Review: ‘Lair,’ starring Corey Johnson, Alexandra Gilbreath, Aislinn De’Ath, Alana Wallace, Anya Newall, Kashif O’Connor and Lara Mount

January 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Corey Johnson in “Lair” (Photo by Laura Radford/1091 Pictures)

“Lair”

Directed by Adam Ethan Crow

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, the horror film “Lair” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A mysterious doll seems to wreak havoc on whichever place the doll is kept.

Culture Audience: “Lair” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching rambling and poorly made horror movies that aren’t very scary.

Anya Newall and Lara Mount in “Lair” (Photo by Laura Radford/1091 Pictures)

“Lair” is a disjointed mess of a horror film that takes too long to get to anything that could be described as “scary.” The movie has a lot of scenes that don’t fit well with the story. Instead of ramping up the suspense, the movie struggles to hold viewer interest because it gets sidetracked with dull scenes. And the movie’s main character is stupid and obnoxious.

Written and directed by Adam Ethan Crow, “Lair” (which takes place in London) begins with a scene of a boy named Sean Dollarhyde (played by Rauri Kusumakar) hiding in a closet while his mother Carol Dollarhyde (played by Tara Dowd) sits on the stairs and screams. There’s some horrible editing where Sean appears to be locked in a room, and then the scene abruptly cuts to him in the hallway, where he sees his mother being dropped by someone from the second floor onto the first floor. Just as Sean tries to escape out the front door, a man’s hand grabs him from behind and pulls Sean back into the house.

Viewers soon find out that Sean and Carol were murdered by Carol’s husband/Sean’s father Ben Dollarhyde (played by Oded Fehr), who is now sitting in a jail cell for these murders as he awaits his trial, since he plans to plead not guilty. Ben insists that he didn’t commit the murders, but that something, possibly an evil spirit, possessed him. While in jail, Ben gets a visit from Steven Caramore (played by Corey Johnson), Ben’s former partner in a paranormal hunting business that was really a con game. Ben and Steven are both American.

Steven is upset because of Ben’s arrest, Steven has lost his work partner, who now thinks that demons and evil spirits are real. Steven yells at Ben, “We never believed that bullshit!” Ben has undergone a religious transformation and replies by quoting a line from the Bible: “I was blind but now I see.” Steven is an atheist and calls the Bible a “comic book.”

Ben then starts to ramble: “I could taste the soul from her open veins in the back of my mouth.” He also claims that whatever possessed him, “I fought it, whatever it was … I tried to stop her suffering … I slaughtered my son. You brought that thing into my house!”

Ben’s defense attorney Wendy Coulson (played by Alexandra Gilbreath) wants to use demonic possession as a defense in Ben’s case. Steven thinks it’s a crazy defense. Steven tells Wendy, “Lady, your case has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese at a hooker convention.” Get used to awful dialogue like this in “Lair,” because the movie is full of it.

Needless to say, Steven and Wendy have an intense dislike for each other. Wendy says to Steven: “I can’t stand the sight of you.” Steven says to Wendy: “You must go to the gym a lot to be lugging around the grudge that you’re carrying for me.” If “Lair” weren’t a horror movie, this silly banter would look like a set-up in a cheesy romantic comedy.

Now that Steven and Ben’s sham paranormal hunting business has gone kaput, Steven has to find a new way to make money. A muscular Haitian man named Ola (played by Kashif O’Connor) has worked with Steven for the past 10 years in the paranormal hunting business. Ola seems to have the role of carrying out physical tasks that Steven can’t handle. Steven tells Ola that he wants to keep Ola as an employee in some capacity.

To get some quick money, Steven decides to rent an apartment that he inherited from his late father. Steven wants to operate the apartment like an Airbnb place, by renting to visitors who will be staying temporarily. Steven ends up renting the apartment to four British travelers who are tourists in London: queer couple Maria “Ria” Engles (played by Aislinn De’Ath) and Carly Cortes (played Alana Wallace), who are on this trip with Maria’s two children: 16-year-old daughter Joey “Jo” Engles (played by Anya Newall) and Lilith “Lilly” Engles (played by Lara Mount), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

Upon arrival, Lilly finds a creepy girl doll in her room. Lilly names the doll Amy. It should come as no surprise to viewers that this doll has a sinister history. It’s called the Devil Doll, and legend has it that it was owned by a young woman who murdered all of her housemates. There’s also a black figurine of the Virgin Mary/Madonna that also plays a role in the story.

You’d think that “Lair” would then explore more of this Devil Doll history. Instead, the movie goes off on a long and boring tangent that has lowlife Steven spying on his new tenants by a hidden camera set-up that he controls from a secret room in the apartment. Steven wants to see if he can catch any paranormal activities on camera. But he really just acts like a Peeping Tom because he enjoys watching Maria and Carly have sex.

“Lair,” which is Crow’s feature-film debut, also wastes a lot of time with relationship drama between Maria and Carly, who haven’t been dating each other for very long. Maria’s kids are having a hard time accepting Carly as part of the family. Not much is said about the father of Maria’s kids except that it’s implied that Maria broke up with him because she fell in love with Carly.

“Lair” takes such a long time to get to any real horror (it doesn’t happen until the last 20 minutes of this 96-minute film), but even then, everything in the horror scenes is hopelessly cliché and not very frightening at all. With “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle” movies existing in the world, another horror movie about a demonic doll really has to do something clever and original, but “Lair” comes up short.

The performances from the cast members are either mediocre or awful. It doesn’t help that Steven, who’s supposed to be the central character, is relentlessly annoying. The movie also badly mishandles the subplot about Ben and his attorney Wendy. It’s a part of the story that’s forgotten for most of the movie, and then rushed back in toward the end. Unfortunately, there’s nothing special about “Lair,” which is just one in a long list of subpar horror movies that keep getting churned out by filmmakers who can’t come up with anything unique in a horror story.

1091 Pictures released “Lair” on digital and VOD on November 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Scream” (2022), starring Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid, Jenna Ortega, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox David Arquette and Marley Shelton

January 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox in “Scream” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Scream” (2022)

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in the fictional California city of Woodsboro, the horror film “Scream” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Ghostface Killer murders start again in Woodsboro, with new characters and familiar franchise characters in a race against time to find out who’s responsible for this killing spree.

Culture Audience: Aside from fans of the “Scream” horror series, “Scream” will appeal mainly to people who like horror movies that combine graphic gore with sarcastic comedy.

Dylan Minnette, Jack Quaid, Melissa Barrera and David Arquette in “Scream” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The 2022 version of “Scream” proves that the series is running out of fresh new ideas, but the movie’s self-aware snarkiness and effective nods to “Scream” franchise nostalgia make the film mostly watchable. Viewers don’t have to see the previous “Scream” movies to understand or be entertained by 2022’s “Scream,” which is the fifth movie in the series. Because it shares the same title as 1996’s “Scream” (the first movie in the series) the 2022 “Scream” movie’s title does it a disservice because it’s more of a sequel than a reboot.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the 2022 version of “Scream” is the first “Scream” movie that wasn’t directed by Wes Craven, the horror filmmaking master who died of a brain tumor in 2015, at the age of 76. The 2022 version of “Scream” also has screenwriters who are new to the “Scream” franchise: James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. Kevin Williamson—who wrote 1996’s “Scream,” 1997’s “Scream 2” and 2011’s “Scream 4” movies—is an executive producer of 2022’s “Scream.”

