THE BLACK PHONE horror movie review

Delivers on atmosphere and tension, but the characters are largely one-dimensional. The solid lead and chief supporting cast do their best to convince audiences there is more here than what you actually get. Who’s even the audience for this???

Blumhouse sets out to terrify audiences with their summer horror offering; and while it has some fantastic moments of tension and an ominous atmosphere, it fails to deliver on both plot and character. In a manner of speaking, writer-director Scott Derrickson, took a page out of the typical A24 handbook, and place far more emphasis on aesthetics than story.

Finney Shaw is a shy but clever 13-year-old boy who’s being held in a soundproof basement by a sadistic, masked killer. When a disconnected phone on the wall starts to ring, he soon discovers that he can hear the voices of the murderer’s previous victims — and they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.

On one hand, this movie would’ve been more enjoyable had it really leaned into the camp factor that is present, but because of the subject matter, an intentional camp approach would have been even more tasteless than this movie already is. What camp would’ve afforded is overcoming plotting problems. After all, we don’t watch campy horror movies for the brilliant plotting. But when you take, what should’ve been camp, and make it something to be taken more thoughtfully or seriously, then it suffers from identity crisis and is relegated to something to perhaps ben seen once, then forgotten shortly thereafter.

Our lead cast struggles to connect with audiences because of how unrelatable they are. Films such as Stand By Me work across ages because of how relatable the boys are. Moreover, the dialogue for the all the characters is lazy and base; nothing about the way these kids speak or act feels even remotely believable. Furthermore, the central conflict of kidnapping goes to incredibly dark, cringeworthy places that are borderline inappropriate for the age group of our lead cast. While the subject matter of the film is for 17+, in my opinion, the characters do not connect with that audience.

The release time of this movie is bothersome as well, because it was Father’s Day on Sunday, yet we have two sinister examples of adult men whom each have respective father issues. Tasteless. In an era in which it is increasingly important to showcase healthy father-child relationships, this film seeks to undermine any efforts to shift the predominant and unhealthy narrative spun over the last couple of decades. There are far more great men and fathers out there than abhorrent ones. Let’s write those stories. For more on the toxic ways of how men are portrayed in TV and film, checkout my article The Man Vanishes.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and 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! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Halloween Kills horror movie review

Halloween Kills the momentum of H40 (aka, Halloween 2018), leaving audiences wondering why they should care about anything that happens. While the brutality is amped up to an 11 with a comedic touch, the plotting is a complete cluster that ultimately has little to no purpose. Twitter was all a’buzz with the news that the virtual screeners for press were delayed until Thursday evening; and after I saw Halloween Kills in the cinema Tuesday night, I can see why Universal made that strategic decision. It’s simply not good. Is that to say it’s a bad movie? No, it’s not bad; but the storytelling is a significant disappointment compared just how fantastic Halloween (2018) was. This sequel merely functions as filler material between Halloween and Halloween Ends. In a manner of speaking, Halloween could’ve ended with this one had the tertiary installment not already been shot. This movie doesn’t even try to justify its existence; it’s as if it knows that it’s bad, but did what it could to thrill audiences with the return of Michael Myers as much as possible. And he certainly delivers creative kills, some of which, have a hint of dark comedy. So if nothing else, you will be entertained by the brutality of The Shape, and even laugh at his twisted sense of humor. He’s no Freddy Krueger, but I like the touch of comedy in some of the kills.

The nightmare isn’t over as unstoppable killer Michael Myers escapes from Laurie Strode’s trap to continue his ritual bloodbath. Injured and taken to the hospital, Laurie fights through the pain as she inspires residents of Haddonfield, Ill., to rise up against Myers. Taking matters into their own hands, the Strode women and other survivors form a vigilante mob to hunt down Michael and end his reign of terror once and for all.

While this sequel is incredibly brutal, I appreciate how none of the kills are gratuitous nor does the camera linger on the violent acts or results thereof. However, the camera does linger on a subplot that is bonkers bad and pointless, except to provide social commentary on the negative impact of mob mentality. The idea of commenting on mob mentality shows that there was some attempt at thoughtfulness in the story; unfortunately, it was a slapdash attempt to provide substance in this otherwise forgettable sequel.

What makes a good sequel? That is perhaps the question that the writers, producers, and director David Gordon Green should’ve thought about when outlining this followup to the smash hit Halloween 2018. If there is already a predetemined trilogy, then the middle movie should deliver develop key characters and the plot should leave us with a feeling of all hope is lost. Now, this movie certainly leaves audiences hanging precariously at the end, and there is a very significant kill, but there is no substantive character development or meaningful plotting anywhere to be found. It’s simply a Michael on a rampage movie, with some moderately interesting exposition and backstory. What this movie did in 1.5hrs, it could’ve easily done in 20–30mins. While I may be exaggerating a little, it’s hyperbole to illustrate the fact there is so little substance to this movie. The plot is a real cluster.

