Review: ‘The Unholy’ (2021), starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Katie Aselton, William Sadler, Cricket Brown, Diogo Mogado and Cary Elwes

June 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Cricket Brown in “The Unholy” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems)

“The Unholy” (2021) 

Directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional town of Banfield, Massachusetts, the horror film “The Unholy” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Hispanic people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A disgraced journalist discovers what appears to be a “miracle” teenager, who became cured of blindness and muteness and seems to have the ability to heal others through the power of the Virgin Mary, but things take a sinister turn when people in the town start dying.

Culture Audience: “The Unholy” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching predictable horror movies that have plot holes and aren’t very scary.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Katie Aselton in “The Unholy” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems)

“The Unholy” is yet another drab and forgettable horror flick that uses Christianity as a plot device for the movie’s supernatural occurrences. It plods along at a dull pace with an easy-to-solve mystery and a storyline that gets more idiotic until the very hokey ending. “The Unholy” is based on James Herbert’s 1983 horror novel name, but you don’t have to read the book to know exactly how this movie is going to end because it’s so derivative of better-made horror movies that have similar themes.

Written and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos, “The Unholy” has a group of cast members who show satisfactory talent in their roles. It’s too bad that their characters are written as shallow and mostly uninteresting. The protagonist is supposed to be a cynical and emotionally wounded individual, but not much is revealed about disgraced journalist Gerald “Gerry” Fenn (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), except for the damage he inflicted on his own career and that he likes to feed his ego by putting himself at the center of a news story.

And because much of the movie’s focus is on Roman Catholic religious beliefs, it’s utterly predictable that Gerry is a lapsed Catholic who seems to now identify as agnostic. What he might or might not believe when it comes to religion and spirituality can therefore fluctuate as he witnesses so-called “miracles” that seem to have a basis in Christianity. Gerry is supposed to be an investigative journalist, but his subpar investigative skills are almost laughable in this story because he misses very big clues.

“The Unholy” begins with a grisly scene of an execution-by-fire death in Boston in 1845. The person being torched by a small, angry mob of religious fanatics is an unnamed woman who’s accused of being a witch. She is bound, gagged, hanged by a tree, and then set on fire. The execution is shown from her perspective, as she sees the mob from the viewpoint of someone wearing a hood or a mask with holes for the eyes.

Now that the movie has given away the very obvious plot point that the mob and their descendants will be cursed, “The Unholy” then moves to the present day, where Gerry is driving to the small Massachusetts town of Banfield. There are empty bottles of liquor in his SUV, just so Gerry can be the cliché of the hard-drinking, grizzled journalist.

Gerry is a freelancer who’s been trying to claw his way back to respectability by chasing down whatever newsworthy stories that he can find. It’s revealed at one point in the movie that he used to be a staff reporter at a newspaper called The Examiner, where he made a name for himself as someone who got exclusives on sensationalistic and shocking news. However, Gerry was fired 10 years ago when he was caught fabricating a news story. Gerry is his own photographer/video camera operator, so there are several scenes of him using a professional camera when he stumbles onto a big story in Banfield.

“The Unholy” is so poorly written that it doesn’t adequately explain why Gerry went to Banfield in the first place. When Gerry arrives, all he sees is the town’s chief Catholic priest named Father William Hagan (played by William Sadler) telling a farmer to get the man’s cow off of the church property. The farmer lives next door to the church and the cow is in a field that’s on church property because the famer has a broken fence that hasn’t been fixed yet.

It’s not the type of news that a hard-nosed journalist like Gerry would realistically bother going to Banfield for, but it’s just a movie contrivance to put Gerry in the same outdoor field where he’ll see the mysterious tree that plays a big role in the story. Of course, viewers who’ve seen enough horror movies can automatically figure out that it’s the same tree where the “witch” was burned in 1845. The tree is later revealed to have a magical aura. But is it good or evil?

Gerry goes over to the tree and notices that there’s a doll inside a hollow part of the tree trunk. He takes out the doll, which is wrapped in deteriorated fabric, and sees that the doll has a label with the date February 31, 1845. February 31 doesn’t exist as a calendar date, but it’s later revealed why that incorrect date was placed on the doll’s label. Gerry just assumes that it was just a label error.

When the farmer sees the doll, he mentions to Gerry that it’s part of local legend that if someone breaks a talisman, it will unleash evil and mutilations will begin. A skeptical Gerry is amused by this story and doesn’t believe a word of it. So what does he do? He smashes the doll. Of course he does, because how else would that explain what comes later in the movie?

Gerry doesn’t think there’s anything newsworthy to report in Banfield. And so, he starts to drive out of town through the deserted woods at night, as you do in a horror movie where something bad is supposed to happen when you’re alone in a dark, wooded area. As he’s driving, he sees a ghostly figure of a young woman, who’s barefoot and wearing a white flowing nightgown.

You know what happens next: He crashes his car when he swerves to avoid hitting this mysterious person. But when he gets out of the car, she sees she isn’t in the street, so he starts looking for her in the woods. It turns out that she’s not a ghost, but a teenage girl who hasn’t been hit by the car but seems to be unconscious or in a trance. At this point, viewers know that Gerry is going to be in Banfield for a while.

Gerry carries the girl back to the church, which is the closest shelter he knows of in Banfield. The movie doesn’t show Gerry using his phone to call for help so she could go to a hospital first. No, that would be too logical for a silly movie like “The Unholy.” Conveniently, his car accident isn’t serious enough to cause significant damage to his car.

At the church, the girl regains consciousness. Gerry finds out that her name is Alice Padgett (played by Crickett Brown) and she’s the orphaned 15-year-old niece of Father Hagan. Alice lives with Father Hagan. And she’s also deaf and mute.

Shortly after she was found wandering in the woods, Alice begins to speak and talk. One of the first things that she says is: “The lady has an amazing message for all of us. She wants all of us to come tomorrow. She says her name is Mary.”

Gerry is excited about seeming to witness a “miracle,” so he takes photos and makes videos of Alice speaking and hearing, with the amazed reactions of Father Hagan and other people in the community. Whether or not Gerry thinks the miracle is real isn’t as important to him as the idea that this story could be his big comeback. He calls Monica Slade (played by Christine Adams), his former editor at The Examiner, to pitch her on this story about a deaf and mute girl who can now hear and speak.

Monica turns down the pitch because Gerry has damaged his reputation for fabricating stories and she’s skeptical that he’s telling her the truth. She also mentions that she still thinks that Gerry is as fame-hungry as he was when they worked together. Gerry is undeterred and decides to pursue the story on his own.

The next day, several people in the town, including Gerry and Father Hagan, have gathered to where Alice has led them: that big tree in the field owned by the church. Two parents named Dan Walsh (played by Dustin Tucker) and Sophia Walsh (played by Gisela Chipe) have brought their wheelchair-bound son Toby Walsh (played by twins Danny Corbo and Sonny Corbo) to this gathering.

Alice immediately zeroes in on Toby and says to him, “Mary commands you to walk.” Toby replies, “I can’t.” Alice says, “Believe.” And sure enough, Toby gets up (hesitantly at first) and starts to walk. The crowd reacts exactly like how a crowd would react to witnessing a miracle. Meanwhile, Gerry is video recording and taking photos of what happened to Toby for Gerry’s news story, which has just now gotten much bigger.

The word quickly spreads about Toby gaining his ability to walk. And soon, it makes international news, and numerous people flock to Banfield to see Alice and maybe get some of the miracles that she now seems capable of making happen. The tree becomes a popular gathering place, as does the local Catholic church where Alice also makes appearances. Alice tells anyone who asks that she is only a vessel for Mary, which people assume is the Virgin Mary.

It’s mentioned in “The Unholy” that in order for something to be considered a true miracle, it must meet three criteria: (1) It has to cure what was medically diagnosed as incurable; (2) The cure must be instantaneous; and (3) The cure must be complete and permanent. It’s too bad that the elements of a good horror movie weren’t applied to “The Unholy,” such as (1) an interesting screenplay; (2) belivable scares/visual effects; and (3) actors who look fully enagaged, not like they’re just going through the motions.

It doesn’t help that the dialogue in the movie is so simplistic and boring. In one scene, a supporting character named Dr. Natalie Gates (played by Katie Aselton), who is Alice’s medical doctor, asks Alice what Mary really wants. Alice replies, “She wants faith.” This is basically the movie’s way of saying that Mary wants her own cult of believers, starting with anyone she can get in Banfield. Anyone who expresses doubt in Mary is punished.

The character of Dr. Natalie Gates is a stereotype of a potential love interest for the main protagonist in a formulaic movie like this one: At first, she acts like she’s not impressed by Gerry and she’s somewhat antagonistic toward him. But then, as they start to get closer, she warms up to him. It’s just all so predictable.

Gerry gets a lot of attention for being the first journalist to get this “miracle” story, which is compared in the news media to other famous Virgin Mary miracle stories, such as those in Fátima, Portugal. Gerry’s former boss Maria changes her mind about hiring him to do a news story for The Examiner. She calls Gerry to give the assignment, but she calls at the worst possible time, in an awkwardly written scene that happens later in the movie.

With all the media attention comes moneygrubbers looking to cash in on the story. And soon, Banfield has all the characteristics of a tourist attraction, with people selling Virgin Mary merchandise and other memorabilia. Gerry is soaking up all the notoriety that he’s getting, but he notices that Alice has become increasingly obsessed with having a big ceremony where everyone will proclaim their allegiance to Mary.

Here’s where the movie falters when it comes to how it tries to incorporate the Catholic religion into the story. Although there are plenty of real-life examples of movements aimed at getting people to believe in or convert to Christianity, the Catholic religion would not have an entire ceremony dedicated to worshipping the Virgin Mary, because Jesus Christ or God is considered the supreme being.

Even if Gerry knew nothing about the Catholic religion (and he does because he’s supposed to be a lapsed Catholic), as a journalist covering this story, he’s supposed to do his research. And if he did, he would’ve found out that what Alice is doing looks suspiciously like what cult leaders do. It would be enough to set off warning signs to a good investigative journalist, but Gerry is too caught up in the praise and glory for getting exclusive news scoops for this story.

“The Unholy” also unrealistically ignores the vast number of people from a massive institution like the Catholic Church who would be involved in this story. Instead, the Vatican sends only two Catholic clergymen who come to Banfield to investigate. Each man has his own agenda on how they can be part of the growing spectacle.

Bishop Gyles (played by Cary Elwes) is a smirking clergy leader who dismisses and thwarts anyone who expresses doubts that what Alice is doing isn’t a true Christian miracle. Father Delgarde (played by Diogo Morgado) is a devout priest who’s more open-minded to hearing various opinions because he has debunked false miracle claims before. But because Father Deglarde is an underling of Bishop Gyles, Father Delgarde has to go along with whatever the bishop orders.

It’s easy to see that Bishop Gyles is invested in keeping the miracle stories going because he wants to use these stories as a way to boost his own career in the Catholic Church. Father Delgarde is mainly concerned with doing God’s work and is more diplomatic and open-minded than Bishop Gyles is in looking at various possibilities. Gerry and Bishop Gyles both have big egos about this “miracle” story, so the two men have inevitable clashes, especially when things happen and Gerry starts to have doubts that Alice is acting on behalf of the Virgin Mary.

Because “The Unholy” is a horror movie, there are gruesome deaths that happen. And what is causing these miracles is eventually revealed. The answers won’t surprise anyone who’s seen enough of these type of religion-based supernatural horror movies. It all leads up to a very fire-and-brimstone climax that isn’t scary as much as it’s ridiculous, tacky and filled with bad dialogue.

As the characters of Gerry and Alice, Morgan and Brown have the most screen time in “The Unholy.” Morgan is doing yet another version of the roguish characters that he tends to play. Brown fulfills her role of Alice morphing from a shy, innocent teenager into someone who is very aware of the power of persuasion. There isn’t much depth to any of the personalities in this movie. Bishop Gyles is nothing but a caricature.

