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

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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

Don’t Knock Twice

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A successful sculptor and her new husband take in her estranged teenage daughter to their new home.  Little do they know, the girl is fleeing the wrath of an ancient spirit she initially believed to be nothing more than an urban legend.  Together, mother and daughter fight to find the answers that will put the legend to rest and save their lives.

Spoilers

Don’t Knock Twice follows the groundwork of nearly every ghost movie that’s ever come before it.  Girl does something to upset ghost, she spends the movie trying to convince others whats happening, she uncovers a secret that explains the motivations of the spirit after her.  This movie hits all of those points and doesn’t really do anything to set itself apart from the rest of the generic ghost movies.

There’s certain things that have no explanation and are just downright stupid.  For instance, girl invokes the curse with her boyfriend by knocking twice on the door to the haunted house.  Within a day the boyfriend is taken by the ghost while it takes multiple days, maybe even a week or two before the girl is.  The ghost also takes its victims to the spirit dimension where they remain until it eats them or something.  The thing that makes no sense to me is that the girl and her boyfriend had a childhood friend that was also taken by the ghost when they were all children only to be eaten in front of the girl when she arrived.  So the ghost kept this kid there, who didn’t age, for nearly a decade before eating him for reasons that weren’t explained.  The people taken to the ghost dimension are also still alive, as they can exit back to the real world, like the protagonists do, and yet we see glimpses of the boyfriend being in the dimension and yet no one seems to care.  In fact, after he’s taken early on in the movie the daughter literally never mentions him.  For someone she grew up with and eventually started dating she sure forgot about him quick.  The movie also ends abruptly as the mother is shown to have become the ghosts slave in the real world.  These were all just instances of poor writing to me that drug the movie down.

Overall, Don’t Knock Twice isn’t a good movie.  I thought the Babayaga ghost looked cool and creepy at times.  The design was kind of like a combination of the ghost from the grudge and Slenderman.  The rest of the movie is generic and downright bad at times with an ending that’s a slap in the face as it just leaves you with more questions that the director assumes you’ll tune into the sequel to find out.

3/10

-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

Splinter

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A romantic camping trip goes awry when a couple is car jacked and held hostage by a dangerous criminal and his strung out girlfriend as they attempt to evade the law.  The situation gets worse for them once they find themselves trapped in a gas station with a gruesome monster standing between them and safety.

Spoilers

What I liked:

The acting in this was solid all around.  Dennis, the carjacker, was the best acted character in my opinion, while Polly and her boyfriend Seth were solid as well.  I usually gripe about characters being dumbed down to make things interesting but what I liked about this movie was that they established early on that Seth was a coward, he was more interested in science than anything else and it played into his choices he made in the movie.

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For instance, there was a scene where Dennis is outside of the gas station trying to retrieve his girlfriends corpse because he thinks she’s still alive.  Polly justly wanted to lock him out and just leave him for dead.  This guy kidnapped them at gunpoint, hit Polly, and threatened to kill them at several points and they had no idea whether he would go through with it or not, especially after his girlfriend was killed.  Meanwhile, Seth is yelling at Polly to let the guy back into the gas station because he’s afraid the guy will shoot them through the glass even though they could just hide behind something.  Theres also another scene where the creatures severed arm is smashed but Seth uncovers it so that he can study it, when it’s still a threat to them all, as getting stuck by a single spike is enough to turn an entire person.

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I was a big fan of the creature effects in this.  Practical effects made the creatures look gory, horrific, and real.  This was pure body horror and it was great.  The creature is some kind of slime mold that infects animals and kills them while using their corpse as a zombie to attack and infect others.  The coolest part came when the creature would absorb other creatures into its current host.  You’d have this massive creature covered in blood with black spikes jutting out of it everywhere and it’d look like a person with another person randomly mixed in.  Also, despite being in a human host, the creature didn’t move like a human at all.  It sort of moved around on all fours like an agitated animal and it looked great.  At points in the movie it’s even capable of ripping off some of its limbs which still function as normal and try to attack people.  It was like looking at Thing from the Addams Family, only its covered in blood and has black spikes protruding from it.

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What I didn’t like:

For all the trouble the production crew went through for their amazing creature effects, it was ruined by the horrible camera work.  I can tell that the creature looked amazing from the clear glimpses of it that are visible.  The sad part is, whenever the creature was attacking someone the camera would be all over the place to the point where it was too difficult to tell what was even happening on-screen.  There would also be way too many cuts during this time, I counted over thirty in a short scene lasting less than fifteen seconds.  For the movie to have such good creature design, only to ruin it with bad camera work is really disappointing.  My guess is that it had to be budgetary reasons that they couldn’t show the creature as clearly as possible.

Aside from Seth’s stupid decisions that fit in with his character, the movie did fall back on some common horror tropes such as cops being useless, and it was kind of hilarious as a result.  At one point when everyone is stuck in the gas station they hear the creature that used to be Dennis’s girlfriend on the roof of the building trying to find a way in.  While tracking it through the building they come to the front door and find that there’s a cop there with her gun drawn yelling at Dennis that she’s going to take him in and that Polly and Seth are finally safe.  So for a minute or so, this cop stays outside the locked door with her gun pointed at Dennis, telling him that he’s going to jail.  Meanwhile Polly and Seth are yelling at her that she isn’t safe and she should get back into her car.  No one offered to unlock the doors and let her into the building for some reason, I mean if she was planning on arresting Dennis she’d have to enter at some point or have him come out to her.  She attempts to radio for help at the insistence of Polly and Seth and is unable to get a response.  Still continuing to stand in the same spot and do nothing she’s attacked by the creature and killed.  The thing splits her in two and absorbs her top half, making her a part of it.  It was hilarious because within a second of her showing up on-screen I could already tell she was gonna die.  Why is it that cops never listen to what people are warning them of in horror movies?  Even if she didn’t believe them that there was something outside with her, would it have hurt her to try to enter the building?

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Final Thoughts:

Overall I was surprised that I liked Splinter.  It was a made for TV movie and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those that I liked.  Splinter had a good plot, the acting was good, and the effects were great.  Unfortunately I felt cheated by the camera work.  This is a monster movie and they were stingy with the monster.  This was sadly a movie with great potential that had it ruined by something easily fixable.

6/10

-Andre