The Protégé (2021)

Nonstop action, perfectly punctuated with humor and thrills! Don’t miss The Protege as it blasts its way into cinemas this week from the director that brought us Casino Royale. THE most summer movie of 2021!

Everything about this explosive action thriller works brilliantly, and it truly is the don’t miss movie of the summer. From beginning to end, you will be glued to your seat as the story unfolds. The Protégé takes the action plot of a 1980s action movie and combines it with contemporary characters to deliver a movie that is simultaneously both familiar and fresh. This movie is the whole package: high flying action, killer fight sequences with outstanding choreography, and a well-developed lead cast that you will love to see on screen.

Rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody, Anna is the world’s most skilled contract killer. However, when Moody is brutally killed, she vows revenge for the man who taught her everything she knows. As Anna becomes entangled with an enigmatic killer, their confrontation turns deadly, and the loose ends of a life spent killing weave themselves ever tighter.

Where so many action movies suffer is in the screenwriting. Not so with this one. The dialogue snaps, crackles, and pops, and there is plenty of humor to break up the darker elements of the film. Even with its 2hr runtime, you will never feel restless or bored because the pacing and plotting are both on point! Audiences will be delighted at the ideal balance in both violence and humor. But when you have Samuel L and Michael Keaton, both known for their action and comedic chops, you know you’re guaranteed to be highly entertained! Rounding out the lead cast is Maggie Q, and she is a force to be reckoned with as a ruthless assassin that is also a delight to watch as she kicks ass. Where these characters stand out compared to comparable ones in contemporary action movies is remembering that these same strong characters also need to be vulnerable, relatable, and appropriately funny. Never once does this movie falter in taking its high concept seriously, but it knows when to interject comedic lines and kills that help to break up the more violent elements in order to help the senses reset. Crafting moments that are strategically used for emotional resets (even brief ones) allows the filmmaker to keep the audience engaged without ever feeling bored or exhausted.

It saddens me to see that the review embargo for The Protege was until the early screenings on Thursday, because this is a movie that needs to be seen on the BIG SCREEN! While there is some thoughtful social commentary on strong, leading women that can still be incredibly sexy (on that note: Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman has been proving that since 1992), non-traditional families (otherwise known as found families), and toxic parenting, this movie never forgets that it is an entertainment piece that can be both exciting and thoughtful. It never sacrifices thrilling storytelling for an agenda. Furthermore, it boasts a diverse cast that is also never made into the center piece. The film isn’t saying “look at our diverse cast.” No, it is saying “look at our outstanding characters” that happen to look like the people you and I interact with on a weekly basis. That is how you promote representation in cinema in movies that twenty years ago would’ve been filled with predominantly white characters.

As I was watching this, I kept thinking of Die Hard. Not that it’s a similar plot. It isn’t. But it does deliver a similar story in terms of tone and action. And there is probably no better action film to emulate in some cinematic form or fashion. What makes Die Hard the best action movie of all time, in my opinion, is the characters and dialogue. Sure the action is great, but we remember the characters themselves, the things they said, and how they reacted to emotionally charged situations the most. While The Protégé may not be on the same level as Die Hard (hard to meet or beat), it is striving for that level of excellence in terms of storytelling and audience experience.

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

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Sinister Summer: Dream Warriors

“Welcome to prime time” in the final article of my 2021 Sinister Summer series. This month’s article is covering the much lauded tertiary installment in the A Nightmare on Elm Street (ANOES) franchise Dream Warriors written by Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner (Maps to the Stars) and directed by Chuck Russell (The Blob, 1988), with returning ANOES stars Heather Langenkamp reprising her iconic role as the (in my opinion) definitive final girl Nancy Thompson, John Saxon as her father and the now disgraced former police Detective Thompson, Patricia Arquette in her breakout role, Laurence (credited as Larry) Fishburne, and of course Robert Englund as the terrifying and hilarious nightmare-inducing Freddy Krueger! Talk about a powerhouse cast! It’s not often that a sequel can rival the original installment in a horror franchise, much less the third installment. But A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (from hereon out Dream Warriors), is a heavy hitter that some even argue is better than the first one (a sentiment that I don’t share); however, it is certainly on par with the original, and that is largely due to the outstanding writing of Wes Craven. Dream Warriors is not simply a great horror film, it’s a great film period! And it’s Craven screenplays like the original, Dream Warriors, and New Nightmare that cement him as one of the great horror screenwriters of all time, not to mention his brilliant direction in the SCREAM franchise (particularly the original and SCRE4M). While cinema academics and critics can argue all day long which is better (I or III), what both camps of subject matter experts can agree on is that THIS is the film that transformed Freddy from great horror villain to the revered, timeless icon of the horror genre that he is!

