Kingdom

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Spoilers

A King falls ill and it’s expected he will die, leaving his only son to take power after him.  Unfortunately the evil Queen and her father will do everything that they can to ensure that power falls to into their hands no matter the consequences to the region.

In an era saturated by zombie movies and TV shows, Kingdom was a breath of fresh air.  Some shows focus too much on the drama aspect while the horror takes a back seat which can lead to things being slow and boring.  Or maybe they focus entirely on the zombies leaving it with a dumbed down plot with underdeveloped characters.  Kingdom manages to balance drama and horror excellently as well as develop its characters competently.

What I liked most about the series was the setting, taking place in the past adds a whole new dimension to the genre.  Being in the past the characters are limited in what they can use to defend themselves against the zombies.  Characters spend most of their time on foot being equipped with only the most basic of weapons against a horde of fast moving zombies.   As with Train to Busan the zombies in this are fast and exciting, they swarm quickly and those killed by them are quickly resurrected in seconds.  There are also cleverly used moments of humor sprinkled throughout.  My favorite was a scene where two guys are in jail together and they were locked together in a stockade like device by the neck.  Zombies surround their cell and one of the men gets bitten and turns into a zombie while the other guy doesn’t.  The survivor then spends the entire night attempting to avoid being pushed against the gates of the cell as his dead cellmate continues to pursue him.

Kingdom is an excellent new series and welcome addition to the zombie genre.  It’s got a solid plot, top-notch acting, and genuinely creepy scenes that set it apart from similar zombie shows.

9/10

-Andre

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The Umbrella Academy

the umbrella academy

Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy is the networks newest comic book superhero series.  Following a mysterious unexplained phenomenon in 1989, forty-three previously not pregnant women across the world spontaneously give birth at the same time.  Seven of these babies are adopted by eccentric billionaire Reginald Hargreeves as he founds the Umbrella Academy with the intent to train them to save the world from a coming apocalyptic event.TUA_101_Unit_00831.0

Hargreeves unfortunately, isn’t the best caregiver and his detached and uncaring personality leads to the children growing into very dysfunctional adults.  Each has their own problems and personal demons to overcome as they’re reunited for the first time in years following Hargreeves unexpected death.

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It’s a series that combines good story writing, character development, and visuals.  It’s not your typical costumed superheroes beating up bad guys schtick.  It’s a broken family who happens to have super powers struggling to overcome their differences and their past to save the world together.  It’s a new and welcome addition to Netflix’s take on superhero TV shows and I hope for similar ventures in the future that bring to life more comics outside of DC and Marvel characters.

8/10

-Andre

Hostel

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Two American college students set out backpacking across Europe, they meet a man from Iceland that the two quickly befriend.  After getting kicked out of a nightclub and subsequently finding themselves with no place to stay after their hostel is closed they spend the night with a stranger.  His stories about the fun times and beautiful women in Slovakia convince the trio to travel there next.  Unfortunately the group finds out certain things are too good to be true.

Spoilers

Hostel starts off with a painful buildup.  The entire first half of the movie is essentially American Pie, we follow three guys as they do as much drugs and prostitutes as they can as they travel across Europe.  Seriously, you’d think that you were watching a bad comedy movie if you went into this blind.  The first half should have been spent more on character development as all three characters are extremely shallow and we don’t get to know enough about them to care.  There’s the moral compass, the goofy European, and the generic guy that speaks German.  Outside of that there is nothing more to their characters.  The second half of the film is where things really pick up.  One by one the friends are taken and sold to rich benefactors in order to be brutally tortured and killed.  These scenes are gruesome and gory and tend to fly by, maybe because they had to be condensed to half of a film following what happens in the first half.  The second features some really good set design and special effects.  There is plenty of gore and the acting definitely picks up as things get intense.  The best part in my opinion was when the protagonist gets revenge on the guy that recommended they visit Slovakia and the women that set them up.  It’s rare to see that kind of thing happen and it was pretty hilarious.

Overall, Hostel turned out to be a good movie.  It has a first half that’s extremely forgettable and feels misplaced for a horror movie.  The second half is above average and does some pretty good things for the genre, it almost makes up for the first half but not quite.  Still its a decent movie and worthy of a watch.

5/10

-Andre

Await Further Instructions

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A highly dysfunctional British family gathers together one night in preparation to celebrate Christmas.  When they awake in the morning they find themselves trapped inside their home by a mysterious indestructible black substance.  Their only clue to whats going on is the mysterious message broadcasting on their TV, “stay indoors and await further instructions.”

