Directed By: David Gordon Green
Release Date: October 19, 2018
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Will Patton, Andi Matichak, Nick Castle
Ask me what my favorite horror films of all time are and John Carpenter's Halloween will be one of my answers, if not the very first. Aside from the fact that it's just a perfect little engine of a movie, Michael Myers is, as an icon, my favorite face of the slasher genre. I love the franchise Carpenter's film spawned, as you can see in my recent defenses of Halloween II and the Myers-less Halloween III, save for entries like 2002's disastrous Halloween: Resurrection and Rob Zombie's two reboot films, and it would be an understatement to say that I've merely been looking forward to Michael's return to the big screen with David Gordon Green's Halloween.
It's also not bold to say that the legacy of the franchise, as much as I love it, is kind of a mess. Halloween II was meant to serve as an end for Michael, which opened the door for the standalone Halloween III to move the franchise into anthology territory. The poor reception to that film at the time of its release in 1982, however, put a stopper in that plan, and Michael returned in 1988's Halloween 4, a film that spawned two further sequels in 1989 and 1995. In 1998, Halloween H20 brought Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode back to the franchise for the first time since Halloween II, wiping away the continuity of the previous three films in order to Laurie and Michael against each other one last time.
Of course, that didn't stick, and Michael was back four years after that with the aforementioned Resurrection, the outright failure of which sent the franchise into a coma until Rob Zombie attempted to reboot it all in 2007 and 2009, something that also didn't stick in the long run. And now here we are in 2018, nearly a decade since audiences last saw any version of Michael Myers, with a new film that has chosen to do away with all of the franchise's baggage, including Halloween II and the revelation that Michael and Laurie were siblings, to serve as a direct sequel exclusively to Carpenter's original film, with Carpenter himself returning to the franchise for the first time since Halloween III in order to produce and score the sequel.
In the new film, which Green co-wrote with Danny McBride, Michael (Nick Castle, reprising his role from the original film, in conjunction with James Jude Courtney) has been incarcerated ever since that fateful night back in 1978, having been captured shortly after the original Halloween ended. Though so much time has passed, Laurie Strode – now both a mother and grandmother – remains haunted by her encounter with Michael and the unspeakable horror he brought to the quiet town of Haddonfield, Illinois, on perpetual alert that one day he will escape. She's become a survivalist to the extreme, to the point that her seeming paranoia has ruined past marriages and cost her a healthy relationship with her daughter, but when Michael finally escapes from a prison transfer bus and returns to doing what he does best, all of Laurie's planning is put to the test as she finally decides to confront her trauma head on and put Michael down for good.
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.
Directed By: Jon Turteltaub
Release Date: August 10, 2018
Starring: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis
To say that I've been looking forward to The Meg would be an understatement. Back in 1997, author Steve Alten's first novel, Meg, was published, with a sequel, The Trench, following two years later. In the summer of 2000, while looking for something to read during a flight to Orlando, Florida, the cover of the latter caught my eye – a massive shark's open mouth bearing down on an unfortunate swimmer – and it wasn't long before I'd consumed both books. Alten himself became one of my favorite authors to read throughout the first decade of the 2000s as a result, thanks to other works like Domain, Goliath, and The Loch, and the Meg series has only continued to live on with four further sequels and another on the way.
Alten's original book isn't flawless, but it's an incredibly entertaining read, one that I continue to revisit now and again nearly two decades on, packed with neat science, coated with a sense of adventure and danger, and armed with a slick premise: Deep within the Mariana Trench, an ancient ecosystem has been preserved for millions of years, one in which megalodon sharks - a very real, very frightening, yet thankfully extinct beast that could grow upwards of 65 feet in length - have thrived. But after man dares to step into this ecosystem for the first time, a series of events allows a megalodon to escape into the world above, forcing a team of people, including series' lead Jonas Taylor, a disgraced marine biologist and deep sea diver whose encounter years before with a meg had been dismissed by everyone as a lie, to track and stop the monster shark as a body count rises in its journey across the globe.