For those of you who haven’t seen this excellent work of horror cinema (what are you waiting for?!?). Expanding the story universe, the action takes place outside of the titular address 1428 Elm Street this time around; and instead focuses on a bunch of Springfield teens who occupy the local psychiatric institute. These teens are the last of the Elm Street children, and all suffer from various sleep disorders. The clinic’s answer: keep them doped up on dream blocking drugs (hypnocil). Nancy Thompson is now a graduate student at the institution whom specializes in sleep disorders. Through a series of accidents, she realizes that the patients are being hunted by Freddy Krueger in their dreams. Over the years, the stories of Freddy and the kills from seven years prior are all but the stuff of legend, and so Freddy has lost much of his power because no one remembers (or fears) him. That is all about to change when he figures out how to gain his former strength. Nancy becomes a de facto general as she leads her Dream Warriors into battle against the malevolent Freddy IN the dream realm.

The Dream Master is back, and with all the one-liners and signature kills that are on brand for him! Having seen his beloved character completely misinterpreted in the first sequel (Freddy’s Revenge, which was panned by critics but has sense seen a cult following within the gay community because of the homoeroticism in it), it was completely understandable that he wanted to return as the Godfather of Freddy this time around. He took on both co-writer and executive producer duties. Sharing story by and screenwriting credits with Bruce Wagner. The film’s director Chuck Russell also contributed to the script but only officially holds the director credit–not a bad deal. Before the first draft of Dream Warriors was written by Wes Craven, he conceived of an idea that the film’s characters be self-aware and the plot would play around with the idea of knowing what the horror tropes are and play it to both dark comedy and tragedy. New Line did not go for the idea, and said it wouldn’t work. Gee, a Craven-helmed self-aware horror movie that plays around with horror tropes to create a meta horror movie? Nah, that’ll never work. It would be another seven years before we would get meta horror in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and nine years before SCREAM.

The final product of Dream Warriors differs greatly from Craven’s original ideas and screenplay for the film, which was much darker in tone (even darker than Freddy’s Revenge). In fact, the characters themselves were quite different in Craven’s original script. For example, Freddy does not have his trademark one-liners, so yes that means no “welcome to prime time, bitch!” (arguably his most Freddy line out of the whole series). Instead, he was much more brutal and violent, and even more graphic in how he taunted and terrorized the teens. The two elements that all, involved in the writing of this film, agreed on was that the teens would have special powers when in the Dream World with Freddy and the plot should include Nancy Thompson. When it was conceived to bring the teens into Freddy’s dream world, Craven questioned “why would Freddy be the only one to have powers here?” So the Dream Warriors were born. New Line eventually ordered a rewrite of the script to increase Freddy’s memorable, twisted sense of humor and witty one-liners and to transform the screenplay from an action-driven plot to a character-driven one. And it’s that character-driven nature of Dream Warriors that gives it the high level of quality that it has. It’s not just about Freddy or his kills, but it’s about the emotional hero journey of these vulnerable teens.

Responsible for the rewrites were Russell and Wagner. Analyzing the screenplay itself, it is clear that both Russell and Wagner were knowledgable in not only the previous two ANOES movies, but the nuance of the horror genre itself. Much more than in the original film, the rewrites also show a penchant for integrating pop culture influences into the dream-state personalities of the characters; and it’s the obsession with pop culture that ultimately contributes to their demise. Among other narrative elements, Russell and Wagner are particularly responsible for the demographic makeup of the teens that we get in the final product by changing many of the ages, sexes, and ethnicities of them. And talk about diversity in ethnicity, physical ability, intelligence, and gender! Jennifer, the young girl obsessed with TV and becoming an actress in Hollywood. Will, the young man confined to a wheelchair who is a huge nerd Dungeons and Dragons geek. Phillip, a young man who loves to create marionette puppets. Taryn, a former heroin addict looking to stay clean and sober. Joey, the quieter one in the group but incredibly horny for the ladies. Kristen (Arquette), who dreams of being an olympic gymnast and has a special kind of ESP that connects her with others. And Kincaid, a tough, short-tempered, and at times violent teen with a sarcastic sense of humor. Outside of Nancy, the other important adults include the often misinterpreted Nurse Ratched-like Dr. Simms, whom really is doing what she thinks is medically best for the teens to help them recover. And Max (Fishburne), the brave orderly.

