Directed By: David Yates
Release Date: November 16,2018
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Johnny Depp, Jude Law
It's been three weeks now since the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and though I saw the film opening night, I've sat down nearly each day since in an attempt to write about the big sequel only to repeatedly find that my enthusiasm just isn't there. I've had numerous conversations about the film over the weeks since, of course, but nearly all of them have centered around just how disappointing the whole thing is, which is incredibly frustrating, as I'm a huge Harry Potter fan – something I've covered in depth enough on here already – and even enjoyed the first Fantastic Beasts for setting up a whole new world of possibilities despite its flaws.
Unfortunately, Grindelwald doubles down on those very flaws rather than learns from them, resulting in a mess of a film that left me utterly bored for much of its runtime and generally unenthused with where the franchise is going next, a complete 180 from how I felt walking out of its predecessor only two years ago. That's not to say there aren't a handful of high points – and I'll be getting to them eventually – but the lows are just too glaring for me to overlook this time around to the point that I have no problem saying that this sequel is easily my least favorite entry of all the Wizarding World films we've gotten over the years since we took our first steps into it on the big screen back in 2001.
Oddly enough, on paper, Grindelwald has a pretty simple premise: A year after Johnny Depp's titular Dark Wizard was captured at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts, he escapes and travels to Paris in order to woo countless new followers, chief among them being Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who survived the events of New York City and has since gone into hiding, to his cause. At the same time, a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasks Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with finding Credence before Grindelwald can, setting the eccentric magizoologist off on the hunt.
Where Grindelwald stumbles, however, is that it takes its premise and loads up layer after layer on top of it of narrative threads, all sorts of characters, and an abundance of twists, turns, and callbacks. I've seen the experience of watching this film described as "what people who never read the books must have felt like watching the Harry Potter movies," a pretty fitting description, as the film is so overloaded with information that all too often seems to come straight out of thin air, the audience expected to be clued into things that are rarely given actual context.
Directed By: Julius Avery
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk
There's an image in Julius Avery's Overlord that's been stuck in my mind over the last week since I saw the film. Set on the night before D-Day, the film opens with a team of paratroopers being flown in to France to destroy a Nazi radio tower set up at a church so that the Allies can safely storm Normandy, only to have their plane shot down. Young private Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo) survives the event and finds himself wandering the woods alone in search of other members of his team, which includes a sniper named Tibbet (John Magaro), a photographer named Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and corporal/demolitions expert Ford (Wyatt Russell).
Eventually, what remains of the team reunite to push on with their mission, encountering a young woman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who lives in the village that the Germans have occupied. Though she helps them hide from the Nazis that patrol the streets, taking random townsfolk from their homes to undergo experiments performed by a mysterious Nazi doctor at the church, so that they can plan the destruction of the tower, time is against them, and as things begin to snowball, they learn the horrible truth about what's really going on at the church.
I won't say anything more about where the film goes from there, but I will say this: The image that I've been returning to is early in the film, not long after Boyce has set foot in France, gunfire and explosions sounding off in the distance. At one point, the camera lingers on the somber sight of several bodies hanging from trees, soldiers dead from failed landings whose parachutes make their limp bodies look like sleeping marionettes, all silhouetted against a foggy, fiery backdrop. It's such a simple illustration of the many horrors of war, understated and easy to blink and miss, but the image in all its haunting glory sums up what's so effective about the film as a whole.
Overlord doesn't burden itself by trying to do too much. Its ambitions are grounded even if the stakes everything is riding on are incredibly high. It takes liberties with real world history, of course, and the last act takes steps into a fantastical horror arena, but for much of its runtime, Overlord is a very solid war movie that finds strength – like its characters – in sticking to the mission. These troops need to succeed with what little time they have to ensure that the storming of Normandy can happen and history can be changed forever, and the film works hard to ensure that no one ever loses sight of that goal no matter what new development unfolds.
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.
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