The 2022 version of “Scream” follows almost the exact same formula as certain parts of previous “Scream” movies. A group of people in their late teens and early 20s are targeted and gruesomely murdered, one by one, by a serial killer dressed in a black robe, wearing a creepy ghost mask, and usually killing with a large knife. This murderer is named the Ghostface Killer. The end of each “Scream” movie reveals who’s been responsible for the murders.

Unlike most other horror movie series that keep the same villain for each movie in the series, the “Scream” movie series has a different culprit dressed up as the Ghostface Killer in each “Scream” movie. The first “Scream” movie is constantly referred to in the sequels because the Ghostface Killer murder sprees in the sequels are copycat crimes of the original Ghostface Killer murder spree, which took place in the fictional city of Woodsboro, California. The 2000 movie “Scream 3” added a movie-within-a-movie storyline, by creating a fictional horror movie series called “Stab,” which was inspired by what happened in the first “Scream” movie.

Those are some of the basic things that might be helpful to people who watch 2022’s “Scream” without knowing anything about the previous “Scream” films. The people who will enjoy this movie the most are those who’ve seen all of the previous “Scream” movies, although the 1996 “Scream” movie and “Scream 3” are the two most essential previous “Scream” films to watch to understand all of the jokes in 2022’s “Scream.”

The 2022 version of “Scream” begins with the same type of scene that began 1996’s “Scream”: A teenage girl from Woodsboro High School is home alone in Woodsboro when she gets a mysterious call from the Ghostface Killer, who breaks in the home and attacks her. Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker character famously got killed in that opening scene in the 1996 “Scream” movie.

The outcome is different for the opening scene in 2022’s “Scream.” Tara Carpenter (played by Jenna Ortega), the teenager attacked in the opening scene, survives this attempted murder. Tara, who’s about 16 or 17, lives with her single mother Christine Carpenter, who is never seen in the movie. Tara’s father abandoned the family when Tara was 8 years old. If you consider some of the family secrets that are revealed, Christine’s absence is the “Scream” filmmakers’ lazily convenient way to not have Christine around, because she would have a lot of explaining to do.

The movie gives a vague explanation that Christine has mental-health issues where she frequently goes away for long stretches of time. When the Ghostface Killer calls Tara, he asks for Christine and says that he knows her from group therapy. Tara says that Christine isn’t home and begins to question how well the caller knows Christine. And that’s when the Ghostface Killer starts to taunt Tara by doing things such has force her answer trivia questions about the “Stab” movies.

Christine’s absence still doesn’t explain why the police or hospital officials don’t seem too concerned about finding Christine when her underage child is in a hospital after an attempted murder. It’s one of the sloppy aspects of this movie, which puts a lot more emphasis on making references to previous “Scream” films than filling any plot holes in the 2022 “Scream” story. There are some other preposterous aspects of the movie, but the absence of Christine is the one that’s the least adequately explained.

More characters eventually populate the movie until most of them are killed off by the end. Tara’s circle of friends consists entirely of other Woodsboro High School students. Because so many characters are murdered, it becomes a very easy process of elimination to find out who’s responsible for this killing spree.

And there’s a part of the movie where someone literally lists all the formulaic rules for “Scream”/”Stab” movies, so major clues are purposely dropped in the film. Therefore, this “Scream” movie, although it has plenty of jump scares, isn’t as suspenseful as previous “Scream’ movies when it comes to the solving the mystery of who’s responsible for the killings.

The other characters in the movie include:

  • Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), Tara’s older sister, who lives in Modesto and goes to Woodsboro when she finds out about the attempted murder of Tara.
  • Richie Kirsch (played by Jack Quaid), Sam’s new boyfriend who works with her at a retail store. Sam and Richie, who have known each other for about six months, go to Woodsboro together during this family crisis.
  • Amber Freeman (played by Mikey Madison), Tara’s best friend who made plans to party with Tara at her house on the night that Tara was attacked.
  • Mindy Meeks-Martin (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown), a member of Tara’s social circle who’s a “Stab” trivia fanatic. Mindy is also the niece of original “Scream” character Randy Meeks (played by Jamie Kennedy), whose fate is shown in “Scream 2.”
  • Chad Meeks-Martin (played by Mason Gooding), Mindy’s twin brother, who is a popular athlete at school.
  • Liv McKenzie (played by Sonia Ammar), Chad’s girlfriend who’s a bit of a wild child. She had a fling with a creep in his 30s named Vince Schneider (played by Kyle Gallner), who later stalks her.
  • Wes Hicks (played by Dylan Minnette), a nice guy who’s often teased by his friends because his mother works in law enforcement.
  • Deputy Judy Hicks (played by Marley Shelton), Wes’ mother who is one of the lead investigators in the murder spree. Deputy Judy Hicks was also a character in “Scream 4.”

In addition to these characters, the 2022 “Scream” features the return of these original “Scream” franchise characters, who’ve been in other “Scream” movies:

  • Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell), the Ghostface Killer’s original target who has appeared in every “Scream” movie leading up this one.
  • Gale Weathers-Riley (played by Courteney Cox), an extremely ambitious TV reporter/book author, whose brash and pushy attitude rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
  • Dewey Riley (played by David Arquette), the goofy and easygoing cop who originally clashed with Gale, but then they fell in love and got married.

Sidney, Gale and Dewey all live far away from Woodsboro, but they are lured back to town when they hear that Ghostface Killer murders are happening again. Sidney, who was a Woodsboro High School student in the first “Scream” movie, is now married to someone named Mark (who’s never seen in the movie) and is the mother of infant twin daughters, who are also never seen in the movie.

Gale and Dewey are now divorced. According to conversations in the movie, their marriage fell apart soon after Gale took a prominent newscasting job in New York City. Dewey didn’t like living in New York, so he left Gale. It’s art somewhat imitating life, because in real life, Cox and Arquette met because of the “Scream” movie, they fell in love, got married, and eventually divorced.

While Gale’s career has been thriving, Dewey’s life and career have been on a downward spiral. When certain characters seek out Dewey to enlist his help in catching the Ghostface Killer, they find him living as an emotionally damaged recluse in a run-down trailer. Once a police sheriff, he eventually confesses that he was asked to leave the police department under circumstance he doesn’t full explain. Dewey has become a drunk, although it’s unclear if his drinking problem began before or after he lost his job.

Dewey is also heartbroken over his divorce from Gale. Meanwhile, Gale shows she has a heart because she’s been devastated by the divorce too. Dewey has a personal reason for investigating Ghostface Killer murders: His younger sister, Tatum Riley (played by Rose McGowan), who was Sidney’s best friend in high school, was killed in the original Ghostface Killer murder spree chronicled in the first “Scream” movie.