Dream Warriors‘ screenplay is incredibly lean, and wastes no time in establishing the world of the disturbed teens before launching the audience, full-throttle, into the action plot. For starters, the opening scene of Dream Warriors is fantastic! I would put it up there with the opening to SCREAM, although SCREAM is at the top of my list of best openings–not just in horror-but in all of cinema. The opening to Dream Warriors is perfect because it re-introduces us to Freddy, including his grisly past and insight into the epic, terrifying dream world he creates for his victims. Furthermore, we get an elaboration on his backstory, including more insight into his fiery earthly death and his origin as “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” Adding to his intriguing, horrific origin is the idea that his mother was a nun, which is a terrifying idea that this horrific figure could have been spawned by any number of madmen raping a nun. All this adds to Freddy’s mythos and is perfectly accompanied by the iconic ANOES score. All these storytelling elements work together to set the tone for a masterful work of horror cinema. One that is more concerned with the characters, themes, and social commentary than merely the elaborate, entertaining, showman-like kills and memorable one-liners.

Showing the depth and complexity of the American horror film, this film tackles the tough, taboo subject of teen suicide. While teen suicide remains an issue today, it was more pronounce in the 1980s. Beyond after-school-specials and PSAs, this was a difficult subject for films (certainly at that time) to tackle. But when there is a tough subject to tackle, leave it to the American horror film to provide insight into and comment on it in unique ways. Much like Nancy and the Dream Warriors face their worst nightmares, the horror battles tough subjects face on! Not only does Dream Warriors tackle teen suicide, it also tackles drug addiction, broken families, self-esteem, and identity issues. A close reading of the imagery associated with the trauma experienced by the teens can be read as a metaphor of adolescence, transitioning from childhood into adulthood. Whether experiencing direct or implied trauma from Freddy, their family, friends, or the hospital staff, the teens endure gaslighting, imprisonment, mental rape, and attempted murder (and times, murder itself) all within the confines and intimacy of the mind. One can easily make the argument that Dream Warriors is a clever PSA on these subjects masquerading around as a horror movie.

Langenkamp’s Nancy’s return to the series showed us more mature side of Nancy. Gone was the shy girl turned bad ass from the original; now she truly was a survivor! And in Dream Warriors, she is the only adult authority figure that actually takes the time to listen to the teens, which is what ultimately points her in the direction of Freddy. Interestingly, her care for these teens evolves into a sort of maternal role in this film. Throughout this film (and franchise) there are images of mothers (and parental figures) that are explored through the conflicts, kills, and dreams. We know that Nancy had an absent mother before she got fired, so Nancy is striving to be the mother to these teens that she never had. While Detective Thompson is washed up at the beginning of this film, and took him a while to come around to Nancy’s plight in the original, he is actually one of the better parents (and fathers) we have in horror. And this film gives him a sort of redemption arc that I greatly appreciate.

Nancy also demonstrates the ability to be in a constant state of learning, even though she is a subject matter expert graduate student in this film. But Nancy is not without her own vulnerabilities. She may have exchanged her pink rose pajamas for 80s power suits, but she is still the same Nancy. Despite her more mature, calm, collected exterior, she is still haunted by her former Freddy nightmares and the ordeal from seven years prior. This makes her character incredibly relatable because she isn’t (and neither is anyone else in the movie) a superhero, she isn’t morally/ethically perfect, she is a flawed person like you and me. But she is harnessing the energy of these fears and flaws, and channeling them into making a difference in the lives (and dreams) of these teens.

