Review: Upgrade

This was originally published at Flickering Myth on 4th September 2018.

As the mastermind behind several modestly-funded hits, like Insidious and the early Saw movies, Leigh Whannel has repeatedly proven that you don’t need the resources of a Hollywood Blockbuster in order to thrill audiences. Continue reading


Review: Extinction

This was originally published at Flickering Myth on 25th August 2018. 


Accusing a film of delivering ‘’too little too late’’ is one of the most depressing criticisms that you can issue as a critic because it essentially implies that there is merit located somewhere, but unfortunately any such potential has been smothered beneath a viscous sludge of inadequacy. Continue reading

Review: For the Love of the Boogeyman: 40 Years of Halloween (2018)

Directed by Paul Downey.
Starring Dave McRae, Jack Norman, James Secker, Nathan Thomas Milliner, P.J. Starks, Richard Stringham,  J. Blake Fichera, Daniel Mark Young, James Morrissey, Chris Johnson, Evan Tapper, Nils Reucker, and James Plumb.


For the Love of the Boogeyman is a retrospective dissection of John Carpenter’s landmark slasher: Halloween. Piecing together testimonials from dedicated fans and independent filmmakers, the documentary explores how the initially unassuming ”exploitation” flick has gradually evolved into a bonafide classic. The short also considers what elevates Halloween above its peers and why it has become such a treasured artefact amongst cinephiles and aspiring directors alike.

Ask any genre enthusiast to break down the success of Halloween and they are all-but-guaranteed to have a full-blown thesis prepared for such an occasion. With notes by their side, they will readily launch into an impassioned sermon; expounding upon the film’s merit as a cinematic milestone and waxing poetic about everything from its economic use of lighting, to its meticulous framing and atmospheric score.

Indeed, there’s no shortage of people lining up to feleate Carpenter’s iconic masterwork. I myself wrote a particularly conceited essay about it at University, despite being unable to formulate a remotely compelling argument. I just ended up reiterating what countless others had already articulated before me and ultimately failed to say anything more insightful than ”that Michael Myers is well creepy!’

Unfortunately, a similar critique can be levelled at For the Love of the Boogeyman, a sycophantic documentary that tellingly markets itself as being made ‘by fans and for the fans”. Translation: ”it’s a fawning circle-jerk, with little-to-no substance and a startling lack of fresh perspective”.  So in that sense, it is strikingly reminiscent of my flimsy uni assignment, only much longer and with less uses of the word ”thus”.

You see, there’s no illuminating analysis to speak of here, just people repeating variations on the phrase ”first and last word in genre film-making”. Which would be fine if you were doing a quick review or perhaps a blog post. But there’s not enough meat on those bones to justify a paltry video-essay, never mind a 40 minute project comprised of dozens of interviewees!

What’s worse is that, over the course of the piece, alternate readings are never even hinted at, giving it a very narrow view. This is partly because the talking heads are all interchangeable, with comparable interests and matching opinions. Consequently, they all approach the material from the same, bland position. There’s no contrast to the discussion here. No variety. No back and forth. Just people rabbiting on in circles about how much they love a 40 year-old movie.

Given that none of the presenters actually worked on Halloweenyou would think that they’d at least have interesting takes to make their commentary worth listening to. But they don’t! They just offer banal praise of every facet of the film-making, like they’re dutifully ticking off all the Oscar categories or something.

”The acting is great. And the directing is great. And the cinematography is great. And the production design is great. And the music is great. And the best animated film is great!’ If you want to simulate the experience of watching For the Love of the Boogeyman, simply copy and paste that quote about 200 times and you’ll get the picture.

It’s just a surface-level appraisal that only serves to endorse a pre-established consensus. No one needs to be told that Halloween is a fantastic movie, that’s pretty well cemented by now. If that’s all you’ve got to say, then your project has more in common with an episode of Collider Movie Talk than it does with an actual documentary.

Although this shortcoming is disappointing, it isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. After all, it can be nice to listen to people talk passionately about something they love, even if they don’t have anything especially original to contribute. What severelyhampers Boogeyman however, is the fact that its interviewees deliver near-identical soundbites throughout.

It turns out that they’re not only on the same page as one another, but sometimes the exact same fucking sentence! Every time that someone comments on a specific aspect of the movie- be it Jamie Lee Curtis’ formidable performance, the unknowable presence of The Shape, or the way that synth music acts as a metaphorical voice for Michael Myers- you then have to listen to that same point being repeated ad nauseum by about 20 other people Before long  you start to feel like you’re in some kind of hellish echo chamber.

Of course, it’s only natural that people will have similar feelings when talking about one of the greatest horror films ever made. The talking heads aren’t necessarily to blame for that. But if you’re the person putting this documentary together, then it’s your job to weed out such duplications.

Speaking of editing, the rhythm of cutting here is awfully distracting, as we’re constantly jumping around between talking heads without a chance to properly settle. You rarely stay with a single person for longer than 10 seconds, so none of them are afforded the opportunity to meaningfully expand upon their arguments or substantiate them with evidence. Sometimes you can even hear them being cut-short mid-sentence, just so they can be interrupted by someone else. It all adds to the insubstantial feeling that presides over the entire documentary, where everything comes across so slight and bitty.

At least the visuals are okay: cycling through different locations and giving us cool memorabilia to look at (kudos to Paul Stier and Nathan Thomas Milliner for the impressive artwork). It would have been nice to have clips from Halloween to better illustrate points and break up the interviews but if there were legal obstructions preventing this from happening, then the production team obviously can’t be blamed for that.

Over all, For the Love of the Boogeyman’s is a rather simplistic and under-cooked offering. You could argue that it’s intention is not really to pick apart its subject, and that it just wants to celebrate the anniversary of a landmark release. But if that’s the case, then there are far more entertaining ways of doing that.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Review: Deadpool 2

This was originally published at Flickering Myth on 20th May 2018. 

When reviewing a sequel, it is often worth reiterating your thoughts on its predecessor, so that your readers have a kind of litmus test to work with. That way, they can figure out if they’re on the same wavelength as you. If they are, then they’ll presumably put more stock in your judgement. Meanwhile, if they don’t share your views on the first one, then at least they can take your opinion on the second with a pinch of salt.

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Review: The Jurassic Games

This was originally published at Flickering Myth on 18th May 2018. 

In an alternate future, the proliferation of reality TV has finally reached its logical conclusion; total global domination! It’s at that point where even our legal proceedings- and more worryingly, the practice of capital punishment itself- have been bastardised into a sick form of televised entertainment, complete with vomitous merchandising and vulgar corporate sponsors.

With tasteless spectacle having usurped fair trial and due-process, the emphasis is no longer upon determining the guilt or innocence of the accused. Instead, it is all about sentencing them to the goriest and most sensational ends imaginable. Enter ‘’The Jurassic Games’’: an annual tournament that has convicts fight to the death, in an attempt to secure their freedom. All they have to do is emerge as the last one standing and they get to go home.

Only there’s a twist! Whilst this might appear to be a straightforward free-for-all, teamwork is still advised, as the contestants have more to worry about than just each other. Indeed, there are bigger, badder, toothier things to contend with in the arena. Things like: oversized prehistoric insects; deadly sabre-toothed cats and (as the title suggests) ferocious dinosaurs.

As far as pitches go, The Running Man meets Jurassic Park ‘aint half bad. There’s scope there for witty satire of the media, exhilarating ultra violence and good old fashioned creature-feature thrills. Throw in a dash of Ready Player One- with a VR setting and some multistage challenges- and you’ve got the makings of a terrific B-movie on your hands!

Alas, director Ryan Bellgardt has always been good at coming up with these enticing hooks. Where he’s been less successful, is in actually executing them. Be it because of obvious financial limitations, graceless screenwriting, or just plain-bad acting, his good intentions invariably fall apart whenever they transition to the screen. See Gremlin or Army of Frankensteins for further reference.

It’s therefore relieving (and more-than-a-little surprising), to report that The Jurassic Games is a marked improvement upon Bellgardt’s previous offerings. That’s not to say that it’s great, but it is say  his best yet by quite some margin.

This is partly down to relentless pacing, which ensures that- even when it blunders into SyFy channel territory-the film always remains stimulating and lively. If that sounds a tad patronising, or like a backhanded compliment, then it’s honestly not meant to. On the contrary, it’s all-too-rare that these low-fi movies can sustain their momentum like this, as they often end up floundering due to an  imagination deficiency.