SPOILERS

The beginning premise was interesting to me.  The film was set up in a way that I kind of expected it to be like another take on the famous Milgrim experiment and show how people succumb to their perception of authority.  The family sees the message on the screen and think that its a message from the government and that they’re being isolated after a terrorist attack or something.  I thought that the plot would lead to it being revealed that they were part of a secret govt experiment and being drugged to see how they’d react in such a situation.  About halfway through the movie reveals that it was robotic aliens or something to that effect.  It was stupid and made no sense.

I found myself hating all of the characters in this from the beginning, even the protagonist. There’s the protagonist, his girlfriend, his overly controlling father, his mom, his stupid sister whos pregnant, her idiot husband, and their racist granddad.  The protagonist arrives with his girlfriend who’s Middle Eastern and almost immediately his family starts making racist comments.  I often found myself wondering why the protagonist even came back.  Surely he’s had plenty of Christmas’s with his horrible family over the years, why now does he return with his girlfriend and act surprised when they’re still horrible people and treat him and his girlfriend like dirt?

The father is probably one of the worst characters I’ve seen in a movie in a while.  He remains completely obedient to the messages on the screen, often forcing his family to comply to their detriment as he believes the messages are keeping them safe.  His entire character is frustrating for the simple fact that if he took a second to actually think he could’ve saved some of his family.  For example, the TV tells them that they need to be vaccinated and a ziplock bag with six syringes falls from the chimney.  The syringes have no caps indicating that they’ve been used, more importantly no one even knows what the substance inside is they’re being asked to put into themselves yet the father injects himself, then forces everyone else to.  This leads to a violent bloody death for the grandfather.  For some reason, this doesn’t shake the fathers belief in the TV messages at all, in fact it strengthens it.  At this point this movie became pure comedy for me because it only got worse from there.  After “vaccinating” themselves the TV tells them that one of them is infected.  With what? Who knows?  Who cares?  The family then decides that it has to mean the girlfriend and they lock her away in a room with the dead grandfather.  No one bothers to point out that the protagonist would most likely be infected as well since they’ve spent all their time together but whatever, I’m checked out at this point.

Around this point the movie falls flat on its face.  The messages on the TV continue to change based on whats going on with the family.  At one point the father and son in law torture the protagonist because the TV said there’s a sleeper agent among them.  Meanwhile as more and more of his family dies the father continues to just obey what the TV is showing him.  At one hilarious point, the TV starts to pretend that its Jesus as the father begins to pray to it.  It just continued to get more and more ridiculous, culminating in the TV showing a message to a newborn telling the baby to worship it.  I guess the director forgot that babies cant read.

Overall this movie had potential to be a lot better than it ended up being but ultimately fell flat on its face.  Even though the characters were really unlikeable they were played pretty well.  It’s an interesting movie, but they payoff isn’t worth the time investment.

4/10

-Andre

 

The Shrine

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A young journalist and friends travel to a remote village in Poland to find out more about a string of  tourists disappearing in the area.  Upon their arrival they’re greeted by hostile locals and a religious cult willing to do anything to keep visitors away from the strange fog emanating from the forest.

Spoilers

What I liked:

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I wasn’t expecting much going in but the story surprised me a lot and I liked it.  It was very atmospheric and creepy.  The reporter Carmen, her cameraman and boyfriend Marcus, and her colleague Sara, come to this village to find out more about a guy that went missing here while his luggage was found at an airport he never even visited.  They read the guys journal and see that he spoke of a strange fog sitting in one spot in the forest next to the village he’d been in.  When they arrive at the village they’re met with hostility from the locals who just want them to leave.  Instead, they sneak into the forest at night and Carmen and Sara enter the fog.

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the shrine statue

Inside they see a strange statue of a demon holding a heart.  We never get to see Saras experience but with Carmen we see that the statue is supernatural.  She looks at it and takes a picture of it, then moves to the other side of it to take another picture.  When she looks up at it again she sees that the statue has turned its head towards her.  The eyes of the statue then start to bleed and the stone heart in its hand starts to beat.  The group exits the forest where they again encounter the villagers.  The trio is captured and it is then determined that Carmen and Sara will be unwilling participants in a ritual sacrifice.  Sara is executed first when she’s stripped and dressed in a gown and has an ornamental mask with spikes protruding from the eye area hammered into her skull.  Marcus, who was being made to dig his own grave elsewhere, escapes and arrives to save Carmen and the two escape.

