“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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“The Forest” movie review

The ForestInto the woods…off to find a body. The Forest is a brilliant example of January’s reputation as a movie graveyard. Banking on its ability to over-utilize the cliche jump-scare to get a heightened emotional response from the audience, this film demonstrates little uniqueness in this sub-genre of horror; however, I gotta give it a little credit. It was successful in causing me to jump in my seat a few times and even cringe a little. If for no there reason, this film will possibly prompt you to lookup the legends of the Aokigahara Forest, surrounding the foothills and floor of famed and picturesque Mount Fuji in Japan. Starting off as a movie that feels as if it will have a slow burn but then pick up in the second and third acts, The Forest is more like an annoyingly dripping faucet that has a perpetual clog that you wish would eventually explode with excitement. There is definitely a sense of anticipation and anxiousness, but the movie fails to provide a thrilling release. The only intriguing element of the movie is that this fictional story is indirectly connected to true stories of the Aokigahara Forest. Unfortunately, the stories of people going into the forest with the intent to either commit or contemplate suicide is all too true. Furthermore, a friend of mine who lives in Japan told me that the forest really does seem to have a mystical power that compels people to harm themselves or others. Interesting. If you ever visit Aokigahara Forest, be sure to stay on the path and never remain in the forest after dark.

The Forest is about a young American woman named Sara (Natalie Dormer) who senses something has terribly befallen her identical twin sister Jessica. With the intent on finding her sister, Sara flies to Japan and begins to investigate the whereabouts of Jessica. Learning of the legends surrounding the mystical Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Sara starts to develop a plan to rescue her. Unfortunately, the reputation of the forest scares the locals so much that she is unable to find anyone to help her. Just when all hope is nearly lost, Sara meets local Austrailian travel expert and writer Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and he contacts his guide friend Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to lead them into the dark and twisted pathways of the forest. Against the recommendation of locals and Michi, Sara and Aiden remain in the forest after dark to find Jessica, but they have no idea that they are about to encounter the tormented souls of those who are looking to add to their numbers.

The characters aren’t the only ones who stray from the pathway, the film itself strays from the pathway of a well-paced and developed plot. I am not sure if the movie is supposed to be self-reflexive in that it is about exploring dark, repressed memories that subconsciously torment the soul or if it supposed to be a superficial cliche horror flick that provides an hour and a half of mild to moderate entertainment. From poorly written dialog to including too many poorly placed flashbacks, this film is all over the place. I have often commented on my dislike for films that rely on flashbacks to support or tell the story. Every once in a while, there come films that actually utilize the flashback in a way that works extremely well–but those are few and far between–this is definitely not one of them. The first several minutes of the film feels like a ping pong match because the audience is constantly tossed back and forth between present day and 20-30 year old flashbacks.

I feel strongly that this is a horror film that could have really used much more character development for Sarah. Not that horror films are the place to find development amongst its lead characters, but the story being told here was actually a good platform for integrating that element into the narrative. It’s almost like the writers were going that direction, but failed to see it through. Films like this one are not produced to add to the artistic medium of visual storytelling or offer up any degree of legitimate critical value, but still these types of horror films should continue to the library of other horror films by adding something new–even a small contribution. That being said, the fact that the film does integrate true elements of local folklore and true stories of suicide in the forest does give the film a little something that many do not have–a direct connection to the horrific reality of a place that anyone can visit on their trip to Mount Fuji. After talking with my expatriate friend who resides in Japan, I do look at this film a little different since the narrative appears to hit very close to home for many who live with news of the dark side of that forest as part of their lives.

For what it’s worth, it’s a fun movie to watch if you are looking for some cheap scares. Like with most horror films, it is best enjoyed or appreciated in a group setting.

Unfriended

Unfriended-posterBe careful what you post. Universal Pictures’ Unfriended is a new breed of horror that will have you terrified from beginning to end. Despite watching, what amounts to FaceTime/Skype, iMessage windows, and Safari the entire time, this film will keep you on the edge of your seat as the horror unfolds and the mystery comes closer to being solved. The studio that essentially invented the American horror film is back to the forefront of the minds of movie-going audiences everywhere with this spine-tingling and groundbreaking method of visual and visceral storytelling for the screen. A new take on the tried and true ‘ghost vengeance’ horror plot, Unfriended will have you completely hooked from the time the entity shows up in the group video chat. Of course, you will likely be asking yourself throughout the movie ‘with friends like these, who needs enemies?’ Although this is a revolutionary new concept, I feel strongly it should remain a one-time thing.

Unfriended is about a group of friends who encounter what they feel is a glitch in their group video chat. It isn’t long before the group deduces that the glitch is a molevolant individual hell-bent on seeking revenge for a shaming video that was posted to to the internet one year prior that was also the driving force behind a local high school girl’s suicide. With all the friends denying that they had anything to do with the video and gross taunting and shaming, the “ghost” engages them in a little game of “never have I ever…” that has deadly consequences.

This is one of those horror films that is pretty well straight forward. So, I don’t really have a whole lot to critique. The direction, writing, and score were excellent and the pacing of the film was spot-on. It’s a very well crafted and produced horror film that will likely become a cult favorite of those who appreciate and thoroughly enjoy this genre. Although there isn’t any traditional cinematography in the film, the camera acts as the eyes of one of the characters as we stare at her computer screen the entire time, and effectively communicates the focus of a given point in the story. One of the technical elements that stands out to me is the editing. Now, on one hand, it does not look like an incredible amount of talent and time would go into a film such as this; but, that is the beauty of high quality editing. The fact that it does not feel “edited” is proof that the editor did an excellent job in cutting the thrilling narrative together. My biggest negative critique in the production is the fact the respective wifi signals weren’t disabled when the power goes out. Unless each of the characters was using a battery powered hotspot or had a cellular/data signal in their computers, when the power disconnected, the wireless internet signal should have died too.

