“Joker” Film Review

A truly phenomenal motion picture with a tour de force lead performance and relevant social commentary for today’s audience. Warner Bros’ highly anticipated Joker opens everywhere this week. Once again, we get an origin story of Batman’s favorite nemesis. Only this time, it’s told through an extremely heavy film that is less about the violence, that so many seem to be fixated on, and more about the unapologetic character study of someone whom has suffered egregious psychological and physiological trauma at the hands of those whom are supposed to be loving caregivers, friends, or mental health professionals. Prepare yourself to go down the rabbit hole of the mind of a madman in this no holds barred exploration of the far reaching effects of untreated trauma, grief, and schizophrenia. From a critical perspective of analyzing this as a motion picture, I find there is so much to admire! If I was to grade this film on a 1 to 10 scale, it would honestly be 8s, 9s, and 10s across the board. But you know what, if I am to be perfectly candid with my readers, I did not particularly care for the story, lack of likable characters, or even this iteration of The Joker. While I cannot deny the critical achievement of this motion picture (or film), as a movie, I did not care for it. I know some may use the terms film and movie interchangeably, but I often differentiate between them when drawing a distinction between art and entertainment. Some movies are both. For example, since we are in the Batman universe for this one, I will point out that my favorite Batman movie is equal parts film and movie, an “arthouse film masquerading around as a superhero movie,” and that would be Batman Returns. Even after watching Joker, my favorite iteration of the iconic character is still Jack Nicholson’s in Batman (89). That being said, Joaquin Phoenix is acting circles around Jack in this film and blows us away with his spectacular performance as this version of Joker.

Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker. (IMDb)

This film is extremely heavy. Usually I don’t make it a point to mention that element of a film; but in the case of this one, it is important that you go in knowing what’s in store for you. Joker is both a character study and an exploration of our present day society as viewed through a 1980s lens. It also sets up Batman, but that is only a small part of this film. Prior to reviewing the performance of Phoenix, I feel it’s important for me to mention that I don’t see him as portraying The Joker as much as I do an authentic, genuine, terrifying madman. It’s no surprise to my readers that I prefer the Burtonverse to the Nolanverse when talking Batman, so my Bat-par is set by 89 and Returns. Nicholson is the standard against which I measure up all other iterations of Joker. And suffice it to say, Joaquin Phoenix’ Joker is not Joker. A brilliant performance as a sociopath, a psychopath, or just plain crazed serial killer with a sordid past brought on by unimaginable trauma, YES; but “Joker,” he is not. Joker is not just a madman, he’s an intelligent, calculating, organized crime boss with a penchant for murder and mayhem that is told through exemplary, if not sinister, showmanship! At the end of the day, Joker is an entertainer. We love to watch him on screen, and even root for him sometimes. There is little reason to root for this Joker. He may start out as an underdog who kills two men in defense; but then starting with the third victim, he is just interested in killing, anarchy, and watching the world burn. He lacks what we love about this iconic villain, and for that reason, I do not feel that this he IS Joker.

While I may not see Phoenix as portraying The Joker (and this has much more to do with the screenplay than his performance), his performance as this madman is off-the-charts great and could possibly be the best performance delivered by Phoenix ever. There is an unapologetic, candidness about this performance that feels incredibly genuine–no pretense about it. Phoenix is 110% committed to this character and stays true to Arthur Fleck the entire time. He is vulnerable and terrifying all at the same time. When analyzing the performance of Phoenix, I am reminded of Norma Desmond’s lines from Sunset Boulevard when she states “my eyes, I can say anything with my eyes” and “we didn’t need dialogue, we had faces.” Phoenix could have played a mute Arthur Fleck, and we would still have known precisely what he was thinking and more importantly feeling. He embodies the sage screenwriting words of “dramatize, don’t tell.” Phoenix is consistently committed to the character of Arthur Fleck from beginning to end. And I say “Arthur Fleck” because I don’t believe him to be portraying The Joker. In an exchange on Twitter with my friend Jeremiah that I had (as I was writing), I was reminded of what I learned in geometry, “every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.” From that we can extrapolate that a theory could be “every Joker is a madman, but not every madman is The Joker.” I’ve seen a lot of great performances over the decades, but I can honestly say that this lead performance by a male actor is among the best I’ve ever witnessed. Perhaps Nicholson is still my favorite Joker, but Phoenix’ Joker is certainly the most realistic portrait of the descent from slightly crazy to utter destructive madness to the point that one laughs as the world implodes around them.

Joker is rich with poignant thought-provoking social commentary on our current state of affairs (albeit exaggerated) as the divide between the rich and poor is growing ever so rapidly. Just as American Psycho used the self-centered, consumer-centric, self-indulgent late 1980s to comment on the late 90s//early 2000s, this film also uses the early 1980s lens to comment on the late 2010s/early 2020s. The choice to use the early 1980s as the setting isn’t only because 80s is popular right now, what with Stranger ThingsAmerican Horror Story 1984IT, and more, it’s because it was a highly transitional time in the country. The 1960s was pretty much peaceful, the 1970s was experimental that turned chaotic, and everything came to a head in the early 80s before the economy turned around and the late 80s ushered in the bountiful, progressive 1990s. So the choice to set this film in the inner city of the early 1980s allows it to comment on similar issues that are plaguing us today. Perhaps not to this extreme, but we encounter conflicts that parallel the ones outlined in the film. Instead of treating mental illness, often our society masks it with medication or hides it from view to deal with it later (only later never comes). The rich just keep getting richer, and the poor just keep getting poorer, all while the rich blame the poor for their circumstances and standby and watch the lower rungs on the ladder just fall off; survival of the fittest, one might say. Self-centeredness runs rampant throughout the streets of Gotham as it does in our own cities and towns today. Everyone is so concerned with themselves that they stop to think about building a community that builds up one another to construct a society that is just as much about the quality of life for its citizens as it is the produces and services it can crank out. How do you view our world? As a factory or as a community?

I wish I had known just how heavy this film was going to be before I watched it, as I was not prepared for how dark it was. There are no moments of levity in this film, which I find to be particularly dangerous for audiences. As a screenwriting lecturer, I remind my students that it’s important to use levity strategically even in dark dramas or horror movies. It serves the purpose of not leaving the audience in a depressed state and allows for the writer to deliver an impactful punch when the audience least expects it. Levity relieves negative stress and resets the emotional barometer. I was feeling so oppressed by the tone of this film that I nearly left the cinema because I couldn’t’ take the darkness anymore. And that says a lot, considering that I watch a lot of dark movies and TV shows. Beyond the absence of levity, there aren’t any likable characters. To put it bluntly, everyone is an asshole. The treatment of everyone’s fellow man is despicable. It’s important for a film to establish one or more characters that the audience can identify with and even root for, but I find that everyone is so unlikable that I cannot connect with any of them. Yes, those whom have experienced trauma will likely identify with Arthur, but even he offers nothing redeeming or endearing. Unfortunately, Joker is a film that I may never watch again, despite praising it for its critical achievement as a motion picture.

