About R.L. Terry

My area of specialization and prolific publication is on the American horror film, and that has allowed me to speak at Tampa Bay Comic Con and Spooky Empire. Needless to say, my blog contains a significant number of articles on horror, for I feel that it is far more truthful than any typical drama! I published a book titled On the Convergence of Cinema and Theme Parks in 2015 and am working on my second book titled "Why Horror?" to hopefully be published next year. Outside of my work teaching American Cinema and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa, I am the creator of the podcast sitcom "Four’s a Crowd" and work as an audio editor for an NPR show called "American Variety Radio." I’m a former creative services staff member for Feld Entertainment where I worked as a video editor for "Disney on Ice," "Sesame Street Live," and "Jurassic World Live." I’ve produced 12 short films (including a foreign film), and 2 feature length films. Since 2014, I have been an active film critic and member of the #FilmTwitter community. Taking my written content to the air waves, I am a regular guest on popular film, horror, theme park, and LGBT+ podcasts. I have always done my best to teach and write in such a way that I can successfully communicate information about and my passion for media and entertainment to the general public. I like including many details that give you a good representation of the various elements that make up a film. In short, I simply love storytelling.

Old (2021) Mini Review

Welp, that’s an hour and a half, or 18 months, of my life on which I’ll never see a return. M.Night Shyamalan is up to his old tricks again in his latest film about one of the most primal fears of all: aging. From the moment we are born, we start to die, and it’s that fear of aging and death that links everyone on earth together. While many horror films feature slashers, ghouls, demons, monsters, the living dead, nature on a rampage, or just your mother-in-law, the chances of you encountering any of those are about as slim as Netflix reviving Santa Clarita Diet–well, except for the mother-in-law; that one is likely. Shyamalan chooses to focus on the one fear we all share: the ravages of aging. And it’s because of this, that virtually every character in the film is relatable on some level (unfortunately that level is quite minimal). Combine the primal fear of the inevitability of aging with the ticking time bomb literary device, and you have the makings of a thrilling plot. That is, if this plot and these characters weren’t written by the cinematic king of head-scratch bizarre endings, huh?, and what the? moments. Since his feature debut of The Sixth Sense in 1999, I am convinced that M.Night is a gifted director. But he should probably work with more talented screenwriters. What we have here is an original premise (as far as I know) with so much potential for intense windup and explosive delivery; moreover, there is even a prime opportunity to have thoughtful commentary on aging, emotionally, physically, and mentally. It’s all there! But sadly, and to my bewilderment, M.Night chooses to simply move the characters around the island aimlessly, with only occasional meaningful conflict that serves a greater purpose than simply the shortest distance between action beats A and B. Other than the mechanics of screenwriting themselves, perhaps the biggest problem is trying to focus on too many main ideas. He should have had one main action plot, and then supported it with emotionally or psychologically-driven subplots that weave together to point back to the central idea he was trying to convey. Unfortunately, OLD is a convoluted collection of ideas, none of which are ever thoughtfully developed and strategically executed.

For my full thoughts, you will need to listen to me on the Reel Spoilers podcast on July 29, 2021.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Sinister Summer: Burnt Offerings (1976) Retrospective Review

A haunting, dreamlike supernatural horror film about a truly hangry house that was ahead of its time. This month’s retrospective review is on Dan Curtis’ only theatrical film,: 1976’s Burnt Offerings. While I have certainly heard and read good things about this film, I had not really made it a priority to watch. A priority in that I would spend the $4 on Amazon to rent it. But the night before writing this, I saw it show up as a featured Shudder offering. With a mediocre IMDb score, I wasn’t convinced to spend my evening watching the two-hour film; however, upon a Google search, I saw that Golden Age screen icon (“fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”) Bette Davis was in a supporting role, as well as Burgess Meredith. Throw in leads Karen Black and Oliver Reed, and you have one stacked cast. But an opportunity to see those Bette Davis Eyes was what swung the pendulum in favor of selecting this more-or-less obscure 70s horror film.