What does work in the film? The kills. You will be highly entertained by the brute force in Michael’s kills. Massive carnage awaits audiences. No one is safe, and Michael proves that he truly is the unstoppable killing machine that is filled with evil. I appreciate how much care was put into the kills and how to show them. Wish that same level of care was found in the writing. You will also enjoy seeing familiar characters from the original film! And there is a particular character that I was absolutely delighted to see, because their appearance was completely unexpected–that I would actually see them! Those couple of moments made me smile.

After watching this movie, I still feel that Halloween H20 and Halloween 2018 are the stronger Halloween sequels. Between the two, I actually like H20 just a little more. Speaking of which, H20 has a much better story and more substantive character development than Halloween Kills. Furthermore, H20 is far more entertaining and fun to watch, not to mention the plot is significantly more structurally sound. There aren’t any real standout moments in Halloween Kills, and from what I can remember, no emotional nods to the original or Halloween II.

Perhaps the tertiary installment Halloween Ends will be the A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors of the Halloween franchise. Even though Freddy’s Revenge is a better film than Halloween Kills, it’s still seen as a point at which ANOES may have died, but thankfully Dream Warriors swooped in to save the day with its outstanding characters, plot, and story. Many prefer Dream Warriors to the OG (not me, but I do place Dream Warriors as a close second behind the OG). Here’s hoping that the final film in this trilogy will have the soul of the original film but take us to new places.

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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 him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Dear Evan Hansen Movie Musical Review

Melodrama: the Musical! Dear Evan Hansen, based on the Tony award winning musical by the same name, is a movie for people who have struggled with social anxiety or depression, like musicals in general, or were unpopular in high school. So, pretty much everyone who was a member of the Drama Club. One of the most highly anticipated movies of 2021, this landmark Broadway musical loses much of its pizzaz once adapted for the screen. Every decade, there comes a time when Broadway musical adaptations are all the rage, but some stories simply work better on stage than screen. Not having seen the stage production, I cannot comment on elements that were lost, but it strikes me as a story that simply works better when performed live than captured on celluloid. Dear Evan Hansen is an emotionally manipulative derivative movie musical in the vein of 13 Reasons Why. But I have to say, even the dialogue in the aforementioned titular young adult TV series was more thoughtful. For all the film’s desperate desire to depict a socially-relevant, tough subject matter, it plays off as superficial virtue signaling whose veneer is merely two-dimensional.

Evan Hansen is an anxious, isolated high-school student who’s aching for understanding and belonging amid the chaos and cruelty of the social media age. He soon embarks on a journey of self-discovery when a letter he wrote for a writing exercise falls into the hands of a grieving couple whose son took his own life.

Much of the talent from the Broadway musical is carried over into the film. Most notably, actor Ben Platt, who plays the title character Evan Hansen. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. There’s been some skepticism and hate surrounding the movie ever since the trailer dropped, mainly because Ben Platt (27) is playing a high school student. Is it distracting? Very. But once you get past it, he does deliver a good performance. Obviously, he knows this character well, much better than the movie knows itself. Moreover, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams also deliver great performances as the mothers of Evan and Connor (the deceased boy), respectively. In addition to our lead and supporting actors, the film pulled from film industry talent as well in front of and behind the camera.

Also on board is Stephen Chbosky, director of acclaimed coming of age films The Perks of being a Wallflower and Wonder but he doesn’t bring that same level of thoughtfulness to this movie. Which was perhaps an insurmountable task not only because of the hype from the musical, but also because it’s such a heavy subject to touch upon. There are some interesting visual choices and innovative techniques like the way it portrays the internet but the emotions don’t always hit right. This film rides a fine line between drama and comedy and sometimes overshoots by having some scenes be too sappy and over dramatic and other scenes that make light of sensitive subjects like suicide, which might be off putting to some people.Perhaps he was strong-armed by the Broadway producers to execute scenes a particular way, but we can only speculate as to why he doesn’t seem to care as much about these characters as he did with his other young adult/coming of age films.

The well-known songs from the musical were certainly the highlight for audiences. Fortunately, the director chose to provide sufficient space between songs in order to allow for an emotional reset. Whereas the show-stopping numbers are usually performed with gusto, these songs were much more subtle. And like musical numbers should, each piece sufficiently moved the melodramatic plot forward. The amount of musical numbers isn’t a whole lot and none are these big showy sequences with choreography, but I like that. I’m not sure if the stage performance is like that, but the lowkey nature of those numbers fits well.