“The Unholy” isn’t even a “guilty pleasure” bad movie that’s enjoyable. Very little effort was made in creating a good mystery that’s a challenge to figure out, and there are no mind-blowing plot twists. The visual effects look very cheap (especially the scenes involving fire) and none of the movie’s significant characters is particularly likable, except for Father Delgarde. If horror movies are considered the junk food of cinema, then “The Unholy” is the equivalent of something that’s more like the disposable wrapping rather than the food itself.

Screen Gems released “The Unholy” in U.S. cinemas on April 2, 2021, and on digital and VOD on May 25, 2021. The movie’s release date on Blu-ray and DVD is June 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Women’ (2021), starring Adam Dorsey, Anna Marie Dobbins, Anna Maiche and Michael Simon Hall

June 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Anna Marie Dobbins, Michael Simon Hall and Anna Maiche in “Women” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Women” (2021)

Directed by Anton Sigurdsson

Culture Representation: Taking place in Florida, the horror flick “Women” has a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A police detective tries to solve the mystery of a serial kidnapper who has been abducting young women to force them into his own personal harem. 

Culture Audience: “Women” will appeal primarily to people who like watching stupid exploitation horror films that degrade women.

Adam Dorsey in “Women” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Ever get the feeling that some movies were made only so the filmmakers could do misogynistic and exploitative torture scenes? The horror flick “Women” (written and directed by Anton Sigurdsson) is one of those garbage movies. The reason why it’s obvious this is a despicable “torture porn” movie is because no real thought went into the “crime solving” aspect of the story. The movie puts most of its energy into the scenes where women are humiliated, sexually assaulted and tortured. And these scenes are filmed with a sadistic glee that reeks of female-hating sexism.

“Women” is just pure trash that’s masquerading as a thriller. There’s nothing thrilling about this brain-dead time-waster that seems to have as much contempt for viewers with basic common sense as it does for the idea that a horror film should actually be scary. It’s yet another unimaginative “serial rapist/kidnapper/killer on the loose” story that throws in a “good cop” character as filler to stretch out the film to make it look like some kind of intriguing police investigation. It’s not. And it doesn’t help that the acting in this movie is bottom-of-the barrel awful.

The police detective in this story (who unrealistically does all the legwork himself) is named Detective Hawk (played by Adam Dorsey), who works somewhere in Florida. The only city in Florida that’s mentioned in the movie is Interlachen, where one of the murder victims was last seen. This murder victim’s name was Linda Bridges, whose mutilated and decomposed body has been found in a car trunk at a junkyard in the beginning of the movie.

Detective Hawk is the lead investigator on the case, and he is at the junkyard where the body was found. A first responder at the scene estimates that the body has been in the car trunk for about a month. As an example of how little the filmmakers care about the police investigation and the Detective Hawk character, they never bother to give this detective a first name.

The witness who discovered the body and called the police is a heroin addict named Norma (played by Heather Fusari), who swears that she knows nothing about how or why the dead woman got killed and ended up in the car trunk. Detective Hawk soon finds out that the murder victim Linda Bridges and a local missing woman named Jennifer Liza Collins have something in common.

Both women mailed notes to their family members with the exact same wording, except for the name signed at the end. Each note was written in each woman’s own handwriting and had this message: “The colors of the world are so vibrant. I love you all. Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry. I’m safe and sound. Stop looking for me!”

Well, Linda sure isn’t safe and sound. She’s dead by murder. As for Jennifer, who’s classified as a missing person, Detective Hawk finds out from Jennifer’s sister Rose (played by Kylie Delre) that Jennifer might have written the note, but someone else came up with the words, because Jennifer hated her middle name Liza and wouldn’t realistically sign her middle name in any message. Jennifer’s sister says that Jennifer wanted the American Dream and was most likely kidnapped.

Because of these nearly identical notes and because Jennifer and Linda are both young white women, Detective Hawk comes up with the most predictable profile theory that the same person is responsible for what happened to Linda and Jennifer: a white male loner who lives in the area. “Women” has absolutely no interest in keeping viewers guessing about who the culprit is because it’s revealed before the movie is even half over. It’s also revealed in the movie’s trailer.

The psycho is a university sociology professor named Bradley Gilmore (stiffly played by Michael Simon Hall), who comes from a wealthy family. Bradley has an obsession with collecting pretty young women to be in a “Stepford Wives” situation, where they do his bidding while they are held captive in his large home. Anyone who tries to escape will be murdered.

It should come as no surprise that missing person Jennifer (played by Anna Marie Dobbins) is one of Bradley’s victims. She’s been brainwashed and emotionally beaten down to the point that she goes along with whatever Bradley wants. And what Bradley wants is to kidnap another young woman to be part of this twisted harem.

This next victim is Hailey (played by Anna Maiche), who works as a sales clerk at a clothing boutique. Bradley comes into the store one evening right before it closes and says that he’s looking for something that he can give as a gift for his wife. Bradley and Hailey are in the store alone. And when it gets past closing time, Hailey mentions with dismay that she’s missed the last bus to go home.

Bradley already seems to know this because he was obviously stalking Hailey and knew her routine, although this stalking is not shown in the movie. He offers her a ride home. And she says yes because she knows him as a professor at the university she attends, and that’s why she automatically trusts him.

When they get to Hailey’s place, Bradley asks to use the bathroom. And she foolishly lets him inside. After coming out of the bathroom, he leaves the apartment but then comes back seconds later and asks to be let back inside because he said he left his phone in the bathroom. You know what happens next. Hailey is kidnapped and the rest of the movie is a series of scenes with Hailey being tortured, raped and getting other physical assaults by Bradley.

One method of torture that Hailey endures is that she’s bound and gagged to a chair and forced to listen to high-pitched screeching noises at full volume while wearing headphones. This scenario is repeated enough times that it becomes moronically gratuitous. Jennifer is essentially Bradley’s watchdog who repeatedly warns Hailey that Hailey will be killed if she tries to escape.

Bradley has surveillance cameras in the house, including the bedroom where Jennifer and Hailey spend most of their time in captivity. But ludicrously, in one part of the movie, Jennifer (whose allegiance to Bradley starts to crumble) and Hailey plan their escape and talk about the details out loud, even though they know that they’re being filmed. Of course, this plot hole is never explained because there’s no explaining this type of horrible screenwriting.

The production design for this movie looks laughably unprofessional in a scene where Hailey discovers that a vent in the bedroom leads to a secret passageway tunnel. But when she goes in the “tunnel,” it actually looks like she’s in a portable plastic tube, not a real tunnel inside a building. There are amateur home videos that look better than this trashy movie.

“Women” makes a very superficial attempt to give Detective Hawk a backstory, by showing him in a Co-Dependent Anonymous meeting with people who admittedly enable loved ones with addiction problems. The drug addict/alcoholic in Detective Hawk’s family is his mother Mandy (played by Cindy Hogan), who’s a complete mess when he goes to visit her or talks to her on the phone. In his support group, Detective Hawk says that he’s divorced and that he moved back to his hometown to take care of his mother.

The movie has an odd tangent to Detective Hawk’s personal story because he confides in his support group that his sister (played by Susanna Matza, in a flashback) was a heroin addict who went missing, but he found out that she’s dead. However, Detective Hawk won’t tell his mother about this death because he’s afraid she’ll have a complete breakdown. And so, he keeps lying to his mother by telling her that he’s still looking for his “missing” sister.

What does this story about a cop who cruelly lies to his mother about the death of her daughter have to do with the psycho killer/kidnapper? Absolutely nothing. It’s just more misogyny on display.

Hailey is reported missing. And when Detective Hawk finds out that Hailey, Jennifer and Liza all went to the same university, he does some digging on the school’s faculty and staff and finds out that Bradley has a history of being arrested for rape. The charges were dropped because he paid off the women who accused him of rape.

When Detective Hawk inevitably shows up at Bradley’s home to investigate and interview him, Bradley unsurprisingly denies anything to do with the Linda’s death and the disappearances of Jennifer and Hailey. But then, Bradley bizarrely claims that he has a wife and that they’ve been happily married for 31 years.

It’s a lie that’s easily exposed by Detective Hawk, who finds out that Bradley has never been married. But that lie isn’t enough to get a search warrant. And you know what that means in a dumb movie like this one: Detective Hawk is going to sneak into Bradley’s house by himself without a warrant.

There are some “kidnapping and torture” horror movies that are truly terrifying, but “Women” is just idiotic and dull in every possible way. It’s no secret that the types of movies that revel in showing women being tortured and degraded in gratuitous ways are almost always written and directed by men who are exposing their misogyny for the world to see. Let this despicable movie be an example of the exploitative, sexist and untalented filmmakers to avoid if you care about quality filmmaking.

Gravitas Ventures released “Women” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 28, 2021.

Review: ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,’ starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson

June 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”

Directed by Michael Chaves

Culture Representation: Taking place in Connecticut and Massachusetts in 1981, the horror sequel “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Hispanics) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife, who are well-known demonologists/paranormal investigators, get involved in a murder case to try to prove that the defendant was possessed by an evil spirit when he committed the murder. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of people who are fans of “The Conjuring” franchise, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” will appeal to people who are interested in horror movies that blend the supernatural with real-life legal drama.

Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Vince Pisani, Sarah Catherine Hook and Patrick Wilson in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

How much people might enjoy “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” will depend on how much they can tolerate “The Conjuring” universe taking a “Law & Order”-like turn in this particular sequel. That’s because demonologist/paranormal investigator spouses Ed Warren (played by Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Wilson (played by Vera Farmiga) go beyond the typical haunted house/exorcism storylines of previous “The Conjuring” movies and get involved in a murder case to the point where the Warrens are investigating crime scenes like detectives and giving legal advice like attorneys.

It has the potential to make “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” a convoluted mess. But somehow, it all works out to be a satisfying horror thriller that makes up for its predictability with good performances, some terrifying visual effects and overall suspenseful pacing. The movie also has some unexpected touches of humor and romance that take some of the edge off this grim and gruesome story.

Directed by Michael Chaves and written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (also known as “The Conjuring 3”) is inspired by a true story from the case files of the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren. The case was about Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who stabbed his 40-year-old landlord to death in Brookfield, Connecticut, in 1981, when Johnson was 19 years old. Johnson admitted to the stabbing but pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

His defense? The devil made him do it. Johnson claimed that during the stabbing, he had been possessed by the devil, which entered his body a few months before, during an exorcism of an 11-year-old boy named David Glatzel, who happened to be the younger brother of Arne’s girlfriend Debbie Glatzel. It was the first known U.S. murder case where demonic possession was used as a defense argument.

In real life, the Warrens got involved in the case because they were at this exorcism that was the catalyst for this tragic turn of events. And the Warrens ended up testifying on behalf of Johnson. (The trial doesn’t happen until toward the end of the movie.)

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” begins with an effectively horrifying re-enactment of the exorcism of David Glatzel (played by Julian Hilliard), which takes place in the movie at the Glatzel home on July 18, 1981. In the movie, David is 8 years old, not 11. Ed and Lorraine Warren are at the exorcism, along with Arne (played by Ruairi O’Connor) and Arne’s live-in girlfriend Debbie (played by Sarah Catherine Hook), who have a very loyal and loving relationship.

Arne and Debbie are both in their late teens and live in another house in Brookfield. Also at the exorcism are David and Debbie’s father Carl Glatzel (played by Paul Wilson); David and Debbie’s mother Judy Glatzel (played by Charlene Amoia); and the Warrens’ videographer/assistant Drew Thomas (played by Shannon Kook), who is filming this exorcism.

When the movie begins, it’s implied that the exorcism has been going on for hours, with David showing ebbs and flows in his demonic possession. At one point, David has reached such a state of exhaustion that Arne takes David up to David’s bedroom to tuck the boy into bed. Arne is depicted as a mild-mannered and polite person.

Arne tells David, “You’re one brave kid. I was a little runt growing up, so I know what it’s like to be picked on, but that was nothing compared to what you’re going through.” David says, “I don’t feel very brave.” Arne replies, “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you’re scared, but you’re hanging in there. I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

David then says, “Arne when are you going to ask my sister to marry you?” Arne replies with a slightly embarrassed tone, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Despite this friendly banter, there’s a lingering sense of danger in the air. Arne looks outside David’s bedroom window and sees that a priest has arrived by taxi.

