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Amityville: The Awakening (2017)

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Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bella Thorne, Mckenna Grace, Cameron Monaghan

Directed by Frank Khalfoun


We get a new iteration of the Amityville story or some semi sequel/prequel constantly. Personally, I’m only a fan of the original classic and its batshit crazy prequel, Amityville II: The Possession. The main reason I was excited for the newest film is that it was written and directed by Frank Khalfoun. I was a huge fan of his remake of Bill Lustig’s Maniac, a film I originally felt was untouchable, as it was able to keep the spirit of the original but tell it in a new inventive way. He took a grindhouse film and made it high art horror.

Khalfoun’s Maniac is an amazing, beautifully shot film; and the characters within, while disturbing, are interesting as hell to watch. With that thought, I kept hope for Amityville: The Awakening as it seemed perfect for him, especially considering how well he had handled the nightmarish scenes of the mannequins in Maniac.

Awakening was originally made under Dimension Films and has gone through cut after cut, distributor after distributor, and has taken more than two years to finally see release. These are all bad signs usually. Just like The Cabin in the Woods getting pushed back forever, I trusted the creative team to deliver. Sadly, this is no epic like The Cabin in the Woods. While I’m not completely underwhelmed, I’m not as satisfied with the end product as I’d hoped. There’s a definitive voice throughout, but it seems it has been chopped and toned down from its original gusto. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

A broken family headed by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Joan along with her daughters, Juliet and Belle, move into the Amityville house to be closer to Joan’s family and receive better medical care for her comatose son, James (Cameron Monaghan). Belle is bullied at school for having moved into the Amityville house, but the history of the house is unknown to her until she makes friends with Terrence (Thomas Mann) and Marissa (Taylor Spreitler), who teach her about the home’s haunting past using the MGM Amityville films(!). Things get super strange as her brother begins moving and Belle starts seeing spooky things at night, leading to a showdown of good vs. evil.

It’s a really cool concept with the evil manifesting itself inside the brother, and Monaghan, whose career has just skyrocketed thanks to his television work, kills it throughout the movie. The thing this movie has in spades is its killer cast that really sells it even when some don’t have much to do. Monaghan is probably my favorite, though. During most of the movie he can communicate only with his eyes, but the pure emotion he puts in every eye movement is really amazing. Once he gets his moment to shine in the end, he gets truly horrifying.

Bella Thorne’s character goes through a roller coaster of emotion, and her performance here shines. It’s easy to start off hating her because she plays the stereotypical pissy teen, but once you start to discover the root of her anger and pain, she grows on you. The moments shared between her and her brother are really heartbreaking, and she conveys so much emotion. It’s just really cool to see this stone cold character completely lose herself in moments of emotion and passion. Khalfoun should be applauded for the dynamic set up between these two characters.

Jennifer Jason Leigh served her purpose well as a main focal point for the story, which leads to a really cool family discovery about the reasons why they are there, but she comes off too one-dimensional at times. I get the grieving mother angle, and she has two small moments of foreshadowing why they moved to Amityville, but she comes off as a horrible mom at times. Her character plays an important role in forwarding the plot, but her clunky portrayal just doesn’t work.

Actors Kurtwood Smith and Thomas Mann seem a little wasted here. Smith plays the doctor who helps with James’ condition but doesn’t really further the plot in any way save one bit of info that leads to a plot point. He also has the worst CGI fly attack ever and a terrible reaction to it to boot. Thomas Mann is usually fun as hell, like in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, but here he’s just a dime store Randy from Scream with the worst dialogue ever. It’s like Khalfoun doesn’t know how to write teens, or possibly his dialogue was changed at the last minute by someone else.

This movie gets really meta. We’re talking to an eye-rolling degree here. It has no connection to any of the other films within the Amityville universe, but its entire basis of information comes from watching the original Amityville Horror, which was based on the experience of the Lutz family. Oddly enough it doesn’t mention the Lutzes at all but focuses on the original DeFeo murders. Dime Store Randy shows Belle the movies and the book and then goes through a slew of information about the house when he’s standing in it. It’s fun for a minute but then becomes a little grating and way too convenient for exposition. The Awakening in the title is half-assedly explained by Dime Store Randy as well as in passing as a line of dialogue that feels like a really lame excuse for why the house has been quiet for 40 years. Once again, it seems that it may have once set up a bigger explanation but that was cut from the overall end product.