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They break into a families home in an attempt to steal their truck so that they can finally leave.  This is where the movie reveals its twist.  While inside with the family, Carmen begins to hallucinate that everyone is a demonic creature and after her.  She retreats to another room where Marcus follows.  Marcus finds himself alone in the room and trapped as the doors are locked.  He then hears the family screaming as they’re being brutally killed.  Once he’s finally able to leave the room he’s attacked by Carmen, whos possessed.  The rest of the villagers arrive and proceed to execute the same ritual that they performed on Sara on Carmen.  Unfortunately Carmen manages to kill a few of them in the process.  Marcus ends up assisting the villagers in their ritual when he realizes what’s been happening all along. the shrine

The twist was the the villagers were actually the good guys.  Carmen and Sara, as well as the missing guy and several tourist before him had all entered the forest and looked at the demonic statue, which allows the demon to possess them.  The ritual that the villagers performs is the only way to save those who’ve seen it and prevent the destruction and death that the demon causes.

What also played into the creepy atmosphere that isn’t used much today is the lack of subtitles for the parts where the villagers were speaking Polish.  It puts you in the same confused state as the other actors because unless you speak Polish as well, you have no idea whats going on or what they’re planning for them.  It makes the nature of the rituals they do all the more mysterious and its pretty effective.

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I was also a fan of the effects used in this movie.  The horror effects were all done practically and they were good and gory.  The demonic faces when the women were hallucinating looked like cheap costume masks but they way they were used in the film made it passable.  There was a lot of blood and body parts strewn about when Carmen became fully possessed and I thought it added to the fear factor of what she had become and why the villagers had been doing their rituals over the years and their hostility towards outsiders.

What I didn’t like:

The acting ranged from average to awful.  The characters gave wooden performances  like there was no emotion behind what they were doing.  Sometimes I felt like they could be reading from cue cards or something because of their dry delivery.  The best acted character was one of the villagers in my opinion.  He had more feeling and better delivery in his lines than everyone else.

Final thoughts:

The Shrine is a surprisingly good movie that flew under the radar, most likely due to the low budget.  It’s an ambitious alternate take on the familiar theme in horror movies of demonic possession, or dangerous religious cults.  The story is pretty good as well as the special effects, the only thing that brings it down a bit is the mediocre acting.  All in all, this is a good movie and worthy of a watch.

7/10

-Andre

Mayhem

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After being framed and unjustly fired from his job in a corporate law office, Derek Cho struggles to survive once the building is placed under quarantine due to a virus that strips the inhibitions from those infected.  Now Cho must fight for not just his job, but his life as the infected grow increasingly violent around him.

The good thing about this movie is that it doesn’t take itself seriously.  Its all about action and ultra violence.  Once the virus kicks in, the movie shifts into high gear and remains there until its over.  Everyone in the building is quickly infected and chaos erupts as their deepest violent impulses are finally unchained.  Steven Yuen does a great job in his role as the protagonist.  He’s charismatic and funny as he fights his way up to the top floor of the building to get revenge on his corrupt boss.  The rest of the cast give pretty good performances as well, some tended to be over the top though.

One thing that didn’t make sense to me though was how the board members seemed unaffected by it.  I mean they’re clearly infected as the virus turns one eye red, but that is the only thing that implies that they’re infected.  There is one board member that fights someone, but she was attacked first and responded with violence to defend herself, the rest of the board remains just as they were when introduced before being infected by the virus.

Overall, Mayhem is an average movie.  Its fun and packed with action that grabs you early and refuses to let go.  With a plot that is as generic as can be, the lead actor and the excessive violence prop this movie up more than it should be.

6/10

-Andre

Bird Box

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A mysterious occurrence creeps over the world’s population.  No one knows what it is or what causes it, the only thing that’s certain is that those that see it are compelled to suicide.  The few remaining survivors must then struggle to exist in a world they must navigate through while blinded in order to survive.

