“The Turning” Horror Movie Mini Review

Turn around, every now and then I get a little discouraged at the January movies. Seriously tho, watch something else. My friend Derek had the perfect analogy for this quintessential January release horror movie. “The Turning is like having two gorgeous puzzles–only you have half of each puzzle–then you force all the pieces together.” Quite the apt analogy for this newest big screen adaptation of the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw. With names like Universal, Amblin, and Dreamworks behind it, I haven’t a clue where things took a turn for the abysmal in the process from page to set to screen. Either the screenplay is to blame or–for whatever reason–the film couldn’t be finished properly in time for the release. That’s right, there is practically no ending. I mean, there is, but it’s so abrupt and confusing that it’s as if the film threw an ending on there because time or money ran out. Prior to the uncomfortably ambiguous ending, the movie had so much going for it. However, all the elements that were working so well never went anywhere. If I can point to a couple elements that were outstanding, it’s the brilliantly unsettling, creepy, ominous setting and production design. The gothic mansion and grounds are very much characters in and of themselves. Combining these two elements gave the film an excellent atmosphere for Henry James’ story. And the acting wasn’t bad either. No real stand out moments, but fairly solid performances all the way around. Perhaps what this movie is most guilty of (aside from the non-ending) is disregarding any rules of horror (or even logic) that it establishes for itself. So much happened out of sheer convenience, with no real consistent consequences. The conflicts and devices that were introduced were interesting, and I was looking forward to seeing how they were going to influence the action and characters. Unfortunately, nothing that was “foreshadowed,” alluded to, setup, or dangled as plot bait was ever revisited. Much like with Underwater, this movie also feels more like a series of plot points than it does a–even poorly developed–screenplay. While the trailers gave the impression that this was going to be an arthouse horror film, one with lots of ominous nuance and intrigue, it is simply just another January horror movie that was released here to die or serve as a tax write-off. One last item of mention: once you see a photo of Quint, you will be mind-blown as to how or why any parent would even think that this guy would be safe around kids–seriously–he is creepy alive. Still, how Universal, Dreamworks, and Amblin allowed this to happen, baffles me.

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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Netflix “YOU” Season 2 Review

Wow! That was bonkers good! I don’t know about you, but I binged the entire series in two nights. Simply couldn’t put it down, a fitting bibliophile metaphor as it were. Your favorite book-loving serial killer is back–and he’s moved. Now living in LA, a city he repeatedly detests, Joe (now Will) has his eyes set on a new object of his undying affection, appropriately named Love. He fled Brooklyn to LA to reinvent himself and find a new life–as so many people so when they movie to Los Angeles. But his eyes are not on the silver screen, they are on a hipster organic grocery store and book shoppe. Once he begins his job there, the hijinx are in high gear! After the critical success and highly positive audience reception of Season One, I honestly didn’t expect Season Two to hit the bar that the first one did–I was wrong. After being informed on the Bingeables Podcast during our recording of Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23 that Season Two was even better than Season One, I was intrigued! While it was already on my list of shows to watch, I quickly moved it to the front of the queue. In order to talk about how and why this season works as well, if not better, than the first, it will be necessary for me to go into spoilers. So consider this your spoiler warning. If you plan to see it, and have not, stop here, go binge the show, then come back. Believe me, you’ll want to binge it because it is just that good!

One of the main characteristics of the experience watching YOU that was such a staple in season one was just how much we rooted for our antihero Joe Goldberg, despite him being a sadistic, book thumping, stalker. Perhaps it’s his good looks, oddly loving heart (and I do mean odd), and authenticity. While we may find his behaviors detestable, contemptible, and reprehensible, there is a refreshing since of authenticity that we seldom witness anymore in an age of social media facades and social pretenses. It’s this fascinating dichotomy that we love about Joe/Will. For purposes of this article, I will refer to him as Will, as that is his name for most of this season. Whereas in Season One, Will was lacking an equally intelligent and cunning character of opposition, he has met his match in Candace–yes–that Candace. You can’t outrun murder, or in this case, attempted murder. Candice is back, and she is pissed.

