Midsommar Review

Written and Directed by: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe


In the films of Ari Aster, the word “family” does not evoke any sense of safety or comfort. In fact, family is much more synonymous with death and grief, with fragile ties barely holding everyone together. In the new Midsommar, a bright and beautiful nightmare, grief is our introduction. Dani (played by Florence Pugh) leaves unanswered messages to her parents, revealing concern for her sister who sends vague but distressing emails. This already informs us what sort of family dynamic we have. Dani attempts to find solace by calling her boyfriend Christian (played by Jack Reynor) whose lackadaisical replies don’t summon any sort of relief. After an unspeakable tragedy, Christian becomes the only family she has. This introduction is not terrifying in the way we anticipate a horror film being, mainly because it’s tapping into such real turmoil. Aster has mastered the ability to discomfort his audience with genuine pain up close and early on in the film so that our defenses are then just as low as his characters.

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The Shape of Water Review

The Shape of Water
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones


Beautiful. Heartfelt. Lovely. Adjectives not often associated with creature features. But this is where Guillermo del Toro has cornered a specific market with dark fairy tales aimed at mature audiences and has been one of the most interesting directors working. He’s a filmmaker who has forayed into comic book movie territory but has earned a higher reputation for making genre movies that wouldn’t be covered at Comic Con. His films can be weird and wicked but at the center is always a beating heart. His ability to skirt through genre conventions and balance tones juxtapose his ebb and flow between reality and fantasy in his narratives. And perhaps the film which fully embraces the fairy tale model is his newest one The Shape of Water.

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It Comes At Night Review

It Comes At Night
Written and Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo


There’s a lot in common between Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore film It Comes At Night and last year’s The Witch. For one, they’re both A24 releases, but more specifically both films had marketing that promised to scare you shitless when in reality they’re presenting something that would be more welcomed in an art house theater than a multiplex.

The most misleading thing with It Comes At Night is the title itself. Open to some interpretation, the “It” should not be the incentive to see this and will surely disappoint any waiting for “It” to arrive on screen. But expectations aside, It Comes At Night is indeed a truly terrifying film in its simplistic narrative and tightly controlled direction. This takes a global threat and makes it deeply, uncomfortably intimate, showing humankind in its ugliest form.

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Nocturnal Animals Review

Nocturnal Animals
Directed by: Tom Ford
Written by: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (novel)
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher


Statements like “Hitchcock meets David Lynch” or “Coen Brothers mixed with Nicholas Winding Refn” could come off as nothing but meaningless hyperbole, but these could not be more applicable to Tom Ford’s second feature Nocturnal Animals. His marriage of vibrant imagery with dramatic storytelling prove to be his greatest feat in this ambitious film of lustful vengeance. It’s a hypnotic spell Ford casts upon us, one where we can’t help but succumb to its dark temptations and cruel behaviors.

As we enter the disturbingly perfect world of art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) and the inhabitants she identifies with, the hollow beauty is indeed very reminiscent of Refn’s The Neon Demon from earlier this year. But while the luxuries seem endless, Susan feels unfulfilled, highlighted by the arising issues with husband Hatten (Armie Hammer). After he leaves for a business trip, Susan begins reading a manuscript of the new novel titled “Nocturnal Animals” by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) who dedicated the book to her. Isolated in a picturesque empty house, Susan dives into the story which becomes the second narrative of the film.

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The Neon Demon Review

The Neon Demon
Written and Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves


After riding the critical wave with Drive and then crashing down with Only God Forgives, Nicholas Winding Refn has returned with the erotically stylized The Neon Demon. What’s even stranger than the content in the film is the fact that this is playing in multiplexes, as it has become apparent Refn is not interested in making another Drive. That was the closest example of commercial filmmaking from Refn, whose art house sensibilities are in full force with The Neon Demon. Branded by many as style over substance, this criticism may or may not be warranted as style is the forefront of Refn’s intentions. The narrative is presented through purely visual lens with this viscerally kinky journey through Los Angeles’ fashion scene.

We are introduced to Jesse (Elle Fanning) who moves to L.A. aspiring to make a career out of modeling. Jesse carries an aura of innocence to her, without realization of how virulent the world she’s venturing into is. The supporting cast includes Jena Malone as makeup artist Ruby, Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee as two models who instantly feel threatened by Jesse’s arrival, and very small appearances by Keanu Reeves and Christina Hendricks.

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10 Cloverfield Lane Review

10 Cloverfield Lane
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Written by: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.


If there’s anything more impressive than how J.J. Abrams kept the plot of The Force Awakens hushed before its release, it is keeping this film completely in the shadows and then dropping the news right before its release. It seems so uncommon to pull off an endeavor like this in today’s trailer-saturated era of film marketing. Lightning did strike twice as they were able to recreate the intriguing viral marketing that paid off well for the original Cloverfield. Abrams has made it clear that 10 Cloverfield Lane is not an official sequel to the 2008 handheld monster flick. Some will surely find this as an easy excuse to be disappointed, but those expectations should not dismiss what is an effectively tense and creepy thrill ride.

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Goodnight Mommy Review

Goodnight Mommy
Written and Directed by: Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
Starring: Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz


While plenty of critical acclaim has come its way, Goodnight Mommy has been questioned as to whether or not it is mislabeled as a horror film. Yes, the trailer indicated something more along the lines of a conventional jump scare movie. No, this isn’t quite that. But there’s no need for alarm; we’ve been given something better. This is the horror film which deconstructs the safe haven of a home and injects any potential for extreme friction between its residents.

The Austrian film centers on two twin boys enjoying summer at home. Days are spent jumping on a trampoline or simply running around. Their mother returns after surgery from an accident, with a face completely wrapped in bandages. She insists that she needs undisturbed rest and quiet, but the boys quickly suspect this is not the mother they remember.

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It Follows Review

It Follows
Written and Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi


The best examples of horror find strength in simplicity. The tried-and-true method for finding effectively good scares has been to take the familiar and turn it into something frightening. John Carpenter took everyday suburbia and made it a nightmare zone. Alfred Hitchcock made the daily routine of showering a place for destruction.

Horror does not require great emphasis on character development or expansive plot. The genre, much like comedy, relies mostly on pacing and delivery. The mood and atmosphere enhance the narrative on screen and lure the audience in before making them vulnerable to inevitable fear. David Robert Mitchell’s new film It Follows understands what works in the genre and elevates it. His attention to detail takes the traditions that have been embedded in the history and presents a new and genuinely scary vision.

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Birdman Review

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough


The new Alejandro González Iñárritu film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is one of the most unique and best films of 2014. Anyone who appreciates film, theater, art, superheroes, or is looking for something different should find great pleasure in this movie. It demotes its value to simply classify this film as a “dark comedy” or “satire” as it is wrapped in many layers and anchored by exceptional performances by its well-rounded cast, most notably Michael Keaton.

For anyone familiar with Michael Keaton’s career, you know he played Batman twice in the late ’80s/early ’90s and has recently been in an array of underutilized roles. In this film, Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former celebrity known for his superhero role in the “Birdman” films and has since become a has-been looking to reignite his fame. The Batman allegory is undoubtedly present. He’s making the switch to theater and directing and starring in a Broadway production of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. With a cast including Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis and Naomi Watts, we see the anxiety surrounding the set as they get closer and closer to opening night.

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