conveniently empty parking lot moments later. It might make you jump, make you laugh, or make your skin crawl while watching it. It may even make sleep difficult after seeing it as your mind entertains the idea that some unspeakable horror could be lurking under your bed or in your closet or in some shadowy corner of your home just waiting for you to doze off. Ultimately, though, whether it be the next day or a few days later, those immediate thoughts and feelings fade away, and that good horror movie becomes a memory you may or may not revisit one day down the line.
A great horror movie, however, stays with you forever, the experience of seeing it for the first time lingering like a specter that wanders the halls of your mind weeks, months, and years later. Even though it may not make you tremble every time you think about it, it still has the capacity to haunt you in the best of ways, ready to remind you of the visceral feelings of terror or unease it evoked, whether it be through its imagery, its themes, its score, and so on. It's a perfect assembly of so many elements that turns a good horror movie into a great one, and it's not an easy – or common – feat for something to become a classic.
Even a movie with fantastic potential can slip from great to good to terrible or – even worse, arguably – just plain average based on one thing not working to the detriment of everything else, sending you out of the theater with the thought of "That's it?" rather than leaving you with notions of things that might call the dark home. Poor casting can keep us from investing in and caring about characters no matter how well they're written. An overwrought score can distract us from a scene we should be immersed in. An over-reliance on cheap jump scares can quickly drain and exhaust an audience rather than suck them into a world of tension and leave them there to stew as the circumstances of a given plot go from bad to worse.
The Nun is, unfortunately, one such film undone by such a single major failure, and I hate to have to say that considering how much I personally have been looking forward to this film, which serves as a prequel to The Conjuring films meant to explore the past of the scene-stealing demon Valak from The Conjuring 2.
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