We pickup at the tail end of Season One when Candace surprises Joe at the bookstore. Only this time, she is in control of the situation. But does she turn him into the police? No, that would be too easy. Her goal is to ruin him and make him as scared as she was. She prefers executing a slow, painful defeat. He decides to flee to the one city that he hates more than any other: Los Angeles. Where else do you go to reinvent yourself and hide from the world? Once Will relocates to LA, the hijinks and prolific number of crimes ensue!

All those thrills and chills from season one are back with vengeance in season two. Furthermore, the series continues positing the questions and making observations about masculinity, femininity, friendships, romantic relationships, and social media. One of the biggest differences between this season and the last is that we now have the stalker becoming the stalked. So there is the stalking between Love and Will, but then Will is being stocked by Candice. And even Candice is being stalked during the season. So many layers! Don’t worry, all these layers are not confusing. There is plenty of exposition laying pipeline along the way to understand the various dynamics. While Will goes even darker than in the previous season, you will undoubtedly still root for this antihero. The added complexity of Candace gives way to a more intriguing plot that will have you on the edge of your seat. In addition to the present story, you also get to learn more details about how the relationship between Candace and Joe ended. And you will be blown away! No wonder why Joe was so shocked to see her at the end of Season One.

At first, Will recognizes his psychological problems and refuses to engage in romantic thoughts or behaviors with Love, but soon he falls into his old ways but approached them differently. There is far more rationalization than before, and that makes everything so much more frightening. It doesn’t take long for Will to give up on keeping Love at arm’s length, he’s soon back into his old ways as she is now the object of his affection. More so than in the first season in which Will targeted people that came between him and Beck, this time, he targets those who seek to blow the cover on his darker side that could end his friendship turned relationship with Love. Unlike Beck, Love genuinely returns Will’s affections, which actually complicates things. In addition to his romantic affections, Will also quasi adopts a teenage girl in his apartment complex because he feels that she needs someone to talk to and look after her since her sister (her guardian) is off chasing stories a lot of the time. This friendship adds in another relationship that Will has to protect at all costs. Not only must he not disappoint Love (and her brother, with whom she has a co-dependent relationship) but he must not disappoint his neighbor.

Although I saw the big twist coming shortly before it was revealed, it was still a pleasant surprise! It was the perfect way to end this absolutely bonkers season. While Will thought he was alone in his personal struggles, he now knows that others share his same penchant for stalking and “protecting” loved ones. But therein lies the conflict and a newfound fear for Will, he now knows that he may become someone whom needs You’s special blend of stalking and protecting. He goes from apex predator, if you will, to being knocked down a rung on the food chain.

I appreciate You‘s commentary on modern relationships, masculinity, and femininity. A lot has changed in dating over the last 10-20 years, and You has a way of creatively exploring all the added complexities that social media and the re-defining of traditional gender roles in relationships. You also depicts different kinds of relationships. We have the warped-yet-traditional romantic relationship between Will and Love, the bro-mantic friendship between Forty and Will, the lesbian relationship between Love’s best friends, and the quasi-parent-child relationship between Will and Ellie (his neighbor’s kid sister). Each of the aforementioned relationships contain their own respective set of unique dynamics that Will must navigate in order to keep his dark secret hidden from those whom he legitimately loves. Of course, with a devoted love like his, you may be better off with enemies. Beyond friendship and romantic relationships, You also provides commentary on sexuality and the expression of it. This season plays around with the various ways people express their sexuality and personalities. Characters that you first think are heterosexual are, in fact, homosexual, and those whom you first think are homosexual are, in fact, heterosexual. It’s fascinating to see characters refusing to comply with the de facto rules society has for both groups of people, and express themselves however they like regardless of sexual orientation.

We witness much more of the Dexter side to Will. And, the wildly popular show gets referenced in this season. Like Dexter, Will has a quality about him that we just cannot seem to help but root for. Not in the same way as Dexter, because he primarily only killed those whom were criminals in some form or fashion. Although Will demonstrates some of the same habits, he also regularly kills innocent people that find out his secret, and that’s the different between the two anti-heroes. But not all the killing is due to Will’s penchant for forcibly creating relationships. Love joins in on the action when she realizes that Will is not unlike herself. Interestingly, it is not Will whom has the highest body count, it’s Love. The one kill that Will does have is technically accidental, whereas Love’s are completely intentional crimes of passion. Simply stated, Love and Will are made for one another.