Spoilers

What I liked:

The acting in this ranged from good to great.  Sandra Bullock as Malorie the protagonist put forth a great effort as a single mother trying to keep herself and two children alive during the apocalypse.  I liked her character arc as she went from a reluctant, unattached pregnant mother to five years later being the guardian of two children she tries to distance herself from but ultimately comes to love as her children.  For instance, she literally names the children Girl and Boy as well as makes them call her by her first name.  At one point she had a decision to make where while traveling in a boat down the river they would hit rapids and someone would HAVE to look in order to help her navigate.  She decides that it has to be one of the kids, Boy initially volunteers to look and she tells him no and that she will decide.  She then stares at Girl for a bit.  In a flashback we learn that Boy is in fact her biological son, whereas Girl is the child of a fellow survivor whose mother died immediately after birth.  Her immediate refusal to allow Boy to be the one to look and prolonged look at Girl made me feel like she would be more comfortable with Girl being the one to sacrifice herself since she didn’t feel like she was her mother.  There was also a scene where everyone ends up separated from one another and once Malorie and Boy are reunited and calling for Girl, Boy tells her that Girl is afraid of her.  Despite all of the hardships, once they make it to a sanctuary Malorie finally gives the two children names.  Girl is named Olympia, after her birth mother while Boy is given the name Tom, after the man who served as their surrogate father until he died before they reached sanctuary.  Other than Bullock the rest of the cast gave a good performance, but nothing really stood out to me.

I was also a fan of the monsters, demons, spirits, or whatever they were.  Even though the movie never specifies what it is or even if there is an actual creature, I liked the concept.  I like to think that it has to be some kind of sentient life form since it can not only make people see their worst fears, it can speak to them and try to manipulate them into removing their blindfolds and looking at it.  It has an element of Lovecraftian horror to it, in that there are cosmic beings that are so beyond human comprehension that merely laying eyes on them will drive a human mind to insanity or worse.  The closest thing we get to seeing what the monsters might look like is through the drawings of Gary and a creeping shadow over one of the video monitors from an earlier characters death.  It’s the unknown aspect that I like best about it.  It allows you to come up with your own interpretation of what you think the characters might be seeing.  I prefer this approach rather than if the movie had spent all this time hyping up the monster only for it to be disappointing.  It may not be something that works for everyone but it worked for me in this case.

What I didn’t like:

The inconsistencies in this are glaring.  For instance, the monsters and their effect on people.  With the vast majority of the population looks at one, their eyes morph before they kill themselves.  For some reason that’s never explained, crazy people are able to look at them without being driven to suicide or practically any ill effects, yet they’re driven to force other people to look at the creatures.  The movie shows us several of the crazies, all of which have seen the creatures, yet some of them have the morphed eyes and some don’t.  Take Gary for example, he shows up outside of the home the survivors have holed up in and when they let him in, he appears normal and even has normal eyes.  By the next day or so we see his eyes morph as he starts drawing his pictures of the monsters.  I thought it could have been due to seeing the pictures as we saw a character have the suicide response from looking at a creature through a security monitor, yet another character looks at the same pictures that Gary does to no effect.  So how was Gary able to hide his morphed eyes, or was there a delayed response to seeing the creatures somehow?  There’s a group of crazies that drive around in cars and they don’t have the morphed eyes, yet Malorie encounters a crazy on the river that does have the morphed eyes, as well as a guy they encountered in an earlier scene in the supermarket.  There is also the fact that the monsters seem to be everywhere, yet we have to see them approach people to effect them.  When Gary forces a survivor to look outside she immediately kills herself, same with another survivor that was locked in the garage.  Was there a monster sitting outside the entire time waiting for someone to look out, or are they just there always?  It’s not like they’re being forced to wait with their eyes open for a creature to appear.  During the climax we see that Malorie is being chased by the monsters, as we can see them physically effecting the plants and trees around them as they move through them.  So would Malorie have been fine if she’d taken off her blindfold as long as she didn’t look behind her?

The monsters are also shown to physically exist as bushes rustle, trees shake, and leaves are moved when they move through them.  There is also a scene where the survivors are navigating in a car using its proximity sensors and everything goes off at once in an area where it shouldn’t indicating one of the monsters is near, as it shakes and rocks the car.  So….why can’t they open doors or forcefully remove people’s blindfolds themselves?  How is it that survivors can navigate the world completely safe with only a blindfold if these creatures are physically present?  How is it that they’re only present outside?  Whenever a survivor enters a building they can remove their blindfold and look around without issue, they only need them outside for some reason.  Are the creatures vampires?  Do they need permission to enter buildings?  How can they be physical entities, yet unable to break a window, open a door, or touch someone?  But if they’re not physical entities, what is stopping them from just going into a house and appearing in front of people?  No one wears blindfolds indoors it would be easy for them to get everyone.  It doesn’t make sense.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, Bird Box is a fairly average movie, with a below average plot propped up by great acting from Sandra Bullock.  The rest of the cast puts forth solid acting performances but the plot is lacking.  There are major inconsistencies that pop up and drag down for the movie for me.  Its entertaining, but at certain points it boring and drags.

6/10

-Andre