It Comes at Night : C+

 

Looking for an edge-of-your-seat horror winner? Look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a little food for thought, then “It Comes at Night” is not a total failure. The film deals with an outbreak of a deadly virus, possibly smallpox. Nobody seems to really know what it is or how it spreads, but fear and mistrust runs rampant. The film deals with two families whose paths cross in a desolate, apocalyptic future.

There are some good things about this film. The actor playing the 17-year old son is real good. Also, the atmosphere and tension are palpable. The problem is that the film refuses to give the audience information that it needs. Without knowing if the characters’ fears are baseless or valid, it becomes impossible to know how to react to the characters’ decisions. Also, the film concludes with an irritating non-ending that, judging by a sudden change in aspect ratio, may be the young, sick protagonist’s dream.

While I would definitely hesitate to call this a bad horror film, it’s just not a very entertaining one. Also the star, the edgy Joel Edgerton, is wasted here in an unsympathetic role. This film could have really amounted to something. However, in its current form, it’s kind of a waste. Go see something else more uplifting, like almost any film ever made. By the way, the title is meaningless

Wasteland B Movie Classics

Picked up the Roger Corman double feature of “Deathsport” and “Battletruck” this week. “Deathsport” is a follow-up of sorts to “Death Race 2000” starring David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, and Richard Lynch. It’s about a deadly futuristic sport involving flaming motorcycles, lasers, and much mayhem. The film doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s a lot of fun and is from the director of “Rock and Roll High School” and “Caddyshack 2.” The director contributes an hilarious audio commentary.

“Battletruck,” also known as “Warlords of the 21st Century,” is a “Mad Max” type film starring Michael Beck from “The Warriors” about a lawless, oil-deprived future in which the Battletruck, possibly the coolest vehicle I’ve ever seen, reigns supreme. This flick has very little plot but is very well made from a director who went on to make “Black Moon Rising” with Tommy Lee Jones, which is also about a vehicle.

There’s not too much to say about these two films except that they’re good B-pictures. Claudia Jennings gets naked in “Deathsport” and David Carradine kicks ass. Richard Lynch is always the best villain, I want to own the “Battletruck,” and live in New Zealand, where that film was shot. This two-pack is available on DVD for around $10 and is a good deal.

Beyond the Gates: Cheesy Fun

Are you a fan of “Stranger Things” and “Jumanji”? Have you always wondered if there is more to board games than meet the eye? Welcome to “Beyond the Gates,” an entertaining and sometimes frightening low budget horror film that won the Audience Award at the 2016 Los Angeles film festival.

This film concerns 2 adult brothers whose father disappeared a decade ago who discover a strange board game he was playing before he died. Titled “Beyond the Gates,” of course, the game is an elaborate, mysterious concoction that threatens your mind, body, and soul and takes you to another dimension. In order to survive, you must listen to the game master (played on videotape by Barbara Crampton from “Re-Animator”) and win the game. The two brothers (who are hoping to save their dad from the other dimension( and their friends are affected by the game, and there will be much confusion and weirdness, a body count, blood and gore, and an ending that may not be what the viewer will expect.

I thought this movie was excellent, primarily because of its great premise and unpredictability. The actors are fine and the special effects are good. It’ll make you think twice about playing a board game! It is currently streaming on Netflix and is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Re: Autopsy of Jane Doe

If you’re disheartened by the overly commercial movies being put out by Hollywood and you like horror, I’ve got a movie for you. “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” starring Emile Hirsch and Brian (Hannibal Lector in “Manhunter”) Cox, is a small-scale but very frightening experience. It is about a farther (Cox) and son (Hirsch) who work at a mortuary, and their new patron, “Jane Doe,” has died a very unusual death, and they can’t figure out what killed her. Is she even dead

This film has two things going for it: great acting and an incredible sense of mystery, atmosphere, and dread. Brian Cox delivers his best performance in years as the father, a decent man with dark secrets. The director, who made “Trollhunter,” has a field day with the possibly haunted mortuary. Not only do we get jump scares galore, but also some truly disgusting and disturbing scenes. It all builds to a satisfying, dark conclusion.