The 2022 “Scream” movie balances out a lot of the explicitly violent and bloody murder scenes with self-effacing jokes. There are many references to what sequels, reboots or “requels” (movies that are hybrids of reboots and sequels) should or should not do to please die-hard fans. At one point in the movie, when “Stab” trivia buff Mindy marvels at what has happened to Sam so far and how “Stab” fans would react, Sam asks Mindy sarcastically, “Are you telling me I’m part of fan fucking fiction?”

Mindy, just like her uncle Randy, is the self-appointed authority on clues and patterns in these serial killings. She lists three rules of finding out who’s the serial killer:

  • Never trust the love interest.
  • The killer’s motive is always connected to the past.
  • The main victim has a friend group that’s also targeted by the killer.

Because “Scream” spends so much time pointing out “rules” and “clichés” of horror movie franchises, it takes a little bit of the fun out of trying to guess who’s responsible for the serial killings in this movie. The movie literally tells the audience who the killer is, but even if it didn’t, enough people get killed in this relatively small cast of characters to figure out who’s behind the murder spree long before it’s officially revealed.

“Scream” should please fans who want a movie that’s heavy on nostalgia for beloved franchise characters, but something happens to one of these characters that might get very mixed reactions from fans. Because slasher flicks like “Scream” rely heavily on characters in their teens and 20s getting murdered, this “Scream” movie doesn’t do much with character development for the young characters who aren’t Sam and Tara. The two sisters were estranged for a number of years, for reasons that are explained in the movie. Predictably, Tara and Sam set aside their family friction to join forces to get the Ghostface Killer.

Except for one shocking death in “Scream,” the movie really does stick to the formula that it constantly lampoon. At times, this constant ironic self-referencing wears a little thin and comes across as a little too smug. Some of the violence might be a turnoff for people who extremely sensitive, very squeamish or easily offended by scenes in movies where knife slashes and blood gushing are depicted to full gory effect. This “Scream” movie has no intention of being as original as the first “Scream” movie, but for horror fans, there’s enough in the 2022 “Scream” to be entertained by classic horror tropes, with the ending inevitably leaving open the probability of a sequel.

Paramount Pictures released “Scream” in U.S. cinemas on January 14, 2022.

Review: ‘The Feast’ (2021), starring Annes Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones, Siôn Alun Davies, Steffan Cennydd, Lisa Palfrey and Rhodri Meilir

January 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Annes Elwy in “The Feast” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“The Feast” (2021)

Directed by Lee Haven Jones

Welsh with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Wales, the horror film “The Feast” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A mysterious woman is hired to be a cook/server for an upcoming dinner party in a wealthy family’s countryside home, but strange and sinister things occur before, during and after this meal.

Culture Audience: “The Feast” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching European horror movies that take their time to get to the biggest action scenes.

Steffan Cennydd and Annes Elwy in “The Feast” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“The Feast” is a horror movie that’s a cautionary tale about the gluttony of pillaging the environment. It’s a deliberately paced film whose plot stumbles a bit in the last third of the movie, but it has enough gruesome images and haunting themes to make an impact. People with short attention spans might not enjoy the movie as much people who have the patience to watch a story unfold, bit by bit.

Lee Haven Jones, a director who has worked mostly in British television (on shows such as “Dr. Who” and “The Long Call”), makes his feature-film directorial debut with “The Feast,” which was written by Roger Williams. The movie is set in an unnamed Welsh countryside city in the present day, but the costume design and production design bring an otherworldly, timeless quality to the film that doesn’t peg it to a specific year in the 21st century. Because the entire film takes place on the wooded property of a wealthy family, the atmosphere of the film is intentionally isolating.

“The Feast” begins with the arrival of a temporary worker in her 20s named Cadi (played by Annes Elwy), who has been hired to be a cook/server for the family’s upcoming dinner party in their mansion. Yes, it’s another horror movie about a mysterious employee who works in a mansion in the woods, and then bad things start to happen. However cliché that concept might be, “The Feast” at least takes it step further by being more than just a violent gorefest horror flick.

The lady of the house is family matriarch Glenda (played by Nia Roberts), who is annoyed that Cadi has shown up late. Glenda scolds Cadi: “We’re a long way from town, but I did give directions. Did you follow them? It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.” Over time, viewers see that Glenda is pretentious and very particular about the image that she and the rest of the family project to the outside world.

Cadi was hired as a sudden replacement for a woman named Lynwen, who became ill earlier that week. Glenda is supervising the cooking for this dinner, which will be a three-course meal for seven people. Cadi spends most of her time in the kitchen and in the dining room, but she still finds time to wander around the property.

Cadi is quiet but appears to be easily agitated by sights and sounds of hunting, which is a frequent activity of the men of the house. Glenda’s husband Gwyn (played by Julian Lewis Jones) has hunted rabbits that will be served during the banquet. When he plops two dead and bloody rabbits on the kitchen countertop, Cadi acts very disturbed. And when the couple’s younger son Guto (played by Steffan Cennydd), who is in his late teens or early 20s, shoots a gun in a nearby field, the sound of the gun frightens Cadi so much that she crouches down in fear.

It doesn’t take long for Cadi to find out that this is a dysfunctional family. Glenda and Gwyn have two sons: Elder child Gweirydd (played by Siôn Alun Davies) is an obsessive overachiever type who left his job as a hospital doctor to go into intense training for a triathlon. Younger child Guto, the “black sheep” of the family, is a needle-using drug addict who has been in rehab and who has overdosed at least once.

Cadi’s arrival at the house piques the interest of the three men who live there, and she shows some curiosity too. Gweirydd immediately stares lecherously at Cadi. Later, she spies on Gweirydd while he shaves his pubic hair in a sauna. Cady seems more attracted to Guto, who accidentally injured his foot outdoors when a metal part of fence dropped on his foot. What happens to this foot injury later in the movie is not for the faint of heart.

After seeing Cadi’s horrified reaction to the dead rabbits, Gwyn tells Cadi that he’s sorry that he scared her. “I want to be your friend,” Gwyn tells Cadi. It’s an odd thing to say to a stranger who’s been hired to work in the home for just one evening.

But things get even more bizarre. Soon, it becomes obvious that Cadi is not a “normal” employee. She secretly spits in the food when no one is looking. And when she has some free time alone, she goes in Glenda’s bedroom, tries on some of Glenda’s perfume, and then starts laughing like a maniac. 

The guests at this dinner party are a businessman named Euros (played by Rhodri Meilir) and a farmer’s wife named Mair (played by Lisa Palfrey), who have not been invited just as a social visit. Euros describes his job this way: “I help small businesses find ways to make money with their assets.” And it turns out that Gwyn wants Mair to convince her husband Iori to sell their farm land so that consortium can use the land for drilling purposes. Iori is presumably the third guest who was expected at this dinner party, but he is not in attendance.