The film also threads a fine line between drama and comedy which makes it engaging but might also be off putting for some because it at times makes light of sensitive subjects like suicide.
The characters are not completely surface level but seem to represent the high school stereotypes of the 2010s (and 2020s so far); basically what the typical jocks, nerds, etc. were to generations past. Furthermore, this movie tries to paint a picture of the 2010s high school landscape, similar to what films like Mean Girls did for generations past, but ultimately falls short. The characters are not entirely two dimensional and different from those familiar archetypes of previous decades and certainly more “diverse.” For example, the popular, successful girl is shown to have some depth and the protagonist nerdy not really-friend makes an off hand remark which tells us he is gay they still mostly come off as a new set of stereotypes to populate the Gen Z high school.

All in all this movie still tries to tell a somewhat original story with memorable songs and performances. And it delivers a positive message about connection, which is something that everybody, not just young people, needs. This is especially true in these times. So, if this films sounds like something you’d enjoy then go see it; if it doesn’t, then don’t.

This review was written by Leon Zitz, German contributor to the R.L. Terry ReelView.

Candyman (2021) Review

Candyman (2021) - IMDb

Sweet on the outside, sour on the inside. A visually impressive attempt to provide a thoughtful exploration on duality and identity, is overshadowed by heavy-handed ideology. Nia DaCosta delivers audiences a spiritual sequel to the cult horror film Candyman (1992) that is grounded in much of the lore of the original, yet forges a new frontier that simultaneously serves as a vehicle for horror legend Tony Todd to pass the hook onto Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. DaCosta is joined by writer-producer Jordan Peele and screenwriter Win Rosenfeld to “tell everyone” who dares to look in a mirror and call out his name five times. Admit it, even in our most rational state, we are still a little apprehensive to stare at our reflection and call out Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candym–. That’s the power of horror films! These fictional stories on screen have their mystical ways of affecting the collective conscious in such a manner that we change or question our behavior. Another great example of this effect is the iconic highway scene in Final Destination 2. And challenging audiences was certainly what the three screenwriters had in mind when writing the story for Candyman (2021). Unfortunately, the agenda-driven message steels the focus away from the stunning visuals, and ultimately fails to effectively paint a portrait of reality that invites all to engage in the important conversations the film is trying to have, instead, alienating audience members that don’t share the filmmakers’ opinions. Suffice it to say, this film is Peele for the course.

In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, rising star artist Anthony (Abdul-Mateen II) and his partner move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. A chance encounter with an old-timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman (Todd). Anxious to use these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence. (IMDb)

If you’ve never seen the original Candyman, don’t worry. While having seen the original will certainly help audiences to appreciate world-building and backstory elements, there is enough context given to help those that may be unfamiliar. Following the screening I attended, I heard individuals negatively critique the retconning of plot elements in the original; truth is, the parts of the original that were reimagined to fit the backstory of 2021’s Candyman were thoughtfully adapted.

While I have my reservations with the film, I would be remiss to not highlight the excellent direction, cinematography, editing, costuming, production design, and even the performances! Visually, the movie is stunning! All the mise-en-scene elements work together to create a BIG SCREEN experience. And talk about outstanding performances. Back in the heyday of the slashers (late 70s through the 90s), we did not expect to be impressed by the performances of the cast. And while there are notable exceptions of horror films WITH brilliant performances, usually it’s not expected. Over the last 7–10 years, horror films have been stepping up their performance game. The lead and most of the supporting cast will all captivate you. Unfortunately, there are useless characters like Brianna’s (Anthony’s girlfriend’s) brother and his boyfriend. Having no real affect on the plot, this interracial gay couple was little more than a token that could be removed from the movie, and the movie still play out the same way. However, if it weren’t for these two characters, the movie would be lacking ANY humor. So I suppose that was their purpose, to add humor.

There are so many beautifully crafted shots and shot sequences in this film. From juxtapositions of the old meeting with the new to geometric shapes and lines, there are many excellent compositions. The production and set design and lighting, of this film, are used in similar ways that the designs in expressionism are used. Expressionism uses the design of buildings, costumes, lighting, and camera angles to externalize emotions, psycho-social states of being, and ideas. And with expressionism being part of the formula of horror (expressionism+surrealism+Poe+Freud), it makes sense how and why there would be this care shown in the mise-en-scene.

All the backstory elements are communicated through the brilliant use of shadow puppets. The shadow puppet sequences are perhaps my favorite recurring diegetic device used in the film. Not only do these shadow puppets provide exposition, they also move the plot forward in action and subtext.

The idea of shadow puppets as a storytelling device is best explored in Plato’s Cave. French film theorist Jean-Louis Baudry likened the movie theatre to Plato’s famous allegory Plato’s Cave found in Plato’s Republic. But since we’re not all film or philosophy theorists, here is a quick explanation of Plato’s Cave:

The allegory states that there exists prisoners chained together in a cave. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners are people carrying puppets or other objects. This casts a shadow on the other side of the wall. The prisoners watch these shadows, believing them to be real. Essentially, what Plato is exploring is the concept of “belief vs knowledge.” The prisoners (or audience) in this analogy believe the images on the wall as reality; when in actuality, it is only the puppeteers version of reality. The analogy goes on further to describe a prisoner breaking free and venturing from the cave out into the real world. Two things happen (1) the newly freed prisoner completely rejects the imagery in the cave and returns to warn the prisoners of their one-dimensional view of reality, and risk being killed for a radical view, or (2) the freed prisoner fears or cannot reconcile actual reality and retreats back into the cave, where there is comfort in the surroundings, to warn the prisoners not to leave. Therefore, this highlights how a lack of knowledge leads to blind belief.

Despite being centuries old, the allegory is appropriate for filmmaking. After all, the audience watches images on a screen. We’re meant to believe it to be real, but we know it’s false. Only when we step out of the theater back into reality can we take what we’ve learned in the cinema and apply it to our lives. In a literal sense, a movie is just a series of images. But digging deeper, they present unique ideas and themes that we can take with us into the real world. Numerous movies utilize this concept in their plots and themes. You have probably seen films where a character believes one reality and then becomes exposed to another, greater reality and is never the same. In the case of 2021’s Candyman, DaCosta, Peele, and Rosenfeld have metaphorically trapped the audience in an ideological cave to present their versions of our reality that exists outside the cinema’s doors.

The movie has some great kills! But it highlights a moral problem plaguing this movie. From the art gallery to the critic to the girls at the prep school, the only victims, to meet their gruesome demise ON screen, are white characters. While there are a couple of off-screen deaths of black characters, the only ones in the visible mise-en-scene to meet with Candyman’s iconic hook are white. Had this movie been directed and/or written by a white writer-director and only killed and disparaged black characters, there would already be a #cancel campaign on Twitter. In my five years as a film professor and seven years as an active critic, I cannot ever recall a horror movie (in particular, a slasher movie) that ONLY killed black characters and disparaged the black community in virtually every scene from the opening to the closing. So if that would not be tolerated by the public–and for good reason, a movie released like that in 2021 (or ever) would be in incredibly poor, despicable, disrespectful taste–then the inverse should not be acceptable here.

I get what DaCosta, Peele, and Rosenfeld are trying to do with this horror movie. From the time of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, horror has been used to comment on societal observations to either warn of an impending dangerous ideology, to provide allegorical material that can be used as a framework to better understand marginalized groups, or even to challenge systems or institutions. Which is why horror is often far more truthful than a straight drama. Of course, one can make the argument that this is a fictional film in a fictional Chicago, which is not untrue; however, the problem therein is that little (if anything) in this fictional Chicago sets it apart from the real world, except for the supernatural character of Candyman, because these filmmakers have a point to make. But the problem here is that the very people that these writers want to challenge are the very people that are being unfairly represented in the movie. How is any of that constructive to the conversations of race relations and policing??? Short answer: it’s not.

The symbolism I did appreciate in the film are the moments that we explore the duality in ourselves and our environments. This is represented through literal and metaphoric reflection. Mirrors (or reflections) are regularly used to communicate duality. One of the best examples in recent years, in how mirrors are an effective cinematic device, is the mirror scene in I, Tonya. Just before her final competition in the film, as Tonya is applying her high contrast makeup, we witness in the mirror the internal struggle. On the outside, she is this accomplished figure skater (probably the best athlete the sport has ever seen) but on the inside she is tormented by her mother, her abusive marriage, and what she did or didn’t know about the incident. Likewise, in Candyman we explore the history and identity of Anthony and his neighborhood. Anthony has a secret in his past that has been painted over, that is trying to resurface, and his neighborhood of Cabrini Green has a sordid history that it has tried to cover and hide behind a fresh coat of paint. History is always there. It cannot be erased. And if it’s not dealt with, it can become a specter and haunt you and your environment. The mirrors and other reflective surfaces of Candyman are brilliantly used to communicate this idea of duality.

It is clear that DaCosta is a gifted director, but I hope that she works with different writers in the future that can find that balance of commenting on or raising awareness of something important, but also finding the ways to bring everyone to the table for a thoughtful discussion. The power of cinema, and in particular horror films, is that it can bring diverse groups of people together from all walks of life to both be entertained and challenged through screams, jumps, and laughter.

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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