The look of the film is nothing special. Pretty generic stylistically with no really cool shots save for the obligatory Amityville window shot. I honestly can’t believe Khalfoun didn’t have some grandiose cinematography planned for this. There are some really interesting scenes in the last fifteen minutes that kind of edge on something different, but at that point the story delves into all too familiar territory. Then there’s the ending. It’s serviceable enough with some okay drama, but damnit, give us some badass demonic shit and let’s have a little fun!

At the end of the day, this isn’t such a bad flick, but viewers looking for an insane new Amityville experience will just have to keep chasing that dragon. I’m still hoping for something eventually that can even come close to matching the lunacy of Italian maestro Damiano Damiani’s Amityville II: The Possession. Given his work on Maniac, it’s easy to hope that  Khalfoun could have been allowed to go to that level of crazy, but alas… it’s just not to be. When all is said and done, Awakening feels rushed and cut to bits to score that coveted PG-13 rating. There was an R-rated  version of Amityville: The Awakening shot, but who the hell knows why it’s not available here. It’s not like it’s opened wide in theaters and they were hoping to attract a teenage market. Home video is the home of unrated content, is it not?  What we have here is a sometimes fun one-time watch with (for the most part) excellent acting and an interesting premise.

I still love you, Khalfoun!

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User Rating 3.4 (15 votes)

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Atlantic Rim: Resurrection Review – The #MechToo Movement Has Little Regard for the Ladies

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Starring Steve Richard Harris, Xavi Israel, Jenna Enns, Lindsay Elston, Samm Wiechec, Paul Logan

Directed by Jared Cohn


WARNING: This review does contains spoilers! It’s also a review of an Asylum mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising so I’m not really sure it matters. You pretty much know what you’re getting. People inside giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. Sometimes shooting at them. Duh!

It truly is a bold creative decision in this era of #metoo to have the third act of your movie begin with two male characters, neither of whom has been shown piloting a giant robot previously, grounding the two female robot pilots by locking them in a room in order to go do their job for them and kill the giant monsters that have previously defeated the ladies. Oh, sure, there’s some “mechsplaining” as to how these two guys are sidelining the gals for their own well-being, but even then there’s something unintentionally hilarious about these fellas seemingly deciding to not even trust the women to succeed in what is tantamount to a suicide mission.

Not to mention that one of these young ladies has been infected, potentially fatally, by monster venom and hardly anyone seems terribly concerned about this.

But then I am talking about an Asylum production entitled Atlantic Rim: Resurrection about military officers and scientists piloting giant battle bots (that kind of look like 1980’s Tonka robot toys) to fight giant mutant crawdad-like creatures (that look like perfectly acceptable Ultraman foes) along the East Coast of the United States, even though the city being attacked looks suspiciously Californian. In fact, The Asylum website’s own plot synopsis seemingly forgot it was supposed to be set on the Atlantic seaboard and outright states the monsters are destroying Los Angeles. Their website also wrongly lists the film’s release date as February 15, 2017.

Keeping with those high Asylum standards of continuity, Atlantic Rim: Resurrection is The Asylum’s mockbuster sequel of the forthcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising, even though the original Atlantic Rim, released in 2013 to coincide with the original Pacific Rim, was actually distributed in North America under the alternate title Attack from Beneath for reasons I presume were to avoid matters of a litigious nature. Nonetheless, here’s a sequel with a very sequel-y sounding title despite most American viewers probably not knowing the previous film by that title.

And you know what? Absolutely none of that matters.

What matters is that this mockbuster follow-up finally answers one of the great scientific questions of our times: Robonet or Python – which neural operating system is the best for psychically synching Go! Go! Gobots! with their human operators? Or, as I found myself thinking after nearly 20+ minutes of technobabble that is truly more babble than techno, “Are they ever gonna shut up and punch a giant monster? I’m here to see big ugly monsters get face punched by big ugly robots, dammit!”