In short, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is a good sleeper horror film. Rent or stream it and turn off all the lights. You will definitely be scared!

Guardians is a Hoot

I assumed I would never like a movie with a talking raccoon, but “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a blast. The secret, I think, is in the casting. I am not a big fan of Chris Pratt, but he is perfect as Starlord in both films. Zoe Saldana is also good, but the show is continually stolen by Bradley Cooper as a foul-mouthed talking raccoon. Throw in Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel as the voice of Baby Groot and you have a cast of outcast heroes worth cheering.

I liked this film better than the first because of the cast being so much fun to watch. Not only do we get Sylvester Stallone and (in a memorable role) Kurt Russell, but Michael Rooker gets to be the hero. The 3-D, surprisingly, is very good, and the film never seems stuck in Marvel Movie Formula. In short, the film is a hoot and will probably make a gazillion dollars. And, yes, Stan Lee and Howard T. Duck make brief appearances.

A Decent Circle

The new movie “The Circle” has the unearned reputation from critics and audiences of being a bomb. It’s a smart thriller that plays against audience expectations. Going in, we know that Emma Watson has to be the heroine and Tom Hanks, as a Steve Jobs-type guru, must be the villain. However, neither character behaves according to type, which has caused many people to say the film makes no sense. I urge people to reconsider. This movie is about people who are in the public limelight 24/7. Because the main characters are in the limelight all the time, there is no way they can tip off that their modus operandi may be masking deeper motivations and secrets. As a result, it is a genuine surprise when the characters are unmasked at the end as not being what they seem. If the director had played everything straight and square, with characters behaving in a more understandable way, the point of the movie would have been lost. The film is about how technology forces us to react in unnatural ways.

That established, this is a good movie, much better than “Fate of the Furious” and “Beauty and the Beast.” It asks important questions about technology, privacy, and where we are today and where we are headed. The music, directing, performances, and cinematography are first-rate. Most importantly, it tells you that if a company asks you to be monitored by millions 24 hours a day without big pay, just say no. See “The Circle” to see that the future is now.

Sci-Fi Roundup

This movie is not the Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence jail comedy. Its about a crew fighting a killer amoeba. Although the overall quality of films the last five or ten years has spiked downward, sci-fi has spiked upward in quality with some wonderful films that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. The current film “Life,” for example, is a very interesting “Alien” knockoff about what would happen if we discovered alien life on Mars. The answer: nothing good. We think we’re getting “E.T.” and instead we’re getting something worse than The Thing. This film has interesting characters, some believable science, and is a tremendously inspired production. The director uses long, painstakingly crafted sequences to draw us in and (hopefully) make us forget we’re watching a movie. The performances of Jake Gylllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds draw us in, and, although the film is similar to “Alien,” it scares us.

The new film “Phoenix Forgotten,” produced by Ridley Scott, is a found-footage film in the style of “The Blair Witch Project” about the Phoenix Lights UFO incident from 1997. A group of teens witness the event and decide to investigate further and film what they find. Bad idea. It turns out that the incident is much more sinister in nature than they thought. Will they survive? Maybe not, but their quest proves somewhat compelling as all of us are curious about UFO’s. The film is well-made, acted, and scored and delivers some terror on a low budget. It’s not great, but you could do worse.

Ghost in the Shell is Deep

I thought I knew what to expect from “Ghost in the Shell.” I assumed it would have great visuals and a mindless plot. I was right about the visuals. Although the futuristic city portrayed in the film looks a little too close to “Blade Runner,” overall the film is convincing and occasionally mind-blowing in terms of its visual impact. The surprise about the new film is that director Rupert Sanders has a story to tell, and tells it well. What would it be like to be an android (or, actually, a cyborg) with no body to call your own and memories you can’t trust? This film tells you.