The priest is Father Gordon (played by Steve Coulter), who will be the official exorcist for David. Whatever evil spirits are around seem to know that a clergy person is there, because all hell breaks loose soon after the arrival of Father Gordon. David starts attacking like a demon child, beginning with stabbing his father in the leg. He goes through various contortions. And the inside of the house begins to look like a full-force tornado with swirling gusts of evil.

During this chaos, when possessed David attacks Ed, who is knocked down on the ground. Arne sees that the demon won’t leave David’s body, so Arne grabs the possessed child and shouts at the demon: “Leave him alone and take me!” And not long after that, David calms down, but Arne won’t be the same. And neither will Ed, because he’s had a heart attack during this exorcism.

It’s a powerful way to begin the movie, which grabs viewers’ attention from this opening sequence and keeps this heightened level of tension throughout the film. David seems to be “cured,” but Arne starts having nightmarish visions. There’s a sinister-looking woman (played by Eugenie Bondurant) who keeps appearing in the visions, with a clear intent to harm Arne. For example, the first time that she attacks Arne, she starts to strangle him, but he’s able to stop it when he comes out of his trance.

At first, Arne doesn’t tell anyone about his visions because he doesn’t want people to think that he’s crazy. But then, things happen to the point where can no longer keep it a secret that strange things have been happening to him. It’s eventually revealed in the movie who this evil-looking woman is and her ultimate malicious intent.

Ed’s heart attack lands him in a hospital emergency room. He’s eventually released, but he has to use a wheelchair for a good deal of the story. Over time (this movie takes place over a six-month period, from May to November 1981), Ed doesn’t need the wheelchair anymore, but he has to use a cane. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” includes a flashback to May 1981, when the Glatzels moved into the home that appears to be where the family first encountered the demon, which attacked David in a memorable scene involving a water bed.

Meanwhile, Arne and Debbie are trying to get their lives back to normal. Arne works for a tree service company, and Debbie works for Brookfield Boarding Kennels, a pet service company that’s located inside a two-story house. Debbie and Arne live in the house rent-free as part of her job. It’s a house that’s filled with barking dogs kept in cages when they’re inside.

In a conversation that takes place after the exorcism, Arne suggests to Debbie that they move away from Brookfield. He also drops hints that they should eventually get married. Debbie seems reluctant to move away from Brookfield because she and Arne can’t really afford to move yet and she doesn’t want to live too far away from her family. However, she tells Arne that she’ll think about it.

The owner of Brookfield Boarding Kennels is a creepy drunk named Bruno Salz (played by Ronnie Gene Blevins), who has an underpaid Debbie doing most of the work. She’s very responsible and caring in her job, where she’s essentially the manager and bookkeeper for the business. And that’s another reason why Debbie doesn’t really want to move: She’s afraid that the dogs won’t be taken care of very well if flaky Bruno is left in charge of the kennel.

Bruno has been pestering Arne to repair Bruno’s broken stereo in the house’s living room. And one day, when the stereo is repaired, Bruno decides to crank up the music and have an impromptu party with Debbie, Arne and plenty of alcohol. Bruno plays Blondie’s “Call Me” full blast on the steroe and starts dancing with an uncomfortable-looking Debbie. (“Call Me” will be featured in another part of the movie too.)

Suddenly, Arne seems to be losing touch with reality. And this is where he’s supposed to be possessed by the demon. There’s an almost psychedelic nightmare that’s depicted on screen. And by the end, it’s revealed that Bruno was stabbed to death by Arne. (The stabbing is never shown on screen.) The murder in the movie takes place in September 1981, but in real life, the murder happened on February 16, 1981. It was the first murder in Brookfield’s history.

In a daze, Arne walks down a deserted road, with blood on his hands and clothes. A police officer (played by Chris Greene) in a patrol car stops to ask Arne what’s going on. And that’s when Arne says, “I think I hurt someone.” Arne is arrested for Bruno’s murder. And guess who’s coming back to Brookfield to investigate?

Fans of mystery solving will appreciate the added storyline of Ed and Lorraine Warren doing a lot of detective-like investigating, as the Warrens dig deep to find out the origins of this evil spirit that seems to have taken possession of Arne. In the movie, the demon isn’t inside of Arne all of the time. Arne is placed in the psychiatric ward in the local jail, and he’s a fairly passive prisoner most of the time. But there are moments when the demon comes back to haunt and possibly harm Arne.

In the movie, the Warrens are depicted as being the ones to convince Arne’s defense attorney Meryl (played by Ashley LeConte Campbell) to use demonic possession as a defense argument for Arne. It’s an unprecedented legal strategy that Meryl is convinced won’t work, until Ed and Lorraine show the attorney what they found in their demonologist research over the years. Debbie and the rest of the Glatzel family fully believe that Arne was possessed when he killed Bruno, so the Glatzels are supportive of Arne before and during the trial.

The Warrens take it upon themselves to help gather evidence for this case, but they also want to see if they can get rid of this demonic spirit that they believe exists. The Warrens’ investigation leads them to Danvers, Massachusetts, where they find out how the mysterious case of two teenage girls who were best friends is somehow connected to Arne’s case.

The teenagers are named Katie Lincoln (played by Andrea Andrade) and Jessica Louise Strong (played by Ingrid Bisu), who went missing in May 1981. Katie was found murdered, while Jessica is still missing. The Warrens also track down a former priest whose last name is Kastner (played by John Noble), who might have some answers about this particular demon.

Along the way, Ed and Lorraine also get help from a jail priest named Father Newman (played by Vince Pisani) and a police detective in Danvers named Sergeant Clay (played by Keith Arthur Bolden), who is skeptical at first about helping the Warrens. But then, things happen that change Sergeant Clay’s mind. The movie has a few far-fetched things in the story, such as Sergeant Clay being willing to share his case files with Ed and Lorraine, when in reality that’s a serious breach of police protocol.

And some of the horror scenes are over-the-top with visual effects happening in a very “only in a movie” way, instead of depicting what the real exorcisms probably looked like. The amount of body contortions alone would break bones and put someone in a hospital. But elaborate scare spectacles are what people who watch horror movies like this expect to see.

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” delivers in a way that’s effectively chilling but not as disturbing as 1973’s “The Exorcist,” the gold standard for exorcism movies. However, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is a vast improvement over director Chaves’ feature-film directorial debut: the bland 2019 horror flick “The Curse of La Llorona.” Because of Arne’s murder trial, there’s a lot more at stake than the usual attempts to rid a person or a house of an evil spirit.

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is also helped by a suitably convincing production design (by Jennifer Spence), which involves a lot of dusty, dark and unsettling places. And it’s easy to see why the movie changed the seasonal time period to the late summer/early autumn, instead of winter, because cinematographer Michael Burgess effectively uses a lot of autumn-like brown and gold for the exterior shots to contrast with the black and gray of the biggest horror scenes in the film. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” would have looked like a very different movie if it took place in the winter.

Viewers will also see little bit more backstory to Ed and Lorraine’s relationship. In brief romantic flashback scenes, it’s shown how the couple met: Thirty years prior, when Ed and Lorraine were both 17 years old, Lorraine (played by Megan Ashley Brown) went with some friends to a movie theater, where Ed (played by Mitchell Hoog) was working as an usher. It was attraction at first sight, and they began dating shortly afterward.

The movie doesn’t have these scenes as filler. Lorraine is reminiscing about this courtship because of Ed’s near-death scare with his heart attack. It’s caused her to reflect on their longtime relationship. And it’s made the couple appreciate their marriage and partnership even more.

But the movie also has a few touches of comic relief, by showing some of the personal dynamics between this longtime married couple. There are some subtle references to the gender roles that were and still are expected of couples who work together. In “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Lorraine has to take charge of much of the literal physical legwork in the investigation because of Ed’s recovery from his heart attack.

In a scene where Ed and Lorraine want to investigate a cellar in the Glatzel house, Ed (who is using a cane) realistically won’t be able to crawl around in the cellar. However, Ed tells Lorraine, who tends to dress like a prim and proper schoolteacher: “Honey, let me handle it. You’re going to ruin your dress if you go in there … Be careful.” With an “I can handle it” expression on her face, Lorraine calmly says, “Just hold my purse,” as she hands her purse to Ed. It’s a very realistic and hilarious moment that says it all about how women are often underestimated by men.

The film also shows Ed’s frustration at not being able to physically move around in the way that he’s been used to for all of his life. His anxiety isn’t portrayed in a heavy-handed way, but it’s a nod to the lifestyle adjustments that people who’ve been able-bodied have to go through when they find themselves disabled, even if it’s a temporary disabled condition. Ed does some griping about it, but not in a way that’s too self-pitying.

In a scene where Ed and Lorraine leave a courthouse after a preliminary hearing for Arne, observant viewers will notice that Ed needs to be carried in his wheelchair down the courtroom steps. It’s because the story takes place nine years before the Americans with Disabilities Act made it federal law in 1990 for buildings to provide reasonable access for disabled people. Nowadays, a courtroom building with outdoor steps, such as the building depicted in the movie, is also supposed to have ramps for people who use wheelchairs or walkers.

Since the first “The Conjuring” movie was released in 2013, Farmiga and Wilson have settled into these roles with a charming familiarity. Lorraine is the more level-headed and articulate one in this couple, while Ed (and his East Coast dialect slang) is the more approachable and down-to-earth spouse. Farmiga and Wilson are believable as a couple with a very deep love and respect for each other.

The rest of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles, but the characters that are new to “The Conjuring” franchise for this movie were clearly written as only for this movie. The character of Arne is a little on the generic side, but O’Connor does an admirable job of conveying Arne’s inner turmoil. Bondurant’s role as the mystery woman who’s been plaguing Arne definitely brings a menacing aura to the movie, but she hardly says anything, so her presence is literally more muted than it needs to be.

Make no mistake: Ed and Lorraine Warren are the main characters for viewers to be the most invested in emotionally. In “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Lorraine’s psychic abilities are a major part of the story. People might have mixed feelings about how these psychic visions are depicted in the movie and how much of this real-life case was embellished into a Hollywood version.

But just like the rest of the story, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” isn’t about trying to explain a lot of things that can’t be explained by scientific facts. Whether or not viewers believe that demonic spirits exist, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” succeeds in providing plenty of memorable horror that makes it a worthy part of “The Conjuring” universe.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on June 4, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 26, 2021.

Review: ‘A Quiet Place Part II,’ starring Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Djimon Hounsou

May 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Emily Blunt in “A Quiet Place Part II” (Photo by Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures)

“A Quiet Place Part II”

Directed by John Krasinski

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York state and unnamed parts of the U.S. East Coast during a post-apolcalyptic time period, the horror sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widow and her three underage children try to survive giant lizard-like monsters that have taken over Earth, but her eldest child decides to run away from their shelter to find other survivors. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of people who saw 2018’s “A Quiet Place,” the sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” will appeal to people who are interested in watching suspenseful “creature feature” horror films that aren’t too gory.

Cillian Murphy in “A Quiet Place Part II” (Photo by Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures)

“A Quiet Place Part II” (written and directed by John Krasinski) doesn’t fall into the sequel trap of recycling too much of the same story as its predecessor, but it definitely helps to see the first “A Quiet Place” movie, which was released in 2018. “A Quiet Place Part II” is a more action-oriented thriller than “A Quiet Place,” because so much of the horror in “A Quiet Place Part II” is happening at different locations at the same time. Thanks to skillful film editing from Michael P. Shawver, “A Quiet Place Part II” viewers will often feel like they’re in a dimension where they can experience what’s going on in more than one place simultaenously, as the tension ramps up in each scene.

It’s a big contrast to “A Quiet Place,” which focused on one location at a time, during one family’s fight for survival in an apocalyptic world where giant lizard-mutant-looking aliens have taken over Earth. In “A Quiet Place,” viewers aren’t shown what life for this family was like before the apocalypse. But it’s eventually revealed that the creatures that have invaded Earth and massacred most of the world’s humans are blind and can’t smell but have an extremely acute sense of hearing. Therefore, when outside, apocalypse survivors have to be very quiet because any sound can attract the alien monsters, which show no mercy in devouring any living being.