If you are searching for a film that offers a prolific amount of content for purposes of a character study or cinematic study, then this is an excellent one to put on your list. Personally, I did not care for the story even though by all measurable accounts it’s a great film. But I suppose sometimes there comes along films that we acknowledge for their artistic and critical achievement but do not necessarily need to see again.

Ryan teaches screenwriting 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! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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All the Horror 2019 Movie Challenge

It’s that time of year again! Time for the 31 horror movie challenge! During the month of October, I am planning to watch, and I challenge you to watch, 31 horror movies. Each day, I will add a movie with a brief (and yes, I know I am not known for being brief) analysis. Instead of a separate blog entry for each of the 31 movies, I am going to add to this entry, then post what I watched/reviewed on Twitter (RLTerry1). So, if you’re not following me on Twitter, now would be a great time! Remember to use the hashtag #AllTheHorror  #31HorrorMoviesChallenge or #31HorrorFilms31Days when you post about your horror movies this month! Also be sure to follow AllTheHorror on Twitter!

Last year, I began with Nosferatu and followed the history of horror movies up through Scream; this year, I am picking up where I left off to continue my exploration of the history of the American horror film. You can find my ATH2018 article here that covers horror from its earliest days up through the mid 90s. This article will pick up in 1997 and go from there!

Movie 1 (10/01)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). It’s been more than 20 years since I Know What You Did Last Summer convinced us to pay attention to the roadway at night or else risk the wrath of a meathook handed slasher, and this is consistently one of those 90s horror movies that is either loved or despised. Won’t find much middle ground here. Personally, this ranks highly for me when talking 90s horror. While this movie has not seen the legacy and timeless influence that Scream has, there is still a lot to like if you are a slasher fan or simply enjoy the excellent chemistry in our lead ensemble cast. For instance, we would not have Scary Movie if it wasn’t for I Know and Scream, we may not have the Hash Slinging Slasher from Spongebob Square Pants. Believe it or not, there is a hidden strength in the story that rarely gets talked about. It’s a great psycho-social commentary on perception as reality and the cognitive elopement of a young adult. Moreover, I Know’s real genius is in how it confronts each of the lead cast with questions that all of us ask ourselves, such as simply knowing who we can trust, fight or flight, and varying degree of self-centeredness. It functions very well as a study of every individual teen’s mental state. Just like the characters in the movie, we (the audience) are wondering exactly who can be trusted. Sure, if you think too much about the plot, it falls apart, but isn’t that the case with many slashers? Everything from the twists and turns, to the suspense, to the red herrings, a murderer screaming “you’ve got no place to hide,” not to mention the classic horror score, deliver a movie that is fun to watch, highly entertaining, and even rewatchable.

Movie 2 (10/02)

H20Halloween H20 (1998). Up until last year’s H40, the often maligned H20 was actually my favorite sequel in the Halloween series. Twenty years later, Laurie Strode (once again played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and her son (played Josh Hartnett) have moved clear across the country to southern California to be the head mistress of an exclusive boarding school where Michael finds her on–you guessed it–Halloween. Only Michael isn’t the only boogeyman haunting Laurie, she has turned to heavy drinking to cope with the trauma; this dependency on alcohol has become another monster in her life. Much like IKWYDLS borrowed from Scream, it is clear that the writers of H20 also reworked the Halloween movie for the Scream generation. If for no other reason, you watch this movie for Curtis’ performance as Laurie (a role she wouldn’t reprise again until H40). She gives it all she’s got! One of the things that I think this movie got right was how vulnerable, how human Laurie was. Often times, a legacy final girl might seem like she’s quasi superhuman, but not this one. She makes many mistakes and continues to allow fear and anxiety to all but consume her every moment. Horror movies are not always scary movies. Some horror movies are just fun, and this is a great example! Taking the kills to the next level, H20 had some of the most intense kills in the franchise up to that point. Many of which exceed the violence of the previous ones. When the opening scene has a kid (Joseph Gordon Levitt) with a hockey skate blade lodged in his head, you know that the bar has been set high! Here’s an item you may not have noticed in your past watches, but Curtis’ mom, the original scream queen, Janet Leigh appears with her daughter as the school secretary. Leigh is famous for being Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Yup, she’s the one in the famous shower scene. And get this, she also drives a similar (if not the same) car as she did in Psycho. Two legendary scream queens together on the screen, mother and daughter!

Movie 3 (10/03)

The Haunting (1999). With the critical success of Netflix’ The Haunting of Hill House last year, I thought that it would be fun to rewatch the movie that is also a remake of a 1963 horror film by the same name. With three iterations, you will certainly find the one you like most. Odds are, it’s not going to be this one, but to be fair, it’s not as bad as its reputations seems to be. Interestingly, the review from Roger Ebert praised this film on the basis of its locations, art direction, production design, and sound design, but it did not land as well with horror fans and general audiences. To be fair, the first half of the film is quite good! It’s atmospheric, tense, creepy, and haunting. Where the film loses the ability to keep you engaged is in the second half. Fortunately, all the elements that Ebert praised do hold the film together–albeit barely–when the screenwriter seems to have fallen asleep at the keyboard. Momentum should increase as we reach the showdown, but thanks to clunky dialogue and a lack of writing leanly, the pacing remains stagnant until the anti-climactic climax. What I appreciate about the first half of the film is the intriguing mystery about the history of Hill House and the Crane “family.” Had the film continued to build upon the successful suspense coupled with the puzzle solving and thought-provoking imagery and ideas, then it may have been stronger in the second half. With a powerhouse cast, excellent location, and big budget, there was such a potential to truly produce an old-school ghost story, but that would have required a writer whom cares from beginning to end.