What a fantastic season! And a third season has been greenlit, so we may get to see what Will makes of his new next door neighbor.

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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“Underwater” Horror Movie Mini Review

I nearly suffocated from the lack of exposition. Underwater is the kind of horror movie that begins with a solid (albeit common) premise, attaches lots of talent to make it look good (including the cinematographer from A Cure for Wellness), but forgets that the movie needs a story that is more than a series of bullet points. It’s no surprise that it’s clearly an Alien knockoff with heavy influences from Deep Blue Sea and The Poseidon Adventure, but it’s only that in premise and look only. Even Deep Blue Sea has a better plot and characters than this movie. What Alien and Deep Blue Sea have in common that Underwater should have done, but didn’t, is establishing the world and characters in normal settings before the big event upsets everything. It’s not a spoiler when it happens within the first few minutes–the giant facility in which the characters work explodes. We no sooner meet our central character then the facility blows up. We have nearly zero frame of reference for anything that is going on. And the confusion won’t stop there. For most of the movie, you will be lost in the questions you have that should be answered by the film. For instance, why are there just a handful of people in a facility that is literally miles deep and wide? For what and why are they drilling? And what exactly are the areas of specialization of the cast (we only know one). Underwater is teetering between two genres: disaster and monster movies, but it should have committed to one or the other. This mishmash of tropes and plot devices just makes for a convoluted mess. A mess that some exposition could have helped clear up. Although the direction is fairly solid, it cannot make up for a poorly written story. I feel that everyone involved was doing their best to make something of the anemic script they were delivered. It’s my advice not to take the plunge into Underwater.

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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“The Grudge” (2020) Horror Movie Mini Review

A begrudging start to 2020 horror. The Grudge is the second American remake of the 2002 Japanese movie by the same name, written and directed by Nicholas Pesce, known for Piercing and The Eyes of My Mother. Before I get into why this movie is simply not good, I want to point out what it did well, never mind that what it succeeded at couldn’t fill a post-it. What to make of this hot mess of a remake? From what I can tell, Pesce attempted to apply his brand of filmmaking–that has been championed by critics–to this post-modern horror staple property. Unfortunately, most of the movie was not executed well. With a couple of exceptions that I want to highlight. (1) Casting and (2) Atmosphere that were thoughtful.

The name Lin Shaye is no stranger to horror fans. And it’s not just because she is Producer Robert Shaye’s (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame) sister, but she is a true horror queen! Appearing in dozens of horror movies, she is an utter delight in everything that she is in. She can be courageous and comforting (Insidious), hilariously campy (2001 Maniacs), or nightmarishly creepy (The Grudge). She delivered a fantastic performance in last year’s Room for Rent as well (which made my Top 10 Horror movies of 2019 list). She is little more than a bit part in The Grudge but she is truly frightening and unsettling. Completely committed to the character amidst a poorly written movie, she does everything in her power to save this ill-conceived remake. Even though I imagine she is aware of how bad this movie it, she gives it her all because she simply loves horror!

Secondly, the atmosphere in this movie actually works well. Perhaps this bright spot gets lost in the poor direction and abominable screenplay, but the production design, lighting, sound, and cinematography that creates the unnerving settings works very well. We spend most of our time in a few locations, so a lot of thought was put into the design of these settings. Not to the extent that any of these locations become characters in and of themselves, but the atmosphere of dread is something positive that this movie has it offer. Surprisingly, the premise of the movie isn’t bad; unfortunately, the execution is where things went array. Pesce appears to have strived for an anthological structure to the IP, but it just felt like a convoluted diegetic mess of timelines. Had he taken a page out of the Michael Dougherty handbook (Trick R Treat), then perhaps this approach would have worked much better.

The end result of the poor writing and direction is a boring, predictable horror movie. A most unfortunate way to start 2020.