“A Quiet Place Part II” was made with the assumption that most people seeing the movie have already seen “A Quiet Place” or know what the movie is about, including the spoiler information. This sequel is best appreciated with full knowledge of these details, or else viewers might initially feel a little bit lost or confused by what’s going on in the story. The ending of “A Quiet Place” shows the discovery of a way to fight the monsters, and this defense mechanism is used a lot in “A Quiet Place Part II.” Knowing what happened in “A Quiet Place” goes a long way in explaining key aspects of “A Quiet Place Part II.”

The family at the center of this crisis are the main human characters who were in “A Quiet Place,” which takes place somewhere in the suburbs of upstate New York. The family members are Lee Abbott (played by Krasinski, who directed and co-wrote “A Quiet Place”); Lee’s wife Evelyn Abbott (played by Emily Blunt, who is married to Krasinski in real life); their daughter Regan Abbott (played by Millicent Simmonds); son Marcus Abbott (played by Noah Jupe); and son Beau Abbott (played by Cade Woodward). In “A Quiet Place,” Regan is about 12 or 13 years old, Marcus is about 10 or 11 years old, and Beau is about 5 or 6 years old.

In “A Quiet Place,” the Abbotts spend most of their days in a remote, abandoned farmhouse that has an underground bunker rigged with ways to alert them if the alien monsters are nearby. The family members venture outside when they need food, medicine or supplies. Even though they have a truck that works, they usually travel by foot, so as not to cause any noise that will attract the monsters. (One of the plot holes in “A Quiet Place” is a pivotal part of the movie where Regan has to drive the truck back to the farmhouse, and the engine noise unrealistically doesn’t attract the monsters.)

[Spoiler alert] In the beginning of “A Quiet Place,” a tragedy occurs where Beau is killed by one of the monsters. The movie then fast-forwards to about year later. Evelyn is pregnant, and her childbirth scene is one of the most tension-filled highlights of “A Quiet Place,” considering it’s nearly impossible for someone to give birth silently. And near the end of “A Quiet Place,” Lee dies when he sacrifices himself in order to protect his children. [End of spoiler alert.]

The beginning of “A Quiet Place Part II” gives a glimpse of the alien invasion when it began, so Lee is briefly shown during this terrifying opening sequence that was teased in the first “A Quiet Place Part II” trailer. The rest of the movie, which starts on day 474 of the alien invasion, shows a widowed Evelyn and her kids Regan, Marcus and a newborn son (whose name is not mentioned in the movie) trying to find a new shelter and other survivors. Evelyn ha a shotgun rifle with her for protection.

The Abbotts leave the abandoned farmhouse, which was destroyed in the monster battle that took place in the first movie. The house is set on fire, which is symbolic of the Abbotts trying to burn away the painful memories of a place they can no longer call their home. As in the first “A Quiet Place,” the family members don’t wear shoes when walking outside, because shoes make noises that the alien monsters can hear.

Regan, who happens to be deaf, is the most intelligent and most analytical member of this family. Just like in the first “A Quiet Place” movie, Regan figures out ways to save lives by outsmarting the monsters. For now, the Abbotts are on the move to find other survivors.

The trailer for “A Quiet Place Part II” shows a lot of what happens in ths movie’s plot: While walking in a field near an abandonded building, Evelyn’s foot sets off a booby trap that was placed there by another survivor. The man who set the booby trap is a deeply cynical loner who is at first hostile about letting the Abbotts or anyone else stay with him in his bunker. Regan and this man end up traveling somewhere together. And there are other survivors who encounter the monsters in a recreational park.

The man who lets the Abbotts stay with him is named Emmett (played by Cillian Murphy), and he happens to be someone who knew Evelyn’s late husband Lee as a friend. It’s strongly implied that if Emmett had not known Lee, Emmett might have treated this family more harshly and probably would have refused to let the Abbotts stay with him. Emmett (who also has a gun for protection) is bitter and grieving because he lost his family during the apocalypse. Emmett says out loud to the Abbott family that whatever humans are left in the world aren’t worth saving.

Of course, there’s a lot more that happens in the story—always with the threat of the monsters showing up when they hear any noises. Marcus gets his foot caught in a bear trap, so it’s easy to imagine what happens when he screams out in pain. While his foot his healing, Regan comforts Marcus by having him listen to music on a transister radio with headphones. Marcus tells Regan that the Bobby Darin song “Beyond the Sea” is playing on a repeat loop. She doesn’t think it’s a mistake or coincidence.

Regan decides to leave Emmett’s shelter when she figures out that there are other survivors hinting at their location through the repeat playing of “Beyond the Sea.” The movie explains how she’s able to decipher this clue and get a general idea of where the other survivors are. And when Evelyn finds out that Regan is missing, she begs Emmett to go looking for Regan.

It’s why Regan and Emmett are separated from Evelyn, Marcus and the baby for most of the movie. And, as revealed in the movie’s trailer, there are many other human survivors. Some are friendly and welcoming, while others are most definitely not. The alien monsters aren’t the only deadly creatures roaming around, because some of the humans are very homicidal too.

Because the characters in “A Quiet Place” have to stay silent when outdoors, there’s not a lot of dialogue, as there would be in a typical post-apocayptic horror movie. The character development is at a bare minimum, because these humans are just trying to survive and don’t have time to sit around having deep conversations. Evelyn is still a fierce and brave protector of her children, Regan is a fearless risk-taker, and Marcus is a mostly obedient child who finds his inner strength in this sequel.

However, the addition of new characters in “A Quiet Place Part II” was necessary to advance the story. Emmett represents the devastation of someone who has isolated himself from the rest of the world because he’s lost everyone he loved. He’s not suicidal, but he’s lost faith and hope in humanity.

Djimon Hounsou depicts an unnamed character who’s introduced toward the end of the movie. In other words, viewers should not expect Hounsou to have a lot of screen time in “A Quiet Place Part II.” Scoot McNairy is briefly in the movie as an unnamed man who encounters Regan and Emmett at a marina. All of the actors in “A Quiet Place Part II” do well in their roles, but Simmonds and Murphy have the scenes that carry the most emotional weight.

The visual effects in this sequel are more challenging and frightening, since there are more creature attacks and more people who are killed in “A Quiet Place Part II,” compared to the first “A Quiet Place.” Nothing is too gruesome, but there are enough deaths that these scenes might be too disturbing to viewers who are very young or very sensitive. And it’s easy to keep track of the simultaneous action happening in different locations because the film’s editing won’t let you forget it.

Visually and tonally, “A Quiet Place Part II” has more frantic intensity than “A Quiet Place,” because there’s the added tension of an underage child (Regan) separated from her only living parent while deadly creatures are on the loose. Regan’s independent streak is the biggest personality evolution of the members of the Abbott family in “A Quiet Place Part II.” And based on how “A Quiet Place Part II” ends, Regan is going to be a driving force of future sequels in this franchise.

“A Quiet Place Part II” shows how in this post-apocalyptic world, people can choose to reach out and find strength in helping each other, or people can choose to isolate themselves in a “survival of the fittest” mentality. It’s an obvious metaphor for how people in the real world can respond to global crises. The creature rampages are a big attraction of “A Quiet Place” movies, but what will keep viewers hooked the most is the believable humanity in this survival saga.

Paramount Pictures will release “A Quiet Place Part II” in U.S. cinemas on March 28, 2021.

Review: ‘The Djinn,’ starring Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, John Erickson, Tevy Poe and Donald Pitts

May 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ezra Dewey in “The Djinn” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“The Djinn”

Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1989, in Burbank. California, the horror film “The Djinn” features a cast of white and Asian characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A mute boy, who’s about 11 or 12 years old, finds a spell in an occult book, uses the spell to wish that he could talk, and then horror begins happening to him in his home. 

Culture Audience: “The Djinn” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dull horror movies that rip off ideas that many other horror movies have done much better.

Ezra Dewey in “The Djinn” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

The overrated and boring horror film “The Djinn” barely has enough of a story to put in a short film. Instead, it’s an 82-minute repetitive and derivative slog with a bland, poorly written plot. It’s basically a movie about a kid reacting to seeing an evil spirit that shows up in different forms while he’s alone in his home. The problem is that the movie (which isn’t very scary) is lacking in originality, interesting characters and a compelling story.

Written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, “The Djinn” is obviously a very low-budget film, since almost the entire movie takes place in one location (an apartment building in Burbank, California), the visual effects are bottom-of-the-barrel basic, and the very small cast consists of actors who are unknown to the general public. But having a low budget is no excuse for having a low-quality film. The first “Paranormal Activity” movie is a perfect example of an extremely low-budget horror film that was still compelling and terrifying.

In “The Djinn,” which takes place in the summer and fall of 1989, a lonely, mute boy name Dylan Jacobs (played by Ezra Dewey) finds himself caught in his home alone with a demon called the Djinn. Dylan, who’s about 11 or 12 years old, summoned the Djinn when he chanted a spell in an occult book called “Book of Shadows” that he found hidden in the apartment where Dylan and his divorced father Michael Jacobs (played by Rob Brownstein) have recently moved. Dylan’s mother Michelle (played by Tevy Poe) left the family during an unspecified time period. Michael works the night shift as a DJ at a local soft-rock radio station.

In the “Book of Shadows” (even that title is boring), Dylan sees that the spell is part of a ritual that people can do to make a wish come true. Those who go through the ritual must take a lighted candle, put three drops of blood in the candle, chant the spell while looking in the mirror, and then Djinn will appear. Anyone who can survive the Djinn for one hour will have their wish granted. How many times has this “demon conjured up by a spell” plot been used in a horror movie? Yawn.

Not surprisingly, Dylan goes through the ritual because he wants this wish to come true: He wants to be able to talk. Dylan’s father Michael isn’t in the movie very much, because most of the film takes place during the night that Dylan has to survive the Djinn, while Dylan’s father is away at work. This movie is so badly written, it doesn’t answer many questions that come up during the story.

Very little is told about Dylan and Michael. It’s never explained if Dylan goes to school or is homeschooled. Dylan has a Y-shaped scar on his chest that isn’t explained either. Viewers will probably assume that this scar has something to do with Dylan’s voice disability. Michael and Dylan seem to have a loving father-son relationship, but too little of it is seen in the movie to determine what type of family life Michael and Dylan really have.

There’s a scene where Dylan asks his father, “Do you think Mom would have stayed if I wasn’t different?” Michael comforts Dylan by saying, “When we start thinking about things we’re missing, we forget about things we have … You’re perfect the way you are. Never forget that.”

This movie doesn’t go into details over why Dylan’s mother Michelle left the family. However, even before conjuring up the Djinn, Dylan was waking up to visions of seeing his mother sobbing in the candle-lit kitchen, with her back toward him. It’s a vision that keeps getting repeated in the movie until you know what Dylan is going to see when she finally turns around. It’s all so dull and predictable.

The Djinn can shapeshift into many forms. It often comes in the form of black smoke, so it can seep into rooms without being easily contained. During the course of the movie, the Djinn shapeshifts into three human-appearing entities: Dylan’s mother Michelle; the elderly man who was the apartment’s previous resident (played by Donald Pitts); and a 31-year-old escaped prisoner named Norman Daniel (played by John Erickson), who was killed in a hit-and-run accident the night before.

These three human-like manifestations are supposed to represent Dylan’s fears in some way. Dylan obviously has trauma from his mother’s abandonment. When Dylan finds out that the apartment’s previous resident died in the apartment, viewers can assume Dylan has some fear about it because Dylan’s father didn’t know the cause of death when Dylan asked about it. As for the escaped prisoner killed in the hit-and-run accident (which is not shown in the movie), Dylan knew about it because it was reported on the radio.

“The Djinn” rips off some tropes that were used in other, much better horror movies. During various scenes in “The Djinn,” a TV in the living room turns on randomly, with only static on the screen. That’s straight out of 1982’s “Poltergeist.” And there are repetitive scenes of Dylan trapped in a bathroom, with the Djinn on the other side trying to break down the door down, as Dylan frantically tries to shut the door. It’s filmed very much like Shelley Duvall’s famous “trapped in a bathroom” scene in 1980’s “The Shining,” with Jack Nicholson portraying the killer on a rampage.

