Review: Ready or Not

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Surprising as it may be to some, horror and comedy have significant commonalities as both genres must possess the same core elements in order to succeed. Both genres rely heavily on buildup and timing, which are essential to achieve their desired effects on audiences, be it evoking terror with a horror film or laughter in response to a comedy.

As such, the hybrid known as the horror comedy has proved its merit many times over. Be it the comedy or the horror that takes the driver’s seat, the two genres often enhance one another when put together, and while calling Ready or Not a horror comedy would be underselling how suspenseful and gory it is, the film nonetheless benefits tremendously from its tongue-in-cheek approach.

Pulling no punches with its visceral approach to horror, the film is a fun, gory watch with a delightfully deranged plot at its core. Being fully aware of how maniacal its premise is, Ready or Not knowingly and joyfully pokes fun at the whodunnit genre and supernatural horrors without becoming a spoof of either as such.

As a whodunnit, since it is everyone in every room with every thinkable weapon against newly-wed protagonist Grace (Samara Weaving), there is not much mystery surrounding the plot in terms of the classic whodunnit structure of figuring out who the main antagonist is, since almost the entire Le Domas family are antagonists. There is, however, an increasing sense of mystery about exactly what is motivating the family’s perverse shenanigans, and as the plot unfolds, it all becomes decidedly more outlandish.

While this works in the films favor, the plot twists are hardly jaw-dropping. Thankfully, the plot is not the main selling point, as the emphasis is rather on creating suspense than trying to dazzle audiences with a clever plot. As the proceedings escalate into increasingly grimmer, gorier territory, the suspense largely maintains its momentum as Grace must manouver an eerie, unfamiliar mansion filled with all the secret passageways, hiding places and shocking discoveries mandatory for such settings.

Delivering a compelling performance, Samara Weaving makes is easy to invest in her character as she goes through seemingly endless ordeals in her fight to stay alive as the bride married into an utterly insane, Rothschild-esque family. Portraying an understandably frantic character, she nonetheless remains relatable and believable. This is largely thanks to the wit woven into her panicked performance, where she continuously verbalizes what the audience is thinking and does the things the audience so often wish horror protagonists would do.

Adam Brody’s trademark sarcasm also proves to be a good fit for the tone of the film, just as the other characters all possess some form of self-awareness. This adds to the comedic quality of the members of the Le Domas family, be it in the form of amusing aloofness, snarky wit or cartoonish expressions of villainy.

As for how blood-soaked it all gets, the gore is gruesome and unpleasant without going overboard and becoming involuntary amusing, and the playful tone of the film further ensures that it is not just gore for the sake of gore. Similarly, the humorous approach to the twisted hunt for the protagonist ensures that Ready or Not avoids devolving into the tiresome territory of torture porn.

While it may be a fairly disposable film in terms of the simplicity of its premise leaving little to be explored on repeat viewings, Ready or Not is nonetheless an amusing romp that will entertain most fans of horror cinema,. A more witty gore fest than most, Ready or Not has decently executed, explicit deaths and injuries, but what truly makes the film worthwhile is its dark humor and the blood-spattered conclusion of the explosive finale.

Verdict: 7 out of 10.

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Review: Rambo: Last Blood

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Sylvester Stallone has never pretended to be a cinematic genius, but he is nonetheless immensely successful thanks to his unwavering dedication. A living reminder that hard work and persistence pays off, Stallone has kept doing his thing without being deterred by any of the criticism he has been met with over the years, and he remains an action hero icon as a result.

When First Blood was released in 1982, Stallone had already made a significant mark on Hollywood, and his first outing as PTSD-ridden Vietnam War veteran John Rambo would kick-start a franchise with one of the more memorable action movie protagonists of the 1980s.

Naturally, as with most of the endless number of action flicks that were churned out throughout the decade of excess, the plots of the First Blood franchise grew thinner and the circumstances became increasingly ridiculous over time, but spending time with Rambo was nonetheless a good time.

As time went on, audience interests changed and the type of action hero associated with the 1980s all but died out. However, as with so many other films and series from the past decade, nostalgia has proven to have a humongous appeal.

Ever the entrepreneur, Stallone tapped into the nostalgia craze early on, and the blueprint for his bloated, but fun The Expendables franchise with ensemble casts of action movie all-stars was undoubtedly 2008’s Rambo, which many expected to be the last we would see of John Rambo putting his deadly skillset to use.

However, as it turns out, 2008’s Rambo would not be the final outing for John Rambo, but judging by Last Blood, Stallone should have quit while he was ahead with the previous film, as the latest – and supposedly final – installment leaves a lot to be desired, even for those of us that find genuine joy in unambiguous bad guys getting their comeuppance in the most gruesome ways possible.