Ben Rolf (Reed), his wife Marian (Black), and their son Davey (Lee Montgomery) visit a country manor up for rent for the summer. They are welcomed by weird siblings Roz Allardyce and Arnold Allardyce (Meredith) who offer the mansion for $900 for the whole summer. Ben is concerned with the upkeep of such a stately place, and the Allardyces state that the house will take care of itself as long as they show it love. The only condition to the siblings’ generous offer is that the Rolfs feed their mother that lives in a plush, cozy attic apartment three times a day by leaving a tray outside of her room. The Rolf family accepts the too-good-to-be-true offer, and move in right away with Ben’s vivacious, eccentric Aunt Elizabeth (Davis). Not long after moving in, Marian begins to become more and more obsessed with Ms. Allardyce and the house. Meanwhile, unsettling things begin happen to the Rolf family, including violent outbursts, and even an untimely death. Ben feels that something sinister is going on with the house, and urges his family to leave. But leaving the estate is not as easy as it seems.

It’s all too easy to see hues of The Shining, Poltergeist, and even The Haunting and The Skeleton Key in this film, but remember that Burnt Offerings came out four years before The Shining and six years before Poltergeist. So if the plot feels a little predictable at times, it’s not because William F Nolan’s screenplay borrowed heavily from those tentpole heavy-hitters, but because those two iconic films perhaps took a little inspiration from it. Where Curtis may have taken inspiration was from Carnival of Souls because it feels like there is a nod or two to that film. Curtis has pacing down to a science! He demonstrates command of the emotional and psychological journeys of the characters and audience. Those who watch this film without reading up on it will scarcely have the leisure to ask why the Rolf family isn’t more observant and curious about their grand dwelling. At the time this film was released, horror was increasingly concerned and even obsessed with supernatural villains and primal fears take that place in otherwise innocent settings, such as an innocent little girl in The Exorcist or an innocent palatial estate in Burnt Offerings. In the case of the latter, the supernatural monster/entity is the house itself, which manifests its sinister desires in very much the same way a vampire does. It’s romantic, alluring, feeding on and sustaining itself with violence and death. This monster is capable of menace, vengeance, outrage, and even murder.

Instead of a shaky handheld camera, promiscuous teens/college students, and poor pacing that lacks a true windup or never pays off at all, comes a film that was ahead of its time in haunted house storytelling. This film feels far more polished and meticulously executed than most present-day haunted house movies. You won’t find jump scares or haphazard pacing here; this film comes from a time when the slow burn was both the norm and it was strategically utilized to setup a brilliant, shocking payoff that is ultimately among the most effective and memorable horror film endings of all time. In terms of its alluring aesthetic, Burnt Offerings harkens back to the days of Gothic horror in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe and the first and second generation of Universal Pictures Horror. Particularly Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher feels heavily channeled in this otherworldly, unsettling horror film. The film location itself comes completely with a sordid past. The estate in the film is the Dunsmuir Estate in Oakland, CA, which was used in every scene according to Curtis (so sound stages). It was built by coal fortune heir Alexander Dunsmuir in 1899. Dunsmuir intended the house to be a wedding gift for his new bride; but in horror movie fashion, he didn’t get to live in it with her because he fell ill and died while on his honeymoon in New York City. His new bride returned to live in the house but died soon after in 1901. What better haunted house location than a location, which may be truly haunted?!?

Burnt Offerings was one of many horror films in the 1970s and early 1980s that commented on the rising negative societal effects of middle-class life, including viral consumerism and obsession with single-family-house ownership, the family is destroyed by a house they otherwise dreamed of. Furthermore, it also provides an exploration of the perceived breakdown of the nuclear family, following the civil rights and sexual revolution movements. Closely reading the major themes in Burnt Offerings leads me to posit the idea that perhaps the most effective way to critically analyze this film is to interpret it as a supernatural parable on the risks of being controlled by one’s possessions. That said, contrary to how the Biblical proverb is so often misquoted; money is NOT the root of all evil; it’s the LOVE OF money that is at the root of all evil. And here, we can replace money with possessions (more specifically, the obsession with possessions). This is shown through Marian’s obsession with the Allardyces estate and possessions therein, Ben’s sexual obsession with his wife (as an object to possess), and the house’s evil energy possessing and draining the family. Anyone who’s ever owned a car, a house, or any kind of property can relate to what this family is going through. We know it as viral consumerism, or the toxic desire to acquire material objects (in today’s language, we can include experiences), which can begin to dominate one’s life. Furthermore, we’ve all been there, experiencing that feeling that repairs to, taxes on, and upkeep of property (be it cars, houses, or anything really) can become a burden that is figuratively unbearable. Ostensibly, the property and experiences we sought to possess, in an ironic twist of fate, now possess us.