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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Ryan’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2019

From blockbuster sequels to art house cinema, 2019 has been a solid year for horror. Seems every month in 2019 had a horror (or horror-adjacent) movie or two hitting cinemas. For purposes of this list, I am not considering any direct-to-streaming movies (e.g. Velvet Buzzsaw). Furthermore, I am not considering any high drama that many (not including myself) consider horror (such as The Lighthouse or Parasite). I’ve done my best to curate a well-vetted list of new releases for purposes of ranking them based upon a comprehensive approach including factors such as entertainment value, technical achievement, originality, atmosphere, and provocativeness. Here we go!

10. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Everyone loves a good ghost story, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has several ones that remind me of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? on steroids! This is a surpassingly frightening horror movie! It takes the very practice of passing along scary stories generation to generation, and explores the far reaching effects that the power of story has in a manner that it as insightful as it is visually terrifying. Directed by Andre Ovredal with a superlative screenwriting and story team including Guillermo del Toro, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark relies upon a more classical approach to a horror movie by building upon old fashioned ghost stories. You know, the kind that you sit around the camp fire or on the floor of your childhood sleepover and tell one another. These are stories that have been shared and passed down so prolifically that they feel alive.

9. Child’s Play: “Hi, I’m Chucky, wanna play?” It’s a fun horror movie, flaws and all. Let’s address the white elephant in the room. This is not as good as the original; however, instead of primarily focussing on what did not do right, I’d like to highlight what it did well. At the end of the day, this is a highly entertaining horror movie that brings Chucky’s origin into the 21st Century. Unlike the trajectory of the Child’s Play franchise after the original sequel that embraced the camp effect, 2019’s Child’s Play attempts to go full-on horror. Unfortunately, it should have gone the camp route, because I feel that would have been received more favorably. There are moments that you question whether or not they are supposed to be funny. And it’s that ambiguity that leaves us uncomfortably in the middle during many moments in the movie.

8. Us: The followup to the horror masterpiece Get Out ultimately falls short of the bar set by its predecessor. But don’t worry, there is still plenty to like in Us. Whereas Get Out was a horror film built upon compelling, thoughtful social-commentary on the uncredited, forced appropriation of one ethnic group by another, Us plays as a straight forward horror film, complete with all the thrills for which you hope to experience. There is certainly an attempt by Peele to comment on class, MAGA, and other important social topics, but the film tries to do too much, and winds up not accomplishing what it so desperately wants to do. Keep your eyes peeled for details, because you are going to need them in order to best appreciate the ending.

7. IT Chapter II: 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. 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.

6. Room for Rent: Lin Shaye would kill to find a decent man. Directed by Stuart Flack and written by Tommy Stovall, Room for Rent takes you on a journey into the twisted mind of a grieving widow and her delusional methods to cope with her loneliness. From the moment that Joyce Smith (Shaye) appears on screen, it is clear that Shaye is completely immersed in the character, much as we have come to expect from her more than 90 feature length films (many of which are horror).A tremendous amount of depth exists in this story if you look beyond the surface. Unlike many slasher or psychotic killer movies, in which the plot or characters are not realistic, the entire plot is stepped in realism and Joyce is a believable central character. Moreover, the tenants and neighbor are also believable. Perhaps what makes this movie frightening is the notion that this could very well happen. It will at least make you think twice before renting a room from an elderly woman off Craigslist or AirBnB.

5. Pet Sematary: “Sometimes dead is better.” Unless you’re back from the dead with a vengeance! Brace yourself for the spine-chilling, immensely terrifying 2019 adaptation of the best-selling novel Pet Sematary by the legendary Stephen King. Whereas many remakes/reboots of earlier horror films often suffer, this one emerges from the soured soil as a force to be reckoned with. Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer deliver a heartpounding rollercoaster of a nightmarish experience as Pet Sematary opens everywhere this weekend. Instead of a direct from page to screen adaptation, much like the fantastic 1989 original version (and yes, it still holds up), this version takes some creative liberties; however, the soul of the novel and even the 1989 version is clearly there. This creative latitude enabled the film to deliver new, surprising scares that are sure to frighten you. If you haven’t seen the extended trailers–DON’T–cannot say that enough. It’s best to go into this film with only the name and the initial teaser trailer in your mind.