Over the years, the film rights to Alten's novel have exchanged many hands, with directors ranging from Jan de Bont (Twister, Speed) to Eli Roth (Hostel) attached along the way, until Warner Bros. finally got the ball well and truly rolling a few years back, with Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) saddling up to bring The Meg to the big screen. As the film's casting was announced in the latter half of 2016, though, my own concerns about how loyal the film would be to the book started to grow, both with the casting of Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor – the actor a far cry from the character's depiction in the book – and the clear excision of nearly every single supporting character from the book. And when the first footage began to roll out, it became all the more clear that The Meg would not be the movie many fans of the books had been hoping for; certainly, for me at least, not a payoff to nearly two decades' worth of hype and hope.
As such, I have to make this perfectly clear having now seen the film: As an adaptation, The Meg is terrible. It strips away everything that made the book so unique as to be almost unrecognizable. From the characters to huge chunks of the plot, very little here feels familiar, and even the shark itself is robbed of what makes it so compelling to read about. In the novel, thanks to millions of years of evolution having passed by while being trapped in deep, dark waters, the megalodons had developed bioluminescent skin, and once the shark at the heart of the story is unleashed into open water, the book deals with the fact that it is sensitive to sunlight, opting to frequently hunt at night, its presence signified by a haunting, ethereal glow. Visually, it's a fantastic idea, and one that adds a distinct flavor to the book that would've been great if translated to film, and yet The Meg casts it all aside to its detriment.
Directed By: Peyton Reed
Release Date: July 6, 2018
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Life hasn't been easy for Ant-Man. Since we last saw Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) back in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, which saw the heroic ex-con gleefully heading to Germany to help Cap, he's been under house arrest, having had to give up his superhero identity as part of the Sokovia Accords. But when we catch up with him in Ant-Man and the Wasp, he's finally on the home stretch of his two year sentence, mere days away from having the ankle bracelet that has kept him locked up at home removed.
Unfortunately for him, he's called back into action after having an alarming, unexpected dream about his time in the Quantum Realm back in Ant-Man, an event that puts him back into the lives of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), both of whom have been working on a way to get into the Quantum Realm to rescue Hank's long-lost wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), and have cut ties with Scott over his having taken the Ant-Man suit to Germany without their permission. As the trio work to solve the mystery of Scott's dream – which may or may not have something to do with Janet – and prep a journey into the Quantum Realm, though, a pair of new threats pop up in their lives: Sleazy criminal Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), two people who want Hank's tech for their own reasons and whose interference in the group's plans may lead to Janet being lost forever.
To put it mildly, Ant-Man and the Wasp has very small scale ambitions. Back in 2015, the lighthearted heist movie that was Ant-Man was a refreshing tonal cleanse for the Marvel Cinematic Universe following the more sobering Avengers: Age of Ultron, and so, too, does its sequel serve a similar purpose. Just over two months ago, Avengers: Infinity War embedded itself in pop culture with an ending that reshaped the MCU and left audiences' heads spinning the world over with an incredibly depressing ending that saw Josh Brolin’s Thanos successfully wiping out half of the universe's population, numerous heroes included. As such, the Ant-Man sequel, in all its unapologetically fun glory, arrives at just the right time, easy to dismiss on the surface as inconsequential for not picking up where that film left off or carrying the same kind of stakes but vitally important once you break it down, both for reminding us that this franchise is still meant to be fun and for introducing crucial elements that will come into play in 2019's Avengers 4.
In doing so, the Ant-Man sequel wisely sidesteps addressing how the world was affected by Infinity War – something we'll have to wait until next year to see – by turning the clock back a few days before the events of that film, explaining why Scott, Hope, and all the rest were absent from the big, universe-changing event without losing its focus on telling a great story first and foremost, one that uses its smaller scale to weave a tale where family matters most, whether it's Hank and Hope's desperate drive to find Janet or Scott's daughter Cassie's pride that her dad is Ant-Man.
Directed By: J.A. Bayona
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall
Three years after the closure and abandonment of Jurassic World, the fate of the animals left behind on Isla Nublar has become a public concern, as the island's long-dormant volcano has since rumbled back to life, threatening to wipe out the last of the dinosaurs once and for all. After it's decided that no government will step in to rescue them, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who now runs the advocacy organization the Dinosaur Protection Group, is approached by the elderly Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a man with ties to the late John Hammond and the original Jurassic Park who wants to privately rescue the dinosaurs and relocate them to a new island sanctuary.