The Jurassic Games on the other hand, is constantly escalating its  stakes with new threats and fresh ideas. In fact, it’s impressive just how much Bellgardt and his team have managed to pull off here. The production value might not be up to blockbuster standard, but there’s enough ingenuity behind the camera to make up for that, along with a generous helping of inventive set-pieces. One particular highlight is a surprisingly intense velociraptor pursuit, that takes the audience through a futuristic maze complex. It’s a scene that wears its influences on its sleeve, obviously aspiring to mimic a certain kitchen scene from a certain Spielberg movie, but to it’s credit, it does a decent job, with clever staging, bloody violence and impactful visuals.

The same goes for the other action sequences, which are all creative, gimmicky fun. If nothing else, they demonstrate that Bellgardt is honing his skills with each subsequent release, which is commendable . On that note, the filmmaker has thankfully developed a firmer grasp on things like tone. Whereas his other efforts would awkwardly lurch between high-drama and utter schlock, The Jurassic Games places itself decidedly in the latter camp, and it’s all the better for it. This is a film that knows exactly who its audience is and exactly what it wants to do. Again, that might sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s genuinely not.

The unlikely improvements don’t stop there. The special effects have received a huge upgrade since Gremlin and wouldn’t look out of place in a mid-budget TV show. Sure, the textures on the dinosaurs can  feel a little rough at times, but the important thing is that they always interact with each other and the environment in a believable way.

As for the writing, well that’s more of a mixed bag. There are definitely a few clunky lines of dialogue and several leaps in logic as the film gallops past plot points and exposition at an almost comical rate. Nevertheless, the screenplay is still concise, tightly-structured and has reasonably well-defined rules.

Speaking of which, there are some cool details here to the virtual game. For instance, if an intimate expires in the simulation, then their physical body is automatically given a lethal injection. Meanwhile there’s a ‘’ticking clock’’ aspect to proceedings, courtesy of a  PUGB-esque contrivance, wherein the battle arena is continually shrinking, so that characters are always being steered towards new dangers. It’s an efficient way to introduce jeopardy to the story and keeps things moving at a decent clip.

Lastly, we come to the acting; which is something of a sticking point for Bellgardt movies. If you look at his previous work, it sometimes seems like the director is unwilling to tailor his material to suit the abilities of his amateur cast. Or to put it more bluntly, he often insists on giving his actors difficult roles and highly emotional scenes, despite the fact that they aren’t really up to the task.

Luckily, this is another area in which Bellgardt has come leaps and bounds, although it still remains his biggest shortcoming. Let’s put it this way: the ratio of good-to-terrible performances is now at a more palatable 50:50, as opposed to like… 20:80. Granted, this means that some of them are still astoundingly awful, like Kyle Pennington (who goes full-Yosemite Sam to portray a violent, grumbling yokal with a hair-trigger temper) or Luke Wyckoff, whose extravagant depiction of a gurning cannibal reaches Battlefield Earth levels of over-the-top.

But everyone else puts in a good turn, especially Katie Burgess, who was likewise a standout in Gremlin. Here, she has more to work with though and gets to sink her teeth into an intriguing and truly enigmatic character  As the inscrutable Joy, she is initially unassuming and aloof, but as the plot starts to unravel, she gets to play with things like duality and empathy and  ends up stealing the show as a result.

To be honest, this review has been needlessly flattering of The Jurassic Games. It’s far from great. In fact, it’s barely even good. But when you’ve seen too much straight-to-VOD crap, then you really start to  appreciate those films that have effort put into them. And that’s certainty the case with this one. Not only that, but it’s encouraging to see that Ryan Bellgardt is making improvements as a filmmaker, because he has some really good ideas. And based on this evidence, he can even pull them off when he sets his mind to it.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

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Review: Gehenna: Where Death Lives

This was originally published at Flickering Myth on 20th April. 

A scouting party are exploring the picturesque island of Saipan, with the intention of tracking down the ideal place for a new resort. These efforts are exacerbated somewhat by the incensed locals, who take objection to how the group are disrespectfully traipsing all over the island’s cultural heritage. In spite of this resistance, the team eventually discovers the perfect spot: remote; tranquil and situated right next to a gorgeous beach.

They are about to sign-off on the idyllic location, when they inadvertently stumble across a derelict WW2 Bunker. Theorising that this underground complex (a remnant of the former Japanese occupation) might cause some structural problems for the coming resort, the gang foolishly opt to investigate further. As you would expect, paranormal shenanigans ensue.

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