Firestarter: The Remade Stephen King Universe

3.5/5      

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A remake of Stephen King’s Firestarter. The plot follows Charlie, played by Ryan Keira Armstrong, a young girl hunted down for her supernatural powers.

A lot of reviewers out there are giving this film very low scores and personally I can’t see why. I don’t know if they were very attached to either King’s original novel or the previous film, but I haven’t read or seen those so I can only judge this film based on its own merits and not compare it to anything else.

I thought for the most part this film was good, the tension was well done and I got vibes of Doctor Sleep in this regard. I thought John Rainbird, played by Michael Greyeyes, was fantastic until the final 10 minutes, he gave off a strong amount of supernatural intrigue as such you constantly wanted to know more about his character but the film didn’t reveal anything which I thought was a smart move. Moreover, Zac Effron also did a great job here further proving his serious acting chops, I thought during the psychic battle sequences he was incredibly.

Another highpoint for me was the score composed by John Carpenter, his son Cody Carpenter and David Davies. It felt like the perfect 80’s call back mixed with just the right amount of excitement and intensity.

However, it wasn’t all roses. I thought the CGI fire effects were poor, to make matters worse whenever Charlie used her powers the camera would cut to a close up of her face with the fires happening off screen which felt cheap and obvious. In addition, there were several moments in this film were it became unintentionally hilarious and made me laugh out loud in the cinema, I don’t think that is what the filmmakers were going for. Finally the ending of Charlie forgiving Rainbird and then going with him despite all the trauma he has inflicted upon her makes no sense and just seems forced in so that the film can have a happy ending.

Overall, above average and certainly with redeemable elements despite not being a great film.

Pros.

The score

Effron

The mystery of Rainbird

The tension

Cons.

The ending

The cheap CGI

It is unintentionally hilarious

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The Cellar: Apparently Hell Can’t Afford A Lift

3.5/5      

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A family move into a house in rural Ireland and not long after their daughter goes missing.

This won’t win any awards for originality, as the above premise suggests. However, I do think this was a surprisingly effective horror film and it left me feeling suitably unsettled. I would say the scares landed for the most part, and I liked some of the more out there visuals they went for. The ending was quite intriguing as well and it left me with a number of questions, which is always a good thing if done well.

My issues with this film boil down to one simple thing, Elisha Cuthbert. Cuthbert is the lead of this film so that American audiences can have a familiar face to cling to, I think this is a bad move. It makes no sense that the rest of the family have Irish accents and sound the part and Cuthbert blatantly doesn’t. Her performance is also not good and certainly holds the film back in a number of ways.

Overall, despite not really being anything new what is here works well, bar Cuthbert, and produces some good scares.

Pros.

The ending

The scares

The wider mystery

Cons.

Cuthbert

The pacing

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Shining Vale: Courtney Cox’s Comeback

3/5         

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A series about a struggling writer, played by Courtney Cox, who moves out to the country after cheating on her husband, played by Greg Kinnear, and shortly thereafter finds herself coming under the influence of a demon, maybe?

I thought this series had a lot of potential but was quite rough around the edges. Firstly, I thought the social commentary aspect of the show where it talked about struggles with addiction and mental illness, mainly from a female perspective, was for the most part pretty on point. However, there were times when I found the show to be really ramming its message home and operating without any subtlety at all, and a lot can be said for a point made well in a subtle manner being more thought provoking.

Moreover, I thought for the most part the cast was strong, however, I thought Cox played it a bit too straight and at times it came across as though she was just playing a version of her character from Scream. I think a case could be made that Cox was miscast for this show, especially because it is supposed to be a comedy.

For me the comedy didn’t really land either, there were a few moments that made me chuckle but by and large it left me cold.

Overall, a show with undeniable potential but one that needs to be refined and possibly recast.

Pros.

An interesting idea

A few strong points

A strong ending

Cons.

Cox

Sometimes a bit too in your face with its social commentary

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Doctor Strange Into The Multiverse Of Madness: You Better Have Watched All The Disney + Shows

4.5/5      

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Following on from the events of Wandavision Wanda, played by Elizabeth Olsen, goes on a multiverse wide rampage to try and get her kids back, forcing Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and other mystical characters to try and stop her.

I think this may be my favourite Marvel film to date, or certainly up there in the top 3, I really enjoyed the Raimi elements to this film and I thought the horror sequences were terrific. I liked that this film felt a little darker and more supernatural than the rest of the MCU it gives me hope for characters like Blade and Ghost Rider. I thought the Raimi esque shot choices and transitions were just superb, it really gave this film a sense of identity all its own.

Moreover, despite some of the more unrefined criticism of this film saying how they turned Wanda into a bad guy, I thought this film did great things for her character and felt like a natural carry over from where the end of Wandavision left her. In the comics the character is deeply mentally unstable and crazy powerful this felt a true reflection of that, this idea that Wanda is a superhero and that she is a force for good only, is both not true and also just a creation of the MCU- one they now seem to be breaking.

I thought the new character of America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez was great she easily held her own both with Strange and Cumberbatch and I eagerly await to see what else they do with her character, most likely a Young Avengers show or film. In that same vein, I thought this film added a lot to most of the characters from the previous Doctor Strange film that helped to make them feel more rounded. I liked Strange and Wong’s, played by Benedict Wong, relationship and how Strange eventually comes to respect Wong as the new Sorcerer Supreme and also thought the film did justice to Rachel McAdams’ Christine from the first film, tying that up nicely.     

The things I didn’t like about this film were all quite minor, firstly I didn’t like the Illuminati I thought it felt far too much like blatant fan service and thought there was no point to them existing other than to give Wanda people to tear apart. I did like the Black Bolt, played by Anson Mount, death however, I thought that was gutsy and some nice unexpected gore. Secondly, I have issues with the post credits scenes, with the first I think it is too unclear what is going on, moreover unless you are an avid comics reader you will not know who Clea, played by Charlize Theron, is and will be left baffled. The second post credits scene is just annoying and makes you feel like you have wasted your time. Thirdly, I didn’t like Strange’s relationship with Baron Mordo, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, it felt very much like some scenes were missing there as there relationship made no sense being where it was based off the ending of the previous film.

Overall, I think this film is brave, brutal and great for the MCU. I hope very much they can talk Raimi into coming back to do more movies.

Pros.

The horror elements and the Raimi feel of the film

Wanda’s progression

Strange and Christine and Strange and Wong

America Chavez

The ending

Cons.

Too many cameos

Uneven storytelling with Mordo  

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The Curse Of Robert: The Horrors Of The Netflix Algorithm

2/5         

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

This is what happens when you trust a Netflix recommendation. A possessed doll film.

As the summary suggests Netflix thought I would like to watch this film so I put it on, and my my it was bad. I will give it credit for being exactly what I was expecting it to be, and also having some quirky B movie esque charm, but that is where my praise for this film ends.

An important point that I think should be noted up front is that I fell asleep whilst watching this film and then had to go back and finish it off, this was not at night dear reader oh no this was late afternoon, such is the film. To say it is boring and generic would be an understatement.

This film was clearly made to cash in on the recent trend of possessed doll films, see Annabelle and its various sequels, but somehow this film managed to screw up even that basic concept. What makes the Annabelle films scary is the demon that is attached to the doll that goes around and kills people, whereas here they forgo that and have the doll randomly come to life and kill people Chucky style but without any of Brad Dourif’s charm.

Overall, a forgettable possessed doll film.

Pros.

It is watchable

It is unintentionally funny at times

Cons.

It is boring

It is generic

It is nothing you haven’t seen before

It feels derivative

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The Wicker Man: Nicolas Cage In Bearskin

2.5/5      

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A film about bees, bears and Nicolas Cage.

Honestly I was disappointed by this, I went into it expecting a weird Nicolas Cage film that is so bad it is good but instead I was met with a sleepwalker affair riddled with plot holes and lacking any sense of originality.

In some respects this film wants to set itself apart from the original Wicker Man and do its own thing, however, in other cases the film is shot for shot the same as it. This goes beyond homage and just feels like a blatant attempt to copy what worked from the original.

Moreover, something that bothered me about this film was Cage’s characters disappearing gun. So the original film is set in the UK where most police officers don’t carry guns, unless they are armed response, however, in the States it is far more common for police officers to carry guns yet Cage’s character seems to forget this until the last few moments of the film. There are a number of situations in this film wherein I was like surely he will bring out his gun for this, but no. I think this was done to try and amp up the tension in the film, however, if this was the goal then it makes no sense to bring it out for the final showdown.

Furthermore, the bees bit which has featured in so many memes wasn’t actually that good and for the most part Cage’s signature blend of crazy was played down, in my mind much to the film’s detriment. I think if the filmmakers had let Cage go more off the rails the film would have been infinitely better.

Overall, a mid-tier Cage movie that is pretty forgettable

Pros.

A few laughs to be had

It does at times try and do its own thing

The ending

Cons.

The plot holes

It doesn’t go far enough

It is too derivative in places

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X: Pornstars Versus The American South

2.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Ti West’s latest offering, of questionable taste, is porn stars verse an old couple with I guess super powers?

Obviously I am having somewhat of a laugh by suggesting that the old couple has super powers, but the film does seem to suggest that. Not only do they teleport around, the old lady, played by Mia Goth, seems to be everywhere at the same time, but they also perform kills on people half their age who are much more physically fit than them that can only be explained away by them possessing super strength, and pitch perfect accuracy.

On a more serious note a lot of people have lorded this film as a loving homage to exploitation horror flicks of the past, with Texas Chainsaw Massacre being an often made comparison. However, I think this film wishes it could be like those films rather than it actually being like them or is in anyway a homage. To me at least, it was a deeply generic slasher film that has been done a hundred times before and also much better than this, if that is what homage means then I have had the wrong definition all these years.

I will give the film prompts for its odd cult like religious elements they were by far the most interesting part of the film, but were explored nowhere near enough- hopefully the prequel can readdress them in more detail.

West tries to push the boundaries by including quite graphic sex scenes, but this just comes off as desperate and gimmicky. Bear in mind in a world cinema context these scenes are nothing and are practically puritanical, however within the deeply conservative world of Hollywood sex scenes these are challenging, and will leave you feeling more than a little awkward if you watch them in company.

Overall, a passable slasher film, but in no way deserving of the praise it has gotten.

Pros.

It is watchable

The gore is strong

I liked the religious cult like elements

Cons.

The sex scenes feel desperate

It is very generic

It has significant pacing issues

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The Jack In The Box: If You Find A Creepy Box In The Ground Leave It There

3.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A demon jack-in-the-box is discovered and brought to a local English museum, however, once situated people start to go missing and bodies start piling up.

This film won’t win any awards, but I enjoyed it for doing something new with the killer clown format, I don’t think I have ever seen a demonically possessed jack-in-the-box before on screen so in that regard this is a nice dose of originality.

Moreover, a further strength of this film is that it benefits from a certain B movie esque charm, you can tell that this film was made on a very low budget but it looks good for it, it gives the film more of a real world edge that helps to sell the demon jack-in-the-box more thoroughly.

However, my main criticisms of this film would be that the performances are fairly week across the board, no one not even the lead delivers anything even close to a good performance which at times can take you out of the film.

Overall, certainly not the best film you will ever see but there is an unmistakable charm and originality to this film that genre diehards will enjoy.

Pros.

The originality

The scares

The B movie charm

The design of the demon

Cons.

The performances are awful

The final twist is laughably predictable  

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Interview With Director George Popov: Sideworld, Haunted Forests Of England

Written by Luke Barnes

I recently had the chance to interview director George Popov about his new film Sideworld: Haunted Forests Of England which serves as a tour around some of the most haunted forests in England, wherein you learn about the forests’ past and supposed supernatural visitors. In this interview we discuss spooks, spectres, and English forests.  I hope you enjoy.  

Q: What made you want to make this film?

GP: Folkloric tales and legends have always been an inspiration for me and a lot of the narrative projects I’ve been wanting to make and we’ve developed so far, go hand in hand with an overall interest in any kind of dark mythology. At the same time, I’ve always been interested in paranormal or unusual cases and that, alongside opening your imagination for storytelling, are also just really curious from a factual perspective. And not necessarily from the point of view of putting a cap on what’s actually true or not, because that can be very difficult to identify and it can be very procedural. (And there is plenty of documentaries that already do that.) For me, the main interest is combining those perspectives and conveying a strong atmosphere to experience horror myths and legends that the viewer might not be necessarily familiar with. And I think that applies not just for “Haunted forests of England”, but for our intention for the SIDEWORLD series in general.

Q: What was your message?

GP: When it comes to the stories in the documentary, I wouldn’t say we had a desire to necessarily convey a strong subjective point of view. In fact, Jonathan and me were very careful to be both a Mulder and a Scully (or a believer and a sceptic for the non-X-Files-fans out there). The thematic relevance of forests as a setting for all these cases is where we try to make a stronger unifying point. Particularly the human predisposition to use the forest as a veil for any activity that is supposed to remain hidden.

Q: Why did you decide on documentary for your next project?

GP: A lot of the stories that we tackle in these documentary films are ones that I’d love to explore as a narrative feature. However that would also mean that I’d need to book off the next 250 years and not make anything else. And also stretching them into a longer more demanding narrative might not be the best thing for them. The SIDEWORLD format seemed best. In the way that it’s a documentary series of feature films that explore different horror legends under a unifying theme

Q: Have you had any creepy experiences in forests before?

GP: Not anything that would make it in a documentary like this, and nothing that I’d dare to confirm as extraordinary. Although I’ll be lying if I say we didn’t experience a particular feeling especially in some sites in Epping Forest in relation to the Suicide Pond story. But I’d attribute that to preconceived notions and auto-suggestion. I prefer it that way.

Q: There is something quite primordial about forests, is there something about returning to nature that has people questioning their humanity?

GP: I think nature’s role in our development has always been a catalyst for debates and existential crisis. And I think that’s only getting more relevant the more we progress. The tug of war between nature and technology is at the core of many questions of what it means to be human. I don’t know but I personally don’t think there is much future for us if we continue to see them as two things at odds with each other.

Q: Who were your influences on this project?

GP: I don’t know. I think it would have been a much easier question if I was taking about my narrative projects. Probably because I feel still very new to this. A lot of people would say Ken Burns or something when it comes to the format. But honestly I think it’s closer to trying to recreate the feeling I had as a kid going through storybooks full of horror fairytales and factual ones trying to solve the mysteries of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. It must be a combination of all that.

 Q: What is your favourite horror film set in the woods/forest?

GP: Off the top of my head: The Blair Witch Project, Antichrist and Evil Dead 2. I know, probably weird given how different from each other they are. I guess that’s why they came to mind. They all capture what makes forests so intriguing and terrifying in extremely unique ways.

Q: Future plans?

GP: We’re in post-production of our second Sideworld documentary, which I’m very excited to share with everyone very soon. This time the theme is sea-related horror myths and legends. The depth and variety of stories and visuals is even greater I think. We’re also working on a couple of our next bigger narrative projects. We’ve been working with some great producers recently and I’m really excited to update everyone on my next narrative feature in the next few months. In the meantime we have more Sideworld filming to do, and while dealing with the elements can be challenging on those shoots, nothing beats experiencing those places first hand, so I always look forward to it.

Q: Any words for aspiring filmmaker?

GP: Probably I’d encourage aspiring filmmakers to ask themselves how they and everyone around them consume films these days and be up to date with the changes that are occurring in the industry, because there is a lot of opportunity in that. The filmmaking community has become a lot more social recently and there’s plenty of chances for filmmakers to share useful knowledge with each other. Read articles, listen to podcasts, go to festivals. And listen, I might not be able to answer every email, but if you buy me or another director a beer, we’d usually answer your questions. We do love to talk…a lot.

If you would like to check out Sideworld: Haunted Forests Of England the film can be found on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and if you’re from the US on TubiTV.

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Sideworld Haunted Forests Of England: Viewing Material Before Your Next Trip To The Woods

5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

3 of England’s most haunted forests are explored with their myths and folklore brought to life.

I can’t believe George Popov has done it again, he has forged yet another masterpiece after his previous work The Droving. I think this film spoke to me so much personally because I am a huge folklore fan, I love going to new locations and learning about their strange and mysterious pasts, my book shelf is filled with tomes about mysteries and ghost stories and so this film was right up my alley.

I enjoyed how the film was set out, I thought by exploring 3 different forests and by extension 3 different types of folklore the film allowed itself a lot of room to stay fresh and also produce so really strong scares. I was surprised at how many times this film unsettled me, moreover it not only unsettled me but it also stayed with me after watching, I found myself still creeped out hours later.

I also think another strength of this film that is no less important is the fact that it teaches you more about England, and for those of us that live in Britain that means we learn more about our island and possibly have new places to visit next Halloween. I always enjoy films that can teach me something I didn’t know before and this definitely does that.

Overall, a deeply engaging, creepy affair and definitely one to check out.

Pros.

It teaches you a lot

It is scares

The folklore is fascinating

The pacing is superb

It stay with you

Cons.

None.

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