In the time it takes this sequel to finally get around to its first full-on robot vs. monster battle, the first Atlantic Rim had already seen more monster destruction and chaos, more molten hot robot on monster action, and far more entertaining scenes of a trio of monster-mashing robot pilots hanging out in bars getting plastered. The first had more of everything you would want from an Asylum knock-off of Pacific Rim about insubordinate alcoholics operating giant robots to save the East Coast from gargantuan sea dragons. Despite the main scientist brought in to get the robots and pilots fully synched up looking perpetually hung over, this sequel lacks the “Mighty Drunken Broski Ranger” attitude, the cartoonish delirium, and ham-fisted acting of the original that led me to pen a three-star review.

Not to say there isn’t any fun to be had here; just nothing that entertains quite like watching David Chokachi swaggering through a film like a drunk broski in dire need of an intervention as he and his fellow hard-drinkin’ robot pilots beat a seemingly lost and confused giant monster over the head with huge metal hammers while an unhinged, one-eyed military officer holds his commanding officers at gunpoint demanding they allow him to nuke something, anything. None of the stars of the go-for-broke original returns for this mostly by-the-numbers sequel I almost want to say makes the mistake of being too grounded in reality than its wacko predecessor except it’s hardly realistic.

For a film that devotes so much time to over-explaining the concept, I found myself baffled as to why the pilots still had to manually work gear shifts and push all manner of dashboard buttons to operate robots supposedly powered by their minds. Did my mind sink into the Drift during this endless mind-melding chatter and I missed something clarifying this sticking point?

Anyhow, let’s meet our heroic robot pilots:

  • “Hammer” – The black guy. That means he dies first. There’s also another African-American who’ll climb into a robot cockpit for the final battle. He’ll also die. The main Jaeger pilot in Pacific Rim: Uprising is black. Willing to bet he lives. Not woke, Asylum. So not woke.
  • “Badger” – Speaking of not woke, the men of the #MechToo movement will come to decide they don’t need no stinkin’ Badger.
  • “Bugs” – She’s got a lot of attitude. Claims her nickname is because she “stings like a bee.” She gets stung, alright.

The always dependable Paul Logan makes a brief appearance as a soldier because – why not? Paul Logan always plays a soldier. He isn’t given much of anything to do here, and that’s a shame. Logan already looks like the lovechild of G.I. Joe and He-Man. Why not go for the Transformers trifecta by strapping him into a mech and let him get his Rock’em Sock’em Robot on?

Logan’s primary function is to show only a passing regard for the well-being of his wife and daughter, a tacked on subplot that sees the two women fleeing on foot as kaiju of various sizes rampage in the vicinity. Of course there has to be a family separated, desperately trying to survive and reunite amid the calamity because, of course there is – it’s an Asylum movie!

The resolution to this subpar subplot could not have been any more anticlimactic if dad had just sent an Uber to pick them up from the danger zone, which, honestly, isn’t that far off from what actually happens.

One nifty twist is that a colossal crawdad from aquatic hell spews forth hundreds of little buggers into the streets of East Coast L.A. The characters will refer to these lesser chitinous kaiju as “insects,” “spiders,” and “arachnids” but never “bugs,” presumably to not cause audience confusion with the character who already sports that call sign. They mostly call them “spiders” in spite of the fact that they really don’t look like spiders. More like oversized earwigs. I’m not even sure they had eight legs.

Don’t even ask me to explain what the “Resurrection” in Atlantic Rim: Resurrection means, either. Since this is a mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising, they should have gone with Atlantic Rim: Rising Up since the film begins with giant monsters literally rising up from the sea. Would have made more sense.

On the plus side, any movie where humans using state-of-the-art mind-controlled giant battle bots armed with super science weapons to fight otherworldly giant monsters from the ocean depths yet still has a moment where an injured pilot cracks open a control panel inside his futuristic robot and takes out a plastic blue case labeled “First Aid Kit” that is overstuffed with almost nothing but Band-Aids still earns a merit badge in audacity from me.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

Not nearly the Rimjob I was hoping for.

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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

Written and directed by David Freyne


Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

  • The Cured
3.5

Summary

The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed

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Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim

Directed by Brian Coyne


Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.

Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.

So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.

  • Film
1.5

Summary

I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.

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User Rating 2.5 (2 votes)

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