This fateful dinner party is really the catalyst for most of the horror action that takes place in the movie. Because the dinner party doesn’t happen until the last third of the movie, viewers must have patience and observe all the clues that explain what happens toward the end of the movie. One of the first signs that something terrible is about to happen is when Glenda shows off the house’s sauna/retreat room to Mair, which Mair thinks looks more like a prison cell. Shortly before they leave, Glenda notices a red feather float down, seemingly from out of nowhere.

“The Feast” is perfectly adequate when it comes to the performances of the cast members. Some viewers will think that the movie takes too long to get to the big scares. (“The Feast” spends a lot of time on the family squabbles and images of the meal being prepared.) Still, director Jones capably handles the film’s brooding atmosphere and how the movie’s feeling of dread slowly increases as time goes on in the story. The most memorable characteristic of “The Feast” is in how its intended message sneaks up on viewers, but it’s cloaked in a very creepy and brutal horror movie.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “The Feast” in select U.S. cinemas on digital and VOD on November 19, 2021.

Review: ‘Madres’ (2021), starring Tenoch Huerta, Ariana Guerra, Evelyn Gonzalez, Kerry Cahill and Elpidia Carrillo

December 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ariana Guerra in “Madres” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/ Amazon Content Services)

“Madres” (2021)

Directed by Ryan Zaragoza

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1977 in California’s fictional Golden Valley, the horror film “Madres” features a predominantly Latino cast (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Mexican immigrant and his pregnant American-born wife relocate from Los Angeles to rural Golden Valley and find themselves caught in a dangerous mystery over why women in the area have a history of pregnancy trauma and infertility. 

Culture Audience: “Madres” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies that are based on real-life horror stories.

Tenoch Huerta and Ariana Guerra in “Madres” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/ Amazon Content Services)

“Madres” is a “slow burn” horror movie that’s bound to make people uncomfortable. Even though there are supernatural elements in the story, it’s based on real-life traumatic incidents involving motherhood. The final 20 minutes of the movie make up for the aspects of the story that tend to get repetitive. The cast members of “Madres” also capably handle the material.

“Madres” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. Directed by Ryan Zaragoza and written by Marcella Ochoa and Mario Miscione, “Madres” at first appears to be a standard ghost story about a couple who have seemingly moved into a haunted house. But by the end of the movie, viewers will know that even though “Madres” takes place in 1977, the film makes an impactful statement about a shameful problem in society that still happens today.

In “Madres,” happily married couple Beto Obregon (played by Tenoch Huerta) and Diana Obregon (played by Ariana Guerra) are shown arriving in the rural, fictional town of Golden Valley in the northern part of California. Beto (who is 30 years old) and Diana (who’s about the same age or slightly younger than Beto) have moved to Golden Valley because Beto is a farm worker who has been offered a job to manage a farm. It’s his first managerial job, so the couple is excited about this job opportunity and increased salary, especially because Diana is pregnant with their first child.

Beto is an immigrant from Mexico who has been living in the United States for the past five years. He comes from a poor family, but he has the ambition and work ethic to want to achieve the American Dream. Diana was born in the United States and comes from a middle-class family who was originally from Mexico. Because Diana doesn’t speak Spanish and because she has a light skin tone, she could be mistaken for being a white American. It’s mentioned in the movie that Diana’s parents discouraged her from learning Spanish, which implies that her parents want to distance themselves from their Mexican roots.

“Madres” doesn’t just look at nationality issues. The movie also touches on conflicts that arise because of social class and colorism. In a phone conversation between Diana and her sister Veronica, viewers find out that Diana’s parents do not approve of her marriage to Beto, because he’s uneducated, he’s dark-skinned, and because the parents think Beto will be nothing but a poor farmer. Because of this disapproval, Diana has kept her distance from her parents, who seem to prefer Veronica as the “favored child.”

Diana has a journalism degree. Before she got pregnant, Diana worked as a journalist, but she got fired from her job for being pregnant, but she plans to go back to work when she can. In the meantime, during her pregnancy, Diana has been working on a book. It isn’t long after Diana and Beto are settled into their fixer-upper home that problems start happening.

Diana starts having nightmares, including one shown during the movie’s opening scene where Diana dreams that she has a newborn baby who disappears when the baby’s crib suddenly fills with dirt. Diana also starts to see and hear frightful things at various times of the day and night, such as shadowy figures, a boy with a bloody eye who’s hiding in a tree, and some egg yolk that looks like it starting to bleed.

“Madres” is definitely a “things that go bump in the night” movie, since a lot of scenes are about Diana witnessing something and starting to question her sanity. Sometimes, Beto goes to investigate things that Diana says that she’s seen, but he doesn’t find anything. In the meantime, Diana and Beto become increasingly worried about all of this stress will affect their unborn child.

At his new job, Beto’s supervisor is Tomas (played by Joseph Garcia), who seems to have a lot of confidence in Beto as a new hire. Beto earns the respect of his co-workers (who are all Hispanics/Latinos), but Diana has a harder time fitting into this farm community. At a company picnic, Diana feels like an outsider because she seems to be the only one who doesn’t know how to speak Spanish. And as a newcomer to the area, she also finds it difficult to adjust to living in a rural way of life in this tight-knit community

Even though Diana doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, she does know some words in Spanish. Therefore, Diana can still understand that she’s getting catty and jealous remarks from some of the other wives at this gathering. They think that Diana is too uppity for this clique because she’s light-skinned, college-educated, and never bothered to learn how to speak Spanish. A woman named Rosa (played by Leydi Morales), who is married to a farm worker named Rafael Ernesto (played by René Mena), seems to be the most jealous one in this group of farm worker wives.

During this picnic, Diana finds out that pregnancy and motherhood are touchy subjects in this community. Many of the women in the area have had miscarriages or can’t get pregnant. There are stories going around that maybe the women of Golden Valley are cursed.

Not long after moving to Golden Valley, Beto and Diana go to a gift shop, where they are greeted by Anita (played by Elpidia Carrillo), the shop owner. She offers to give a blessing to the Beto, Diana and their unborn child. Anita sells a lot of trinkets in shop, which looks like she caters to a lot of people who believe in superstitions. It should come as no surprise that Anita is called “The Witch Lady” by many of the locals.

One day, Anita shows up unannounced at Beto and Diana’s house and tries to give Diana a necklace for “protection.” Diana, who is put off by this unexpected visit, says that she’s not superstitious and she firmly refuses this gift. Anita insists that she gives this gift to all pregnant women in the town, but Diana still refuses to take the necklace.

The rest of “Madres” follows Diana’s pregnancy journey that goes from hopeful to harrowing. At one point, Diana ends up in a hospital maternity ward where someone named Nurse Carol (played by Kerry Cahill) is exactly like the type of nurse that you think she is when she interacts with Diana. Along the way, she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery of the house’s previous resident: A woman named Teresa Flores, who died in 1955, and left many of her possessions behind.

Why was the house unoccupied for 22 years before Beto and Diana moved there? Is Teresa possibly haunting the house? And if so, why? And does Anita know more than she’s telling Diana? All of those questions are answered in the movie.