Movie 4 (10/04)

The Faculty (1998). So this one is a little out of order because for some reason I thought it came out in 1999 or 2000, but Hartnett had a busy year of horror since this shares the same release year as Halloween H20The Faculty is an often forgotten gem in 90s/2000s horror discussions. One of my favorite components of the experience of watching this movie is just how much fun it is! Is it Sci-Fi? Is it horror? Perhaps it’s a hot mess of both, but this mashup of the two genres makes for an entertaining time with a great cast that has the perfect blend of chemistry. I love the original interpretation of this combination of Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe Thing, and even The Breakfast Club. Each of the aforementioned are tentpole films in their respective genre, but The Faculty weaves them together in an out-of-this-world entertaining horror movie. In addition to the A-list names amongst the students, it’s really the actors portraying the teachers that steel the show. And amongst those teachers is a name of horror royalty Piper Laurie! If you do not know, Piper Laurie played the role of Carrie’s mother in Brian de Palma’s Carrie.There are many moments in the film that have an almost self-referential quality to them. For instance, the lead cast seems to be familiar with the rules of horror movies and even play up the satirical side pretty well. There is an endearing quirky quality to this film as well, what with freeze framing and commentary on the characters and all. Again, this gets back to the reason to watch this movie: the fun factor. Since there isn’t much of a compelling story here and the ending is a little clunky, it’s important that a movie like this hooks you quickly and never lets you go for the duration of the run time. So, don’t worry about pacing, this film never lags.

Movie 5 (10/06)

Final Destination (2000). With volunteering at the iHorror Film Festival on Saturday, I had to watch movie 5 last night. So I will have to double up tonight haha. The movie I’ve selected for my fifth horror movie in my 31 day challenge is Final Destination. It quite the surprise for me, I had the pleasure of meeting screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick at the film festival on Saturday and got to talk to him a little about the movie! I am pleased to report that he is a very nice man whom is generous with his time. I appreciate him taking time out to speak with me at the festival. Some of you may know this, but I certainly didn’t, the screenplay for the movie was originally an episode for the X-Files! However, when feature potential was seen in it, it was then turned into the screenplay that would eventually become the quintessential early late 90s/early 2000s movie that would spawn many sequels and (the second one) forever cause us to avoid following logging trucks on the roadways. The original Final Destination took horror in a new direction that has often been copied and parodied but never successfully replicated with the same quality as the original and first sequel (which Reddick wrote the story for, but not the screenplay). This “dead teenager movie” is smart, witty, darkly funny, and sharp. Unlike many horror movies of this era, the dialogue is clever and never feels forced or gimmicky. Truth is, this is a character-driven horror movie that is punctuated with visceral horror, but the gore never takes center stage. The story is about the relationships, reactions, and patterns between all the characters. I also love how very much live a living Rube Goldberg machine this movie feels. The story is paced quite well, and includes dark comedy without ever venturing into parody or satire territory. The whole idea of “you can’t cheat death” has forever changed horror.

Movie 6 (10/07)

The Sixth Sense (1999). “I see dead people.” How many of us do not know that immortal line and the movie from which it came! It’s the movie that cemented M. Night Shyamalan as a powerhouse director (nevermind that many of his films have not lived up to the precedent set by The Sixth Sense). Believe it or not, this modern icon of the horror genre turns 20 this year. Not only did it serve as the breakout film for Shyamalan, but it was a smash hit at the box office. Much like the big reveal in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the shockingly big twist in The Sixth Sense remains one of the worst kept secrets in the world of cinema, yet the film is still incredibly rewatchable. Although there are moments of sheer terror and horror in the movie, it is largely character-driven with fantastic dialogue exchanged between Cole (Haley Joel Osment) and Dr. Crowe (Bruce Willis). I just love how this film centers in and around the fantastical idea that we can control our own narrative even after death with the help of a clairvoyant whom seeks to help the dearly departed mend relationships, complete tasks left undone, and any other unfinished business. These actions allow the living and dead to rest in peace. Emotions run high in this film as audiences come face-to-face with tortured souls of the living and dead variety. Furthermore, this film seeks to provide psycho-social commentary on grief and that which we cannot possibly fully understand when exploring death. Even knowing the big twist, we are still captured by the tension of the scenes between Dr. Crowe and his wife. We know that he is dead, but we still empathize greatly with the inability of him and his wife to communicate. The strength of this movie is that it successfully taps into the dark corners of our psyche to explore that which we do not understand yet impacts our very lives every day.

Movie 7 (10/07)

What Lies Beneath (2000). Although most of my selections are clearly in the horror genre, every once in a while, there is a noteworthy horror adjacent movie that is worth covering for a challenge such as this one. Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath starring Harrison Ford and the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer is truly a horror-adjacent gem! And it has Michelle Pfeiffer, how could I not include it?!? Clearly Zemeckis was going for a Hitchcockian thriller meets old fashioned haunted house movie, and it mostly pays off. Whereas this film may not have received highly positive reviews when it came out, today it is one that is often brought up when discussing underrated horror movies. Some of the Hitchcock-inspired tropes in this movie are the whole Rear Window scene, innocent people showing up to startle the central character, and mysterious characters showing up in a mirror. The biggest difference between what Zemeckis did and what Hitch would have done is that Zemeckis went the supernatural route and Hitch would have explained it through paranoia, trauma, schizophrenia, or some other psychological means. The strength of this film may not be in the writing as much as it is the excellent visual storytelling, that builds tension through the cinematography, and the exceptional casting choices. My favorite scene in this movie is the one immediately following Norman (a Hitch nod) paralyzing Clair with the experimental new drug that was foreshadowed earlier in the movie. As the water covers her face, and all we are left with is her eyes barely above the water, we can feel the sheer terror Clair is experiencing. Until the last minute, we are anxiously wondering if she will survive. Another notable sequence is when the camera lingers on the sideview mirror of the car as we see Norman’s body rise up in the house while we are aware that Clair is running for the truck. Perhaps this movie does not hold up as well as most of Hitchcock’s thrillers, but it is clearly inspired by Hitch and his ghost is felt throughout the story. While some find the supernatural element absurd, I don’t mind it because that is what helps this to be more horror-adjacent than it would otherwise.

Movie 8 (10/08)

American Psycho (2000). Not only a great horror film, but a great film period. The movie that was once protested by women was, in fact, directed by a woman. Directed by Mary Harron, American Psycho is a brilliant cinematic work that is just as relevant today as it was when it was originally released. At its heart, this film is a provocative artistic work that comments on materialism, narcissism, and the empty feeling that comes with them. Many, including yours truly, characterize the film as a dark comedy that forces us to reconcile our aspirations for wealth, power, and what happens when we fail to make genuine emotional connections with other individuals because we are completely consumed by image and status. Furthermore, there is a fascinating character study here on trying to fit into a society that you really don’t want to fit into, but don’t know what the other options are. Therefore you act on impulses instead of recognizing them to critically analyze if they indeed are the right things to do. One of the qualities of the experience of watching a horror film compared to other genres is the power it has to force us to face our fears, look in the mirror (pun intended), and question the world around us. Moreover, it allows us to explore hard-to-talk-about subjects because it approaches them in creative, visual ways. that force us to think about some societal observation in new ways. In many ways Patrick Bateman is us; the us we are when no one is looking. Perhaps most of us are not serial killers, but we certainly have a running commentary on the world around us. Also like Bateman, if we are not careful, we can fall prey to our own animalistic, self-centered instincts. I also love how this movie parallels the vicious nature of Wall Street with the murder sprees of Bateman. In this movie, it’s Wall Street, but it could very well be any number of work places. Perhaps there is little relatability to the characters on the surface, but dig a little deeper and this film is quite the microcosm of the world we live in.

