Movie Review: The Resurrection of Loved Ones Leading to Disaster is a Tale as Old as Time in the Latest ‘Pet Sematary’

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CREDIT: Kerry Hayes/Paramount Pictures

Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie

Directors: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: R for Roadside Accidents, Scratchings, Stabbings, and Creepy Voices With a Surprising Amount to Say

Release Date: April 5, 2019

Little kids often ask their parents what happens after we die, but they’re less inclined to follow up about what happens after we return from death. And yet, it isn’t like that latter question has gone unanswered. Speculation about that possibility has in fact been the domain of mythmakers for thousands of years. Stephen King is one of the most prominent mythmakers of the past few decades when it comes to our most pressing supernatural concerns, so the fact that Pet Sematary is only the latest one of his stories to be not only adapted but also re-adapted does not need to lead us to despair over the death of originality in our reboot culture. Instead, we should wonder why we need to keep re-telling these stories when their lessons should have been clear enough from the very beginning.

The setting is a sort of Anytime, USA in a way that demonstrates the limits of going back to nature, as Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz) move with their two young kids into a big house deep in the woods of rural Maine. This is the kind of creepy place where kids in animal masks march to bury dead animals in the title misspelled gravesite. Interestingly enough, the Creeds are not especially unnerved by this ritual, but if they were more in touch with the supernatural, they would realize that they should interpret the procession as an ominous warning. But instead, when their beloved cat Church is killed by a truck, Louis lets himself be convinced by their friendly but foolhardy neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) to bury Church in a spot that just screams, “Come here if you want to meddle where you don’t belong.”

It should be plainly obvious what disaster awaits the Creeds from this point, whether or not you’re familiar with King’s novel and/or the 1989 film. But the overwhelmingly crushing power of one mistake compounding into inescapable horror is effective nonetheless. The resurrections of Church and others result in some unholy combination of zombie and possession. The power of something familiar being just slightly off is profoundly unnerving. People have been warning each other for ages about the folly of what is attempted in Pet Sematary, and this edition does not offer much new, but it is still likely to make you shiver in your seat or laugh at the insanity.

Pet Sematary is Recommended If You Like: Stephen King’s Maine, The Orpheus myth, Mama

Grade: 3 out of 5 Wendigos

This Is a Movie Review: ‘First Man’ Captures All the Stresses of Neil Armstrong’s Trip to the Moon

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CREDIT: Daniel McFadden/Universal

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Shea Wigham, Brian d’Arcy James, Pablo Schreiber, Olivia Hamilton, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 141 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for the Psychological Fallout of Preparing for Space Travel

Release Date: October 12, 2018

There are a few things I want to say about First Man, Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic. First of all, it’s the best I’ve ever seen a film portray the stresses of going up into space. That certainly is not to say that the likes of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 have made takeoff and its aftermath look like a cakewalk, but in focusing on one individual, First Man burrows in and exposes so many extra levels of intensity. We’re right there with Neil as he staggers to the bathroom following a stint in a g-force simulator, and when he endures multiple tragedies. This is a man who must deal with the accidental deaths of multiple colleagues as well as the loss of a young daughter from disease. Accordingly, Ryan Gosling plays him as a man wearing the weight of the world on his face for basically 2 hours straight.

Next, I have plenty to say about Claire Foy as Neil’s wife, Janet. She gives a hell of a performance, displaying the sort of fiery emotion and desperate toughness that you can’t look away from. She is definitely enough of her own person that we can clearly see her as more than just a wife and mother. But this is very much Neil’s film with everyone else orbiting around him, and as such, Foy is playing The Wife. One example of such gender disparity between lead and supporting roles is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it is part of a Hollywood history that favors men’s over women’s stories. This is an issue that is better discussed than pontificated upon, so please, let’s continue to have these conversations. And let’s not place too much blame on First Man in the meantime, but instead work to expand what stories are valued by the historical record.

Finally, a note on some technical matters. Composer Justin Hurwitz triumphs with a quiet, but forceful score that gives First Man the stamina it needs to maintain its intensity over 2-plus hours. It is a bit of a lullaby that plants the expanse of space right into our souls in a way similar to how it surely felt for Armstrong. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography, on the other hand, while similarly technically accomplished, is more than a little exhausting. A constant (subtly vibrating) handheld setup is just too much to bear for such a significant running time. That’s just one little bit of too much intensity in a film that’s otherwise so acutely calibrated.

First Man is Recommended If You Like: Intimate Biopics

Grade: 3.75 of 5 G Forces

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Winchester’ Fails to Explore Its Premise by Visiting Very Few Rooms in Its Vast Haunted Mansion

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CREDIT: Ben King/CBS Films

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna O’Prey, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren

Directors: Peter and Michael Spierig

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Gunfire, Creepy Contact Lenses, and a Very PG-13 Moment of Nighttime Companionship

Release Date: February 2, 2018

When a truly original idea arrives in horror, you’ve got to hold on to it tight. Winchester has quite a unique and intriguing premise, but you would not be able to tell from the execution. Inspired by true events, it is a haunted house tale that takes place in, as one character adroitly puts it, “a house under neverending construction built on the orders of a grieving widow.” But the film never takes full advantage of all that lurks within the title abode.

Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren, fully embodying gothic haute couture) is the heiress to her late husband’s eponymous arms company, and Winchester’s plot is set in motion when Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is asked to evaluate her mental fitness and therefore capability to continue overseeing the company. Her fellow executives and shareholders have their doubts because of her obsession with endlessly adding more rooms to her mansion, which she is doing to contain the spirits of the many haunted souls who have been killed by Winchester firearms.

There is a perfect opportunity with this setup for a face-off between skepticism and belief in the supernatural. But instead, the existence of the ghosts is pretty much never in question, and no character expresses significant skepticism (nor indeed do they have any reason to). That is not necessarily a big loss, though, as the house itself allows plenty of opportunities no matter what the status of the ghosts. With construction having no master plan or endpoint, the mansion could be the most disorienting maze ever. But the film barely takes advantage of that spatial horror.

I do not mean to tell Winchester what sort of film it must be, but I do mean to express disappointment when what it chooses to be is so indistinct. Forgoing the more challenging haunts that it hints at, it instead is a run-of-the-mill possession and revenge story, with Sarah’s great nephew (Finn Scicluna O’Prey) doing his best creepy kid performance, rendering “Beautiful Dreamer” the stuff of nightmares. He is being influenced by the ghost of a Civil War veteran (Eamon Farren) who is predictably defeated in a final standoff, and then everyone moves on with their lives, the evil contained, for now at least.

Directors Michael and Peter Spierig (who previously worked with Winchester’s Sarah Snook on the twisty, heady Robert Heinlein adaptation Predestination) have a few tricks up their sleeve, holding on a shot just long enough for it to be unnerving when an arm suddenly bursts through a previously hidden opening. But overall they never develop a firm grasp on the jump scares or the slow burns, and they do not seem to be particularly committed to either. Plus, the underlying message of what constitutes terror in this story – something about fear being only in the mind – does not jibe with what is actually happening.

Winchester is Recommended If You Like: The Woman in Black, Helen Mirren in Period Clothing

Grade: 2 out of 5 Rifles

This Is a Movie Review: ‘All I See is You’ is a Sensuous Feast Hobbled by an Inconsequential Narrative

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CREDIT: Roland Neveu/Open Road Films

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Danny Huston, Ahna O’Reilly, Wes Chatham, Miquel Fernández

Director: Marc Forster

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Sex Ranging From Passionate to Frustrated to Illicit to Voyeuristic

Release Date: October 27, 2017 (Moderate)

A couple is in the throes of passion, nearing climax. The woman is blind, but that does not mean she lacks vision entirely. For her, this moment is like a kaleidoscope of rapture, the embrace between her and her husband replicated throughout her entire field of perception. It is a euphoric start for All I See is You, whose aesthetic ambitions far outstrip its narrative ones.

Gina (Blake Lively, rarely better) is the victim of an accident that stripped her of her eyesight. Her husband James (Jason Clarke) has remained a steady presence during her time of darkness. The part of her brain meant to interpret the work of her eyes is still working, so instead of pitch black, she is treated to a constant laser light show. For about the first half hour, director Marc Forster and his design team revel in the opportunities to render the subjective experience of blindness in cinematic terms. But then, her doctor (Huston) promises a procedure to restore her sight, which proves to be a liability for both the film’s creativity and Gina and James’ relationship. Despite how trustworthy as his character is meant to be, it goes to show you that anyone played by Danny Huston cannot help but be ominous.

With Gina on the road to a full recovery, the film takes a swerve into a dour drama about love on the rocks, and not a very interesting one. James proves to be too prudish and unadventurous for Gina, but the real problem is his controlling nature. It was easier when he could be the steady hand when she was blind, but now he is practically useless. It does not help that they are struggling to have a baby, with James likely lashing out due to his own impotence. There is perhaps a story worth exploring here about how this relationship was kept afloat by a disability, but any conclusions drawn therein are rather vague. Besides, it feels pointless to even bother what themes the film is trying to touch on here (something about voyeurism?) when it abandons its best feature way too quickly.

All I See is You is Recommended If You Like: Terrence Malick-ian visuals, Leaving 30 minutes after the movie starts

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Lasers

This Is a Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

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Arnie-Smile-Genisys

Terminator Genisys basically ignores the third and fourth movies in the series, but it should be noted that 3 and 4 do not really grapple with their predecessors, at least not very meaningfully. T3 backtracks on the message of T2, while Salvation merely fills in the blanks in a way that mostly stands on its own. Genisys, meanwhile, crisscrosses 1 and 2, while new machinations try to prevent or delay the victory or defeat of Skynet. It does not completely stand as its own thing, but there is so much thrown together (mostly gracefully), that it works as something. It manages to be fascinating, at least in an academic sense.

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese’s interactions are colored by the knowledge of destiny, as they grapple with how to or how not to fulfill the roles that have already been set for them. It is a fairly effective treatise on the nature of stories in which the characters “know” what they are “supposed” to do. Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney’s performances are not much more than serviceable, but maybe that is the point. Maybe in being locked into their roles, they cannot add too much extra color.

The most consistent draw of this series remains The Terminator himself. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been on a bit of a hot streak in finding relaxed, playful subtleties in his performances, and that continues here, as his awkward cyborg smiles are just exactly right. Also, J.K. Simmons shows up as a beat cop who gets caught up in everything, and he is completely superfluous but very much welcome.