The horror of Burnt Offerings is portrayed as a manifestation of the family’s inner turmoil. We aren’t given much to go on, as far as the family’s backstory, but clearly the facade of a happy couple is merely a thin veneer covering a very unhappy marriage–one that is using this summer get-away as a means to rectify. Although not specified, Ben is likely a teacher or non-tenure track college professor because his family is there for the summer (I infer this because Marian encourages Ben to work on his doctorate, something I intend to do as soon as I land a full-time staff/faculty position at the university where I’ve taught part-time for over five years). The manifestation of the internal conflict is expressed through the atmosphere and external behavior of the characters, much in the same way we witness this in The Shining, but more effectively witnessed in Rosemary’s Baby. The screenplay by Nolan (and Curtis) grafts this familial dysfunction onto the haunted house conventions to create an eerie sense of tension, both supernaturally and psychologically. As we observe how the Rolf family interacts in public (in front of the Allardyces) and in private (in their vehicle in a Shining-like motif), it’s easy to imagine that perhaps the “right people,” the Allardyces seek for the house, are ones living under a pressure cooker of repressed animosity and barely controlled hostilities.

Lastly, but certainly not least are the overall performances! Everyone in Burnt Offerings delivers a stellar performance. Talk about an award-winning, powerhouse ensemble! From the leads to our supporting cast, you will be delighted at the top shelf quality of the actors and their respective characters. What I appreciate most about each performance is just how authentic they were, no matter if the actor was playing a lead or supporting character. Both Reed and Black completely sell audiences on the stages of the relationship between their two characters as they go from happy to toxic couple, and it all feels so incredibly genuine. Montgomery’s performance as their son is par for the course, but effective and believable enough in this story (albeit he sometimes acts a little older than a 12-year-old would act). Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart simultaneously convince audiences their characters are jolly, eccentric siblings–yet there is a nuance of something creepy underneath. But the performance you really want to know about is the incomparable Bette Davis as Aunt Elizabeth. You get it all: Davis’ trademark sassy personality, witty quips, independence, and her eyes! Yes, those Bette Davis eyes that are a hallmark of cinema. One of the most beautiful faces the silver screen has ever seen, and yet she was adamant that she look like her character should look. Therefore, you eventually get a haggard, makeup-less, decrepit old woman that is the complete 180º from how we commonly see Davis. She delivers a fantastic performance, and you will be left wondering why she didn’t do more horror films to rescue herself from TV movie hell in the latter part of her career, from the golden age until she passed away in 1989.

If you are a fan of 1970s horror, The Shining, Poltergeist, Rosemary’s Baby, or Amityville Horror, I feel confident that you will enjoy this film. While it’s not a great horror film, it is a solidly good one that fans of the genre will likely appreciate. In retrospect, there is so much to unpack in this dreamlike, haunting gothic horror motion picture. Perhaps audiences at the time it was originally released weren’t ready for this methodical haunted house film.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Sinister Summer: ALIEN Retrospective

Alien (1979) - IMDb

This. Is. ALIEN. You are with. Sigourney Weaver. Aboard the spaceship Nostromo. Caution. The area you are en-ter-ing is extremely dan-ger-ous. Something has gone wrong… If you get why I punctuated that the way I did, then you remember the ALIEN scene on the former Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (oh how I miss that attraction). Ridley Scott’s science-fiction horror masterpiece that convinced you that “in space, no one can hear you scream” is still the definitive science-fiction/space horror film. Furthermore, it reinvented the space-horror movies from the 1950/60s. Sitting between Halloween and Friday the 13th, this film came as a surprise for the horror genre because it countered the direction that the horror genre was going by reimagining the emerging slasher genre in a setting that is more terrifying and limiting than a house or town in which a serial killer is slaughtering teenagers. Just 10 years after the Apollo moon landing, this film takes on characteristics of that which is frightening about this new frontier that we are exploring. What if there is a killing machine monster out there? Scary stuff.