Although there isn’t really much in the way of character development, each of the characters can be read as possessing one of more of the infamous ‘seven deadly sins.’ This metaphoric perspective can be extended to the manner in which the various characters die during the movie. One of the characters possesses the “sins” of gluttony and sloth very clearly, another exhibits traits of wrath and greed, one of the friends is very prideful, showing acute signs of the sin of envy are seen in one of the main characters, and the sins of lust and bearing false witness (yes, I’m aware this isn’t one of the “deadly sins”) is demonstrably shown by the main protagonist. The aforementioned character traits are showcased throughout the narrative and are directly related to how each of the characters die. Yes, even the virgin dies in this film that breaks away from many horror tropes.

Gather a group of friends and head to the movies to be thrilled during this horror film for the social media enthusiasts. Watch as high school drama goes way overboard and has deadly consequences. This is definitely a great date movie because I guarantee that you will be able to put on the “movie move” (as coined by Carmike Cinemas). If you don’t know what that is, you probably need to go on more dates.

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It Follows

It_FollowsWhat the??? Most likely, that is what you will be asking yourself. It’s entirely possible that this is either one of the worst horror/suspense films in recent years OR one of the best. At first glance, it looks like something that you may have stumbled across on Netflix; but a closer look will reveal a fantastically orchestrated suspense film with a powerful message. Interestingly, this is one of few movies that actually ticked up on IMDb, RottenTomatoes, and MetaCritic. But, after sitting on this review overnight, I can understand why the rating has gone up and not stayed the same or ticked down. Although the acting is less than adequate and the plot is a little over-the-top at times, the allegorical message is very well written into this YA suspense-thriller.

It Follows is about a group of teenagers who find themselves on the run from an unknown specter that stalks its prey. The movie centers in and around a young lady named Jay (Maika Monroe) who, following a strange sexual encounter with an attractive young man named Hugh (Jake Weary), becomes the focus of an evil entity that slowly stalks her anywhere she is. With all others unable to see the specter, she begins to wonder if she is going mad. After some sleuthing with her best friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Jay finds herself in a tangled web with many moral and ethical dilemmas facing her and her friends.

Reminiscent of Nightmare on Elm StreetIt Follows takes place on a normal nondescript middle-class street with promiscuous teenagers trying to find their places in an adult world. Between the nostalgic set design and old-school score, you will think that Robert Englund is about to appear with his iconic Freddy Kruger razor glove. But, the enemy in this suspense-thriller is one part psychological (like Freddy) and one part physiological. It is very unclear as to the time and space in which this story occurs. You will find personal electronic device technology that we enjoy today along side TVs from the 1980s existing in a city in whose glory days had long-past. Although it isn’t until the height of the crisis that we learn that the nearly-abandoned city that serves as the backdrop is present-day Detroit, hints as to the location are sprinkled throughout the narrative. On that note, all the stories you’ve heard about vacant houses and neighborhoods in gross disrepair in the motor city, are very true–it’s scary.

From a technical perspective, the movie is fairly lacking; however, despite the low-quality lenses, cameras, and lighting that were obviously used, the cinematography is quite good. The balance between objective and subjective shots is used effectively to highlight and advance the plot through the well-structured narrative. Proper pacing is crucial in a horror film, and Writer-Director David Robert Mitchell has proven that even on a small budget (~$2MIL), that a great horror movie can be produced in today’s climate of film competing with TV competing with streaming services. Although this movie will likely find a greater audience once it hits Netflix and Hulu+, it has received a fairly good welcome during its theatrical release, for a film that has been under the radar except in larger cities.

!!CONTAINS SPOILERS!! (skip to the last paragraph for the closing remarks)

Regarding the not-so-subtle allegorical theming of the movie, it is clearly a movie about STD/I’s. On one hand, it comes off as an after-school special or a movie that is shown to Middle/High Schoolers; but on the other, it is an extremely clever way to talk about a touchy and tough subject. Not so contrary to the 80s slasher movies that basically had the message “if you’re a horny teenager and you have sex, you will die,” this movie takes a more realistic approach in dealing with the scary world of not always knowing if someone has something, or if you may have something that could get passed on and “follow” someone. Although the idea of supernatural specters haunting teenagers or young people who have casual or random sex is unrealistic, the entities represent the fact that anyone can have a STD/I and pass it on to someone else. I feel strongly that the 80s feel of the setting is directly related to the fact that the AIDS scare happened during that decade. Even though society has learned a lot about STD/I’s since then, and has come a long way in educating and appropriately mitigating irrational reactions from people, it is vitally important that sexually-active people–especially teenagers and young adults–be very cautious and protect themselves against something that could “follow” you and/or your sexual partner(s) for a very long time, if not forever, or maybe even kill you. The consequences (good and bad) of sexual behavior outside of a relationship are very real. And in many respects, can very well haunt your mind and body.

If you enjoy well-directed and written suspense movies rich with sociological and societal themes, then check out It Follows while it is in theatres. Although you may be inclined to dislike the movie immediately following the close of the story, I can almost guarantee that you will grow to like it because it will undoubtedly prompt you and your friends to think about the message and the creative execution. The longer the movie sits on your mind, the more you will learn to appreciate it. That was the case with me. At first I didn’t care for it, and now I find it to be a remarkable movie that hits all the right sensational and pleasurable-unpleasure marks that a horror film needs to hit in order to become a cult classic.