And there are things in “The Djinn” that don’t make sense at all. There’s a scene when the Djinn is chasing Dylan, and Dylan breaks his ankle during the chase. The injury is severe enough that bone is jutting out of the ankle. But then, in later scenes in the movie, there’s no sign of Dylan having an injured ankle at all.

There’s a scene where Dylan picks up a phone to call for help, even though he’s supposed to be mute. It’s possible that it was a phone for hearing-impaired/mute people, but there’s no indication of that because it looks like a regular phone. In 1989, phones for hearing-impaired/mute people had clunky equipment attached, which isn’t seen in this movie. It’s just more sloppy screenwriting and careless directing on display.

The movie’s ending is a very predictable and disappointing dud. And viewers will more likely end up feeling bored instead of feeling terrified after all the unimaginative scare tactics that are in the movie. As the young protagonist Dylan, Dewey is in every scene in “The Djinn,” and he does a pretty good job of looking afraid. But frightened reaction expressions aren’t enough to make a good horror movie. The 1990 comedy film “Home Alone” has more suspense than this forgettable horror flick.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “The Djinn” in select U.S cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 14, 2021.

Review: ‘Spiral’ (2021), starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson

May 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Chris Rock and Max Minghella in “Spiral” (Photo by Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate)

“Spiral” (2021) 

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Spiral” features a racially diverse cast (African American, white and Latino) representing the middle-class and working-class

Culture Clash: A police detective tries to find out who’s behind the serial killings of cops in his police department, as he reluctantly trains a rookie cop..

Culture Audience: “Spiral” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Saw” franchise and anyone who doesn’t mind watching gruesome horror flicks with flimsy plots.

Samuel L. Jackson in “Spiral” (Photo by Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate)

In this dreadful continuation of the “Saw” horror franchise, “Spiral” has a misguided mashup of Chris Rock doing stale stand-up comedy lines in a “torture porn” story that rips off elements of “Training Day” and “Shaft.” The results are messier than the movie’s bloody corpses. “Spiral” was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed the 2005’s “Saw II,” 2006’s “Saw III” and 2007’s “Saw IV,” with each sequel panned as worse than its predecessor. Therefore, it’s mind-boggling that people thought it would be a good idea to hand over the revival of the “Saw” franchise to a director who has been largely blamed for ruining the franchise the first time around.

The first “Saw” movie—released in 2004, directed by James Wan, and written by Leigh Whannell—is still considered the best in the series. Wan and Whannell are two horror movie masters who have proved their talent with several other critically acclaimed horror flicks, such as the first “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” movies. Wan and Whannell are credited with being executive producers of “Spiral,” but “executive producer” is a movie title that can bestowed on anyone who might have had a consulting role on the film but wasn’t involved in the day-to-day production decisions for the movie.

The unimaginative and lazy screenplay for “Spiral” was written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, a duo with a history of writing cheesy horror flicks, including 2017’s “Jigsaw” (another “Saw” movie) and 2010’s “Piranha 3D.” And even though “Spiral” can boast the star power of Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in its cast (they are the most famous actors so far to star in a “Saw” franchise movie), that doesn’t mean the quality of “Spiral” is better than most of the bottom-of-the-barrel “Saw” flicks. And besides, Rock and Jackson have been in plenty of other horrible movies, so their names alone don’t guarantee that a movie is going to be any good.

In “Spiral,” there’s a new serial killer on the loose. And this murderer has been targeting cops in a police department that employs detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks, played by Rock. The movie takes place in an unnamed big city in the United States. Jackson portrays Zeke’s father Marcus Banks, who’s the department’s retired police chief and who is considered to be a respected hero by the people who still work there. The same can’t be said of Zeke, who is treated like a traitor by his peers.

That’s because 12 years ago, as shown in flashbacks, Zeke turned in his cop partner Pete Dunleavy (played by Patrick McManus) for shooting and killing a murder witness in cold blood. Therefore, Zeke has been labeled a snitch, and he’s not very well-liked by most of the other cops on the staff. (In one of the movie’s early scenes, Zeke finds a dead rat in a mousetrap placed on his desk.) Not long after his testimony sent a fellow cop to prison 12 years ago, Deke was shot (maybe not accidentally) by an older detective colleague named O’Brien (played by Thomas Mitchell), and there’s still a lot of bad blood between Zeke and O’Brien.

“Spiral” shows from the opening scene that the killer is targeting cops. During a Fourth of July parade at night, a police detective named Marvin “Boz” Bozwick, who’s off-duty, spots a thief steal a woman’s purse, and he gives chase to the crook. The purse snatcher is dressed like Uncle Sam on stilts, which is a ridiculous way to be dressed if you’re a thief who wants to get away on foot and blend into a crowd. It’s an example of how moronic this story is.

The thief disappears into a manhole. And the next thing you know, someone wearing a pig’s mask ambushes Boz and captures him. Boz is next seen hanging from a torture device on some subway train tracks. And you know what that means: A train will be coming any minute. The torture device has Boz’s tongue locked up. The only way that he can possibly escape is if he tears himself away from the torture device, but that would mean his tongue would be ripped out in the process.

Every “Saw” movie has the murderer kidnapping people, setting up elaborate tortures for the kindapping victims, and then sending a video or audio message to the captured person. The message explains how the captured person has a chance to escape and live, but only if some part of their body is dismembered. And there’s a time limit on how long the person has to escape before the torture mechanism will kill the victim. Usually, the person who’s been kidnapped has done something horrible and the kidnapping/torture is revenge for it.

Boz and his tongue have been targeted because he has a history of lying in court testimony, and his lies have sent innocent people to prison. A video monitor on the train tracks shows a message from the killer to Boz, to make sure that Boz knows the reason why he’s been chosen for this torture trap. “Spiral” shows which decision Boz makes in his life-or-death dilemma, but it’s not enough to save him, because he’s the movie’s first murder victim by the mystery serial killer.

In the “Saw” movies, the serial killer Jigsaw and his followers made video messages featuring a creepy male clownish puppet doll with red spirals on its cheeks. The doll would sometimes appear on a miniature tricycle and speak in a deep distorted voice that was genuinely unsettling. This doll became the “face” of the “Saw” franchise—more than mastermind serial killer Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell)—and the red spiral became the killer’s signature. “Spiral” was originally titled “Spiral: From the Book of Saw.”

In “Spiral,” the figure who appears in the serial killer’s deadly video messages is a person wearing a black hood and a pig’s mask, with a higher-pitched, less menacing voice than Jigsaw. And frankly, this “Spiral” serial killer in the video messages looks like a reject villain from a “Star Wars” movie, as if a pipsqueak relative of Emperor Palpatine decided to put on a pig’s mask. There aren’t as many killings in “Spiral” as in other “Saw” movie because so much of “Spiral” is about Zeke running around doing a wiseass cop procedural.

Zeke is first seen by viewers of “Spiral” in a scene where he’s leading a group of three other undercover cops in a robbery of drug dealers. Zeke and his corrupt crew don’t get far because they’re busted by a team of other cops during the getaway. But even though Zeke’s supervisor Capt. Angie Garza (played by Marisol Nichols) yells at him for stealing money from drug dealers, nothing really happens to Zeke. It’s the first clue that Capt. Garza is corrupt. And you know what that means.

Unfortunately, too much of “Spiral” is about office politics in this police department, Zeke’s ego and all of his whining when he’s ordered to do things that he doesn’t want to do. Because of Zeke’s pariah status in the department, he’s been working alone for quite some time. But Capt. Garza tells him after the robbery bust that Zeke has now been assigned to train a rookie partner.

Zeke reacts with this outburst: “Do I look like a fucking Jamaican nanny? Do I smell like jerk sauce and baby wipes? No!” And then he says in a terrible attempt at a Jamaican patois accent: “Me no want no partner!” But Zeke has no choice but to work with this 24-year-old rookie. His name is William Schenk (played by Max Minghella), an “eager beaver” type who says that Zeke’s cop work inspired William to join this particular police department.

Zeke is immediately rude and dismissive to William, who takes Zeke’s negative attitude in stride. In their first day working together, William talks about being a husband and father. He shows Zeke a photo of his wife Emma and their baby son Charlie. Zeke, who is in the process of getting divorced, is deeply cynical about cop marriages because he thinks most cops will end up having failed marriages.

Zeke tells William: “Nothing happier than a wife of a new detective. Nothing angrier than that same bitch 10 years later.” William replies, “Maybe it’s because you call them bitches.” Zeke snaps back, “I don’t say it to their face. It’s not like I’m Too Short.” When was this very outdated joke written? 1999? Because that’s around the last time rapper Too Short was relevant.

The predictable dynamic between Zeke and William is that of a bitter and corrupt older cop paired with an idealistic and “by the book” younger cop. It’s all very “Training Day,” the 2001 movie starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke with this exact same dynamic. “Training Day” was an Oscar-winning film. “Spiral” isn’t even memorably bad enough to be nominated for a Razzie Award.

Somehow, everyone in this police department is too dumb to notice that Boz hasn’t shown up for work. They only find out that Boz is dead when Zeke, William and two other police detectives named Fitch (played by Richard Zeppieri) and Kraus (played by Edie Inksetter) are called to a murder scene, and they find Boz’s mangled and bloody body on the train tracks. William looks like he’s about to vomit from the gory sight. Zeke quips, “If you’re going to throw up, don’t do it on the evidence.”

The serial killer in “Spiral” delivers clues in small, string-tied boxes that are sent by courier to the police department. The first delivery is a flash drive with a video of the killer (wearing the pig mask, of course) announcing that the next murder victims will be other cops in the police department, as revenge for their “sins.” The killer won’t name who’s on the hit list, so the entire department is on edge. Because red spirals were found at Boz’s murder scene and the killer seems to be following Jigsaw’s modus operandi, the cops think that this murderer is a Jigsaw copycat killer.

Zeke is enraged by Boz’s death because Boz was Zeke’s closest friend on the job. Zeke gets even angrier when Capt. Garza assigns Zeke’s nemesis O’Brien to be the lead detective on the case. Zeke takes Capt. Garza aside in a private meeting and begs her to change her mind because Zeke thinks he’s the best person to avenge Boz’s death by finding Boz’s murderer. Capt. Garza immediately agrees and makes Zeke the lead detective.

Zeke gets very territorial over wanting to be the one who finds the most evidence that will solve the case. And so, there’s more drama with Zeke trying to outdo Fitch, Kraus and O’Brien, by not sharing information with them. Zeke doesn’t think William is smart enough to get in his way, so he treats William like a tag-along flunky. These are examples of how the movie wastes time with the department’s office politics. This is supposed to be a horror movie, not a cop TV series.

Through surveillance footage, the purse snatcher whom Boz was seen chasing before Boz died is quickly identified as a meth addict named Benny Rice (played by Chad Camilleri), who becomes a prime suspect in Boz’s murder. Benny is already known to the local cops because of his drug activities. But, of course, this obvious suspect means that Benny isn’t the real killer, because even a predictable movie like this wouldn’t make it that easy for the cops to solve this case so early on in the film.

As for Zeke’s revered father Marcus, he isn’t in “Spiral” as much as some people might think he is, considering that Jackson shares top billing with Rock for this movie. Jackson starred in two “Shaft” movies—one in 2000 and one in 2019—and he’s just playing a version of his Shaft character in “Spiral.” In other words, there’s nothing new to see here with Jackson’s performance.

And you’d think that cops who know they’re being targeted by a serial killer would know how to increase their own security and self-protection. But no, that doesn’t happen in an insipid movie like “Spiral.” Pity the citizens of this city who rely on these cops for protection, because these bungling cops can’t even protect themselves.

In “Spiral,” Rock dials up his foul-mouthed, misogynistic persona several notches for his Zeke character in “Spiral,” to the point where this cop is much more irritating than the serial killer. “Spiral” is so smug in thinking that it’s better than it really is, that it even includes Zeke giving a self-serving shout-out to one of Rock’s early movies: the 1991 crime drama “New Jack City.” And there are parts of “Spiral” where Zeke’s shrieking and hollering look more like he’s doing a buffoon-ish parody akin to 1993’s “CB4,” another Rock movie from the early 1990s.

