Halloween (2018)

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Forty years after she was attacked by a masked killer, Laurie Strode prepares for the return of Michael Myers so she can end his murderous carnage once and for all.

After several sequels that were poorly received by critics and audiences alike, the most recent film in this slasher franchise retcons all the sequels’s continuities, disregarding them and acting as a direct sequel to the 1978 classic. The movie delivers on the promise of intense sequences elevated by the frightening presence of Myers, and effective tension throughout these horror scenes. The blood and gore is also fittingly strong to amplify the fright of a masked murderer coming after these characters, with some nice cinematography and tracking shots as well. However, even though it’s quite entertaining to watch, most of the jump scares are pretty predictable and a lot of these scenes fall into familiar tropes. Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role and does a terrific job as Laurie, bringing a layered character to the screen in every scene she’s in. The aspect that hasn’t been seen before is the PTSD Laurie faces and how she’s willing to go to far lengths to prepare herself and her family for the inevitable return of her greatest fear. The way Curtis portrays a woman affected by an incident even decades later and how she’s always looking over her shoulder, ready to bravely face the villain of the story is done very strongly. If only the movie focused more on her, as lots of the film cuts to uninteresting side characters that don’t serve a purpose to the main story and aren’t portrayed very well. Sometimes the movie doesn’t stick true to the promise of being the story of Laurie facing Michael one last time and instead focuses more on developing character who do nothing other than fall victim to Michael’s killing spree.  The plot also basically follows the structure of the original and we can tell what the final showdown will be like even before the movie begins. Halloween has plenty of fun scares and effective violence that will entertain horror fans but it borrows too much from the structure of the first film and doesn’t try much that’s new from the overall horror movie formula, and could’ve used more focus on its compelling protagonist.

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Searching

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This movie follows David Kim as he desperately searches for his missing daughter Margot. From that description it may sound like an ordinary mystery film, but there’s a catch: it’s told entirely through the perspective of a computer screen. This isn’t used simply as a gimmick but rather as a filmmaking tool to amplify the emotion and suspense. It’ll shatter your heart within the first five minutes of staring at a large computer screen projected in front of you, and FaceTime and text conversations are made interesting and thrilling. Though the concept is familiar, the plot is absolutely predictable and you can never tell what’s going to happen next. The way it builds up its conflict strongly pulls your interest and from there will find ways to always keep you guessing, as more shocking details are revealed that surprise the audience and put them on the edge of their seat. John Cho plays a loving father whose every action or reaction throughout his search for his daughter feels believable for what a father would do, and Cho displays range, emotion, and humanity in his leading performance. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone from their computer — even when we’re not directly looking at him, we always feel for David and understand how he’s feeling through the whole film. The format doesn’t limit the film’s opportunities and works perfectly throughout the entire runtime. There is never a dull moment that allows you to take a breath from this gripping mystery until the very end. As an audience member you always feel forced to look for clues and details and invited to embark on this father’s journey through his device. The writer has so much to say in this film and the script works on many thematic levels — It’s about a father’s love for his daughter, about how secretive kids choose to be from their parents, how different generations use technology, and how much a computer can tell you about a person and their life. There’s so much to be analyzed and so much the director wonderfully conveys in 100 minutes.

Searching is the original, creative, and enthralling thriller we need right now — it’s a shocking and unique thriller that will grip onto you and not let go until the very end.

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Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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FBI agent Matt Graver teams up with operative Alejandro Gillick to prevent Mexican drug cartels from smuggling terrorists across the U.S. border.

Sicario director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, who helped make the first one feel so special, are absent this time, but Stefano Sollima and DP Dariusz Wolski still hold their ground to create beautiful production and violent sequences that nearly hold up to the first one’s glamour. The sound editing is harrowing and elevates the terror of sequences that could feel like real-life combat, and the gunfight choreography and use of blood to elevate terror are fitting. Like the first film, even with a slight amount of violence the stakes can be gripping, which is strong for a world with movies filled with loud sound effects and explosions. Even without Emily Blunt, the cast is great, particularly Benicio del Toro once again as a complex lead who isn’t all heroic and also dark at times. Josh Brolin also has a great return as a man trying to get the job done, and this actor never seems to disappoint or perform under your expectations, as he’s able to embrace every one of his performances to the fullest. Some of the powerful writing from the first film is present — like exploring the children of drug lords and their experience in the crosshairs.

Like its predecessor, Day of the Soldado is very well-shot, with night vision scenes to intense shootout sequences in the desert, and the music is as awe-inspiring as in the first. However, there are some scenes that feel unnecessary to the plot or don’t lead to many places, and the movie introduces some great ideas in the first two acts that are ignored towards the end. The ending feels like its teasing what could be next in Sicario 3 which is fine but it ends a little too abruptly to be taken in. I’m glad it’s unpredictable and well made like the first movie but it doesn’t feel as motivated and suspenseful, and it hardly felt like a complete story because a little too much was left open for the next movie and there wasn’t edge of your seat tension and shock in the climax or most importantly emotion like the first film’s insane final minutes. It’s still got a dark story and themes like the first one that work very well, and holds its ground in terms of style, but in the end never justifies its existence other than promising a hopefully better Sicario threequel.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado feels as well-done and harrowingly violent as its predecessor, with great performances as well, but doesn’t completely embrace its themes and saitsfy in terms of substance by the end. Recommended for action fans who will likely enjoy the  thrilling and violent fight sequences like I did.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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Three years after the fall of Jurassic World, Owen and Claire return to the island to rescue the dinosaurs from a volcano that will cause the extinction of all the dinosaurs on the island.

There’s no surprise that audiences, including me, will continue to go pay watching dinosaurs wreak havoc on the big screen, not just because I enjoy it, but also because Jurassic Park is still on my top 10 favorite movies and I continue to have high hopes for the franchise. Unfortunately, Fallen Kingdom ditches a lot of the heart this series used to have for new high-paid cast members and plenty of scenes dedicated to rich corporate officials talking about dinosaur genetics. Jurassic World was far from perfect but still really enjoyable and had tons of edge-of-your-seat suspense, and one of the best parts of that movie was Chris Pratt’s protagonist, Owen Grady. Last time we met him, he was a unique dino trainer who knew the creatures better than anyone and took on threats in style. Here, there’s nothing heartfelt or fun to his role that all of Chris Pratt’s other performances seem to possess. His character is hardly developed this time around and his connection to Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is done the exact same way as in the last movie. The new characters played by Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, and Toby Jones are anything but engaging and a large subplot involving a young girl made zero impact on the film’s plot. The child protagonist subplot didn’t work well last time, so why try it again with a new child character? Also, if the movie can afford Jeff Goldblum in its budget, why only have him in two scenes instead of having him be a main character again like the old times? The movie’s character roster could have really used a lot more of him as none of the characters outside of Pratt and Howard are interesting at all.

If you’re looking for some monster fun, don’t worry, this will probably please you as plenty of scenes are entertaining for a wide audience. The CGI is great, and even better than the last time around. Every dinosaur has a fun look and characteristic to it and the dinosaur action is quite pleasing most of the time, especially a scene on the island which has been highly teased in the marketing. Viewers new to the franchise and those who love the fright the previous films offer won’t be let down on an action standpoint, and director J.A. Bayona quite delivers with some great shots and visuals. The story does start off with a nice concept that raises the question of whether these creatures that us humans created deserve to live — but it rushes to the action without much meaning or strong buildup. Soon the plot becomes too uneven and it focuses not enough on its main characters and too much on useless or boring parts without moving forward into new ideas the franchise hasn’t explored before. The trailer makes this seem like the Empire Strikes Back of the Jurassic Park movies but there isn’t much tension or suspense besides the constant dinosaur noise after dinosaur noise, and even the action scenes have the familiar “characters making dumb mistakes near monsters” tropes. At the end, it didn’t feel like I had watched a complete movie because though the story could’ve been something very thrilling, there isn’t much depth to it. This could’ve worked really well and even been one of the best Jurassic movies, if only there was a reason to care and get invested into the plot aside from great CGI and chases. The ending is an interesting choice that teases a (hopefully) better final installment, but there wasn’t much of a reason to get excited when it ends. I remember at the end of Jurassic Park, I felt like I had seen something magical like never before, and at the end of Jurassic World, I felt like I had to catch my breath after all the intense and awesome action, but here, there’s no reaction or takeaway that I felt like I did with previous installments of the saga.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom works on the surface as a good looking dinosaur extravaganza with action that will please many wide audiences, but the story has nothing fresh to the franchise and the character focus is out of place. I would recommend it for its action but as a film with real quality, not much is offered that will resonate. It doesn’t reach the heights of what’s been done before and I feel that this saga has much more to it than what’s offered here. It ends up being a mediocre monster movie that many can still have fun with, but won’t be remembered as one of the greats.

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Upgrade

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When Grey Trace’s wife is murdered and he’s left paralyzed after an assault, he is offered a piece of technology that helps him walk again, which sends him on a path to avenge his wife.

Upgrade has a clever science fiction concept boasted by great action and directing. It takes a while for the adrenaline to kick in, as the first 20 minutes aren’t interestingly written and feel dull in terms of style, but when the story really begins, the movie picks up and becomes and engaging ride. Logan Marshall-Green isn’t one of the biggest Hollywood stars right now but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him in a leading role and he impresses me every time. He not only brings charisma to the main character but also emotional strength which he demonstrates in some scenes. The action is very well done and always entertaining, as the cinematography is creative and the over-the-top blood is fitting and adds to the excitement of the violence. The movie raises some interesting questions about technology and how far its usage could go, and though it struggles with making its villains and side characters as strong as the hero (none of the characters besides the lead are any memorable), it’s got some note-worthy action sequences and suspense, as well as a brilliant twist ending. I was also amused by the quality of the visual effects for such a low budget film. Upgrade looks impressive and also has a solid plot and thoughtful elements that fans of action and science fiction can enjoy.

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Hereditary

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After the death of her mother, Annie Graham must shield her family from the psychological and supernatural demons she believes she’s inherited from her mother.

A24 continues its streak of truly disturbing, frightening, and upsetting movies that redefine the horror genre as we know it. This movie has a layer of terror that no other horror film I’ve seen lately has offered. Not only does it offer scares, but the emotional depth and damage the characters have is the most terrifying part of it because it feels more grounded than what comes later. What’s so disturbing about Hereditary isn’t just the supernatural aspect but also everything that our characters are already put through before, which could be a tragedy on its own. Ari Aster does a terrific job creating suspense and placing the camera in creative angles, without using too many cuts within scenes. He also elevates tension with effective use of music. He writes a nightmarish family drama that escalates into screams, visions, and paranoia in nearly every scene. You can never tell what will happen in the movie, from a scene in the first 30 minutes that’s so unthinkable and disturbing it makes your jaw drop. Toni Collette is not to be ignored in her deep and unsettling performance as a woman dealing with grief and loss, and her character acts somewhat insane at some points, but Collette’s performance is believable enough to be taken seriously and she brings chills down the viewer’s spine in some scenes. There are some truly terrifying sequences that will have your heart racing and some gory imagery, and I should warn you that if you don’t like gore or slower, less conventional horror movies, then you should probably stay away from this one. This movie has strong psychological fright and themes about grief and broken families, but I feel that the ending decided to go more supernatural and I hoped for a more emotional blow that stuck true to the themes rather than the scares, like most A24’s horror movies have done. Other than that, Hereditary will live up to the expectations of those hoping for scares, but it’s also got the depth that fans of the studio will be looking for.

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A Quiet Place

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This apocalyptic horror film focuses on a family who is forced to live in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound. Starring in the main roles are John Krasinski (also the director of the film) as the father of the family, and Emily Blunt (his real-life wife) as the mother. With A Quiet Place, Krasinski not only crafts a great edge-of-your-seat thriller with plenty of scares for wide audiences and horror fans to enjoy, but also makes excellent use of suspense with the sound, directing, and acting. Every noise is made to feel loud enough to pose a threat and surprise us at certain moments, and the sound editors knew very well which sounds they needed to make louder than others and how loud each sound needed to be. The tension is built effectively in every scene, as we get character development with each member of the family while the danger around them quietly builds. Small moments like a lamp falling and breaking or a toy making a sound will frighten you, and whenever it gets too noisy you’ll even start getting stressed just by the thought of what what be about to happen to our characters. None of the intensity feels fake and you’ll definitely be as anxious as the characters in some of the most scary scenes in the film. Krasinski and Blunt are both splendid as the parents; Krasinski’s character clearly showing fright but also leadership of his family through the everyday hours and protecting them with everything he can. His love for his children is the strongest part of the film and his acting is always spot-on. Blunt also can’t be ignored; she’s a fearful and also protective mother who demonstrates pain and terror excellently.

A Quiet Place is not only a great showcase of acting and directing but doesn’t forget to be an entertaining horror flick; you don’t have to worry about this one being too boring or stretched out even though most of the film is in sign language rather than spoken dialogue as the device the family uses to survive against the creatures. The visual images are always conveying of the conflict and emotions the family faces, and we though we never see too much about how the creatures got there or what’s going on in the rest of the world, that’s what makes everything more mysterious. My one problem is the ending, which though I didn’t have something strong against, I feel the ending had a more light and even comedic feel to it, and I hoped it would’ve stopped at a place a little more powerful, like the rest of the film. Otherwise, horror and science fiction fans won’t bed disappointed by this short but noteworthy thriller that won’t fail to keep you thrilled and entertained.

The film poster shows a close-up of Emily Blunt in-character with her hand over her mouth.