‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is Very Similar to the First ‘Ghostbusters,’ and I Would Be Very Surprised If Anyone Argued Differently

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife (CREDIT: Screenshot)

Starring: McKenna Grace, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Bokeem Woodbine

Director: Jason Reitman

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Shooting Lasers at Those Ghosts

Release Date: November 19, 2021 (Theaters)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife plays all the biggest hits of the original Ghostbusters, but in rural Oklahoma instead of Manhattan. A gluttonous spook chomping away, squishy treats running amok, hellbeasts hooking up, “Who you gonna call?” – it’s all right here! It’s like a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live: perfectly professional, and it probably works best for those who haven’t seen the first edition. As for those who were around for the original, there’s the thrill – or sting – of familiarity. This time around, the main busters are a few precocious kids, as opposed to a crew of childlike adults, so the vibe is at least a little different, although pretty much everyone involved takes great pains to capture that 1984 mojo as best they can.

I frequently wonder why repetition is demonized so much more in cinema than it is in other mediums. Revivals are an essential piece of live theater, musicians are expected to play the same songs over and over at their concerts, superhero comic books thrive on retelling the same stories, etc. But when you trot out a repeat at the movie house, you might draw big crowds, though you likely won’t win much critical praise, at least not as much as you did the first go-round. It probably has something to do with scale and budget. It takes years to assemble sequels and reboots, so there is a lot riding on them to be worth it. Ghostbusters: Afterlife plays it safe, so we’ll probably continue to see proton packs around town for decades to come, but I don’t know if anyone will also start emulating Paul Rudd’s plaid ensembles. (Well, maybe they will, but less because of this movie and more because he’s the Sexiest Man Alive.)

I didn’t want to be preoccupied by all this context while watching Afterlife, but it’s kind of unavoidable when you’re as plugged into culture as much as I am. When I try to think about this movie in and of itself, I can at least say that I appreciate that Carrie Coon and McKenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard were free to do their own thing, more or less. And there is one scene that I must admit is just undeniably satisfying, and that is when a bunch of Stay Puft marshmallows impishly run amok in a brand name department store. It’s cute and chaotic – an eternally winning combination. It’s also curious and a little unpredictable, which are qualities that the rest of the movie could have definitely benefited from.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is Recommended If You Like: SNL recurring sketches, the Minions going shopping in the first Despicable Me, Dead actors resurrected by technology

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Spooks

Thank You, ‘Malignant,’ for Being Malignant

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Malignant (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Marina Mazepa, Jean Louisa Kelly, Susanna Thompson, Jake Abel, Jacqueline McKenzie, Christian Clemenson, McKenna Grace, Ingrid Bisu, Amir AboulEla

Director: James Wan

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: September 10, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

I’ve never seen anything quite like Malignant. This is the type of movie that’s best to go in completely unspoiled on, so I’m going to be careful with how I choose my words. And after all, I like to keep it brief when reviewing something that’s already fully released, so I won’t say much more. But I will say this: when I heard that this movie was called “Malignant,” I wondered why it was so generic. Then I watched it and realized that it was actually the most perfect title.

One more bit before I go: one thing I like to do when reviewing is ask myself if the movie I’m reviewing makes me want to do/be the thing in the title. So… does Malignant make me want to be Malignant? Honestly, I’m tempted. I can’t deny how cool it would be. The vicarious thrills I experienced while watching were wildly energizing enough on their own. But it would probably lead to a lot of gore, and I have a history of getting lightheaded at the sight of blood, so better to keep things benevolent and benign.

Grade: 1999 Malignants

Movie Review: Ignore the R Rating, ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ is a Sweet Family-Friendly Tale of Kids on Their Own Learning How to Fight Off the Monsters

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CREDIT: Warner Bros./YouTube

Starring: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Michael Cimino

Director: Gary Dauberman

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: R for PG-13 Level Blood and Terror

Release Date: June 26, 2019

One of the best (if not THE best) qualities of horror movies is that slambang moment of ultimate catharsis. It can come in the form of releasing the death grip on your armrest, or finally breathing a sigh of relief, but it just as often can be a huge burst of laughter. Partly that’s because screaming and laughing are similar reactions, sometimes it’s because the movie is unintentionally hilarious, and other times it’s because the plot takes a break for some comedy. In the case of Annabelle Comes Home, it’s definitely the latter, as a dorky teenage pizza delivery dude assures a not-quite-as-dorky lovestruck teenage fellow that the only effective way to “woo” girls is “rock ‘n’ roll.” These two clearly do not have much romantic experience, and they have no idea about the hell-creatures in their midst, thus raising the stakes of their guilelessness but never making them objects of ridicule.

That whole vibe of kids figuring it out on their own and everything working out okay infuses the entirety of Annabelle Comes Home, the third in the creepy doll series and eighth in the larger Conjuring universe. Top dog demon hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) play their biggest role yet in any non-flagship entry in this franchise, but they still mostly step aside, serving basically as a bookend and framing device. They head out of town, leaving their pre-teen daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of teenage babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) with Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) tagging along for the girl time.

With most of its main characters under the age of twenty, this is accordingly the most kid-friendly entry in the series, though it is rated R, like all other Conjuring films and their spin-offs. But that has often been undeserved, and it is especially outrageous here, as there is no profanity, all the romance is remarkably chaste, and all the gore is too stylized to be disturbingly explicit. In fact, the horror franchise that Annabelle most resembles besides its own is the kid-targeted Goosebumps (Iseman was one of the leads of last year’s Goosebumps 2, incidentally enough). Both feature kids accidentally unleashing a bunch of monsters and then managing to subdue them as they discover the guile they had within themselves the whole time. Annabelle is trippier and more twisted than Goosebumps, sure, but like Goosebumps, you’re never truly worried that the kids are going to be ripped apart limb by limb.

In between fighting off the spooks, the girls while away the night the way kids do when they’re on their own: playing board games, baking a cake, listening to the music of the day (in this case, Badfinger’s “Day After Day”). One underappreciated element of how the Conjuring Universe has improved the state of horror is its infusion of sweetness into the genre, especially when the Warrens are around. Defeating the evil ghosts is only worthwhile when you have loving family and friends to share the moment with and to remind you that there are nice ghosts, too.

Annabelle Comes Home is Recommended If You Like: Goosebumps, Earnest Teen Romances, The silent spaces between the scares

Grade: 3 out of 5 Werewolf Demons