“Madres” is not the type of horror movie that has a lot of action and gore. Anyone looking for that type of content throughout the film will probably be disappointed. The movie overall doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, in terms of jump scares or cinematography. Guerra’s performance is believable and carries the movie. Whether are not viewers like “Madres” largely depends on how much they can connect with Guerra’s portrayal of Diana.

And it takes a while for the movie to pick up its pace. The second half of “Madres” is better than the first half. By the end of “Madres,” it will become clear that the movie isn’t the usual ghost story. The biggest horror in the film doesn’t come from the supernatural but from human beings who commit heinous acts of evil.

Prime Video premiered “Madres” on October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Black as Night,’ starring Asjha Cooper, Fabrizio Guido, Mason Beauchamp, Frankie Smith, Abbie Gayle, Craig Tate and Keith David

December 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Fabrizio Guido, Mason Beauchamp, Asjha Cooper and Abbie Gayle in “Black as Night” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Content Services)

“Black as Night”

Directed by Maritte Lee Go

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the horror film “Black as Night” features a racially diverse cast (Latino, white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Teenagers battle vampires that are plaguing their city. 

Culture Audience: “Black as Night” will appeal primarily to people who want to see botched preaching about racism in a low-quality horror movie.

A scene from “Black as Night” (Photo by Alan Markfield/Amazon Content Services)

The vampire flick “Black as Night” uses racism and colorism as punchlines in ways that aren’t very funny and end up being grating in how these jokes are repeated. It’s an awful horror movie that thinks it’s being clever, when it actually dumbs everything down for the audience in a very formulaic way. As an example of how shoddy and phony the filmmaking is in “Black as Night,” the movie takes place in New Orleans and was filmed on location in New Orleans, but no one in the movie sounds like they’re from New Orleans.

“Black as Night” is filled with degrading stereotypes of African Americans and gay men. The movie’s protagonist is an African American teenage girl who is constantly made to feel inferior because she has darker skin than her African American peers. (It’s the reason why the movie’s title “Black as Night” has a double meaning.) And when viewers find out who the chief villain is in the story, it just shows more terrible stereotyping of African Americans.

“Black as Night” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. Directed by Maritte Lee Go, and written by Sherman Payne and Jay Walker, “Black as Night” wants desperately to look authentic, when it comes to African American culture and how an African American female is supposed to act. However, the filmmaking team chose not to include any African American women as a director, writer or producer for this movie. It’s why so much of “Black as Night,” which centers on an African American female, smacks of so much inauthenticity.

The protagonist and narrator of “Black as Night” is a teenager named Shawna (played by Asjha Cooper), who’s about 16 or 17. Her best friend/classmate is an openly gay, Mexican immigrant named Pedro (played by Fabrizio Guido), who is every bit of the “sassy and gossipy gay best friend” stereotype that has been overdone in movies and TV. Shawna and Pedro spend a lot of their time making racist comments about white people, because they automatically think most white people are racists.

The first time that Shawna and Pedro are seen in the movie, they’re sunning themselves on the roof of a building that could be where Shawna or Pedro lives. In a hindsight voiceover, Shawna says, “We didn’t know it yet, [but] the summer I got breasts was the same summer I fought vampires.” That’s the first sign that this movie about a teenage girl was written by men.

Before the part of the movie happens where Shawna and Pedro fight vampires, their biggest worries are about school and their families. Shawna says she won’t try out for the school’s dance team because “90% of the girls they pick are Creole because of a certain look.” In other words, they look light-skinned or biracial.

Meanwhile, Pedro is a track athlete who’s been offered a full athletic scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in Texas, but Pedro doesn’t want to go because he says that doesn’t want to go to a school that has a lot of white people. He also says that he doesn’t want to move far away from his family in New Orleans. In other words, Shawn and Pedro deprive themselves of opportunities and want to blame their self-sabatoging on other people. Immediately, viewers can see how annoying these two characters are going to be with this negative attitude.

And it gets worse. Shawna has a crush on a good-looking and popular student named Chris Thompson (played by Mason Beauchamp), but she believes she doesn’t have a chance with him because she thinks that Chris is out of her league. Why? Shawna worries that her skin might be too dark for him. It doesn’t help that Shawna’s older brother Jamal (played by Frankie Smith) tells her that Chris prefers “Creole girls.” Jamal also taunts Shawna for her skin color by calling her “Wesley Snipes with braids.”

The negative stereotypes continue. Shawna and Jamal’s mother Denise (played by Kenneisha Thompson) lives in a separate household because she’s a drug addict. The filmmakers have Denise live in a “ghetto” building in a “ghetto” part of town. There is absolutely no good reason for why the filmmakers made Shawna’s mother be a drug addict, except to reinforce negative stereotypes that most African American kids have a parent who’s a drug addict and/or a criminal. In reality, that stereotype is not true for most African American kids and most African American parents.

Shawn and Jamal’s father Steven (played by Derek Roberts) has full custody and is raising Shawn and Jamal as a single parent. There’s a scene where Shawna visits her mother, who seems more concerned about how much money she can get from Shawna than spending quality time with Shawna. And since “Black as Night” is a movie has no use for showing any African American woman as a positive female role model for Shawna, viewers shouldn’t be surprised to find out what happens to Denise.

Meanwhile, community activists are protesting the impending demolition of the Ombreaux housing projects to make way for the construction of higher-priced residential buildings. The reconstruction will displace low-income residents, who won’t be able to afford the new housing that will be built. What does this all have to do with the vampire story in “Black as Night”? It’s because homeless or low-income African Americans in the area are being turned into vampires, as shown in the movie’s opening scene.

The “Black as Night” plot has a few twists and turns that aren’t very imaginative. But it’s enough to say that Shawna has very personal reasons for the “race against time” to find the head vampire to kill. Keith David appears toward the end of the movie as a character named Babineaux, who holds the key to the mystery.

Meanwhile, Shawna and Pedro enlist the help of another teen named Granya (played by Abbie Gayle), who’s the leader of a vampire book club for other teenage girls. Shawn and Pedro need Granya to teach them about how to hunt vampires. Pedro and Shawna make a lot of snarky racist comments about Granya because she’s white and comes from a well-to-do family—as if those are good-enough reasons to automatically ridicule someone.

Anyone who watches “Black as Night” has to endure a lot of bratty teen talk and politically correct preaching that tries too hard to make this low-quality horror flick look like it has a social conscience. It’s all so fake because of all the reverse racism that is condoned and celebrated in this movie. That’s not to say that the movie shouldn’t acknowledge that white supremacists exist, but the movie is unrelenting in repeating Shawna’s and Pedro’s belief that all white people are racists until proven otherwise. That belief is racist too.