Claire agrees, convincing Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to accompany her so that he can help find and rescue the Velociraptor Blue, the last of her kind, all with the clock ticking on Nublar's destruction. But, of course, not is all as it seems, as the team of mercenaries they meet up with as part of the operation are working towards a different goal, one that sees the dinosaurs being brought back to the mainland to be auctioned off, while Blue herself plays into a plan surrounding a new genetically-engineered hybrid: The Indoraptor, a mix of Indominus rex and Velociraptor DNA whose very existence could usher the world into a whole new realm of change.
And so is the setup of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film in the Jurassic Park franchise that I've been cautiously optimistic about. With Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow having stepped down for its follow-up, only delivering the script for Fallen Kingdom alongside his writing partner Derek Connolly, director J. A. Bayona took the reins, and he's been a huge reason why I've been looking forward to the movie, as he directed the excellent horror film The Orphanage back in 2007, while his 2016 fantasy drama A Monster Calls was one of my favorite movies of that year. Here was the chance for the director to showcase his talent for horror and drama on a scale larger than ever before, and though the trailers leading up to its release weren't anything great, I held out hope that he would deliver something exceeding expectations.
That's partially why it pains me so much to say that Fallen Kingdom suffers from an identity crisis. The sequel feels very much like it is made up of two movies, halved directly in the middle, the first movie being the rescue story, the second being a fantasy horror film, both singular ideas that could've carried an entire film all their own that instead get shortchanged because neither gets room to narratively breathe. Even further, because each part doesn't have enough time to get expanded upon, their ultimate impact is diminished; for instance, the destruction of Isla Nublar is a big deal, a monumental event for the Jurassic franchise, yet it being placed halfway through the film just feels incongruent with the fact that there's still an hour-plus left to go of something that becomes tonally different.
Directed By: Colin Trevorrow
Release Date: June 12, 2015
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio
On June 11, 1993, Jurassic Park changed my life. I was just three months shy of my fourth birthday, and my mother took me on opening day because it's all I talked about. I wasn't alive in 1977 to have my world changed by Star Wars, or in 1981 when Indiana Jones became a hero kids all over the world wanted to be. Those movies - and others - played a huge role in my childhood regardless, of course, but they weren't "mine" in the way that kids (and even adults) in '77 or '81 were able to claim by simply being there from the beginning to see them reshape pop culture and grow as a franchise. But in the summer of '93, I got "my" movie.
To say that Jurassic Park matters to me more than any other film would be an understatement. It instilled in me a passion for storytelling, for writing in the hopes that – one day – I could sweep even just one person away on an adventure in the way that this story did for me. As a film and as a franchise, I love it, warts and all, and I spent the next decade consuming everything about it. I devoured Michael Crichton's original book, as well as its 1996 sequel. I played almost every video game I could, whether it be Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues on the original Game Boy, the before-its-time Trespasser on PC, or the addictive park builder that was Operation Genesis. I owned the soundtracks. I wrote stories set in this universe, dreaming of sequel possibilities. I spent time on fan sites in the early 2000s leading up to the release of Jurassic Park III in 2001 and after, though in the years that followed, the franchise dwindled away, as a fourth film went from a sure thing to a pipe dream.
It took fourteen years for the series to spawn another entry, the result being, obviously, Jurassic World in 2015. That same year, the Star Wars franchise was making a much-anticipated comeback with The Force Awakens, something I - like the rest of the world - was awaiting with bated breath, but at the end of the day, my highest level of excitement was aimed squarely at the return of the franchise I'd spent nearly a decade and a half hoping to see brought back from extinction, hoping that relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow – tapped to direct with only one feature under his belt, 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed – would deliver on years of expectation. Seeing it opening night was an overwhelming experience; my packed audience clapped and cheered, while my nostalgia amped up every second of the film, allowing me to get swept away simply because I'd waited so long just to step into this world again.
I saw the film two more times in theaters, as well as a number of times since, and through those repeated viewings, I've been able to set my nostalgia aside and see Jurassic World for the imperfect beast it is. In the three years that have passed since its release, I've seen many people attempt to rewrite the film's overwhelming success as a fluke, painting the movie with such hyperbolic labels as "the worst blockbuster ever," and that's fascinating, one reason why – on the eve of the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – I've decided to dive back into the film and break it apart.
Pick a Month: