Two for One Horror Conundrums
by Kristin Battestella
These recent horror releases start off as one thing and become something else – biting off a bit more than they can chew with a mixed bag of entertaining, annoying, and even laughable results.
Doctor Sleep – Ewan McGregor (Nightwatch) and Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train) lead this 2019 sequel incorporating Stephen King's novels as well as The Shining's changes with 1980 campers in the woods and a creepy woman in a magic hat before Overlook Hotel landscapes, that infamous Room 237, and terrified children. Overhead angles, upside down camerawork, and chilling beats accent nightmares, boxing up the mind from evil, seedy movie theaters, and subliminal revenge. Unfortunately, the intermingled The Shining revisits and new inconsistencies keep restarting the plot. It's odd to see people recreating characters from the first movie alongside ghosts, telepathic explanations, birthday parties, and drunken escapades that again reset. The first half hour meanders, leaving the audience wondering how these 2011 strangers, eerie coastal rituals, and tempting offers to stay youthful forever are all connected to Danny's AA meetings and his touching fresh start as the titular orderly using his shine to ease dying patients. The momentum changes once more eight years later thanks to telepathic messages on the chalkboard, chilling Jedi mind tricks, a spooky troop running low on steam, and disturbing abduction vignettes. Interconnected visions made completely clear, automatic writing, channeling clues, and shining lookers experiencing the killer acts are intriguing, if jumbled together when the segments with specific characters each deserve focus. It's great when our shining friends finally meet – there's only a few like them in a lifetime and now someone is eating their shine. Warnings not attract people's attention lead to spooky silhouettes, ghostly catch ups, and filing cabinets to store the evil in the mind. Astral projection distortions are well done with warped reflections, ominous clouds, bloody noses, and flickering electric amid power struggles and who's tracking whom turnabouts. However high stakes are made simple with easy psychic ruses and instant traveling; the build up takes longer than the confrontations thanks to fast captures and fatal changes leaving little time to explore anonymous vampires snuffed out in quick shootouts. Internal struggles between alcohol and gifts are gotten over in a brief choice before car accidents, amplified mental powers, and rushed confrontations as the current action hurries back to the snowy Overlook in the last hour. The powerful psychics are suddenly vulnerable, susceptible to the hungry ghosts as the abandoned hotel awakens – Gold Room, axed door, and all. The payoff would have been worthwhile if we had more time with the characters, for entire scenes mimic The Shining, falling back on familiar corridors, typewriters, and hedge mazes rather than fleshing out daddy issues and alcoholism as a hereditary disease. Although entertaining with great scares and paranormal atmosphere, the back and forth, up the stairs and down the stairs action becomes one overlong movie serving two masters, struggling between pacing the book on its own and falling back on the Kubrick connections when one season of psychic vampires and then a second season revisiting the Overlook would have done wonders.
Child's Play – Single mom Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) leads this 2019 re-imagining complete with uncanny valley ugly designs, compromised safety protocols, and creepy commercials for the new high tech Buddi doll. Stormy nights, disgruntled employees, and customer complaints lead to our pretentious son obsessed with his phone and too mature to play with a returned, defective, re-gifted doll. Instead he hangs out on the dark streets with his hood up – emo yet hip and making friends with a policeman neighbor when not using the doll to frighten mom's jerky boyfriend with generic jump scares. Mistaken commands and bonding moments are meant to be cute, getting the loneliness across in charming montages with social statements about a robot being a child's only friend. However, the supposed fun and games are intermixed with mechanical point of view, glitches, glowing eyes, creepy robotic talking, and knives. We know scary is to come – negating the sympathy with cats in peril, misused technology for one's own gain, and commands not to harm people a la Terminator 2. Internal references to evil robots and horror movies are out of touch, breaking viewer immersion because they are for the adult audience not the young protagonists onscreen. Lighting, shadows, and camera angles accentuate snippets of chilling horror, but then more forced whimsy flat lines the simmering mood. Most scenes also happen at night just for artificial menace – mom's nasty boyfriend even takes down the outdoor Christmas lights in the dark but it's tough to appreciate the ladder dangers, strangling light strings, and kids wearing headphones who can't hear the lawn equipment buzzing because of the crass overkill and laughable chopped head hot potato. How old does a kid have to be before he realizes he can't wish someone dead or cry when the batteries are taken out of his evil toy? Empathy and conflict suffer between the dual attempt at independent technological intelligence warnings and Chucky franchise sardonic. Cheap bathroom thrills and contrived suspense over automated devices not turning on the lights acerbate excessive torture porn as deaths go on and on with redundant stabbings, saws, driver-less cars, and splatter. There's no reason for the extra gore, our youth being deaf, or the family being white. It's downtrodden Chicago but only the supporting players are allowed to be Black in a mainstream horror release, and placing an old black lady in terror as if we're supposed to cheer because she's sassy to the end compounds the back and forth humor or horror insulting the audience. The tweens had numerous opportunities to tell an adult about the violence but they blame the grown ups when they aren't believed. The overlong plot and mixed motivations sway as needed, tacking on shopping hysteria, gory marketing displays, and remote control airplane propellers slicing a trapped crowd. The last fifteen minutes are an absurd department store bloodbath with our kids wielding a laughably convenient hedge trimmer. Despite potential, producer Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) once again runs someone else's I.P. into the ground thanks to reshoots and too many behind the scenes hands in the pot ripping off multiple themes. Maybe this is watchable for casual horror viewers, but the messy, repetitive cliches aren't as fun as the original Child's Play.
What the Heck?
Everfall – I didn't expect this 2017 indie to be good – I just wanted to see figure skaters in a horror movie. Epic mountains and action cam stunts, however, try hard while our melodramatic, washed up ingenue is late to the rink. She says there's not going to be a next time for her boyfriend to choose the rush over her – not because she is ditching this terribly toxic relationship, but because she fell and is out of the competition. Flashbacks and injury scars lead to crying in the shower, insistence that her boyfriend isn't the issue, and a fed up coach sending her to the obscure titular festival. The contrived family troubles, skating struggles, bad vibes boyfriend, previous fires, and cursed arena are all revealed upfront, but our snobby skater refuses everyone trying to help her and most of the characters are jerks or idiots. There's a ridiculous exaggeration about the death spiral maneuver, too – as if someone thought it was something scary and ominous enough to make a horror movie around it without ever showing anyone doing the move properly. Creepy rink officials, “dark atmospheric music” captions, and people walking around an ice rink like it is some latent scary place are too awkward, and no one's in a rush to call the police after an off camera witnessing of a girl shooting herself, because of course nothing in the arena is what it appears to be. Convenient screens show past videos yet phones are deliberately left at home, and it's up to our concerned mom to do a Google search and read Wikipedia aloud. Dressing Room 5 has an evil red door with talk of witches, rituals, and kids said to be scarified in an annual reaping along with everything else that's being thrown in here like candles, heartbeats, and ghostly little girls being chased up and down the same hallway. There's an angry firefighter ex-husband, too, and the useless daredevil douche boyfriend belittling her into pranks, injury, and ruining her skating keeps going on and on as if him being the cause should be some kind of surprise. Emotional music matches the imaginary resets for some of the best moments, but it's all a horror ruse so how are we supposed to be moved when we don't know which has really happened? There's messing with unreliability and then there's paining your audience by faking your way through the holes in the story. There's no reason to care about the past traumas or comeuppance, and if this is about the horror of an asshole boyfriend, we figured that out in the first five minutes. Not only is this a bad horror movie, but there's next to no on ice action. I'm so annoyed.