The acting in “Black as Night” isn’t very impressive. Cooper shows potential if she’s given better characters to play. The rest of the cast members either play stereotypes or characters with bland and forgettable personalities. Shawna is supposed to be a hero, but the filmmakers have this misguided belief that it’s heroic to make African Americans blame everything on white supremacy. It’s an oversimplified and irresponsible portrayal about the complex issues surrounding racism and colorism. And it’s an understatement to say that this horror movie badly mishandles these issues.

The answer to the movie’s vampire mystery is a complete cop-out that just reinforces negative stereotypes of African Americans. The final battle scene isn’t very creative and actually quite irritating because the characters make wisecracking jokes during this fight. It’s one of many examples of how “Black as Night” can’t decide if it wants to be a social justice horror movie or a comedic horror movie. Trying to be both at the same time just cancels any credibility of either intention.

And arguably worst of all, “Black as Night” has an unbelievably weak and moronic ending. There are at least a dozen better ways that the movie could have ended. The ending is so bad, it’s like the filmmakers wanted to give a middle finger to viewers who wasted their time watching this smug trash dump of a film. If movie fans want to see a quality horror movie, then the best way that they can give a middle finger back to this filmmaker contempt of viewers is to avoid watching “Black as Night.”

Prime Video premiered “Black as Night” on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Bingo Hell,’ starring Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell, Richard Brake, Clayton Landey, Jonathan Medina, Bertila Damas and Grover Coulson

December 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Richard Brake in “Bingo Hell” (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)

“Bingo Hell”

Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Oak Springs, the horror film “Bingo Hell” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latino, white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A working-class city affected by gentrification gets targeted by a sinister gambling mogul, who promises to make people rich by playing bingo. 

Culture Audience: “Bingo Hell” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that put more emphasis on campiness than being scary.

Clayton Landey, Bertila Damas, Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell and Grover Coulson in “Bingo Hell” (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)

“Bingo Hell” takes a good concept for a horror movie and squanders it on a cheap-looking flick that’s short on scares and too heavy on campiness. It’s like a very inferior episode of “Tales From the Crypt” but made into a movie. Not even the charismatic talent of “Babel” Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza can save this misguided and monotonous film, because the “Bingo Hell” filmmakers make her protagonist character into a simplistic and annoying parody of a busybody senior citizen.

“Bingo Hell” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. The movie touches on issues that many underprivileged people of color face when they are priced out of neighborhoods that become gentrified. However, this social issue is flung by the wayside when the movie devolves into a predictable and dull story about a demon taking over a community, culminating in a badly staged showdown with no surprises.

Gigi Saul Guerrero directed “Bingo Hell” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Shane McKenzie and Perry Blackshear. For Hulu’s “Into the Dark” horror anthology series (another Blumhouse production), Guerrero directed and co-wrote 2019’s “Culture Shock,” which did a much better job of combining horror with socioeconomic issues of race and privilege in America. One of the worst aspects of “Bingo Hell” is the movie’s musical score, which sounds like irritating sitcom music. The score music (by Chase Horseman) is very ill-suited for a horror movie that’s supposed to be terrifying.

In “Bingo Hell,” Barraza plays a widow named Lupita, a feisty, longtime resident of the fictional U.S. city called Oak Springs. Most of Oak Springs’ residents are low-income, working-class people. Senior citizens and people of color are a large percentage of the city’s population. Lupita, who lives by herself, has been getting letters in the mail from real-estate developers asking her to sell her home, but she refuses.

As an example of how she feels about being unwilling to sell her home, an early scene in the movie shows Lupita getting one of these letters, from a company called Torregano Real Estate. She takes a lit cigar and stubs it on the letter. Lupita rants to anyone who listens that no amount of money can make her sell her home. She also doesn’t like that some of her friends have taken offers to sell their homes, and she fears that more of her neighborhood friends will also sell their homes and move away.

And if it isn’t made clear enough that Lupita hates that her neighborhood is being gentrified, when she walks down a street and sees a young hipster woman drinking coffee, Lupita deliberately bumps into the woman so that she spills the coffee. Lupita pretends to be sorry for this “accident,” but she really isn’t sorry. She has a smug grin on her face, as if she’s glad that that she caused this mishap. Lupita is a senior citizen in her 60s, but she has the emotional maturity of a 16-year-old.

Lupita is a stereotypical nosy old lady who has to be in everybody else’s business because she has too much time on her hands. One by one, she visits her four closest confidants. Yolanda (played by Bertila Demas) is a friendly owner of a hair salon, where gossipy grandmother Dolores (played by L. Scott Caldwell) is a regular customer. Just like Lupita, Dolores says she doesn’t want to sell her house.

Clarence (played by Grover Coulson) is a laid-back mechanic who’s been working on one of his vintage cars for years. He’s been working on it for so long, it’s become an inside joke among these friends. Morris (played by Clayton Landey) is a “regular guy” plumber who comes into the hair salon one day to do some pipe repairs. Morris has a crush on Yolanda. Since they are both single, there’s some flirtation between them that’s not very interesting.

The community has been talking about the mysterious death of a widower named Mario (played by David Jensen), who is shown dying in the movie’s opening scene. He is sitting at a table in his home with a crazed look on his face, as he says: “I sold the house to him. I love him.”

A sinister-sounding male voice in the distance can be heard saying, “She would be so proud,” in reference to Mario’s late wife Patricia. Mario suddenly begins gorging on bingo balls until he chokes and dies. Meanwhile, a suitcase of cash is seen nearby in the room where Mario has died. All of these are obvious clues about what’s to come later in the story.

Meanwhile, Dolores has been having some family drama at home. Her rebellious teenage grandson Caleb (played by Joshua Caleb Johnson) and Caleb’s single mother Raquel (played by Kelly Murtagh) have come to stay with Dolores because Raquel has been having financial problems. Dolores’ son is Caleb’s father, who is described in the movie as a deadbeat dad who is not involved in raising Caleb.

Raquel and Dolores frequently clash because Dolores thinks that Raquel is a terrible mother who’s too lenient with Caleb (who’s about 15 or 16), while Raquel thinks Dolores is too strict and a failure as a mother because Dolores’ son turned out to be an irresponsible person. The movie wastes a lot of time with this family squabbling. The only purpose is to show that Raquel is money-hungry but she’s too lazy to want to find a job, which is an attitude that affects her decisions later in the movie.

It’s also problematic that the one character in the movie who’s a young African American male is portrayed as someone who commits crimes. Caleb’s misdeeds include breaking into cars. It’s such a lazy and unnecessary negative stereotype that is over-used in movies and TV. This gross stereotype doesn’t accurately represent the reality that most African American teens are not troublemaking criminals.

Dolores spends a lot of time at Oak Springs Community Center East, where she and some of her friends like to play bingo. The community center is also a place for support-group meetings. Eric (played by Jonathan Medina) is a local man in his 30s who leads a support group meeting.

Lupita invites Eric to the next bingo game, but he declines, by saying: “Bingo is not my thing. Maybe in 50 years, when I’m your age.” Eric isn’t disrespectful to Lupita, because he calls Lupita and Dolores “legends” of Oak Springs. Lupita feels good enough about the community center that when she finds a $100 bill on the street (the bill is covered with a mysterious white gummy substance), she donates the $100 to the community center by dropping the bill in a donation box.