The film is called Dream Warriors for a reason, and that reason is because each of the tormented teens gains supernatural power in Freddy’s dream world. And it’s not some arbitrary super power–no–it’s a power that is an answer to their vices and weaknesses. One of the common themes of horror is perceived powerlessness. And there is no better franchise for exploring powerlessness than ANOES because Freddy attacks you when you are your most vulnerable–when you’re sleeping. And we must all sleep at some point–it is unavoidable. Except in this film, his victims band together to battle Freddy on his own turf. While most of them wind up dead–after all, we are usually left with the final girl in slashers–they do not go down without a valiant fight! Through their nightmares, they show that they can overcome that which torments them. On the surface, they are fighting Freddy, but really, they are fighting their own personal demons that have traumatized them.

Now, it wouldn’t be ANOES movie without Freddy’s magnificently creative kills and catchy one-liners. And Dream Warriors has some of the best kills in the entire franchise! I do not have time to go through each of them, but I just have to highlight my absolute favorite Freddy kill and one-liner of all time. Not only is it mine, but this kill and accompanying one-liners are often in the Top 5 and even Top 3 from fans, critics, and scholars alike. And it’s Jennifer’s Welcome to Primetime kill!

The beauty of this particular kill lies not only in its simplicity, but in this scenes’s energy and showmanship that is 100% trademark Freddy from beginning to end! Jennifer is trying to stay awake by watching television in the TV room. Max comes in to escort her to bed because it’s late, but she begs him to let her stay up a little while longer. Reluctantly, he agrees to let her stay up and watch TV but he warns her that if she’s caught that he won’t help her out. She agrees and Max leaves. Thinking that the TV alone may not be enough to keep her awake, she burns herself with a cigarette. While much of this film could very well happen today, we get a totally 80s moment here with Jennifer watching the Dick Cavett Show featuring an interview with (and cameo by) the legendary Zsa Zsa Gabor! During the interview, Dick turns into Freddy and slashes at Ms. Gabor! Then the TV turns to that static screen that we don’t get anymore. Confused by what is happening and at the sounds of those all-too-familiar Freddy victim screams, Jennifer gets up and turns the channel knob, but it does seem to fix the problem. Angry at the TV, Jennifer smacks it and suddenly two razor-clawed mechanical arms burst out of the side and pick up Jennifer. Then Freddy’s TV antennae-wearing head emerges from the top of the TV and makes cinema history by saying, “this is it Jennifer, your big break…welcome to primetime, bitch!” Then smashes Jennifer’s head into the TV. And it is likely due to that kill and line that Freddy continued to develop more of a twisted sense of humor throughout the series. Of course, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, which we also see in the subsequent installments.

If Welcome to Primetime is the film’s (and possibly series’) best kill, this next kill is the most shocking out of the series. And it’s the death of final girl Nancy Thompson. Even though Nancy goes out as a ballsy warrior, it was completely unexpected that she would die. But that death made her return in New Nightmare all the better! In dying, Nancy successfully passes on the torch of the Elm Street protector to Kristen. While Freddy’s motivation for killing the other Elm Street teens in this movie is an extension of what drove him to murder the teens in the previous installments, his motivation for killing Nancy was more than revenge brought on by his death at the hands of the Elm Street parents; it was revenge for doing the impossible–defeating him by taking away the source of his strength: her fear. While it was “nothing personal” in the other murders, his desire to kill Nancy was very personal.

Dream Warriors was a hit with both critics and fans! How often do you hear that with horror movies, much less sequels. In fact, in my opinion as a film professor specializing in the American horror film, I argue that the best films in the ANOES franchise are: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dream Warriors, New Nightmare, and Freddy vs Jason. The final script was praised highly for its pacing, thoughtful commentary, character development, and imagery. With a higher budget thanks to the successes of the original and Freddy’s Revenge, the special effects and set design were cutting edge! This is especially true of the scenes in Freddy’s Hell. Is the film flawless? No. However the few flaws the film does have in no way detract from the cinematic experience of the story. More than 30 years old, this film is widely considered to be among the best horror films of all time, and will continue to be the stuff of nightmares for decades to come.

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

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Old (2021) Mini Review

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

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

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

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Sinister Summer: Burnt Offerings (1976) Retrospective Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

WRATH OF MAN and SPIRAL Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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