Movie 9 (10/09)

Lake Placid (1999). Largely absent for more than a decade, the old fashioned creature feature returns. And it’s bigger, funnier, bloodier, and more romantic (?) than before! When you thought it couldn’t get any better, Betty White shows up! What more could you ask for in a throwback creature feature that is still so much fun to watch. Nevermind that it failed to impress the critics of the day, this movie was made to entertain, and entertain it certainly does. Often times, horror movies like this one do not improve with age; however, like a fine wine, this movie has developed more of an audience as it has aged. This is in part due to the solid direction by Steve Miner, the sharp screenplay by David E. Kelley, and the excellent cast. And at less than an hour and a half, this movie never wears out its welcome. The pacing is brisk, not a moment wasted, eery scene sets up the following scene and continuously points to the showdown. Still in the early years of CGI, Miner chose to pair the CGI of the day with animatronics. Good thing too, because this combination helps the film not to look terribly dated. Sure the CGI is rough around the edges, but since we are not staring at CGI the whole time, we are more willing to accept it. You know what else makes this film fun to watch? Betty White. Her feisty character is in stark contrast to the otherwise serene landscape, and you gotta love her obscene one-liners. She goes full Betty White in every scene. I truly appreciate this movie for how it told the story more than what the story is about. It successfully paired an old school subject with a post-modern approach that delivers a fresh horror movie to audiences.

Movie 10 (10/10)

The Others (2001). What a fantastic haunted house film with a twist ending! Although this formula has been copied in other movies, The Others still holds up very well. At the time it came out, most horror movies were slasher or supernatural schlock fests, but this one chose to go the more traditional route of building a foreboding atmosphere complete with unsettling characters. Tension is high throughout this entire movie until the twist ending is delivered in spades. Nicole Kidman shines as the central character who completely convinces us that she is a normal person whom is living in a bizarre mysterious world. This is a thinking man’s horror movie that would probably be much more successful at the box office today than it was when it came out because audiences are gravitating toward art house horror in numbers that haven’t been seen before. While this film has bene accused of plot that lacks direction (and to some extent, I have to agree with that assessment), the lack of focus is made up for by the expertly crafted ominous mood and haunting ambiance. Capturing the atmosphere is the excellent cinematography and candlelit lighting. Often overlooked in horror movies is costuming, and Kidman’s Grace has some absolutely gorgeous attire–simple in design–but does not go unnoticed. The strength of this film, outside of the production design, is the relationship and conflict between Grace and her kids as well as the new servants. It had been a long time since I watched this movie, but I am pleased to report that it still holds up well on a rewatch. If you are searching for an atmospheric horror film to watch one evening, then this is still a good one to select.

Movie 11 (10/11)

Jason X (2001). This is one hot mess of a Jason movie, but it is so much fun to watch! What happens when you combine Alien with Friday the 13thJason X. Of all the creative deaths in the Friday the 13th franchise, this one has my personal favorite: the liquid nitrogen kill! You know the one I’m talking about. Although this series lacks the quality of writing in the Halloween and Elm Street, there is a beauty in the simplicity of Jason Voorhees as a Freudian superego that goes around punishing horny teenagers for their sexual promiscuity. One of the more hilarious aspects to this movie is just how little fashion and culture has changed from the early 21st century to the 25th century. Whereas fashion may not have changed much, technology certainly has. Straight out of Star Trek TNG is a holodeck that recreates Camp Crystal Lake to distract Jason. In this scene, we also get a simple kill that works so well. Never enclose yourself in a sleeping bag. One of the biggest differences between this installment and the previous Jason movies is that this group knows who Jason is. And believe it or not, we do end up caring about these characters a little more than usual. In the end, it takes itself a little too seriously to be truly satirical, but it’s also too silly to be taken seriously by longtime fans of the franchise. If you’re looking for something fun to watch on a lazy afternoon, then this movie works well.

Movie 12 (10/13)

Ghost Ship (2002). What a shocking opening! Although the opening to Scream may still be the best opening in a horror movie ever, the opening to Ghost Ship is right up there with it. Talk about a razor sharp opening that truly hooks the audience in for the ride and tells them precisely what kind of movie this is going to be. Alien is a haunted house movie (that meets Jaws) in space and Ghost Ship is a haunted house movie set on an ocean liner right out of the 1960s. Perhaps this movie suffers from terrible characters and a vapid plot; however, what it lacks in those areas it more than makes up for in atmosphere. Truly, this movie boasts some of the best atmospheric shots, art direction, and production design that 2000s horror has to offer. There is almost a Titanic like feeling when moving throughout the ship, and it’s even creepier because we know precisely how all the passengers died. The theme of greed versus prudence is woven throughout the plot. Witnessed in how and why  characters meet the demise that they do, this theme is integrated well into the plot, and helps to setup the big twist at the end of the movie. From a technical perspective, the movie got a lot of things right. One might say that it’s among the best to come out of the early 2000s, but still not as good as you hoped it would be, considering the brilliant opening and setup. I guarantee that you will never look at a tension wire in the same way again.

Movie 13 (10/13)

Signs (2002). The alien movie that really isn’t about aliens at all. Despite the crop circles on the poster and the catalyst of aliens on earth, the movie isn’t about that at all. And that’s why it works so incredibly well! Signs by M. Night Shyamalan is a brilliant motion picture that possesses the power to create tension out of seemingly nowhere and keep driving that tension up until the strategic time that the punch is to be delivered. What Shyamalan achieved in this film was the ability to evoke strong fear, anxiety, and other emotions through the use of the camera. Suspense with a camera as Hitchcock whisperer Jeffrey Michael Bays would put it. There is a power in the direction, acting, cinematography, and score in this film that sets up audiences to fear that which is not even seen. Sometimes we find ourselves looking and listening to something that isn’t even there, but that’s the beauty of this film. Shyamalan uses strategically places moments of silence much in the same way that Hitchcock would do in his films. Speaking of whom, there is no score in The Birds. Whereas the technique of using TV or radio broadcasts to deliver exposition can come across as lazy or forced, because the programs still leave room for subtext, they work very well in this film. So, if this film isn’t about aliens, what kind of film is it? It’s a character study on the stages of grief and redemption. The plot is incredibly simple, yet our characters highly complex. That’s why this film works so incredibly well!