Steam Workshop::Alien (1979) Tour Inside The Nostromo

Until ALIEN, movies and TV shows set in space depicted a clean, optimistic, new world. ALIEN subverts this expectation by delivering a used, broken-in, aged space. The Nostromo was nothing like the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek or the Star Destroyers from Star Wars. The design of the Nostromo communicated a dirty, dingy space that is far less appealing than the world of the United Federation of Planets. The effect of this upon audiences was fantastic because it made the future look far more realistic than anything that had come before it. The world of ALIEN truly felt like a future that was used. Indirectly, this intentional design also shows us that the passengers aren’t heroes, highly intellectual explorers, or uniquely skilled individuals. The rough design of the Nostromo parallels the roughness, lack of refinement in the characters. Again, they feel like real people, a people that we could connect with in ways that we could never connect with the characters from space-horror and monster movies in the past. The future, as illustrated in this film, is relatable. From the design of the Nostromo to the development of the characters themselves, audiences are invited into a world stepped in expressive meaning and emotion.

Beyond taking the horror genre into space and integrating some of the psychological horror and slasher elements outlined in PsychoHalloween, and others, Scott’s Alien also provided horror audiences with a new type of final girl, social commentary on gender roles, heteronormativity, and human sexuality. Much like the Freudian components of Hitchcock’s Psycho, this horror film also explores the deep fears and desires that are often suppressed by the subconscious. Furthermore, the film also explores the fears associated with child birth by “impregnating” men resulting in body horror trauma. The counterarguments to heteronormativity is manifested in Ellen Ripley as an androgynous female who behaves in a very masculine way, the film provides an opportunity to talk about gender roles.

Although Ripley is, for all intents and purposes, not even on our radar for nearly 45mins into the film, following a tragedy, she is thrust into the forefront of this mission. Scott’s Alien dared to challenge the status quo in order to deliver the first female action hero, and place her in center stage. The long and short of it is that Ripley subverts the typical science-fiction hero trope to embody both the feminine and masculine to redefine what a hero is within the sci-fi/horror genre. Breaking gender norms for the time, she was neither arm candy, simply a side kick nor required rescuing by a male character. Her character and actions were not defined by gender. She is our final girl, and so much more. Not only did the character of Ripley contribute significantly to horror, she also broke ground for female heroines in the world of cinema at large. 

I Hope This Awesome ALIEN: COVENANT Movie Connection Rumor is True —  GeekTyrant

Like Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Ridley is also someone who is equal parts female and male. In fact, you could argue that she takes on more masculine characteristics as the narrative plays. This playing with the roles of men, women, and their respective bodies and minds can be realized when viewing the character of the xenomorph as the “monstrous feminine.” The monstrous-feminine is a psychological construction generated by male anxieties about the female body and sexuality. Scott’s Alien depicts the maternal body as monstrous. More specifically, the film repeatedly examines the scene of birth or origin. Interestingly, there are three different representations of the concept of birth in the film. In terms of the production design, Alien can be likened to a gothic horror set in space. Scott’s brilliant design conveys to the audience the extreme isolation and claustrophobia. There is also an fascinating dichotomy in the worlds that are represented in this film by pitting the mechanization and technology of the organization for which our explorers work and the monstrous origin world of the alien, which we learn more about (whether you like the films or not in the prequels).

Your central character need not always be the first or second character we encounter in a screenplay. This is true with Ripley as she emerges as the central character midway through the film. However, we are given hints at her destiny throughout the first act in subtle ways. It was important to the plot to establish her as a woman in order to make her actions later on in the film so kickass and assumption shattering. Had she been seen as “masculine” or strong from the onset, then we would not be as impressed with her actions–we would expect them. Part of her power as a strong female character in horror is taking what we assumed about her (or a female character in general) and subvert our predisposition. Whereas Ripley is not the first female heroic character in a horror film, she is one that never becomes subjected to the male gaze or becomes some fantasy version of a woman. Even though female heroic characters who wear sexy clothes, wield phallic guns, or use their bodies as femme fatals can be strong characters, they are still some heteronormative fantasy for a male screenwriter or director. 