The horror in “Spiral” isn’t as creative as in previous “Saw” movies. And there’s no real intrigue in trying to solve the mystery of who the serial killer is, because the movie is so sloppily handled. It’s pretty easy to figure out who the killer is if you look at the killer’s motives and who would know when and where to attack the next victim. And a lot of viewers are going to really hate the abrupt ending of “Spiral.” It’s made very clear at the movie’s disappointing conclusion that, just like a has-been zombie that keeps rising from the dead, the “Saw” franchise isn’t going away anytime soon.

Lionsgate released “Spiral” in U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021.

Review: ‘Army of the Dead’ (2021), starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro, Matthias Schweighöfer and Garret Dillahunt

May 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dave Bautista in “Army of the Dead” (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)

“Army of the Dead” (2021)

Directed by Zack Snyder

Culture Representation: Taking place in Las Vegas during a zombie apocalypse, the horror flick “Army of the Dead” features a racially diverse cast (Asian, white, African American and Latino) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A ragtag group is enlisted to retrieve $200 million in cash from a casino bank vault before the government drops a nuclear bomb in the zombie-infested area. 

Culture Audience: “Army of the Dead” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in epic and suspenseful zombie thrillers.

Ella Purnell in “Army of the Dead” (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)

What’s a filmmaker to do when there are so many movies and TV shows about a zombie apocalypse that cover a lot of the same problems? In the case of director Zack Snyder, you up the ante by making the story about looting a vault filled with $200 million in cash, before the area is detonated by government bomb. That’s the concept of writer/director/producer Snyder’s “Army of the Dead,” which definitely won’t be confused with director Joseph Conti’s 2008 low-budget supernatural horror movie “Army of the Dead,” which was about ghostly conquistadors.

Snyder (who was also the cinematographer for his “Army of the Dead” movie) isn’t new to directing a zombie film, since the previous zombie flick that he directed was the critically acclaimed 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” With a total running time of 148 minutes, “Army of the Dead” has a lot of time for viewers to get to know the story’s individual human characters, who each have a distinct and memorable personality. And believe it or not, a few of the zombie characters have semblances of personalities too—or at least a hierachy and customs that they follow—which is a departure from most zombie stories where the zombies only think about killing humans for their next meal.

Is it worth spending nearly two-and-a-half hours of your life watching “Army of the Dead”? It depends. If you’re inclined to watch gory horror movies, then the answer is a definite “yes,” because there’s enough of a good story and suspenseful moments that will keep you riveted. If you can’t stomach seeing brutal battles with blood and guts, then “Army of the Dead” is something that you can skip. The “Army of the Dead” screenplay (written by Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold) keeps things simple, so that even though there’s a relatively large cast of characters, nothing gets confusing.

“Army of the Dead” opens with a military convoy of trucks and vans somewhere in the Nevada desert, with one of the trucks carrying super-secret cargo. Two military guards named Corp. Bissel (played by Zach Rose) and Sgt. Kelly (played by Michael Cassidy) are in a truck together and speculate about what they might be guarding that’s so top-secret. Bissel thinks it might be an alien from outer space, because whatever is in the mystery truck came from Area 51. Kelly has been told on a walkie talkie to stay away from a truck that’s in the middle of the convoy.

Bissel and Kelly are about to found out what’s in that mysterious truck. A newlywed couple named Mr. Hillman (played by Steve Corona) and Misty Hillman (played by Chelsea Edmundson), who are in a car in the opposite lane of the highway, are engaging in some sexual activity, and the husband takes his eyes off the road while driving. Big mistake. The resulting crash is a big pile-up that ends with a massive explosion that kills the newlyweds and most of the people in the convoy, except for Bissel and Kelly.

The truck that was supposed to be “off limits” topples over. And out comes a zombie named Zeus (played by Richard Cetrone), who immediately goes on a rampage. Bissel and Kelly make a valiant effort to save themselves, but they inevitably become the zombie’s prey and then become zombies themselves.

“Army of the Dead” then fast-forwards to Las Vegas in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, by having a fairly long sequence of opening credits showing much of the action in slow-motion. The movie has many touches of humor, such as zombie showgirls who attack the type of creepy older men who would probably sexually harass them under other circumstances. Zombies have taken over casinos and are shown terrorizing people at slot machines and game tables. And because this is Vegas, there’s at least one Elvis impersonator who’s a zombie.

During all of this mayhem, a news announcement comes on TV that the government will drop a “low-yield, tactical nuclear bomb” in the worst zombie-infested area of Las Vegas, at sunset on (of all days) the Fourth of July. All people in the area have been ordered to evacuate. But a wealthy casino owner named Bly Tanaka (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) has other plans.

Bly’s eponymous high-rise casino is now abandoned and is in the area that’s scheduled to be bombed. The casino has a secret vault filled with $200 million cash. And he wants to get the cash out in time by having other people do the dirty work for him.

Bly visits Scott Ward (played by Dave Bautista), a widower who works as a cook at a diner. Scott isn’t an average diner employee though: He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom for saving several people at the start of the zombie apocalypse. (This heroism is mentioned, but not shown, in the movie.)

And due to his shady past, Scott knows the right people to assemble to get all of that cash out of the vault, even if it means risking their lives in an area crawling with zombies. Bly offers Scott $50 million to do the job and says that it will be up to Scott how Scott wants to divide the payment amongst Scott’s team members. Scott eagerly accepts the challenge because he wants the money to open his own fast-food business.

The decision of where to drop the bomb is controversial because it’s in a quarantine area for people who’ve been suspected of being exposed to zombie infections. In one of the movie’s satirical moments, there’s a TV news debate with political pundits on both sides weighing in on the controversy. Real-life liberal Democrat pundit Donna Brazile (a former acting chair of the Democratic National Committee) and real-life conservative Republican aide Sean Spicer (a former White House press secretary in the Donald Trump administration) are seen in this debate arguing over the ethics of this bombing. Brazile thinks the bombing is a human rights violation, while Spicer thinks the bombing is necessary to ensure the safety of non-infected humans.

Scott’s estranged daughter Kate Ward (played by Ella Purnell) works as a volunteer at the quarantine shelter/refugee camp. Kate has befriended a single mother named Geeta (played by Huma Qureshi), who is desperate to have her two underage children smuggled out of the shelter before the bomb hits. Geeta begs Kate to take the children to the nearby city of Barstow if anything happens to her.

One of the supervisors at the shelter is a sleazy bully named Burt Cummings (played by Theo Rossi), who takes particular pleasure in demeaning women. When he does a thermometer scan of Geeta, he stands too close for comfort and tells her that if she doesn’t like it, he’ll use another way to take her temperature: “I could use my rectal thermometer,” he smirks.

The bomb is supposed to be dropped in 72 hours. But Dave is able to quickly assemble his team. They are:

  • Maria Cruz (played by Ana de la Reguera), a strong-willed mechanic who had a past romance with Scott.
  • Vanderohe (played by Omari Hardwick), a quintessential action hero who has a sensitive side (he works at a retirement home) beneath his tough exterior.
  • Marianne Peters (played by Tig Notaro), a wisecracking helicopter pilot who will be responsible for flying the team’s getaway helicopter.
  • Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighöfer), a socially awkward and nerdy locksmith who will be responsible for cracking the safe’s complex security codes, which change on a regular basis.
  • Mikey Guzman (played by Raúl Castillo), a semi-famous YouTuber who likes to make extreme stunt videos of himself hunting zombies.
  • Chambers (Samantha Win), a feisty but emotionally aloof friend of Mikey’s who only trusts Mikey in the group.
  • Lilly (played by Nora Arnezeder), also known as The Coyote, a cunning warrior type who works at the quarantine shelter and was introduced to the group by Kate.
  • Kate, Scott’s daughter, who insists on being part of the team because she wants some of the money to help Deeta.
  • Martin (played by Garret Dillahunt), a security expert who works for Bly and is there to keep tabs on this motley crew so they won’t steal all the money for themselves.

One of Mikey’s friends named Damon (played by Colin Jones) was also supposed to be part of the team. But a fearful Damon quits early, before they even start their journey, when he finds out that the area they’re going to has a colony of zombies that will be sure to attack. Lilly knows the most about the zombies living in this colony, and she’s the go-to person to come up with strategies on how to outsmart the zombies.

As Lilly tells the rest of the team, these are not ordinary zombies. Regular zombies, which are more common, are called “shamblers” because they don’t think beyond eating and killing. The zombies that are near the casino are called “alphas,” because they’re smarter, faster and stronger than the shambler zombies.

These alpha zombies have formed a tribe headed by a king (Zeus, the same zombie who escaped from the military convoy) and a queen (played by Athena Perample), who expect the rest of the zombie tribe to follow their lead. These zombies, as seen in several parts of the movie, seem to have emotions of anger and sadness. And they also understand things such as bargaining, which might or might not come in handy for this group that will soon invade the alpha zombies’ territory.

“Army of the Dead” keeps things at a fairly energetic pace, although there are a few parts of the movie where people are standing around and talking a little too much. But the action, when it happens, lives up to expectations in intensity and realistic gore. There are some splatter scenes that were deliberately filmed for laughs. The movie also has a male zombie tiger named Valentine, which Lilly says used to be owned by Siegfried and Roy. Valentine is a scene-stealer, even though this creature is nothing but visual effects.

And in this group of opinionated people, there are personality conflicts, of course. Vanderohe doesn’t respect Dieter at first because he thinks Dieter is too wimpy and ill-prepared for the zombie-killing aspects of this mission. Kate has a lot of bitterness toward Scott because of how her mother died. (The death of Kate’s mother/Scott’s wife is shown in a flashback.) And no one seems to really like or trust Bly’s henchman Martin, who has a tendency to be a bossy know-it-all.

The big showdown battle toward the end of the movie is definitely one of the best scenes, as it should be. “Army of the Dead” doesn’t sugarcoat any violence, although there are moments that stretch the bounds of realism with some heavily choreographed stunts. All of the actors play their roles well, with Castillo, Notaro, Schweighöfer and Arnezeder bringing the most individuality to their characters’ personalities. Bautista doesn’t have a wide range of emotive skills as an actor, but “Army of the Dead” is the type of movie that showcases him at his best, rather than the silly action comedies that he sometimes does.

The biggest complaint or disappointment that viewers might have about “Army of the Dead” is regarding the movie’s final five minutes, when a character finds out something that this person should have found out much earlier. It drastically changes the tone of the film’s ending. But this potentially divisive ending doesn’t take away from “Army of the Dead” delivering plenty of thrills and chills that make it a better-than-average zombie movie.

Netflix released “Army of the Dead” in New York City on May 12, 2021, and will expand the movie’s release to more U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021. Netflix will premiere “Army of the Dead” on May 21, 2021.

Review: ‘Held,’ starring Jill Awbrey and Bart Johnson

May 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jill Awbry and Bart Johnson in “Held” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Held”

Directed by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror flick “Held” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one person of Middle Eastern heritage) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife are held captive in their home by a mysterious intruder. 

Culture Audience: “Held” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies where the acting is substandard and the mystery in the film is fairly easy to figure out.

Jill Awbry in “Held” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Held” is yet another horror movie about a couple with a crumbling relationship, they face unexpected terror, and the rest of the movie is about whether or not this couple (and their relationship) will survive the trauma. Unfortunately, the filmmakers of “Held” must think that viewers are as simple-minded as this movie’s mystery plot. The acting is often stiff, the pacing is frequently lackluster, and it’s not that hard to figure out who’s behind the terror that’s being inflicted.

One of the main reasons why it’s fairly easy to solve the mystery in this story is because there’s a very small number of people in the cast of “Held,” and only two people are on screen for almost the entire movie. Directed by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff, “Held” has too many implausible things happening that are meant to bolster the flimsy plot. Once the “secret” behind the terror is revealed, it makes the movie look even more ridiculous.