Movie 14 (10/14)

Cabin Fever (2002). The directorial debut from Eli Roth! This gory horror movie may look like Evil Dead but it does not go the supernatural route. Instead this movie features a flesh-eating bacterial disease. So often when we are in a cabin in the woods, we encounter a demon or maniac, but I like how this body horror movie uses something incredibly realistic (albeit exaggerated). For fans of Boy Meets World, you’ll recognize Rider Strong as our central character. For all the gore that is in this movie, it’s not the focus. Co-written by Roth, this movie never loses focus on the relationships between the characters. I love how we witness the complete deterioration of friendships because of paranoia, fear, and self-preservation. The tension in this movie is real! You can cut it with a butter knife.

Movie 15 (10/15)

House of a 1000 Corpses (2003). After experiencing the house at HHN29, I just had to add it to my 31 Horror Movies Challenge this month. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of Rob Zombie’s movies, but this one has such a great cast including the late Sid Haig. Hillbilly horror meets teen slasher in this movie. It’s a nostalgic tribute to Texas Chainsaw Massacre that doesn’t have much else going on in its plot. The strength in this movie is in the character actors. Due to Zombie’s penchant for shooting on film stock, this movie has a sort of homespun morbid charm that certainly helps in the viewing experience of this pretty much torture porn movie. Something else that I appreciate about this movie is that you can you see the hand of the artist in eery scene. Much in the same way Zombie writes and performs his music, this movie is also raw, graphic, loud, and violent. Perhaps his music is not to my personal liking, but there is no denying that his signature brand of entertainment is all over this movie. Whereas the plot may be greatly lacking, the movie makes up for that with a rather brilliant production design and art direction. This is probably why it was such a successful translation from movie to house at HHN this year.

Movie 16 (10/18)

This next film represents the last time the legend that is Robert Englund haunted our nightmares as Freddy Krueger until The Goldbergs Halloween special last year. Freddy vs. Jason (2003) is an incredibly fun movie starring two of our favorite slashers that helped define the genre. Fans got to experience the movie at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 25 in 2015; and what Universal did that was extra fun and heightened the suspense was randomly changing who won! Sometimes it was Jason and other times it was Freddy. Nearly 20 years since Freddy first started haunting the nightmares of the children of the Elm Street parents that burned him alive and more than 20 years since Jason started terrorizing camp counselors to avenge his mother’s death, this movie explores what happens when the teens of Elm Street are no longer afraid of Freddy because a new drug prohibits dreaming while allowing for restful sleep. Without dreams, Freddy is without his main source of power. Furthermore, the inability to enter dreams means that he is all but a distant memory for Elm Street. After a chance encounter with Jason in Hell, Freddy concocts a devious plan. Under the impression that he can control the iconic hockey masked killer, he sends Jason back to Elm Street to make the teens scared of him again. Instilling this fear in them will make Freddy Stronger. Unfortunately, for Freddy, things quickly get out of his control and the two icons of horror rack up quite the body count before turning on one another. The final battle between Freddy and Jason is one of the best battle sequences in horror! New Line Platinum pulls out all the stops in this epic final battle between two characters that helped define a genre and decade of cinema.

Movie 17 (10/18)

Saw (2004). Every decade there seems to come a film that will define the state of the genre and serve as a touchstone that pioneers new ways of tapping into our fears and commenting on what we are facing as a society. Often times, this same movie will create a new subgenre of horror that inspires other movies and even spawn sequels. Until A24 started bringing us art house horror films in the last few years, two films broke new ground for horror: Saw and Paranormal Activity. While neither of these films, and the countless sequels and quasi brain children of them, are to my liking, there is no doubt that they were the most influential over the last 10-15 years. That being said, I do appreciate the original Saw for its minimalistic production design and  innovative storytelling; but I don’t like the barrage of torture porn movies that came after it. Saw works because it has a compelling story and the focus is NOT on the gruesome violence; however, many of the movies that it inspired shifted the focus from the narrative to the torturous kills. Still, there are interesting aspects to consider from this series and ones it inspired like Hostile. For instance, as repulsive as Hostile is, there is a thought-provoking exploration of the mediation (as in media) of society and what happens when people are reduced to commodities.

Movie 18 (10/19)

The Descent (2005). Often cited as one of the scariest horror movies over the last 20 years and one that was a critical success–including high praise from Roger Ebert–is The Descent. While it was not released in the US until summer 2006, it was released in the UK in 2005. Not only does this brilliant horror film have the thrills, violence, and fear-inducing moments, it delivers a well-developed plot with excellently crafted characters and outstanding direction. Not to mention the production design, score, editing, cinematography and everything involved in taking the fantastic story from page to screen. This atmospheric horror film completely immerses you in the depths of the descent into the bowels of the cavernous underground. Talk about an effective title! One particularly notable element in this film is the all female cast. Strong female characters are no stranger to horror–in fact–horror long liberated women from being damsels in distress before mainstream movies and media. Ever heard of the final girl? Thought so. Many of the scene in the movie take place in near-darkness, but the director never leaves the audience feeling completely lost. Sometimes the audience may be bewildered or anxious about the direction, but that’s the point! This film engages the minds and bodies of the audience in such a way that the audience can feel the claustrophobia and fear of the characters.

Movie 19 (10/22)

The Hills Have Eyes (2006). Before Alexander Aja would give us campy horror hits like Piranha 3D and the critically acclaimed Crawl (2019), he thrilled audiences with his revisitation of The Hills Have Eyes, originally written and directed by Wes Craven. Although many, including yours truly, will argue that the original is superior, Aja stays true to his source material. On the surface, this movie is about a family encountering a cannibalistic group of isolated desert hill billies, but beneath the surface beats the heart of a movie that comments on isolation, nuclear fallout, and yes even family and neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the larger budget did not pave the way for anything innovative or substantive, unless you’re talking substantial buckets of blood. There was such an opportunity for Aja to go by way of John Carpenter’s The Thing in his remake of Craven’s original, but instead it plays off as derivative and schlocky. Where the movie does work, is when Aja is in his world of campy gore.

Movie 20 (10/22)

Trick ‘R Treat (2007). I don’t know about you, but this movie is one that I have to watch each Halloween! This year, I am watching it earlier than usual, but its been part of my Halloween since I was introduced to it by a friend. Michael Dougherty delivers a brilliantly innovative anthology movie with several smaller stories all woven into one giant narrative commenting on the power of tradition. In this case, the traditions surrounding Halloween! Fans of the movie were able to experience it at Halloween Horror Nights 27 as a scare zone and HHN 28 as a house. Personally, I preferred the scare zone to the house. Trick ‘r Treat is full of fantastic scares, entertaining characters, and an engaging plot. While few writer-directors could handle a nonlinear film as their directorial debut with such precision, Dougherty does precisely that! And what is the result? Instant cult classic. Couldn’t ask for a better start to your career. I love everything about this film: the costumes, set design, lighting, cinematography, the editing and more! Truthfully, it reminds me of something that Tim Burton would have done in the hayday of his career in the 80s and 90s. The costume designs are absolutely out of this world! I love how unnervingly exaggerated many of them are. And the atmosphere crafted by Dougherty is the perfect place for all these characters to interact with each other and their surroundings. Forming the solid foundation upon which this story was visually executed is the solid screenplay written by Dougherty. While there was such a risk of s story such as this one going by way of the camp route, never once did anything feel cheesy. In fact, there are homages paid to past horror movie staples that horror fans will enjoy. During a decade that seemed to be frocked with uber gory, violent, torture, blood fests, this film is a refreshing look at the strength of original storytelling where the focus is on the characters, conflict, and relationships, not simply guys and gore that seek to torment the viewer. There is something for everyone in this film, and it’s relatively appropriate for a wide age group. Maybe it’s not a conventional horror movie, but it’s certainly a brilliant Halloween film!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, he’d love to plan to see a movie with you. 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!

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“JUDY” Biopic Film Review

A truly gripping motion picture that will bring you to tears during this somewhere over the rainbow redemption story. Bring tissues. Renee Zellweger is captivating as Judy Garland, and you’ll swear that you’re watching Garland on the big screen. Although we may be familiar with the broad strokes career of the legendary entertainer, this film goes beyond the headlines and tabloids to deliver a true life story that could ironically be titled A Star is Born, or perhaps reborn. Ironic in that this film shows the life of a movie star after the lights have faded and the offers stop coming in, much like the movie she starred in. It’s a rise and fall story, of sorts, but is more precisely a fall and rise story as the movie focusses in on the last year of Judy Garland’s life. If you are worried that the film ends on her death, you can be relived that the film chooses to stop the story prior to the end of the iconic star’s life. And it works so incredibly well! While there are many movies (not unlike A Star is Born) that focus on the rise and fall of a talent in showbusiness, this movie skips all the glitz and glamor to paint a realistic portrait of what it is like for those whom grow up in front of the camera, controlled by those around them, just to wind up in front of booing crowds, empty bank accounts, homelessness, and a tumultuous custody battle. Not to mention her addiction to pills that was caused by abusive treatment at the hands of the old studio system because of being force fed pills from an early age. Whether you are a fan of the iconic diva or not, if you love command performances, then you do not want to miss the uncanny performance of Zellweger as Judy. All the way down to the mannerisms, vocal inflections, and over all behavior, she IS Judy. Although we all know of the tragic ending, no mistaking it, this film is an inspirational story of redemption.

The money is gone, career on the rocks, and risking the loss of custody of her two youngest children, that is the last year’s of Judy Garland’s life. Unfortunately the other side of the rainbow for Judy was anything but magical. Three decades after starring in one of the greatest film musicals of all time The Wizard of Oz, the beloved actress and singer is in dire straights. She is left with virtually nothing except her name and what remains of her timeless voice that charmed millions throughout her early illustrious career. In order to prove that she can provide for her two youngest children, she accepts a gig in London playing to sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town night club. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans, fights her depression and anxiety over performing, and begins a whirlwind romance with her soon-to-be fifth husband.

“For one hour, I am Judy Garland, and the rest of the time I am just like everyone else” is a paraphrased quote from the movie, but it illustrates how the actress and singer felt about her relationship with the world. The movie chronicles her inability to stay afloat financially in Los Angeles and must accept a gig in London where her personal troubles continue to follow and haunt her. Her character is so incredibly relatable because many of us have found ourselves in traps that we have stepped in and are at a loss as to how to get out. If you thought this was going to be another cliche musical biopic, then you would be mistaken. No pretense about it, this is an unapologetic look at the dark side of Hollywood in perhaps one of the greatest stories that is right up there with Norma Desmond. Now, I am not equating Judy with what is, in my opinion, the greatest film of all time Sunset Boulevard, but her story is not unlike the one experienced by Norma. The movie also comments on the far reaching effects of childhood trauma on the adult psyche. No one understood the extent that she was abused by the studio system except for Judy herself. If her present-day handlers knew what she went through during the years that American fell in love with The Wizard of OzMeet Me in St. Louis, and more, then they would not-so-casually write her off as a wrecked hasbeen who mismanaged her money and relationships. The film deals with perception versus reality. Strategically placed in the film are flashbacks to her childhood at MGM that provide context for moving the present story forward as each moment reveals a new layer to the legendary entertainer.

Zellweger delivers a performance for the ages in this film. More than a spot-on impression, she transforms into Judy Garland to the extent that you will almost believe that you are watching the iconic actress and singer on the big screen. It is clear that Zellweger studied Judy Garland for months in order to get into character. Her movement, speech pattern, posture, and other behaviors completely sell the audience on this audacious portrayal of such an icon. Never once does she break character and allow the actor to shine through, she remains committed to this phenomenally genuine portrayal of Judy Garland. We all know Zellweger can sing, after all, she wow’d us in Chicago (a rare example of when the movie adaptation IS better than the live show); but nothing will prepare you for the power of her singing in this movie. Other than Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, you will hear Zellweger sing other famous songs by Garland such as Get HappyThe Trolly SongCome Rain or Come Shine, and of course the encore of Over the Rainbow. during the movie’s climactic, emotionally charged, showdown. Even when singing, Zellweger is determined to deliver the songs just as a late-40s Garland did, complete with all the stubbornness, anxiety, and even anger. I truly hope that Zellweger is nominated for this role.

Perhaps the reason why Liza Minelli was quite objectionably vocal about her mother’s portrayal in this movie is because there are creative liberties taken by the writers in order to further dramatize Judy’s story. As I’ve told my screenwriting class, dramatize don’t tell. If a “based on a true story” or biographical film was simply concerned with the timeline of events, the cold hard facts, and cause and effect, then it might feel more like a police procedural or college lecture. Hence why it is imperative that writers DO get a little creative in the dramatization of events for cinematic purposes. For instance, the facts are largely correct in this story as I have compared them to Wikipedia and other newspaper articles, but where I can see the difference is Judy’s reaction to the timeline of events. Articles and tabloids may be able to show what happened, but it is up to the screenwriters to dramatize the reaction to the conflict. So perhaps that is what Liza is upset with, she doesn’t agree with the story details between what we know from Hollywood history. One of the tangential components in the movie is Judy meeting up with “Friends of Judy” at the end of one of her shows. Judy joins them, rather than be by herself for a night of poorly made omelets and casual singing around a piano. It’s an emotionally moving tribute to all the gays who’ve loved her over the years. In all likelihood, this was written for the movie as there is no way of verifying if this night ever happened. This is the scene where I feel that she should’ve sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas because tonally it was similar to that scene in Meet Me in St. Louis. Instead, she sings Get Happy.