Essentially, the aforementioned female characters lack an authentic humanity. Ripley is strong, vulnerable, independent, scared, mortal; these elements that make her believably human. There is so little suspension of disbelief in her character that she could nearly exist in real life. Furthermore, her character is incredibly complex; she exhibits strong intuition and intelligence, chutzpah, is brash, talks about PTSD, outspoken, rigidly wants to go by the book instead of saving a man’s life, has a natural beauty but doesn’t spend much time on hair or makeup. All these traits portray someone who has incredible depth and dimension. She is a survivor. No matter how grizzly, messy, constricting, or frightening her soundings become, she remains steadfast, collected, and brave. As the 1970s saw many changes in censorship, ratings, guidelines, etc., the ability to show gorier, more visceral body horror special effects, and on screen violence allowed Scott to confront the character of Ripley with cinematically innovative ways to test her resilience and survivorship. 

The character of Ellen Ripley is also a strong pillar of the American horror film by virtue of her representation of gender politics. Even before it became popular, in more recent times, to use both male and female characters in motion pictures as a conduit to comment on the state of affairs for a particular group within our society, Ridley Scott crafted a visual masterpiece that did just that. Highly innovative, forward thinking, and progressive. The subtext of the film confronts us with a woman trying her best to fit into a man’s world. In addition to that subtext, research into the screenplay for this film shows that all the characters were written as gender neutral. Interesting stuff, right?!? Another gender-related observation in the character of Ripley, is her both metaphorically and physiologically clothing herself in masculinity all while remaining a women. In one scene, Ripley steps into a space suit. And this space suit can be read as Ripley playing the role of a man while remaining a women at her core in order to challenge the patriarchal system to prove that she is capable of anything that a masculine hero is. 

Ripley is a highly intelligent character, realizes that about herself, and does not allow herself to be patronized or undermined. She does her job aboard the Nostromo like a legit boss. She knows procedure and protocol, and will follow it in order to protect her crew. Figuratively, she is protecting the ship from being willfully penetrated by a foreign object. This could be read as a commentary on rape. She is forcefully overruled, and we all know what happens next. Further commentary depicts male characters “forgetting” that Ripley is the senior officer. But because she is female, they feel they know better. I bet they wish they had followed her orders. Although much of what I’ve written deals with the masculine qualities of Ripley, her character would not have been as powerful a character if it wasn’t for her feminine side as well. When all hell is breaking loose, she soothes the nerves of the crew and offers comfort. Exemplary motherly qualities. Had a man been in her role, then he would most likely have not exhibited such love for the crew. Her success as a hero has as much to do with the touch of a women as it does the chutzpah of a man.

Alien's Chestburster Scene Real Meaning Explained | Screen Rant

Another motherly quality found in Ripley is her persistent urge for the crew to function as a group. Through the brilliant cinematography, we are consistently shown a group that is fractures and continually fails to band together until it is too late. Interestingly, each character meets his or her demise because of a tragic flaw and failure to group together to function as ONE crew instead of self-centered individuals. Had the group functioned as one, then more may have survived. This hypothesis is witnessed in the Ripley in Act 3 because she essentially embodies all the good qualities found in the other characters (think Captain Planet). She combines what everyone did well into one character. That is why she is the final girl. Only by combining all the qualities of the crew was she able to go toe-to-toe with the Xenomorph killing machine. 

John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV: Cult-Movie  Review: Alien (1979)

There are actually three prominent female characters in Alien. Ripley, the Xenomorph, and The Nostromo. Although Ripley is our central character, I would be remiss to not mention the other two that could be analyzed individually themselves. Much like Ripley exhibits both masculine and feminine characteristics, so does the Xenomorph with a mouth that oscillates between vaginal and phallic in nature. And finally, The Nostromo ostensibly gives birth to all the astronauts at the beginning of the film; and therefore could be referred to as the mother ship. Playing around with gender does not stop there. The facegrabber impregnates a male character and he gives birth to the Xenomorph. Underscoring so many elements and conflicts in this film is this idea of subverting gender identity with the intent to horrify by tapping into primal heteronormative fears. And let’s face it, child birth is terrifying.

The extent to which the special effects still hold up terrifying well in this motion picture is just one of many reasons why CGI can never replicate the way real like bounces off real objects and into the camera lens. Practical effects have literal depth and dimension–nothing simulated or recreated here. Practical effects offer the actors the opportunity to engage and interact with the world in which their respective characters live, work, play, and sometimes die. The single scene that stands out to me, and remains one of the best of all time is the “chestbuster” scene.