In “Held,” which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, Emma Barrett (played by Jill Awbrey, who wrote the “Held” screenplay) is a writer who’s taking a rideshare drive to the vacation home that she shares with her husband. The house is in an isolated area (of course it is), which means that no neighbors can come to the rescue or hear what’s happening when the inevitable horror begins to happen in the house.

Emma has a journal-sized book of poetry that she’s writing in while in the back passenger seat. Her rideshare driver Joe (played by Rez Kempton) is talkative and a little too nosy. When he asks Emma the reason for her trip, she mentions that she’s meeting her husband at the house for a weekend getaway. Her husband won’t be arriving until the next day.

Joe then asks Emma if she isn’t worried about being all by herself in this isolated area. And then Joe quickly says, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.” But that doesn’t stop Joe from being a little more irritating when he gets to the house and he pressures Emma to give him an extra tip since the drive was out of his way.

The movie spends a little too much time in the first 20 minutes showing Emma doing mundane things, such as puttering around the kitchen or taking a shower. While she’s in the shower, she hears loud knocking on the front door. When she gets out of the shower and answers the door, no one is there, but she sees a vase of red roses on the front step, with a card that reads, “For Emma.” She assumes the flowers are from her husband.

While drinking some red wine in the kitchen, Emma accidentally spills some of the wine on the floor. When she crouches down to clean up the mess, she notices that that there’s something strange about the bottom of the kitchen counter. But before she can investigate, the phone rings.

Emma’s husband Henry (played by Bart Johnson) ends up arriving at the house shortly afterward, a day earlier than expected. He says something about how his business trip ended early. (The movie never reveals what Bart does for a living.) And it turns out that this weekend trip is for Emma and Henry (who are both in their 40s) to celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary.

Emma is Henry’s second wife. His first wife Emily died, and they have a son in his 20s named Graham (played by Jener Dasilva) from this first marriage. Not long after Henry arrives, Graham calls to tell Henry the good news that Graham has gotten engaged to his girlfriend Laura. Emma and Henry both congratulate Graham, but it’s clear that Graham isn’t very close to his stepmother Emma.

Henry and Emma’s marriage seems to have hit a rough patch, because they’re not really acting like this anniversary is something that they’ve been anticipating. The passion seems to have left their marriage. And when they sleep in the same bed together, they might as be sleeping together like platonic roommates.

Whle Emma is asleep, she has a nightmare that there was an intruder in the house, and he was wearing all black, including a black rubber mask and black gloves. When Emma wakes up, she finds out that on her nightstand are two coffee cups, a rose and a card that reads, “To have and to hold, now and always. Happy Anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Barrett.” The problem is that Emma doesn’t know how these items got there, and Henry says that he didn’t put them there.

Emma also sees that she’s wearing a white nightgown that she doesn’t own. And when Emma and Henry check their bedroom closets, they see that their clothes have been replaced by clothes that they’ve never seen before. And then, Emma notices that her phone and car keys are missing.

Henry takes a rake and rushes into a nearby orchard to search for possible trespassers. And while he’s away, the landline phone in the house rings. Emma answers, and a man’s distorted, menacing voice shouts, “Obey us!” (“Held” co-director Cluff is the voice of the mystery man.) And now, Emma knows that someone is definitely targeting the house for some terror.

Panic sets in when Henry comes back to the house with blood on his head. He says that while he was searching in the orchard, someone ambushed him and attacked him, but Henry was able to get away. Emma tells Henry about the strange phone call. And what do you know, right at that moment, they get another phone call from the same mystery menacer.

This time, the voice on the other line has this demand: “You will not leave the house again. There are rules. You must obey us. Disobediences have consequences … We know everything you did.” And then, like a recording with a glitch, the voice repeats several times: “You must obey!”

Of course, bad horror movies like “Held” need the victim characters to acts as illogically as possible. Not once does Emma or Henry think that if someone is calling in on their landline phone, then the phone line hasn’t been cut, so they can use the phone to make outside calls. Emma and Henry don’t even try to use the landline phone to call for help.

The movie starts to go off the rails when not long after this second phone call, barriers are lowered on all windows in the house, like a garage door closing. The mystery menacer on the phone starts using the house’s intercom system to warn Emma and Henry that they are being watched at all times. When Henry touches a surveillance camera in the house to try to disconnect it, there’s a high-pitched ringing sound, and Henry gets electrocuted.

In fact, the house is so rigged with all these torture methods and gadgets to keep Emma and Henry in captivity, it will make viewers wonder who was able to get access to the house to easily set up this elaborate home invasion and kidnapping. Needless to say, if Emma or Henry try to touch any of the doors to leave, they get electrocuted and get a blast of that high-pitched ringing.

Because this is a horror movie, someone in the film is going to die. When the first person gets killed about halfway through the movie, it’s another clue about who’s behind this mayhem, because there’s really only one logical person who would have the motive to want this person killed. The movie tends to drag with repetition of the mystery menacer barking the same type of orders to Emma and Henry.

“Held” is so poorly written that there’s very little revealed about Emma’s and Henry’s backgrounds and personalities during this ordeal. Emma and Henry don’t even try to figure out who could be doing this to them and why. It’s eventually revealed in the movie who’s behind this terror, but once people figure out who would have the biggest motive to set up this elaborate crime, the suspense quickly evaporates.

The movie’s opening scene shows a young woman (played by Jana Claire Price) being kidnapped while she’s in the passenger seat of a car. And later in the story, viewers find out that this woman was Emma when she was younger. But this traumatic incident is barely explained in the movie. It just seems to be thrown into the story so viewers know that this isn’t the first time that Emma has been kidnapped.

“Held” would have been a more effective film if the acting and screenwriting weren’t of such low quality. Awbrey and Johnson are both very wooden in saying their dialogue. And then in other scenes, they overact in a way that seems very forced and unnatural. They’re supposed to be portraying a couple with a stale marriage, but they’re not very convincing. They just seem like two actors who are stuck reciting lines together instead of depicting spouses who have a bored familiarity with each other.

The movie’s direction isn’t that remarkable and uses a lot of the same tricks that have been done in a lot of other (better-made) horror movies that are aboout people trapped inside a house. The unfortunate dichtomy of “Held” is that its has a chief villain who meticulously thought out everything out for this kidnapping plot, but the movie’s screenplay was very poorly thought-out in how this scheme was implemented. It’s worth noting that there are no supernatural elements to this story to explain the many illogical things that happen in the movie. And ultimately, “Held” is not a description that applies to viewers’ interest when watching this shoddily made horror flick.

Magnolia Pictures’ Magnet Releasing released “Held” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on demand on April 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Separation’ (2021), starring Rupert Friend, Brian Cox, Madeline Brewer, Mamie Gummer and Violet McGraw

April 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Violet McGraw and Rupert Friend in “Separation” (Photo by Blair Todd/Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“Separation” (2021) 

Directed by William Brent Bell

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the horror film “Separation” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A recent widower and his 8-year-old daughter experience unexplained and spooky things in their home.

Culture Audience: “Separation” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching empty-headed horror movies that are dreadfully boring and don’t even bother to explain why the horror is happening in the story.

Violet McGraw in “Separation” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

Anyone who watches the horror flick “Separation” will be left with lots of questions that start with the word “why.” Why was the family in this movie being haunted? Why bother introducing scary characters in the story and not explain their origins? Why was this movie even made? Don’t expect any answers to these questions if you decide to waste your time watching this garbage.

Yes, it’s a stupid haunted house movie. And yes, there’s absolutely nothing original or clever about it. But what makes “Separation” so hard to take is that it drags with such repetitious monotony with no plot development to explain why this haunting is taking place. Any moments that are meant to be scary are few and far in between and end up repeating themselves with the same scenarios. This movie’s idea of making a scene terrifying is changing the cinematography to crimson red.

Directed by William Brent Bell, “Separation” has a cast of talented actors whose skills are squandered in this odiously bad movie, which was sloppily written by Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun. The movie’s opening scene takes place in a New York City brownstone townhome, where 8-year-old Jenny Vahn (played by Violet McGraw) is doing what a lot of 8-year-old girls do: play with dolls. However, Jenny’s dolls are creepy-looking horror dolls and she’s sitting in the middle of a circle of lighted candles. Is she some type of child witch?

While Jenny is playing with the dolls, she speaks to a witch doll that she has named Scarlet. Jenny says, “We must be quiet, or else we’ll scare her away.” Who is this female that shouldn’t be scared away? Later in the movie, Jenny refers to someone named Baby, which sounds like an imaginary friend. Don’t expect the movie to explain that either.

While Jenny is playing with her dolls in the attic that looks more like a witch’s lair than an innocent child’s playroom, her father Jeff Vahn (played by Rupert Friend) is downstairs in a study room, hanging out with the family babysitter Samantha Nally (played by Madeline Brewer), who is in her 20s. Jeff is a comic book illustrator who’s showing Samantha his main claim to fame: a horror comic book series called “The Grisly Kin,” featuring a group of characters that look like they’re from a twisted fairy tale. Samantha is also a comic book enthusiast, and she gushes to Jeff about how talented she thinks he is.

“The Grisly Kin” was such a hit that the main characters were made into stuffed doll toys, which are on display in the Vahn home. Jenny is seen playing with these dolls throughout the movie. At one point in his career, Jeff was in talks to make “The Grisly Kin” into a TV pilot, but the deal never happened because he and the TV executives had “creative differences.”

For the past two years, Jeff has been unemployed, while his prickly wife Maggie (played by Mamie Gummer) has been the family’s breadwinner. Maggie works for the law firm of her domineering and stern father Paul Rivers (played by Brian Cox), and she tells Jeff in an argument that she hates it because she wouldn’t have to work there if Jeff had a job. Jeff’s long unemployment has caused a lot of tension in Jeff and Maggie’s marriage, which viewers find out is deteriorating to the point of no return, much like this movie’s plot.

While Samantha is in awe of Jeff, Maggie has contempt for Jeff. At one point, Maggie snarls at Jeff: “You’re not special. You’re just unemployed.” Maggie is also seen arriving home, looking at the mail and becoming irritated when she sees that the couple’s electricity bill hasn’t been paid and they’ve received a final notice. Apparently, Jeff has shirked his responsibility for paying the bill, so Maggie has another reason to be annoyed with him.

Meanwhile, in the attic, Jenny is startled by a bird at the window. She falls down and hits her head and gets an injury on her forehead that causes bleeding. When Maggie comes home and finds out, she’s furious with Samantha and Jeff for leaving Jenny alone in the attic. Maggie is so angry that she won’t let Jeff go with her when she takes Jenny to the hospital.

And then, the next thing you know, Maggie has filed for divorce. Maggie wants full custody of Jenny, while Jeff is contesting it and wants joint custody. In a divorce mediation, Maggie’s father Rivers (Jeff is the only one in the story who calls him Paul) has taken it upon himself to be Maggie’s attorney. (Can you say conflict of interest?) In the mediation meeting, Rivers immediately belittles Jeff as an unfit parent.

Maggie seems to have the upper hand because she makes more money than Jeff, and she’s using Jenny’s accident as proof that Jeff can be a flaky father. Maggie and her father offer Jeff a large settlement in exchange for Maggie getting full custody of Jenny, but Jeff hesitates to sign the agreement. Jeff’s lawyer Janet Marion (played by Linda Powell) advises him to take the settlement because if the custody battle goes to trial, Jeff will most likely lose.

While they are embroiled in this custody battle, Jeff and Maggie are still living together (because he has no other place to live) but they take care of Jenny separately. One day, Jeff and Jenny are at a coffee shop, where Jeff has agreed to meet Maggie so that she can pick up Jenny to spend some mother-daughter time with Jenny. While waiting for Maggie at the coffee shop, Jeff is seen and happily greeted by one of his former classmates from college.

The former classmate’s name is Connor Gibbons (played by Eric T. Miller), who tells Jeff that he started his own comic book company, which was sold to a larger company that let Connor stay as the leader. Jeff tells Connor about his impending divorce and custody battle, and Connor offers Jeff possible employment at his company.