I was very impressed with the cast that this film put together. It is true that Scarlett Johannson is rather miscast as the heroine, but this is only because her character is supposed to be Asian. She should have asked for rewrites to tailor the part more to her. However, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano (the Japanese action star), Juliette Binoche, and Michael Pitt are excellent in their roles.

The film is getting a lot of flack for supposedly “whitewashing” Japanese material. On the contrary, the film is very respectful to the magna and anime series, and to such a degree that I’m rather stunned. The scenes where the protagonist discovers the truth about herself are rather affecting. This film succeeds in capturing the essence of the film series, and I would not mind a sequel to this film. If you like science fiction and especially if you like anime, check it out! – CoolAC

Cop Car

Currently showing on HBO and available on Blu-Ray and DVD, “Cop Car” is a terrific thriller that you probably haven’t heard about or seen. It’s about two child runaways who find an abandoned cop car in a remote location. They decide to break into it, explore, and take it on a joy ride. Little do they know that someone’s in the trunk, and that corrupt cop Kevin Bacon will do anything to get his car back.

The first thing I noticed about this film is how well it portrays children; the kids seem like real kids. Between saying swear words for the first time and being totally unaware of the danger of driving an apparently empty car, their naivety is stunning and believable. Secondly, Kevin Bacon’s performance is one of his very best. He doesn’t overact. and so he creates suspense about how dangerous he is. The third thing is how well-crafted this film is; it takes a simple scenario and creates a Hitchcockian level of suspense around it.

In short, “Cop Car” is a great thriller that is well worth your time. The performances are great and the suspense is real. Don’t miss it! –CoolAC

More Dystopian Cinema

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has irrevocably altered the American political landscape. That can clearly be seen in two new low-budget horror films, Roger Corman’s “Death Race 2050” and Greg McLean’s “The Belko Experiment.” Although neither of these films is a cinematic masterpiece, they are both worth seeing because they perfectly show the fractured political landscape America is in right now.

“Death Race 2050” shows how we live in a very violent society presided over by a very strange man (Malcolm McDowell at his most outrisageous) who resembles Donald Trump. In the society portrayed in the film, nothing seems to matter except getting good kills. The film brings back the Frankenstein driver character from “Death Race 2000” as well as the dystopian future where nothing matters except hedonism and violence. The film attempts to make its low budget a virtue with deliberately cheesy special FX, but the concept of a deadly car chase is what works particularly well here. The point seems to be that our society is headed in a more nihilistic direction, and it is a point I do not disagree with. The film is new to DVD and Blu ray and is streaming on Netflix.

“The Belko Experiment,” which just opened in theaters., is written and produced by James Gunn, who gave us “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Slither.” The director gave us the “Wolf Creek” films. This film is about American employees at a corporation in Colombia who get locked into their workplace and forced into the ultimate corundum: kill or die. The film is about how the previously friendly employees at the corporation deal with the fact that to survive, they will apparently have to kill each other. This film is more disturbing than most horror films because:

1. The reasons for this deadly corporate psychological experiment are never explained.
2. The most likeable characters generally die first. I particularly felt bad for the black security guard who ends up getting killed for doing his job of holding onto the keys to the armory. Rarely have I seen a more likeable character bite the dust in a horror film.

This film will be criticized for being too cynical and having no apparent point, but in fact it shows the arbitrary divisions that are springing up between us in America right now, and how violence is being shown as a solution to our problems in some parts of our society. If you doubt this, look at the vitriol on both sides of the political aisle right now. This film shows us that we need to be careful before signing our rights away to a corporation (or, for that matter, the government) because the people in charge cannot be trusted.

These films will be regarded as exploitative trash by most people, but I found them to be well worth watching. They both show the consequences of a violence-obsessed society. I recommend them as good beer-drinking drive-in movies and as food for thought. Until next time… –CoolAC