Not long after this act of generosity, a big black Cadillac shows up in town. The driver calls himself Mr. Big (played by Richard Brake), a gambling mogul who speaks in an exaggerated Southern drawl and has an evil smirk. Mr. Big has come to town because he’s opening Mr. Big’s Bingo, a gambling hall specifically for bingo games.

Mr. Big talks in the type of grandiose clichés that you might expect from a carnival huckster or an infomercial hawker. He shouts to a crowd in Oak Springs: “They say that money can’t buy happiness! I disagree! You know what kinds of people believe this nonsense? Losers! Now tell me, Oak Springs, are you losers?”

Mr. Big makes a big splash in the community by showing off his wealth and with a flashy ad campaign where he promises that people can win thousands of dollars per game at Mr. Big’s Bingo. After this bingo hall opens, people in the community who play at Mr. Big’s Bingo inevitably get greedy and competitive. Because it’s a horror movie, you know where this is going, of course.

The horror part of “Bingo Hell” is frustratingly undercut by hammy acting from Brake and the aforementioned sitcom-like musical score. Meanwhile, the characters in the movie act increasingly like caricatures, as the cast members give average or subpar performances. What started out as a promising portrait of how gentrification and greed can cause horror in a community turns into a silly gorefest with ultimately nothing meaningful to say and nothing truly frightening to show.

Prime Video premiered “Bingo Hell” on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,’ starring Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue and Neal McDonough

November 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Avan Jogia and Kaya Scodelario in “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” (Photo by Shane Mahood/Screen Gems)

“Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City”

Directed by Johannes Roberts

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1998 in the fictional Midwestern town of Raccoon City, the horror flick “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few multiracial people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s returns to her childhood hometown of Raccoon City to visit her cop brother, only to discover that Raccoon City will soon be overtaken by zombies and is the target of a more sinister plan. 

Culture Audience: “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Resident Evil” franchise and anyone who doesn’t mind watching a predictable and silly horror flick.

Robbie Amell, Chad Rook, Hannah John-Kamen and Tom Hopper in “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” (Photo by Shane Mahood/Screen Gems)

When will the makers of bad zombie films learn that gory doesn’t always equal scary? “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” has plenty of gore but absolutely nothing terrifying or imaginative. It’s just a ridiculous rehash of all the things of people hate the most about terrible horror movies: Shallow characters who make dumb decisions; unrealistic action scenes; and muddled storytelling that fails to be engaging.

By now, the “Resident Evil” movie series (which is based on the “Resident Evil” video games) has such a tarnished reputation for being low-quality junk that audiences should expect that any movie with the words “resident evil” in the title will be nothing but schlock. But schlock can be entertaining if it’s done the right way. Unfortunately, “Resident Evil: Raccoon City” is more of the same disappointing garbage.

Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer/director of most of the “Resident Evil” movies, is not the writer/director of “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” but he is an executive producer. Instead, Johannes Roberts wrote and directed “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” a prequel that starts off with the most tiresome cliché of tiresome clichés in a horror movie: The “fake-out freak-out” scene where something frightening is supposed to be happening. But surprise! It was only someone’s nightmare. This is how the movie’s two sibling main characters are introduced.

Claire Redfield (played by Kaya Scodelario) and her older brother Chris Redfield (played by Robbie Amell) are first seen as children in the Raccoon City Orphanage, where they have been living since their parents died in a car accident. Claire is about 8 years old, while Chris is about 10. Raccoon City is in an unnamed U.S. state in the Midwest. (“Resident Evil: Raccoon City” was actually filmed in Canada, in the Ontario cities of Sudbury and Hamilton.)

While at the orphanage, which looks more like hospital in a war zone, it’s nighttime, and Claire is woken up by someone who seems to have touched her. Viewers will see a gnarly and dirty hand with long fingernails outstretched as if it’s going to hurt Claire, but the hand suddenly pulls back.

Claire tells Chris what she thinks she saw. “She’s here again!” Claire says in an alarmed voice. Chris tells Claire that whatever Claire saw, it was probably her imagination. However, Claire is convinced that something strange is in the orphanage. She takes a look around the orphanage to investigate.

And sure enough, crouched in the corner of a room in a makeshift tent is a mutant-looking woman, with matted hair and distorted physical features. It’s the same woman who tried to wake up Claire. This severely disfigured woman, who doesn’t look entirely human, is wearing a wristband with the name Lisa Trevor (played by Marina Mazepa). Claire now knows this woman’s name.

Instead of screaming or running away, like most people would do, Claire calmly asks, “Where do you live?” The woman writes down on a piece of paper: “Below.” Suddenly, the orphanage’s resident doctor appears and startles Claire by asking her: “What are you doing, little girl?” It’s then that Claire screams out loud, and the scene cuts to the adult Claire waking up because this entire childhood scene was supposed to be a nightmare.

It’s now 1998, and Claire is now in her late 20s. Her nightmare happened while she was napping in the passenger seat of a truck. She’s a hitchhiker on her way to visit Chris. And the sleazy truck driver (played by Pat Thornton) who’s giving her this ride is trying to put some moves on her, but she’s clearly not interested. Don’t expect this movie to reveal what Claire is doing with her life, but she obviously doesn’t have the money to rent a car, take a taxi or hire a car service.

It’s pouring rain at night, as it often does in horror movies when people are driving on a deserted road and this next thing happens: Someone suddenly appears out of nowhere in front of the automobile, like a ghostly figure. In this movie, the wannabe road-kill stranger is a woman, and the truck driver ends up hitting her because he couldn’t swerve away fast enough.

When the trucker and Claire get out of the truck, the bloodied woman hisses like the zombie that she is, and she runs away into a nearby wooded area. Meanwhile, the trucker has a dog that gets out of the truck too. The dog licks some of the zombie’s blood off of the street, so you know what’s going to happen to the dog later in the movie.

Somehow, Claire makes it to Chris’ home. Instead of seeing if he’s home, she just breaks into the house like a thief. It turns out that she hasn’t seen or spoken to Chris for five years, and her visit is unannounced, but it’s still no reason to break into his house. It’s just an example of how stupid this movie is. Chris is home and is shocked to see Claire, who tells him sarcastically that he’s not a very good cop if he doesn’t have good security for his home.

Claire notices a framed photo in Chris’ house that seems to disturb her. He’s in the photo with the same scientist/doctor who frightened Claire in her nightmare. This scientist really exists and he’s a menacing person from Claire’s past. His name is William Birkin (played by Neal McDonough), who is the movie’s obvious villain. (He’s got plenty of sneers, smirks and crazy-eyed stares to make it obvious.)

Claire’s immediate reaction is repulsion when she finds out that William has become a father figure/mentor to Chris. A flashback in the movie later shows why she thinks William is evil. Chris, on the other hand, completely trusts William. Chris tells Claire that William helped Chris out a lot in life, and William is the closest thing that Chris has to family. Of course, since the movie telegraphs so early that William is an evil scientist, there’s no suspense at all when his “secret” is revealed.