What an entrance! In addition to terrifying the audience, it threw the cast for quite the loop too; furthermore, this scene represents the first good look we have at the alien creature, even though it’s in its infant stage. Interestingly, the actors were literally taken by surprise because they had a general idea of how the scene was going to play out, but they were not informed as to specifics. Suddenly, Kane begins thrashing around so violently that everyone has to hold him down on the table, requiring everyone to move in closely to the body (a prosthetic one at this point). Just as the crew is holding onto Kane tightly, the alien BURSTS through Kane’s chest! His innards and blood spew everywhere! The actors’ reactions are grounded in realism, because these are authentic, unrehearsed reactions, which only adds to the gravity of the entire scene. Genuine reactions. You cannot get that with CGI. I mean, how is one supposed to fear for their life when acting next to a tennis ball on the end of a stick or string???

Unfortunately, all the sequels failed to live up to the substantive nature of the original and devolve into a generic futuristic action-adventure series; but the original ALIEN delivered a nightmare-inducing “haunted house” meets Jaws movie set in the far reaches of space where “no one can hear you scream,” and provided us with the breakthrough character of Ellen Ripley.

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Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

A Quiet Place Part 2 Review

The less quiet sequel exchanges atmospheric horror for increased action and thrills.

For the conversation with me and Minorities Report Pod, click HERE.

Picking up where the first one left audiences, A Quiet Place Part 2 is bigger, louder, and delivers more monsters than Part 1. While you won’t be living with the same level of tension that you had in the first one, the sequel offers plenty of gripping action sequences and those eerily quiet moments where your neighbor’s Reese’s Pieces bag cracking may make you jump in your seat.

This movie is certainly making waves in the box office, and has many claiming “cinema is back.” Well, back would imply that it went away, which would be incorrect; cinemas started reopening last July. Anyway. What I can agree with is that it is the first new theatrical release to receive an incredibly warm welcome by those that have been attending the cinema since last July and those that are just now returning. In many ways, this movie could be considered event cinema because of the response from audiences during previews last Thursday through the holiday weekend (speaking of which, I hope you had a meaningful, enjoyable Memorial Day weekend).

Before picking up where you left off in the first movie, you will witness the first day that the aliens arrived. Following the events at home, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. Forced to venture into the unknown, they realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path. Along the way, they meet other survivors, but things are not at all what they seem.

There is no debate that A Quiet Place Part 2 is an excellently made movie. From the set design to the acting to the technical elements, everything works very well. And talk about audio design and engineering! The approach Krasinki took to place us in the shoes of Regan was brilliant. While it by no means was to illustrate an accurate portrait of what it must be like to be deaf, it was true to the world that we are in, in the film. Those moments that we are not hearing what Regan isn’t hearing, are certainly some of the most unnerving and frightening moments in the film. While I take issue with the story sacrificing atmospheric and methodical horror for more action, thrills, and monsters, I cannot deny that even the writing is solid, for the story Krasinki desired to tell, that is.

But what is it? Is it still a horror movie? And that is why I am writing my review. To tackle that very question. I could write about how well everything was executed, but you’ve heard all that as this film has been very well received, by in large, by audiences and critics alike.

After I watched it, I was left with a feeling of meh, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. It wasn’t the film’s technical execution, it wasn’t the performances, it wasn’t the direction, per se, so what was it? And after I saw an analogy using Alien:Aliens and Terminator:Terminator2, it hit me. A Quiet Place Part 2 isn’t horror (no matter what you’ve heard);. In fact, it’s less horror than Aliens is.

Why is this even important? Does it impact the quality of the film? No. But it’s important to talk about because the first installment was horror and the sequel was billed as a horror movie. What we have here is a bait’n switch. The experience of a cinematic work can (albeit not always) be impacted by the expectations you have for a particular film. I was all geared up for a first-run horror film in the cinema; but what I got was a family drama with a hefty amount of action and some horror-adjacency.

It was brought up on the Minorities Report Pod episode I guested on to review this movie that this switch from horror to action may have been unavoidable because the monsters are no longer unfamiliar to us; therefore, the tools that worked for horror are no longer applicable. While I can understand where that argument is coming from, simply because we are now familiar with the aliens/monsters, that doesn’t mean the film needed to leave the prestige of horror behind for something more attractive to mass audiences. Many horror sequels continue to be horror even as we become more familiar with the world and characters. Examples: Annabelle Creation, SCRE4M, ANOES: Dream Warriors, Conjuring 2, Halloween H20 and H40, The Babysitter: Killer Queen, and the list could go on.

During the live Q&A with Krasinski and J.J. Abrams after the film screening I was in, Abrams stated, “it shouldn’t be thought of as a horror movie, because it’s so much more.” Wow. Just wow. Abrams has to gaul to suggest that if a film is too good, if it is rich with social commentary and character development, that it can’t possibly be a horror film. This is completely untrue. Horror films are far more truthful than any direct drama. These are the films, over the century, that are still being studied today. Many of the greatest films of all time are horror, and they are great because they still have so much to teach us about ourselves and society.

Through the horror film, we can better understand just how complex life really is and even what it means to be human. Topics such as gender roles, parenting, sexuality, faith, religion, government, the family can all be best explored through the horror film. While Krasinski does include some great social commentary that is well-executed, I got on my little soap box because Abrams is wrong in his opinion on why A Quiet Place Part 2 has to be more than a horror film.

While it is not horror, A Quiet Place Part 2 is an accessible family drama/action movie with some heartwarming character moments, and some occasional horror-adjacency. It’s certainly an exciting film that is action-packed from beginning to end. There may not be anything particularly memorable about this movie, save the exceptional audio engineering and the bear trap, but you are sure to enjoy this lean film. Krasinski stated that his career as a writer/director was heavily influenced by Hitchcock. And while Krasinski has yet to master the art of suspense with a camera, he does show a commitment to one of Hitch’s rules for filmmaking, “start each scene as close to the end [of the scene] as possible.” In other words, Krasinski does an excellent job of trimming the fat, leaving audiences with an action-packed, thrill ride for just over 90-minutes.

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Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

WRATH OF MAN and SPIRAL Reviews

The former is a must-see that delivers no-holds-barred explosive fun, while the latter is best left to die in the trap that it poorly setup for itself.

The last couple of weeks have seen some motion pictures return to exclusive theatrical runs. Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man and Chris Rock’s Spiral: from the Book of Saw. In-theatre press screenings have also returned! Whether the movies that are receiving exclusive theatrical runs are your cup of tea or not, it is highly encouraging to see the BIG SCREEN experience return around the country. 

Fortunately, I’ve been able to enjoy motion pictures in the cinema since July of last year, but most of the country hasn’t had that opportunity. Between the two movies I saw this week, I can tell you that you do not want to miss Wrath of Man in cinemas! Spiral, on the other hand, you can either skip it altogether or just wait for it to hit streaming/VOD. Oh, if you go to Cinemark, watch Wrath of Man in XD; and if you’re going to AMC, watch it in Dolby Cinema!

Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man is a no-holds-barred heist movie! It’s an extravaganza of beginning to end action and thrills. Jason Statham does his best Stathaming, and the nonlinear storytelling never loses the audience – while packing a punch. I sat down with Brad of The Cinema Speak podcast to chat with him about this film, so for the full conversation, click HERE. In short, there is literally nothing to dislike about this action-thriller! Although it is fast-moving, you know everything you need to know about each character. On the topic of characters, no one is safe! In addition to Jason Statham, a former 90s/2000s heartthrob returns to the screen (and this time not with a kinda-weird yet adorable haircut, nor is he surviving Michael Myers or shape-shifting aliens at school) – Josh Hartnett.

Everything about this movie just works — and works nearly flawlessly. From the moment it opens until the credits roll, it is non-stop balls-to-the-wall action, and at the center of that action is Jason Statham. I commented on the Cinema Speak podcast that I view Statham as a bonafide movie star in the classical sense. Much like other modern-day “classical” movie stars like the definitive example Tom Cruise or The Rock, Statham IS the movie. Even when he is playing a supporting role, such as in SPY, he is larger-than-life on the screen. Often playing the same type of character (or an extension of), movie stars are attached to sell the movie and up the ante, and act as a de facto identifier. Pretty soon, we will be referencing Statham’s movies as “are you going to see the new Statham movie” instead of referencing the movie by its title.