Maybe this is an unconventional redemption story, but that quality is clearly communicated through the film. Rising up against the internal and external monsters in your life that have dragged you down so far that there is no end in sight. Whereas Judy may not have changed as dramatically as Scrooge did in  A Christmas Carol, she does change during the climax of the movie. If you want to know just how, then you need to go out and watch it!

Ryan teaches screenwriting 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!

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“Ad Astra” Film Review

A thought-provoking science-fiction exploration of the depths of self and space. Fox Searchlight’s Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones is a visually stunning tour de force that will stick with you long after the credits roll. Not since Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey have I experienced such a pure science-fiction motion picture. The plot is so simple, yet the characters highly complex. And the questions posited by the film provide an opportunity to not only engage your senses but also your mind. On the surface, it’s a search and rescue; but beneath that premise, the conflict is built around the idea of man vs himself and father-son relationships. What happens to our minds and relationships when we devote ourselves so intensely to our academic or vocational pursuits that life is flying past us? More specifically, this film’s thesis can be summed up in one impactful, memorable quote from the movie, “he could only ever see what wasn’t there and missed what was right in front of his face.” Perhaps I do not have it quoted precisely correct, but that line spoke volumes to me. Because I will admit to you that I often become so consumed by my studies, social media presence, and what I do not yet have that I sometimes neglect to value what I have right in front of me. In many ways, this film serves as a mirror to not only me, but to all those who allow work or other ancillary elements of our lives to consume our every thought instead of appreciating the relationships we have and the needs/wants that have been met. Powerful stuff. Not only does this film deliver an outstanding original story, but the cinematography, score, editing, and production design are stellar. It’s a testament to the ability motion pictures have to evoke us emotionally and physiologically. We may spend most of the movie with one character, but it never feels boring (maybe a little slow in places, but definitely not boring). Certainly one to watch while it is in theaters for the full cinematic experience.

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos. (IMDb)

While I compare this movie to 2001: A Space Odyssey, their respective plots are different, so it does not feel like a movie that secretly seeks to remake the science-fiction classic. The strength of Ad Astra lies in the exemplary screenwriting. We have a clearly defined central character, an external goal, and the subplot driven by the need that supports the motivation to achieve the goal. Every scene meticulously peals back layers that reveal to us the depths of Pitt’s character of Roy and consistently point us to his journey to locate his father on Neptune. Although Roy is not an extremely dynamic character, and there may not be a hero’s journey, we do witness a positive growth arc. In a manner of speaking, he experiences an existential redemption that corrects the course of his psychological trajectory. If you’re seeking a contemporary film that boasts an excellent opportunity for a character study, then the two principle characters in Ad Astra will be brilliant subjects. Jones’ character of Clifford McBride may not have nearly the screen time that his son has; however, his presence is felt throughout the film. We see the father in the son, and by extension we can extrapolate that Roy was on the path to become his father. Not unlike the path that Scrooge was on before his encounter with Marley and the three ghosts. Only when faced with the reality of what his future looks like, and the effects on friends and family thereof, does Roy see the need to change. Man is often his worst enemy, an enemy that we are eternally cursed to battle in perpetuity.

Not only does this film deliver outstanding writing, but it equally delivers mesmerizing visuals that earn the film high marks in technical achievement. Never do the effects detract away from the narrative, but they are incredibly impressive. Everything feels real. Like this is a story that could believably take place in say 2100 (maybe it could have been called 2100: A Space Odyssey). When speaking on science-fiction movies with my screenwriting students, I mention that many sci-fi screenwriters spend so much time on the technology and world building that the characters suffer. Needless to say, I will be able to use this movie as a prime example of how to write a character-driven science-fiction motion picture. The technology that is used in the film feels just a few decades ahead of what we presently have, so we can connect with the people and the technology that is used much better than in more fantasy-like science-fiction movies. The cinematography shines brightly in the dark of space. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this film was shot in space because of just how real the movement of the characters was and the technique through which each and every scene was lit and shot. So smooth are the movements of the camera and the editing that brings the story together that, as the audience, you forget that you aren’t a fly on the wall of this spectacular film.

Preparing for my own review, I often like to peruse what others have said. So I sometimes read reviews or listen to podcasts to get a feel for other opinions that are out there in order to expose myself to a wide variety of opinions as a way of collecting evidence to support my own opinion on a film. And upon doing that for this review, it didn’t take long before I came across a few options that fixated on the lack of screen time for Roy’s estranged wife  played by Liv Tyler. Furthermore, opinions along these lines suggested that there needed to be a more significant female presence in the film. I disagree with these opinions because this is a film about a father-son relationship and the idea of a man battling his own internal demons, so to speak. Liv Tyler plays an important role in representing that which Roy lost as a result of his self-centered career-driven behaviors. However, she also serves as a totem for him because it is the thought of a life without her entirely that brings Roy back to earth. She is an important character in this story despite not having much to say. Her presence is a powerful reminder to Pitt that he does not want to wind up like his father. Even if Tyler was not in the movie, at the end of the day, this IS a movie about the relationship between a father and son. While mother-daughter, mother-son, or father-daughter movies are much more common, there is a need in our cinematic library for father-son movies to explore those relationships.

Do yourself a father and go see Ad Astra in theaters! Experience it in Dolby Cinema or IMAX if you can because the visual spectacle elements of this film deserve that crystal clear, larger than life treatment. At little more than two hours, the film’s pacing is pretty good for most of the story; that being said, there are a few places that my attention did drift. But it wasn’t for long, and was always hooked again. Perhaps this movie could have been shortened to 1:45-50 instead of the just over 2hr run time. I am already thinking of seeing this film again, because I know there are elements that I may have missed the first time through.

Ryan teaches screenwriting 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!