Pretending that the First Blood franchise was ever little more than a vessel for entertainingly brutal movie violence would be doing the franchise a disservice. However, as cathartic as it is to see bad guys getting dismembered and dispatched, a movie is after all only as good as its villain, and Last Blood has some of the most painfully one-dimensional villains in recent memory. As a result, seeing them inevitably get their comeuppance is simply nowhere near as satiSfying as it should be.

Similarly, our hero’s motivation for revenge is also clumsily set up and executed. The drama is cringe-worthy at best, and the actors have a hard time selling how affected they supposedly are by the tragedy at the rotten core of the film.

This is particularly disappointing when it comes to the titular hero, as John Rambo is but a shadow of his past self, and considering his reason for revenge this time around, you would expect more of the raw, testosterone-soaked emotion you associate with the cathartic showdowns of this franchise.

Films like the John Wick franchise continue to prove that you can get a lot out of very little and still create a engaging film experience where every punch, shot and stab causes audiences to wince and groan along with the characters. Considering how good Stallone has been at making films that fit those parameters and how well-executed the violence of the finale of Last Blood is, you should at the very least enjoy the visceral violence, but because of the lack of playfulness and heart, the film instead falls completely flat.

The previous installment from 2008 would therefore have been a fittingly explosive conclusion to the First Blood franchise, as Last Blood is nothing more than a largely irrelevant footnote in the annals of not just this particular franchise, but also action hero cinema in general. As such, in this case, revenge is a dish best served with ice cold beer, plenty of popcorn and your brain completely switched off as there is absolutely nothing of substance to be found here.

Verdict: 3 out of 10.

Review: Ad Astra

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Humanity has always been obsessed with existential questions such as why we are here and whether we are alone in the universe or not, and the latter question in particular has been a continuous catalyst for the science fiction genre. Set in a future that seems both close and distant, James Gray’s Ad Astra examines that question once again, and the outcome is a film that is equally beautiful and competent.

When setting narratives in outer space, creating an appropriate sense of the vastness of the universe and the solitude associated therewith is always essential. Thanks to Hoyte Van Hoytema’s expert cinematography, the film is saturated with serenely beautiful visuals, which are as gorgeous in their purity as they are chilling in the quintessential sense of isolation they aptly convey.

Much like the visuals are stunning, the other elements of cinematic craftsmanship on display in the film also attest to its unadulterated artistic merit as Ad Astra is expertly scored, directed, acted and edited.

Across the board, the performances are subdued, yet intricately nuanced, and much like the slow, but tight pacing of the film, the performances are also a slow burn. Brad Pitt delivers a stoic, yet potent performance as a character gradually unravelling from an emotionally unresponsive astronaut into a human being at odds with his mission and his lineage, and Tommy Lee Jones’ performance serves as a reminder of how much presence he has when given the right role.

An often lambasted creative choice, the film features a substantial amount of voice-over. Where voice-overs tend to be a lazily convenient way to either cram exposition into a film or tell the audience how to feel, Ad Astra utilizes the voice-over to further emphasize the existential questions Pitt’s character wrestles with.

As such, the film juxtaposes the microcosm of the introspection associated with the human condition against the macrocosm of the terrifying endlessness of the universe, which is reflected in both the personal existential questions the main character struggles with as an individual as well as the greater questions humanity seeks to have answered, although we rarely consider whether we actually want to know the answers to them, as the uncertainty of not knowing is probably better for our collective sanity as a species.

In terms of the literal aspect of a journey through space, the solace and mind-melting time frames associated with travelling on this scale are conveyed in a way that is narratively linear, yet it somehow also feels warped due to how daunting the scope of space travel is to truly fathom.

With a vague mission laid out for Pitt’s character by his superiors, the audience is made to feel that there is an acute risk of people losing their minds when faced with interstellar travel and finding the answers to our biggest questions. This is further underlined by the point of view from which the information about Jones’ character is presented to Pitt’s character, and their narrative arcs inevitably intertwine as the audience is increasingly left to wonder what will happen to a person when struggling with existential questions and left to their own devices for too long.

A slow burn that never stumbles pacing-wise during its runtime of two hours, Ad Astra is unlikely to please those who prefer their space tales to be action-packed adventures. However, for connoisseurs of cinema who enjoy their narratives subtle, yet loaded and the visuals stunning, Ad Astra joins the ranks of 2001: A Space Odyssey, First ManGravityInterstellar and The Martian in terms of high quality science fiction films featuring gorgeous visuals and introspective narratives that revolve around the existential questions humans will always be preoccupied with as they are at the core of our existence.

Verdict: 9 out of 10.

Review: It Chapter Two

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After the tremendous success of 2017’s It, Warner Bros. did not hesitate to announce a sequel was in the works. Two years later, we now have It Chapter Two on our hands, which sees The Losers’ Club reunite as adults to face the evil entity most commonly manifesting itself as the nightmare-inducing clown Pennywise once more, this time seeking to end the terrifying reign of It once and for all.

With the chemistry of the young cast of the 2017 film having been integral to the success of the first half of the new adaptation of Stephen King’s nefarious classic, significant pressure was placed on the production to ensure that the casting of the adult versions of the Losers would live up to the pitch-perfect casting of the iconic group of teenage outcasts.

Thankfully, the casting for the second chapter is almost eerie with how well-matched everyone is to their younger counterparts in terms of both physical traits as well as how the actors portray the various quirks and personality traits of their respective characters.

A surprisingly funny film at times, the sassy exchanges between Eddie and Richie once again ensures a certain degree of levity throughout, which balances out the bleakness of the horrors unfolding without undermining their impact. In fact, out of all the Losers, Bill Hader undoubtedly delivers the most noteworthy performance as he continuously steals scenes as an adult Richie who is both snarkily witty as well as vulnerably human.

However, as good as the casting choices are, the adult Losers are at times lacking the appeal that made the teenage Losers so endearing and relatable. While the drama is at times a little stale, this is not so much because of the efforts of the adult cast lacking as it is a case of the threats seeming lesser when adults are at risk; it is simply harder to believe that these very capable, successful adults are as threatened by It as a group of kids who had no autonomy and therefore nowhere to run as they were stalked by an entity that has children as its preferred prey.

The young Losers were forced to take stand; the adult Losers choose to come back and fight.

As a result, the scare factor of the film is somewhat diminished compared to its predecessor, however, that is not to say that It Chapter Two is in any way lesser than It in terms of unsettling scenes. Once again, the creativity with which the horror is executed sets the film apart from most contemporary horrors as it has a distinct visual style that is not only deserving of its R-rating, but also grotesquely stunning in portraying the warped terrors It orchestrates in order to generate that tasty, tasty, beautiful fear in the children of Derry.

Needless to say, Bill Skarsgård once again leads the way in creating nightmare fuel with his performance as Pennywise. Having laid naysayers to rest with an engaging and unnerving performance in 2017, Skarsgård is allowed significantly more screen time in the sequel. Throughout the film, the actor maintains his fearless investment in creating a delightfully terrifying interpretation of the character, expanding on the grotesqueness of Pennywise to such an extent that it is safe to say that Skarsgård’s Pennywise is now as iconic as Tim Curry’s version, albeit the two interpretations are obviously unforgettable for entirely different reasons.

While there is no doubt that Stephen King is a master of creating haunting, yet believable worlds inhabited by characters who can range from bone-chillingly terrifying and grotesque to fully realised, flawed individuals who depict humanity with an often unpleasant type of realism, anyone who is sufficiently familiar with King’s work can attest to the fact the author also has a knack for adding very eclectic, other-wordly elements to his stories, especially in his endings.

Additionally, anyone who has seen the 1990s miniseries can also attest to the fact that the more unusual trademarks of the author does not always transfer well from page to screen, but in It Chapter Two, the ending is allowed to be as eccentrically King as possible without becoming so ludicrously preposterous that it loses its grip on the audience.

Live action adaptations of Stephen King’s works are so plentiful that they are essentially a genre in their own right, as films and series based on the author’s works have been released on a frequent basis for decades. While that has at times meant sitting through some awful drivel, 2017’s It reminded audiences of how emphasizing the humanity in King’s works when adapting them for the big screen can result in an unusually engaging narrative set in the world of horror cinema.

Similar to how the second half of the 1990 miniseries was decidedly underwhelming in comparison to the first half, 2017’s It is also the better film as a whole compared to the 2019 sequel. Obviously, it goes without saying that It Chapter Two as a whole is leagues better than the second half of its 1990 counterpart, as it yields a much more satisfying take on the final showdown than the laughably poor execution we were presented with in the miniseries.

In spite of being somewhat flawed in other areas, such as the sense of threat and having uneven pacing over its hefty runtime of nearly three hours, Andy Muschietti’s second take on the King classic nonetheless remains afloat, leaving audiences with an eerie, entertaining conclusion that almost, but not quite lives up to the standards set by its predecessor.

Verdict: 7 out of 10.

Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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When recalling our childhoods, most of us will undoubtedly have memories of things that spooked us, and for many, books were be no exception. At times, some books might even be so scary by reputation alone that many will recollect how merely being in a certain section of the local library could make you feel uneasy, and my childhood memories are no different.

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Review: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

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With his later films, Quentin Tarantino has been obsessed with rewriting history, and with Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the filmmaker seeks to give his version of certain events that are considered pivotal in the downfall of the glamorous Tinseltown of yesteryear, resulting in a film that is clearly Tarantino’s love letter to the Hollywood that once was, and that he wishes could have continued to be.

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