4. Crawl: So much fun! Crawl is that horror movie that comes out of nowhere to wow audiences! It’s so simple, yet incredibly clever, exciting, and rewatchable. When it seems that old-school creature-features are a thing of the past, Crawl emerges from the murky depths to prove that we love to see man-eating monster-like creatures on the big screen. This movie know that it is B-class, and totally rocks it! It delivers precisely what we want out of this sub-genre of horror in a brilliantly unapologetic fashion that is destined it make this a future classic. It possesses a delicate balance of seriousness and camp that is seldom struck–a great example of lightning in a bottle. Not since Lake Placid have I enjoyed a creature feature this much.

3. Midsommar: Ars gratia artis. The latin inscription around MGM’s Leo the Lion is the best way I can describe Ari Aster’s Midsommar. For fellow cinephiles, this is the type of film that reminds us of the power of the moving image and the art of visual design. Film is a visually driven medium, and Midsommar exhibits that in spades. Although it was predicted to be then confirmed by the director to be a companion piece to Hereditary there is little similarity except for one important point: the theme of grief. Furthermore, Midsommar also comments on relationship revenge and drug culture. I’ve heard this film described as one long acid trip by folks on Film Twitter, and that is not entirely inaccurate. From edibles to cocktails, many of the scenes are viewed through the lens of a drug-induced reality that creates a fever-dream-like state of being. Trippy, is putting this cinematic experience lightly. And it is that. A cinematic experience unlike any other that I have ever witnessed. Whereas, in my opinion, this film’s greatest flaw is the lack of a compelling plot–and that’s a big deal, no mistaking it–the film excels at typifying film as art.

2. Ready or Not: Outstanding! Ready or Not is a brilliant horror comedy from start to finish. Fantastic screenplay, cast, direction, effects, everything works flawlessly. Probably the most fun movie of the summer. It’s a no holds barred dark comedy full of entertaining, campy dialogue and gruesome kills. Not since the cult classic Clue, has there been such an excellent horror comedy heavily influenced by the concept of a game. Samara Weaving slays audiences as the wedding dress wearing Grace as she transforms into this movie’s answer to Kill Bill. Although most of the other characters are relatively flat, you forgive them because of the endless jokes about the insanely rich and the non-stop bloody comedy. Does the film have shortcomings? Sure does–the cinematography and lighting, for examples; however, this movie is so incredibly charismatic and it’s hilarious enough to more than makeup for the technical faults in this movie. When I state “everything works flawlessly,” I suppose it’s a bit hyperbole because it’s not a perfect film, but it knows its strengths, and those strengths support everything else to deliver a movie that will keep you highly entertained for the entire run time that is non-stop antics and action.

Honorable mentions before my pick for the No.1 horror film of 2019:

And the No. 1 of 2019 is… Doctor Sleep: A brilliantly unsettling and crisp horror film! Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is both an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, by the same name, and a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. This highly anticipated film had the unusual task to fit the Kubrick film and King’s novel The Shining, since it is well known that King was not happy with the Kubrick adaptation. Although many unplanned sequels to iconic classics are challenged to justify their own existence, and often fail to live up to the magic of the original, Flanagan defies the fate that so often befalls sequels and delivers a compelling film worthy to be connected to Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece. There is something irresistible about returning to the infamous Overlook Hotel, and this film knows that you are mostly in the auditorium because of anticipating the trade mark carpet, Navajo-deco interior design, and bloody elevators, and holds that ace up its sleeve until the third act. Whereas the storytelling could have taken the easy way out, knowing that you would blindly accept virtually everything as long as you get to check back into The Overlook, it still offers a compelling, challenging narrative that brilliantly sets up the showdown at the most infamous hotel in all literature. Combining the best of the King novel with the haunting imagery and ominous atmosphere of Kubrick’s masterpiece, this film surpasses the expectations and apprehensions most of us had when we knew the legacy shoes this sequel had to fill.

Be sure to checkout my Top 10 Films of 2019 List as well!

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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Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry