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From Script to Screen – The Storytelling Evolution of IT (2017)

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There is a common misconception within the larger film fandom that when a major motion picture is reportedly undergoing a rewrite, red flags should be firing off over that film’s quality.

The reality, though, is quite the contrary. There is something refreshing about a good rewrite. A fresh set of eyes allows spotlights to be cast across unseen crevices and cracks in the story; mining narrative and character intricacies that don’t change the overall film so much as enhance it. A good rewrite is elegant, elevating the work of the previous writer and shaping the finished film in a way that creates a more cohesive and satisfying viewing experience for the audience.

As a case study, I’m going to look at two versions of the same story. The original Chase Palmer/Cary Fukunaga draft of IT (2017) and the finished film, with the final production draft also credited to Gary Dauberman, comparing what changes might have been made and, more importantly, why.

Now, full disclosure, I am going to be looking at the Palmer/Fukunaga draft in comparison to the finished film of IT (2017); not the final production draft. This means that certain discrepancies between drafts cannot be fully dissected; such as scenes that might have been cut from the final film. Also, SPOILERS if you haven’t yet seen IT (2017).

So, with that being said, let us begin at the beginning with…

BILL & GEORGIE DENBROUGH

At the core of IT (2017); in both the Palmer/Fukunaga draft and the final film, are the Denbrough brothers. It is Georgie’s death which kickstarts the story; acting as not only our introduction to Pennywise, but also to the dangers that Derry holds for our young heroes. This is not a PG-13 world. In Derry, children die, and they die badly. But while, in both versions, it is Bill’s reaction to Georgie’s death which drives him; seemingly subtle changes can be found which snowball into long lasting story implications for the film itself.

The Palmer/Fukunaga draft is much more faithful to the novel. In this version, Georgie is attacked in the sewer, his arm is ripped off, and, much like Marley, is dead as a door nail. Of that, everyone is certain.

Since Georgie’s death is not questioned, Bill (or Will as he is named in this draft) has been pushed aside and largely ignored by his parents. His mother and father barely speak to their living son, treasuring Georgie’s former belongings as holy objects; his room kept immaculate, as if a tomb in stasis. As the story progresses, Will struggles to come to terms with their inability to see that he is suffering just as much as they are. After the events in IT’s lair, Will and his parents are able to finally come to an understanding, and Will is able move past the death of his brother.

Now, in the finished film, there is a slight change to these proceedings. Georgie not only has his arm bitten off, but he is also shown being dragged, screaming for Bill, into the rain soaked sewers of Derry. His body gone, nowhere to be found, the town comes to terms with the idea that Georgie is dead. Everyone, including Bill’s parents’, accept this to be true.

Everyone, that is, except Bill himself.

Bill’s inability to believe that Georgie is dead creates a proactive need in him to find his brother; to prove that he is alive. This change influences every decision that Bill makes throughout the story. Instead of going down into the Barrens to build a dam on the last day of school; Bill, Richie, Eddie, and Stan hope to find evidence of Georgie in the sewer. The search for Georgie leads Bill into the House on Neibolt Street and is the reason why he unconsciously pushes his friends into IT’s path of destruction. While there is a scene in IT’s lair with Bill facing Pennywise masquerading as Georgie in the Palmer/Fukunaga draft, the film’s version has much more weight; since Bill is uncertain whether or not the thing he is talking to is truly his brother. This drive propels Bill through the story; leading him on a collision course toward the inevitable truth; the truth that he faces as he holds his brother’s abandoned rain slicker in the midst of IT’s lair, the truth that his brother is in fact dead. And for the first time, Bill allows himself to grieve, comfortably, within the loving embrace of his friends. 

THE HOUSE ON NEIBOLT STREET vs. THE IRON WORKS 

Two locations within Derry of infinite importance, both historical and otherwise, are the abandoned Iron Works and the derelict House on Neibolt Street.

In the Palmer/Fukunaga draft; the Iron Works are where Henry Bowers and his goons hunt down Mike Hanlon; in a subplot largely absent from the film. In a racially incendiary rage, Henry Bowers chases Mike into the Iron Works; hoping to trap him there. Mike gets away but Patrick Hockstetter decides to check out the old crumbling Iron Works building, alone. It’s here that he is cornered by IT and killed.

Later, when Patrick is missing; Henry blames Mike for the death, leading Officer Bowers to arrest Mike in a grotesque show of police force that sends Mike’s father (very much alive in this draft) to the hospital with a heart attack.

After being proven innocent, Mike is chased by Henry Bowers and Co. toward the House on Neibolt Street; where the Losers intervene. It’s here that the apocalyptic rock fight takes place. The Losers take cover in the House from Henry’s M80 fire crackers, where they collectively encounter Pennywise for the first time. Later they discover that the entrance to the clown’s lair is in the Iron Works; and it’s here that they venture in the hopes of killing IT for good.

In the finished film, the Losers never go to the Iron Works; Ben just reads about it in the Library. This also means that Patrick Hockstetter does not venture there but instead meets his end searching for Ben in the sewer; which is a much more direct motivation to go snooping in a creepy place than simple curiosity. Say what you will about Patrick Hockstetter; one wouldn’t really consider him the inquisitive type.

Now the big question attributed to these changes is, why? Why add more importance to the House on Neibolt Street in the finished film as opposed to the Iron Works?

On the production end, eliminating the Iron Works allows for a costly location to be deleted from not only the schedule but overall budge of the film. To build and properly set design the Iron Works would be costly and time consuming; utilizing resources which would undoubtedly be taken away from other aspects of the film, i.e. the Derry Sewers or the House on Neibolt Street. On a nuts and bolts level, excising this location could be seen as a matter of practicality.

But production considerations aside, there is also a narrative benefit. Focusing all of  IT’s menace and presence upon the House on Neibolt Street fixates our attention on a single location in Derry that we know is evil. While the Iron Works is considered a place where IT operates, as is the Black Spot Bar (more on that later), the Losers learn that the House on Neibolt Street is the central hub of the Derry sewer system and the home of IT. In classic film structural fashion, this allows the audience to see the Losers confront this house multiple times, through multiple lenses. We see them discover the house, as Eddie does with the Leper. We watch them take on Pennywise arrogantly, as is the case with the clown room and door sequence. Then later we see them come back more prepared, ready to find the kidnapped Beverly; fully aware of the dangers that they might face.

This allows us to see how the Losers have changed over the course of the story; how they have grown wiser and more confident in their abilities to face down that which previously seemed an insurmountable evil. Film structure is about highlighting how characters change. And seeing how the Losers face down the House on Neibolt Street is an elegant structural shift which exemplifies that principle in a very effective and satisfying fashion.

FLASHBACKS

Anyone who has read the novel, or has seen the 1990 mini-series, is very aware of the importance of flashbacks. Throughout the novel there are a number of asides by Mike Hanlon, detailing the history of Derry and, by extension, the history of IT itself.

In the Palmer/Fukunaga draft, these flashbacks take very real shape in two forms. First, as a story told to Mike while his father lies delirious in his hospital bed. Leroy Hanlon relates to Mike the story of he Black Spot where an entire bar of people was burned to the ground. Leroy tells his son how he confronted IT and barely made it away with his life.

Later, the draft describes firsthand a massacre that took place at the Silver Dollar Saloon in 1879, where several men were brutally slaughtered with an axe while the bar full of patrons went about their business; never minding the massacre taking place mere feet from them. Ben tells the Losers this story hoping to better demonstrate the horrors that Derry is capable of and how IT has been at the heart of them all since the beginning.

Now, in the finished film, neither of these flashbacks can be found. There are several reasons why this might have been changed; but the simplest one is probably the most pertinent.

The flashbacks are not necessary.

IT is a big story, dealing with seven protagonists and a sprawling history that tracks back centuries. There is a way to write this movie poorly where the script gets so bogged down in explanations and expository asides that the Losers don’t have anything to do. In fairness, the Palmer/Fukunaga draft integrates these flashbacks cohesively into the narrative; but by their very nature, flashing back speed bumps the story’s forward progression, whereas the final film proves that excising them from the story allows the focus to be entirely upon the Losers and their struggles.

In that spirit; the final aspect of contrast between the versions that I am going to explore is…

THE LOSERS’ CLUB 

At the heart of IT, in all it’s various forms, are the Losers. They are the core of the story. Pennywise is scary, yes. But only as a mirror of the Losers own earnest desires and beliefs. If Pennywise is the bastardization of childhood wonder, the Losers are his mirror; a shining example of what it means to be young and to believe, not only in yourself, but in your friends.

The Palmer/Fukunaga draft features the Losers very much as they are presented in the film; with a few notable exceptions. Specifically dealing with the relationship between Beverly/Ben/Bill, the purpose of Mike Hanlon, and what drives the Losers toward their final confrontation with IT.

In the original draft, Ben is just as earnest and genuine as he is in the film. He falls for Beverly instantly. He writes her the poem and sends it too her. But this is where the similarities cease; as Ben does not see Beverly flirting with Bill, nor does she find out that Ben was the one who wrote the poem.

The entire ebb and flow of the love triangle between Bill, Beverly, and Ben is largely absent from the Palmer/Fukunaga draft; a relationship which with a only few key scenes added into the finished film, including the subterranean kiss that wakes Beverly from her Deadlights laden slumber, was able to blossom with wholly satisfying results.

When it comes to Mike Hanlon, he is the one who seemingly loses the most from the Palmer/Fukunaga draft to the finished film. In the original version, the relationships between the Bowers and Hanlon families were more fleshed out. Henry Bowers’ hatred for Mike, specifically, is detailed and acted upon; whereas is merely hinted at in the film. And most importantly, similar to the final film, the core of Mike’s story is focused upon his parents.

In the Palmer/Fukunaga version, Leroy Hanlon has a heart attack which Mike believes is caused by IT. This leads Mike to infer that killing IT will save his father’s life. Ultimately this is not the case, leading Mike to understand that there is evil in the world far beyond even the reaches of Pennywise.

In the finished film, Mike Hanlon’s parents are long dead at the story’s outset. Dead, Mike believes, by his own inability to save them; as evidenced by IT showing Mike the burning hands of people trapped behind the butchery’s cast iron door. By eliminating Mike’s parents, and casting them as the baseline fear that IT can exploit, his arc as a hero is one of the most pronounced and clear in the film. He goes from lamb to lion; finding the courage by story’s end to do what he must to save the people he loves most, in this case, the Losers. And while, structurally, Mike does not meet the Losers until halfway through the story, the inclusion of his fear at the butcher’s shop solidifies him as a central protagonist and allows his prominence in the story to never waver despite his seemingly long absence from the film’s proceedings.

For that matter, the inclusion of every one of the Loser’s fears, all taking form very early in the film; allows for the threat of Pennywise to become fully realized to each of them, whereas in the Palmer/Fukunaga draft their fears are more spread across the front half of the story. All except, that is, for Richie Tozier.

As in the novel, he is the sceptic, unwilling to believe his friends’ stories of lepers and clowns. Opining classically whether or not “only virgins” could see this stuff. The fact that Richie is absent from seeing the blood in Beverly’s bathroom only prolongs this belief.

In another brilliant addition to the House on Neibolt Street sequence; the Losers initial assault on IT’s home base also acts as Richie’s full realization that IT is very, very real, so that when they escape the house it is very understandable why he might argue to cut their losses and abandon their crusade. Richie’s fear might be of clowns, but his reaction to seeing his own MISSING poster proves that even the Trashmouth can’t talk his way out of everything.

With the film’s inclusion of Beverly being kidnapped by IT, forcing the Losers to rally together in order to save her, the film’s story comes full circle. Whereas the Palmer/Fukunaga draft pushes the Losers into taking a preemptive strike on IT, more revenge based than anything, fearing the clown might be coming for them next; the film allows circumstance to pull them toward becoming heroes, forcing them to choose selflessness for the betterment of their friends. This is another structural benefit of the film. Giving the Losers a tangible reason to reunite is more cinematically satisfying than the original draft and more clearly highlights their growth from outcasts to family; proving the one thing that IT might be able to manipulate, but never overcome, is the Losers’ love for each other.

“IT” is a brick of a novel, utilizing every trick in Stephen King’s tool box. In many ways, it’s the most “Stephen King” of any Stephen King novel. And as with most of  King’s works, adapting it for the screen is no small feat. Most attempts simply get lost in translation. But while it takes a single mind to craft an enriching novel, it takes many minds, collaborating in tandem, to craft an engrossing film. A process that many films crumble under the strain of, where story is abandoned in favor of simplifications and convenience.

Thankfully though, through the combined talents of Fukunaga, Palmer, and Dauberman, collaborating Producers and with the masterful direction of Andy Muschietti, the filmmakers of IT (2017) were able to craft a story that not only lived up to the novel’s promise; but elevated it even further, creating a film that will undoubtedly (much like the stories of King himself) stand the test of time, to be admired and enjoyed for many generations of Losers to come.

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Exclusive: Making Effective Low-Budget Slashers w/ Black Creek Writer-Director James Crow

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Today marks the release of writer-director James Crow’s new supernatural slasher flick Black Creek on VOD.

To celebrate the film being out there for your viewing pleasure, we wanted to catch up with the director and talk a bit of shop about just how one puts together a low-budget (effective) slasher film.

So without further ado what follows is our interview with writer-director James Crow (House of Salem). Give it a read and then let us know what you think!

***

Dread Central: The film’s central villain is very interesting. How much of the mythology/backstory is based on real legends?

James Crow: I’ve always been very fascinated and inspired by mythology and have always been very fascinated with Native American culture. I saw a very powerful film called Soldier Blue when I was younger about the Sand Creek Massacre and it has always haunted me. The skinwalker is based upon the Bayok, a shape-shifting creature that was meant to fly through the forests and Great Lakes. It eats the insides of its victims without waking them!

DC: What were some of the major challenges you faced during the shooting this particular film?

JC: Being out in the wilderness is great… in some respects. You’re not disturbed and don’t have things like traffic and planes overhead. You can be quite secluded and it helps with the atmosphere of film – and in some ways, it focuses the cast and crew. But it can be a challenge when you need quick access to things and problems arise. When you’re on a smaller budget and have a smaller crew than normal, it’s a challenge to be that cut-off. You have to be very resourceful!

DC: In addition to directing Black Creek, you also wrote the screenplay. What inspired you to try your hand at a slasher film?

JC: I think there are elements of the slasher genre there, but it has a supernatural element. I wanted to do something different than my last two films, which were far more supernatural. It wasn’t as heavy as some of the other films, and that was quite liberating. It was fun to enjoy doing something in the vein of a more old-school slasher.

DC: How did you pull off all of the SFX contained within the film?

JC: We shot the scenes as best as we could with gritty lighting and atmosphere. My director of photography Scott Fox is a real talent. Then it was all down to the amazing skills of Jeremy. His work on the edit was brilliant and he really brought a lot to the film. The combination of him and Scott – and, of course, Pete Coleman’s score – is wonderful.

DC: What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?

JC: Keep being ambitious and aiming for new things. Don’t be afraid to go out and make movies. Don’t be constrained by people who tell you it’s impossible to do certain things.

DC: How did you go about casting this film?

JC: A lot of the cast I knew. Producer Craig spent a lot of time going back and forth with casting ideas. Robert Lowe is a fantastic actor I’ve worked with a lot, and Michael is very young but a big talent to watch for. Pierce Stevens always deliverers, and I loved his take on the sheriff. They make a brilliant double act. Chris O’flyng is a very talented guy and actually comes from Wisconsin. I think he gave the role a lovely vulnerability and played the troubled angst of an alternate teen brilliantly. I cast Leah for her wonderful warmth and beauty on camera, and she really delivers the likable girl next door and heroine. Brianna also is a real force and has some great comedic lines. Rachel Vadeer has something magical about her and Kaylee Williams and Michael Copan are really great pros, all of whom we were lucky to get.

DC: What were some of the films that inspired Black Creek?

JC: Obviously The Thing by John Carpenter, but also It Follows was a bit of an influence.

DC: What’s next?

JC: I have a Christmas horror anthology coming out in November – Nightmare on 34th Street – which feature Pierce Stevens, who plays the sheriff in Black Creek as a killer Santa. It also includes some other cast from Black Creek. We’re also in the final stages of another horror I shot with Scott Fox, A Suburban Fairytale, and we start shooting a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style comedy called Last Village on the Right next month.

DC: Are there plans for a Black Creek 2?

JC: I guess that depends on how well one does! I like the idea of a prequel though or spinoff. Hopefully, Craig Patrick and I will do something again soon, even more epic.

DC: What’s your favorite scary movie?

JC: I have too many. But my favorite horror is Suspiria. To me, it’s still totally iconic and out of this world. The soundtrack by Goblin is marvelous, but thankfully I’m doing really well with Pete Coleman on all my movies so far! And Black Creek is another treat, and I look forward to what he’s done on Ahockalypse with Craig. I’m sure it will be amazing, much like his score for Nightmare on 34th Street!

***

Thanks James for stopping by Dread Central and chatting with us about the new film!

Black Creek stars YouTuber Chris O’Flyng as well as Leah Patrick, Michael Copon, Kaylee Williams, Robert Lowe, and Michael Hill. It was directed by James Crow.

The film is now available On Demand HERE.

Synopsis:

Returning to their family’s cabin in the dark, Wisconsin woods to scatter the ashes of their father, a troubled young man and his brash sister are terrorized by signs that an ancient, Native-American spirit, awakened by a ritual murder, has marked them for death.

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Exclusive: Talking Vietnamese Ghost Stories and Gothic Horror with The Housemaid Writer-Director Derek Nguyen

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Her arrival awakes the wrath of spirits.

Writer-director Derek Nguyen’s Vietnamese Gothic romance horror film The Housemaid is hitting select theaters, VOD, and Digital platforms in the U.S. today, February 16.

Dread Central was lucky enough to catch up with Nguyen for some one-on-one time where we talked Gothic horror, Vietnamese ghost stories, and more. It was a great interview, and you can check out the full piece below.

After that make sure to check out the film’s poster to the right and the trailer below, and then let us know how excited you are to see The Housemaid.

Now let’s get to it!

Dread Central: First thing I would like to say is “Wow, what a movie!” I loved The Housemaid and found it to be a gorgeous Gothic horror film. Are you a big fan of the sub-genre?

Derek Nguyen: Thank you for your kind words about The Housemaid! And yes, I love Gothic horror films. But it all started for me when I read Gothic horror novels as a kid. My go-to reading list was Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, Picture of Dorian Gray, and anything from Edgar Allan Poe. One of the highlights of my career was when I received an Edgar Allan Poe nomination for a play I wrote called Monster. Dream come true.

DC: What are some of your favorite Gothic horror films?

DN: I am a big Guillermo del Toro fan. I love his dark sense of humor, his ability to create memorable offbeat characters, and the dark storylines he gravitates to. Other than the classics like Bride of Frankenstein, I really liked Let the Right One In, The Orphanage, and The Witch.

DC: The film is set in 1953 during the First Indochinese War in Vietnam. How important was this particular period to you and the film?

DN: The time period was integral to the story of The Housemaid. It’s set in a very pivotal time in Vietnam’s history, where the French [were] just about to be defeated in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. And I wanted to talk about war, Colonialism, and their effects in Vietnam. I was interested in talking about the many years of oppression, particularly by the French rubber plantation landowners. And of course, I wanted to talk about these things while being entertaining!

DC: The film features some horrific acts by French overseers on the Vietnamese workers at the film’s rubber plantation. How much of this is based on real events?

DN: In my research when writing the film, I discovered all these horrific acts by French landowners on Vietnamese workers while on a trip to Vietnam. I had no idea that these things happened and was surprised that they weren’t in the history books. There are museums in Vietnam that tell the shocking tales of the plantation workers in detail. Thousands of Vietnamese men and women toiled at the French rubber plantations under debilitating and inhuman conditions. Dysentery, malaria, malnutrition, and back-breaking labor were rife. Merciless overseers systematically beat and tortured workers—many of them to death. I wanted to tell their stories and didn’t want to shy away from what really happened.

DC: In addition to directing the film, you also penned the screenplay. Can you tell us what your initial inspiration was to tell this particular tale?

DN: The film is inspired by my grandmother, who was once a servant in a grand estate in Vietnam and ended up falling in love with the landowner. As a child, she used to love to tell me ghost stories. One of the things that stuck with me was that she believed that spirits lived in trees. Then I learned about the atrocities that the Vietnamese rubber plantation workers experienced under the French landowners and I thought about how haunted the plantations must be. If you visit the rubber plantations in Vietnam, you’ll notice that the soil is red. Many Vietnamese believe that the soil is red because of all the spilled blood of the Vietnamese workers.

DC: What are some of the films that inspired The Housemaid?

DN: Jane Eyre, The Others, Rebecca, The Shining.

DC: The Housemaid is the third-highest-grossing horror film in Vietnam’s history; did you ever expect the film to resonate to that degree?

DN: Crazy, right? And it’s been sold to 19 different territories around the world. Unbelievable! You never know how people will react to your work. As a filmmaker, you just have to do your best and make sure that you’re being true to yourself. And hopefully, people like it!

DC: Nhung Kate received a Special Jury Prize for her portrayal of Linh at the 2017 LA Film Festival. What was it like crafting such a profound performance on set?

DN: Nhung Kate is a revelation! She’s bold, gutsy, vulnerable, and mysterious. (And she rides a kickass motorcycle!) It took months for us to find the right “Linh” and I think she embodies the character so perfectly that I can’t imagine I could have found a better actress to play the part. While on set, Kate and I worked a lot on the duality of the character: her internal feelings juxtaposing her sense of duty. In a lot of ways, she’s a character who struggles between her need for love and the burdens of responsibility.

DC: Oscar-winning screenwriter Geoffrey S. Fletcher (Precious) is currently penning the script for the American remake of The Housemaid. How do you feel about your film being remade?

DN: I feel great about the American remake because it was my idea! When I was doing research for the original script, I realized that there are so many parallels between Vietnamese plantation workers in Vietnam’s colonial period and African-American slaves in the American South. I pitched the idea to my producer Timothy Linh Bui, and he took it to CJ Entertainment, who financed the original film, and they greenlit the remake. My only condition was that I insisted that the screenwriter and director of the American version be African-American. I feel that there needs to be an authenticity to the experiences and that the new characters would be best served by filmmakers of the same cultural background. I will be executive producing the remake and will be working creatively with the American team.

DC: Awesome! Now, I always like to end with this question: What’s your favorite scary movie?

DN: Psycho. I was one of those strange ten-year-old kids who watched that film over and over and over again. Does that say something about me?

Thank you so much to The Housemaid writer-director Derek Nguyen for stopping by Dread Central and talking with us about the film.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and via digital platforms in the U.S. on February 16, 2108.

Synopsis:
A forbidden passion awakens vengeful spirits within a haunted mansion in this bloodcurdling, erotic tour-de-force. Vietnam, 1953: Linh (Nhung Kate), a poor, orphaned young woman, finds employment as a housemaid in a crumbling rubber plantation presided over by the emotionally fragile French officer Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud). Soon, a torrid love affair develops between the two – a taboo romance that rouses the ghost of Laurent’s dead wife, who won’t rest until blood flows. Submerged in moody Gothic atmosphere, this stylish supernatural saga confronts the dark shadows of Vietnam’s colonial past while delivering heart-stopping scares.

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Why Netflix and David Bruckner’s The Ritual Scared the Hell Out Of Me

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***BEWARE OF SPOILERS***
Let me start this off by saying these articles have become kind of a thing with me. I have already posted pieces about how both Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! and Brad Anderson’s Session 9 scared the hell out of me, but I’m not a wimp. Let me state that again: I am not a wimp. I swear.

Okay, I am kind of a wimp. I’ll admit it. But here’s the thing, I think too many people watch horror movies with, for lack of a better term, arms crossed daring the film to scare them. They love to finish a flick and say, “That wasn’t scary! I’m so cool.” But I like to be scared. I try to let horror movies scare me. In fact, I do everything in my power to allow them to scare me. I turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and sit close to the screen. But even then some films don’t scare me.

However, sometimes I am rewarded. Case in point: this past Friday an all-new horror film hit Netflix streaming called The Ritual. I was looking forward to checking out the movie considering it was directed by a guy named David Bruckner, who is a name some might recognize for his work in solid horror anthologies such as VHS and Southbound, and others might recognize him as the guy who almost directed the latest (abandoned) Friday the 13th film.

Either way, the man made my list of horror directors to keep an eye on long ago and so when I heard he was at the helm of this creepy looking film, I jumped at the chance to give it a watch. What did I think? Well, the title of this article should give you somewhat of a clue. But just in case you don’t grasp what I’m getting at here: David Bruckner’s The Ritual scared the everliving shit out of me – several times. In fact, I’m still freaked out as I type this the next morning. That’s some good stuff.

Let’s dive a bit deeper and uncover the actual experience of my terror watching the film.

Let’s start at the very beginning. The film opens with our group of buddies hanging out at a bar. I knew that the film was about a group of friends who venture out into the dark woods and befall an ominous evil, but as I popped the film on my TV this weekend I forgot how many friends there were that make it to the woods. Thus I was caught off guard with the opening of the flick in which one of the Wolfpack gets it good in a convenience store robbery gone wrong. This scene was real horror and it took me by surprise. I wasn’t terrified by the film (yet) but this beginning sure got my anxiety levels suitably piqued. Solid beginning.

From there it isn’t long before the film goes full Blair Witch. We get a rainstorm and a wooden house out in the middle of nowhere with strange witchcraft carvings in the trees and uber-creepy totems and statues placed here and there. I find The Blair Witch Project and (to a lesser degree) Adam Wingard’s sequel Blair Witch to be two of the scariest movies ever so I was ready to be terrified at this point. And it didn’t disappoint.

It wasn’t the headless Wicker Man statue that our main men find that scared me. Nope, I’ve seen things like that before in horror flicks. I’m good. It was when the group falls asleep that the first moment of genuine terror began for this guy. To set the scene, the dude who thought the Alien-Worm in Prometheus was cute lies down for the night while rain, lightning, and thunder pound outside. There is a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder. Rinse and repeat, until lightning strikes and…it doesn’t go out.

The bright white light shines into the windows like, well, that one quick scene in Blair Witch. But in this film, the light doesn’t move like a spaceship (or whatever). In this movie, it just stays on, and on, and on. My girlfriend’s little-ass dog is scared of lightning. And now so am I. Thanks, The Ritual.

From there I was a bit on edge but morning quickly followed and all was good I thought. The guys go off hiking and searching for safety when the injured one needs to sit down. Once firmly planted on his buttocks, the rest of the group know it’s going to be a while, so Timothy Spall’s kid decides to run up the hill to the top where it looks like the trees end and salvation begins. No such luck. Once he reaches the top he finds, you guessed it, only more trees. But then something creepy as all balls happens. He sees something on a tree trunk in the distance. It’s a hand… and it is way the holy f*ck up near the top of the tree. Another dead body? We could only be so lucky. Nope, the hand then moves around the side of the tree like the damn Wicked Witch of the West was creeping behind it. Little Spall screams and runs off. Good idea.

And speaking of nightmares hanging out in the woods, not long after that the movie springs what just might be the scariest moment from a recent horror film. To set the scene, the remaining guys are climbing up a steep hill and the camera sits far back and carelessly watches their struggle without lifting a finger. We watch them trudge up this hill for what seems like forever, and just when we think David Bruckner fell asleep at the camera, something moves. Deep in the dark woods, way in the background, something moves. Something f*cking BIG. This shot was genius. Learn your lessons, fellow filmmakers. Watch and rewatch and learn. This is how you scare people. No jump scares, please. Rip this shot off if you must. No one will fault you. It’s terrific.

From there the film became mostly a standard horror film. The guys get lost in the woods, dream sequences happen here and there, and some of the guys end up gutted and hung high up in the trees. Meh. Standard horror offerings if you ask me. But then the final two guys are captured and taken to a farmstead out in the woods. The place is run by older people (and one young blonde, of course) and there is something sinister upstairs. No, the actual ritual didn’t scare me. Big dudes getting pulled off by Jawa-Horse monsters isn’t going to send anyone running home to mama.

It was the damn church of the dead that got me good. Small Spall breaks free of his shackles and heads through the dark house. He hears muffled talking behind a door upstairs and cautiously enters. Inside he finds a congregation of dead bodies in pews facing towards the front of the room where what looks like the body from inside the walls in Deep Red holds court over the dead room. Creepy. For real. But then – ohhellnogetmethefuckoutofhere! – one of the bodies moves. Then another. Then Spall realizes they are all still alive! Nope, nope, nope. He appropriately kills them all with fire. Thank the Lords.

To touch on The Creature for a bit, no I didn’t find it that scary, but let me say that I respected the hell out of it. Most people I know are already saying, “It was scary up until the end with the Horse-Man“, and while I get that the film stops being scary once we know what was lurking in the woods, props must be given to Buckner and crew for their creature’s design. It is a shifting nightmare of horror that (evidently) is wrapped in actual Norse mythology. Got to love it.

In the end, David Bruckner’s The Ritual scared the hell out me on multiple occasions. This film will be a new (possibly mini) classic that friends recommend to friends for years to come. Sure it might not be the new The Witch or It Follows, but The Ritual is a solid horror film for 90% percent of its running time. And that other 10% is audacious, so you’ve got to give it that.

God bless David Bruckner’s The Ritual.

***

What did you think of Netflix’s The Ritual? Let us know below!

WATCH IT (AGAIN) HERE

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