Wrath of Man is one of those movies that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. And what is that? A fun, entertaining movie without case for any kind of thoughtful subtext or socio-political agenda. Just an entertaining movie, plain and simple. And yet, you enjoy the characters and know just enough about each to care about them (or hate them). Point is, you feel something for these characters. We have a simple plot, and a complex central character. And this central character has a well-defined external goal that is met with obstacles brought on by a character of opposition. In other words, this is a movie with solid bones and foundation.

One of the standout storytelling devices in this film is the non-linear narrative. While we’ve certainly seen films employ non-linear storytelling, many films that do this often run the risk of or, do in fact, confuse audiences. Or, just as bad, the stylistic choice doesn’t add anything to (and sometimes even detracts from) the experience of the film.

Guy Ritchie’s non-linear choices are successful not only because they are clearly labeled, but because each flashback adds to the story through a process called character accumulation. This is the process a character goes through that reveals more layers to the audience that reinforce who the character is, what to expect from the character, the internal needs of the character, and what motivates the character. Think of it as character familiarization. In addition to learning more about our characters, the nonlinear flashbacks also provide different perspectives on key scenes that advance the plot to the explosive finale. These different perspectives aren’t used to complicate the plot, but rather to provide a means for the audience to reasonably grasp what’s going on without being patronized. Guy Ritchie assumes his audience arrives at the film with some modicum of intelligence.

Wrath of Man delivers a wildly entertaining experience at the cinema! You don’t want to miss seeing this on the BIG SCREEN. And don’t allow the paint-by-the-numbers surface lull you into perceiving this as just another generic action movie. Guy Ritchie’s clever, stylistic approach to this tried-and-true genre film feels just familiar enough, whilst delivering a fresh approach that will remind you that movies needn’t have a heavy-handed, agenda-driven message. 

So often, films and movies today are filled with agendas not characters. Not that there isn’t a time and a place for motion pictures to take a sociopolitical or faith-based stance –those kinds of films are important too — but too often nowadays, this has become the foundation for a movie, not the plot or characters. Wrath of Man has mass appeal but never sacrifices quality storytelling for the sake of commercialism. Treat yourself to this explosive experience!

Spiral is the movie equivalent of a comedian that only knows the punchlines. It’s derivative and predictable. Just as the victims have zero chance of surviving the traps, this movie has zero chance of re-watchability. Just watch the original instead.

Should you choose to watch the new film, in hopes of capturing even an infinitesimal amount of what made the original innovative, spawning countless movies in the torture-porn sub-genre of horror, you will be sorely disappointed. Everything about this agenda-driven movie feels heavy-handed and forced. Very little, if anything, happens organically. It’s common knowledge that this movie was a passion project for Chris Rock, inspired by his fandom of the SAW franchise — but where is the passion??? Even his acting is wooden and lifeless.

I am going to break my own rule and suggest that you NOT see this in cinemas. Why? Because I am trying to spare you from the torturous trap that I was in as I watched the longest hour and twenty-minute movie.

There is no sense of fun in this movie at all. While I do not care for the SAW franchise, and feel that there is no redeeming quality nor does it offer at cultural value, what fans enjoy about the franchise is the unrealistic, hyperbolic, Rube Goldberg-like traps. The traps in this movie played it far too close to reality, rendering the movie sickening to watch, devoid of entertainment value. And then there is the perpetuation of the narrative that law enforcement is simply corrupt by nature. I’m not going to go down that rabbit trail, but most law enforcement officers are NOT corrupt. A small fraction of a percentage are (just like with any vocation), yet this movie paints the portrait that entire precincts are corrupt. Unfair, and unfounded. 

This movie follows suit with so many that do not afford characters the opportunity for a redemptive arc. This was a problem that I had with Promising Young Woman as well. Ostensibly, filmmakers that create films with a heavy-handed (not subtle or subtextual) message have demonstrated the gull to set themselves up as self-righteous in the most self-aggrandizing manner, and have decided to be judge and jury.

Aside from the problems I have with the agenda-driven plot and characters, the kills themselves are simply overly violent to be overly violent. The only element of the traps that was creative (albeit cliché) is for the trap to be a dark mirror for that which Piggy/Spiral is accusing (and in most cases, not inaccurate). Think of it as SE7EN meets SAW. Otherwise, these traps and this movie do little to nothing to add to the world of cinema either critically or culturally.

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Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1