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“IT: Chapter 2” Horror Movie Review

The larger, less terrifying chapter. Return to Derry, Maine with the Losers Club as they once again face the nightmarish clown Pennywise. With expectations set incredibly high from the critical and box office success of the first chapter, chapter 2 had some major clown shoes to fill. And was it successful? That is mostly up to the individual audience members; however, from a critical perspective, the second chapter falls short of the first one in both character and plot. While there are some scary moments (mostly driven by jump-scares) and some good character-driven moments, as a whole, the movie feels bloated for time, poorly paced, unintentionally campy, and not nearly as creepy as the first one. Even though I did not question the run time when it was announced, there is not enough plot to effectively justify the nearly 3-hour length of the movie. For example, you spend about a third of the movie in flashbacks that do little to advance the plot but thankfully provide some additional context for the characters. Although the movie chronologically takes place 27 years after the first one, it has only been two years for us, but the second chapter plays out as a sequel that is many years separated from the original. Whereas I am not impressed by the plot, I am incredibly impressed with the outstanding casting. The resemblance that the adult characters have to the teenage characters is uncanny. Solid performances all the way around, although none stick out to me as outstanding. Had this movie been in the neighborhood of 2-2.25hrs, then I believe that there would have been enough plot; but as it is, it was stretched too thin. I appreciated the original for expertly crafting the atmosphere of dread and delivering terrifyingly creepy moments not primarily reliant upon jump-scares; but this second chapter seems to fall victim to sequelitis and revert to using jump-scares more than the art of crafting suspense with the camera. At the end of the day, this is a fun way to kick off your Halloween season, but perhaps this isn’t THE movie that defines the Halloween horror season. Still, if you’re planning to attend Halloween Horror Nights Orlando or Hollywood, then this will still suffice as a solid way to kick off the season.

It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club thought they defeated IT. But Pennywise has returned to the sleepy town of Derry. Following the occurrences several mysterious missing children and teenagers and a Pennywise sighting, Mikey calls all his old friends back to Derry, with little explanation as to why, other than IT has returned. The group of old friends must band together and face their respective fears, past traumas, and deepest darkest secrets that have been eating away at them all these years.

If Derry was supposed to be characterized as a backwards town, then this movie does its job. I don’t think that anyone is going to desire to visit the quaint town steeped in death and bigotry. The opening of the movie is shocking, hooking you into the twisted world that is Derry, Maine. Unfortunately, the provocative opening feels largely disconnected from the rest of the  movie, except it serves to forcibly position Mikey in a place from where he sees Pennywise has returned to his hometown. The next sequence of scenes shows us the present lives of the members of the Losers Club and the reactions to the news that IT may not have been dead after all. Every one of the members of the Losers Club except for Mikey left the small town and built successful winning careers for themselves. Once the Losers Club is back together again, all hell breaks loose in the sleepy hamlet throws its worst at them. One of the disadvantages of one chapter having child actors and another chapter adult actors (portraying the same characters) is the increased risk of there being a disconnect between the audience and the characters. Moreover, that disconnect can affect the audience in such a way that the degree of empathy felt for a character mitigates. That is the case with IT Chapter 2. Since much of the character development was in Chapter One with the child actors, we are thrown back into this world with different actors and simply do not ultimately care deeply what happens to the characters. We care, but not as much as if we followed the same actors or we were provided with sufficient character development in this chapter. We simply don’t care enough about these characters (played by these incredible actors).

One of the cardinal rules of screenwriting that I feel IT Chapter 2 broke was allowing the flashback to encroach upon, if not become more interesting than the main story. Until a writer knows how to effectively use flashbacks, it is important to stay away from them because flashback abuse is all too easy. Few movies that make significant use of the flashback have done so in such a way the the stories are just as interesting as each other or make the main story even more intriguing. My go-to example of a film that makes brilliant use of flashbacks is the Americana classic Fried Green Tomatoes. The reason why flashbacks work in that movie is because both the stories from the past and present are just as interesting as one another; furthermore, the characters in the past help us to develop the characters in the present. Character development is strong all the way around, and the characters mirror one another in many respects. In short, the main plot is always moving forward, even the flashbacks provide direction for the main story. Unfortunately, the prolific use of flashbacks in IT: Chapter 2, come off as a lazy plot device that serves to drag down the pacing of the main story. In fact, there are so many flashbacks that are misused that it adds a signifiant amount of run time to the movie that could have been cut out to streamline the plot. Had there not been such a large sum of flashbacks, then the story may have exhibited better pacing and not felt so bloated just to be a nearly 3hr movie.

Seems like everyone wants to be a 3hr movie nowadays. The problem therein is that, in all likelihood, there lacks sufficient plot to cover three hours. It’s important for a writer to not only show scenes of characters facing conflict, but the writer needs to show the character’s reaction to the conflict. Much like with a screenplay as a whole, a well-written scene has a setup–conflict–resolution. This movie is often missing the resolution in the individual scenes. I still don’t know why we have the date gone wrong at the beginning of the movie other than to make the statement that this movie seeks to normalize that which should be seen as normal or that this is a progressive movie. Furthermore, we make the assumption from Chapter 1 that Richie is gay and even see some evidence to suggest it further in Chapter 2 as this is the deep dark secret that has been eating away at him for most of his life. Richie’s character-driven subplot and the opening scene could have been helped by including the scene from the book in which Bowers explores his sexuality with a friend because that would setup the inner conflict and denial that manifests itself in his treatment of Richie and violent behavior towards others. However, we never revisit this–what could’ve been an excellent–character moment. I think it’s great to have a diverse, inclusive cast of characters, but don’t start a subplot or setup character development that will go nowhere or is merely a plot device to explain something.

While horror movies are no strangers to camp, both literally and figuratively, this movie is unintentionally campy. A campy movie is one that intentionally contains extreme or perverse imagery that boasts an amusing quality that uses exaggerated genre or thematic tropes that over-emphasize an element of the movie. Camp is intentional. When camp is accidental, there is the chance that the director can capture lightning in a bottle, but that is not usually the cade. IT: Chapter 2 is not campy in the costuming, production design, or dialogue, but in the oversized monsters throughout the movie. From the giant old naked lady with her saggy boobs to the random Paul Bunyan statue coming to life, there are giant monsters seemingly everywhere. And it’s not simply the presence of the monsters, although I thought it reached ridiculous proportions, but the movement and purpose of them is what I call into question. The small creatures were great, but the large ones were not terrifying at all–more like laughable. Other than the initial jump scare, the monsters don’t help the level of terror at all.

Now, there is one scene in particular that is probably the scariest of all, and it’s the scene that takes place under the bleachers. I won’t go into spoilers. With all these monstrous creatures and jump-scares, the movie lacks in the same atmosphere of dread that made the first one work so incredibly well. It’s the little things that were scariest in the original. Speaking of the little things, Pennywise definitely stepped up his game in this one. There are so many nuances to his character and the performance that are terrifying–especially for those with a phobia of clowns. If any element is just as good, if not improved over chapter one, it is Pennywise, expertly portrayed by Bill Skarsgard.

Even though you may have to set your expectation bar a little lower, compared to the original, in order to best experience this horror movie, a true horror fan will still enjoy the movie. Perhaps not as much as the original, but it’s still a solid way to start the Halloween horror season. Speaking of which, Halloween Horror Nights Orlando and Hollywood open up this weekend! Consider starting with or pairing your theme park haunts with this movie.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and teaches high school TV/Film production. 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!

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