Jeff asks if Connor would be interested in reviving “The Grisly Kin,” but Connor adamantly says no. The best he can offer Jeff is a lowly entry-level job as an inker. Jeff doesn’t get too far in the conversation with Connor when Maggie calls Jeff. There was some miscommunication and Maggie went to the wrong coffee shop. Naturally, she blames Jeff for the mixup.

During this phone conversation, Maggie tells Jeff that her father has assigned her to oversee a project in Seattle, so she plans to move there with Jenny. Jeff is naturally upset by this news. He tells Maggie that he was ready to agree to the divorce settlement and agree to give Maggie full custody of Jenny, but now that Maggie plans to move to Seattle, he tells Maggie that he might fight for custody after all.

Is this a divorce drama or a horror movie? While they’re in the middle of this heated phone conversation, Maggie has been walking on some city streets. And then, she suddenly gets hit and killed by a SUV, which speeds off without stopping. The hit-and-run is so sudden, that it’s probably the only thing that comes close to being a jump scare in the movie.

The next scene is of Maggie’s wake at Jeff’s home, where Rivers bitterly snipes to Jeff that Jeff is lucky that Maggie didn’t have time to change her will during the divorce proceedings. Rivers then informs Jeff that he’s going to file for custody of Jenny. Jeff doesn’t want to argue about it during the wake, but he makes it clear that he’s going to put up a fight in this custody battle with Rivers.

At the wake, Jenny exhibits some strange behavior, when she takes ketchup-covered French fries and starts flinging the ketchup on a wall. Then, she smears her hands all over the ketchup. It’s obviously meant to look like blood smears.

Jenny then says, “Baby is painting like Daddy.” Jeff tells Jenny to stop what she’s doing. Jenny then yells at Jeff: “I hate you! I want my mommy back!” And then, she runs off into another room.

Meanwhile, a family portrait of Jeff, Maggie and Jenny, which is on display on a mantlepiece in the living room, catches on fire from some lighted candles. But the fire is quickly put out by Samantha, who suddenly appears with a fire extinguisher, as if it’s an everyday item around the house. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

“Separation” continues its downward slide into nonsense from there. Jeff ends up taking a job at Connor’s company and agrees to be an inker, even though Jeff is over-qualified for it. At the company, Jeff meets an eccentric British writer named Alan Ross (played by Simon Quarterman), who’s working on a horror comic book and likes to utter things such as, “This is darkness … Draw me the stuff of nightmares.”

Meanwhile, Jeff and Jenny start having nightmares where they see either a giant witch come to life or a ghoulish clown dressed in a black-and-white striped prisoner’s outfit. The witch doesn’t do much except crook her gnarly fingers. The clown can do crazy contortions and do things like run backwards on all fours. It’s very reminiscent of the Backwards Man character in the 2020 horror film “Black Box.” Whenever “Separation” can’t think of a creative way to resolve some issues, it just has a character pass out or wake up in a scene, as if that person just had a nightmare.

Jeff starts to have random hallucinations that you know are coming because everything on screen suddenly turns crimson red. He has these hallucinations in his home, on the subway and at work. Jenny has a sketch book that’s filling up with horror illustrations that she swears she didn’t draw. The movie tries to make it look like the ghost of Maggie could be haunting this family, but it’s an absurd red herring because the beginning of the movie already showed that something spooky was going on in the house before Maggie died.

Jeff’s co-worker Alan is a big believer in the supernatural, so Jeff confides in him one day about all the nightmarish things that he’s been experiencing. Alan thinks that the ghost of Maggie is behind these unexplainable nightmares and hallucinations. And so, Alan gives Jeff the psychedelic drug ayahuasca to take home with him so that Jeff can “punch a hole in reality and make peace with Maggie.”

Does Jeff take the ayahuasca? Of course he does. Because in a silly movie like this, the first thing you want to do to figure out what you’re hallucinating is take a drug that makes you hallucinate even more. There are parts of this movie that are so bad, they’re really laughable. “Separation” is also the type of dreck where there’s a scene of people falling out of the townhome’s attic through a glass window, and they end up on the sidewalk with no injuries.

“Separation” director Bell also directed the 2016 horror flick “The Boy” and its 2020 sequel “Brahms: The Boy II,” which were both awful and boring movies about a family haunted by evil spirits, with a creepy doll as part of the story. At least with “The Boy” and “Brahms: The Boy II,” there was an origin story that clearly explained why this doll was the root of the horror happening in the movie. In “Separation,” the dolls and any horror entities that appear in the movie have no explanation for why they’re haunting this family.

Most of the cast members try to do their best to be credible in their poorly written roles, but it’s all for nothing because “Separation” is such an empty and pointless film in almost every way. Most of Friend’s acting in “Separation” consists of looking confused or awkward. Brewer is the only cast member who hams it up during certain scenes in such an over-the-top way that it’s unintentionally comedic.

Just when viewers might think “Separation” can’t get any worse, the movie’s last 15 minutes prove that this rubbish was incapable of being salvaged. The mid-credits scene is also completely useless. “Separation” sinks further into a quagmire of idiocy until there’s nothing left but the stench of fried brain cells that had to endure the 107 minutes it takes to watch this time-wasting trash until the bitter end.

Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment will release “Separation” in U.S. cinemas on April 30, 2021.

Review: ‘In the Earth,’ starring Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires

April 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia in “In the Earth” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“In the Earth”

Directed by Ben Wheatley

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of England, the sci-fi horror film “In the Earth” features a racially diverse cast (white people , black people and one person of Indian heritage) who mostly portray scientists during an unnamed pandemic.

Culture Clash: Two scientists encounter terror while they are walking in the woods. 

Culture Audience: “In the Earth” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that are pretentiously abstract to cover up for a flimsy and repetitive plot.

Joel Fry and Hayley Squires in “In the Earth” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

It’s easy to see how “In the Earth” might be compared to the 1999 horror film “The Blair Witch Project,” because both movies are mainly about people possibly being trapped in the woods while an evil spirit might be on the loose. However, “In the Earth” is a much more incoherent film, with a lazy ending and too many scenes that drag monotonously with no scares. The movie has an over-reliance on strobe lights. It’s not terrifying. It’s annoying. Maybe the filmmakers thought the strobe lights would trick people into thinking that “In the Earth” was a good horror movie.

Written and directed by Ben Wheatley, “In the Earth” takes place in an unnamed part of England during an unnamed pandemic. There’s a very small number of people in the movie’s cast, so at least viewers won’t be confused by too many characters being in the film. What viewers will be confused by is why this pretentious and boring movie wastes a potentially good story concept on idiotic chase scenes and repetitive scenes that go nowhere.

“In the Earth” begins with Martin Lowery (played by Joel Fry) arriving at a place in a wooded area called Gantalow Lodge. He meets with a man named James (played by John Hollingworth), and they talk about an unseen doctor who’s handling lockdown procedures. It soon becomes apparent that the lodge is some kind of meeting place for scientists, although they don’t seem to be doing any real work. One of the first things that Martin says is that “Bristol took a bad hit after the third wave.”

Martin meets another scientist at the lodge named Alma (played by Ellora Torchia), who gives the impression that she’s all about work. Soon after they meet, Alma and Martin are in a room together when he sees some children’s illustrations of Parnag Fegg, a witch-resembling entity that’s part of local folklore. Parnag Fegg is described as “the spirit of the woods.”

Alma mentions that a few kids went missing in the 1970s. And because this is a horror movie, viewers are supposed to automatically think that Parnag Fegg could have had something to do with these disappearances. Or maybe it was the Blair Witch, because “In the Earth” rips off a lot of the same ideas as “The Blair Witch Project,” except for the “found footage” format.

After Martin gets a medical test to make sure that he’s not infected with the unnamed virus that’s plaguing the world, he finds out that he and Alma have to get some equipment from a scientist named Dr. Wendle, who used to be Martin’s boss. Martin isn’t too thrilled about it because he parted ways with Dr. Wendle on bad terms that he won’t talk about when Alma asks Martin why he no longer works with Dr. Wendle. Alma tells Martin that the only way they can get to Dr. Wendle’s place is to walk through the woods, and the trip will take two days. Of course it will take that long, because there has to be an illogical excuse for why this moronic movie is stretched into a tedious slog.

After all, the filmmakers don’t want Alma and Martin to drive to their destination because using a vehicle means that they would get there faster and a vehicle would give them a better chance to escape when they inevitably get stuck in the woods. And whatever this “equipment” is, it must not be that large, because Alma has insisted that they have to walk to Dr. Wendle’s place, which means they’re not using a vehicle to bring the equipment back. Don’t expect “In the Earth” to answer basic questions that would make this movie more coherent.

And so, Alma and Martin, who are supposed to be intelligent scientists, start walking for a two-day trek in the woods with no camping equipment and no first-aid supplies. They also show no signs of bringing any phones or emergency communication equipment with them. And you know what that means in a badly written horror movie like this one: Someone’s going to get injured and they can’t call for help.

Whenever “In the Earth” can’t come up with anything clever or logical in the story, Alma and Martin pass out for unknown reasons and wake up to something that’s supposed to be horrifying. It isn’t long before this gimmick happens. Gunshots are heard, the strobe lights begin pulsing, and Alma screams. And the next thing you know, Martin wakes up and finds Alma unconscious. He’s able to revive her, but they discover that their shoes are missing. And only their shoes.

Alma and Martin act as if walking in the woods with no shoes is just a minor pesky problem that won’t interrupt their schedule to get to Dr. Wendle’s place. And sure enough, Martin gets injured when he steps on something sharp that gives him a big, bloody gash on his left foot. Because Martin and Alma were too dimwitted to bring emergency medical supplies, they can’t properly treat Martin’s foot injury.

Another gimmick that the movie repeats on a very irritating loop is using any injuries that Martin gets (yes, there are more that happen later in the story) as excuses to have gross-out close-ups of these injuries. These close-ups are intended to make viewers squirm, but they aren’t really scary. They’re just bloody and gratuitous. When Martin’s foot gets infected, it’s easy to predict what will happen.

During their barefoot walk in the woods, Alma and Martin encounter a disheveled and dirty man, who gives the impression that he’s homeless, because when he first meets them, he’s relieved that Martin and Alma are not park rangers who will report him. This stranger introduces himself as Zach (played by Reece Sheersmith), and he notices that Alma and Martin aren’t wearing shoes and that Martin has an injured foot.

And so, Zach invites them to his makeshift camp site, where he says he has spare shoes they can wear. He also has medical supplies to treat Martin’s wound. But predictably, Zach isn’t such a friendly stranger after all. And the movie goes downhill from there in some nonsensical scenes involving torture, chases in the woods and bizarre photo shoots. Martin accumulates enough serious injuries that would leave a person in medical shock and incapacitated in real life, but there he is running around as if he’s only got a limp.

Dr. Olivia Wendle (played by Hayley Squires) is eventually seen in the movie. The mystery of Parnag Fegg comes in and out of the story like a story angle in search of a cohesive plot. But viewers shouldn’t expect major questions to be answered by the end of the film. “In the Earth” doesn’t even have suspenseful chase scenes, because every time a villain corners a victim or victims, nothing really happens except some talking and people passing out when the strobe lights start yet again.

Viewers won’t learn much about the characters in the film and certainly won’t care much about them either. All of the actors in the cast are quite dull in their roles, although Torchia makes an effort to bring some emotional depth to her Alma character. It’s not saying much, because all of the characters in the film are hollow, with no backstories or memorable personalities.

The production design, cinematography and editing for “In the Earth” look like a poorly thought-out student film. It’s as if the filmmakers decided to throw in some strobe lights and psychedelic fever dream imagery all over the movie to try to pass it off as artistic horror cinema. There is absolutely nothing scary about this movie.

And worst of all, “In the Earth” has such an obnoxiously inflated tone of self-importance that it tries to fool viewers into thinking that they aren’t smart enough if they’re confused by anything in the movie. The ending is actually quite anti-climactic, and any explanation of what’s going on is badly filmed. “In the Earth” isn’t too smart for most people to understand. The reality is that it’s just a pointless movie that cares more about bombarding people with strobe lights than telling a good story.

Neon released “In the Earth” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2021.