It’s explained in some captions on screen that Raccoon City used to be a thriving community. The city’s biggest employer was a pharmaceutical company called Umbrella Corporation, which had its headquarters in Raccoon City. However, a scandal nearly destroyed the company. And now, Raccoon City is a shadow of its former self. The only people who have remained in Raccoon City are some employees of Umbrella and “people who are too poor to leave.”

It’s revealed a little later in the movie that Claire ran away from Raccoon City when she was a teenager. Chris somewhat resents her for it because he feels that she abandoned him, and she’s the only biological family that he has. Why is Claire back in Raccoon City if she dislikes it so much? She’s had a “premonition” that something bad is going to happen there, and she wants to convince Chris to move out as soon as possible.

She shows Chris a videotape that she has of a former Umbrella employee named Ben Bertolucci (played by Josh Cruddas), who claims to be a whistleblower exposing some of the company’s secrets. One of the biggest secrets is that Umbrella “poisoned the water” in the area. And there was a “really bad leak” that could do Chernobyl-like damage to the area. Ben says he has information that this explosion will completely destroy Raccoon City by 6 a.m. on the day after Claire has arrived to urge Chris to evacuate.

Most of the action in the movie starts after 11 p.m. on the night before this supposed explosion, and then the climactic part of the movie is close to the 6 a.m. deadline. And where exactly is Ben now? That’s shown in the movie, but in a very haphazard way.

At first, Chris doesn’t think there’s any merit to Ben’s claims. But then, people in Raccoon City start turning into zombies. It becomes a race against time to not only survive the zombies but also try to find a way out of Raccoon City before it supposedly explodes.

This relatively low-budget movie has a relatively small cast of characters. The only people who are seen actively trying to leave Raccoon City are Claire, Chris and Chris’ co-workers in Raccoon City’s small police force. These other cops are:

  • Chief Brian Irons (played by Donal Logue), who’s a loud-mouthed bully.
  • Leon S. Kennedy (played by Avan Jogia), a mild-mannered rookie cop who is the target of Chief Irons’ worst taunting.
  • Jill Valentine (played by Hannah John-Kamen), a sassy extrovert who seems to be attracted to Leon, even though she’s dating another co-worker.
  • Albert Wesker (played by Tom Hopper), who is Jill’s boyfriend and someone who thinks he’s the bravest one on the police force.
  • Richard Aiken (played by Chad Rook), a generic and forgettable cop.

Leaving the city isn’t as easy as it sounds. Government officials have sealed off the roads leading out of the city and have stationed armed security at the borders to prevent anyone from leaving. One of the characters in the movie finds out the hard way about these barriers. The cops try to exit Raccoon City by getting a helicopter from a guy named Brad Vickers (played by Nathan Dales), but that plan doesn’t go smoothly.

And because this movie takes place in 1998, smartphones don’t exist. Needless to say, the landline phones aren’t working during this crisis. There’s brief mention of Internet service, but this is in the days of dial-up Internet service, which needed landlines. In 1998, an example of cutting-edge mobile technology was a PalmPilot, which someone is seen using in the film, even though it doesn’t help that person get out of this emergency situation.

One of the many reasons why this movie looks so phony is that all the young cops in the movie look exactly like who they are: physically attractive Hollywood actors. There are no “average” lookers in this bunch of young, subordinate cops. The only middle-paged person on the police force is Chief Irons, who turns out to be a coward of the worst kind. You don’t have to be a cop to know that there’s no city police force in the world where everyone except the leader is a good-looking person under the age of 40.

Maybe the filmmakers of “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” think that having “eye candy” cops would distract viewers from the movie’s dumb plot. One of the more ludicrous scenes in the movie takes place at an eatery called Emmy’s Diner. Leon notices that his waitress Jenny (played by Louise Young) has a right eye that’s bleeding.

When he shows concern and asks Jenny if she’s had a doctor examine her eye, she says no. Jenny adds that her eye has been bleeding this way for the past two weeks, but “it’s no big deal.” Of course, we all know what’s going to happen to that waitress in this zombie movie.

Everything is so monotonously formulaic in “Resident Evil: Welcome to the Raccoon City.” After a while, you can almost do a countdown to the clichés that will come next. There are too many scenes where someone shows up at just the right moment to “come from behind” to shoot someone. One particular character in this movie is saddled with this over-used cliché.

And for a movie about zombies, the cops are woefully incompetent in killing them. They often don’t shoot the zombies in the head. And if they do, they don’t check to see if the zombie is really dead. It’s all just a way to pad and stretch out the story with weak attempts at jump scares involving zombies that looked like they’ve been killed but aren’t really dead after all.

None of the acting in this movie is very impressive. Jogia portrays Leon as having a mostly nonchalant attitude during this whole crisis, with only a few scenes where he looks realistically frightened. McDonough goes in a completely opposite direction because his wild-eyed performance is very over-the-top. The filmmakers intend to make Leon an underdog whom audiences are supposed to root for to succeed. However, the movie tells almost nothing about Leon except that his father is a high-ranking police officer in another city, and Leon was transferred to Raccoon City as punishment for accidentally shooting his cop partner in the rear end.

The movie’s visual effects are adequate, but there’s nothing innovative at all. Lisa is supposed to look like a “two-headed monster” with a mask made out of flesh. It literally looks like the movie’s makeup department just glued a mask to the actress’ face to make it look like she has two heads sticking out of her neck. Everything in “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” has been done already in better horror flicks about zombies or mutants.

Claire is the story’s central protagonist, but viewers will learn nothing about who she was as an adult before she arrived in Raccoon City. For a better thriller movie starring Scodelario, see 2019’s “Crawl,” where she plays a college student trapped in a house with alligators during a hurricane. “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” has a mid-credits scene with the appearance of mysterious spy character Ada Wong (played by Lily Gao), but this cameo does nothing to redeem the rest of this junkpile movie.

Screen Gems will release “Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City” in U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2021.

Review: ‘Antlers’ (2021), starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane and Amy Madigan

October 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jeremy T. Thomas and Keri Russell in “Antlers” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“Antlers” (2021)

Directed by Scott Cooper

Culture Representation: Taking place in Cispus Falls, Oregon, the horror film “Antlers” feature a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few Native Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A schoolteacher finds out that a 12-year-old student in her class is hiding a horrible secret.

Culture Audience: “Antlers” will appeal primarily to people interested in horror movies that are about how damage to Earth’s environment can have terrifying consequences.

Jesse Plemmons, Jeremy T. Thomas and Keri Russell in “Antlers” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

More than the typical “creature on the loose” horror movie, “Antlers” tells a haunting yet somewhat sluggish story about how a decaying environment can wreak havoc if the problem is ignored. The dangers of this denial of also run deep in the movie’s human relationships that are plagued by abuse and neglect. The movie falls into some very predictable and repetitive traps, but there’s enough suspense in “Antlers” to hold most people’s interest.

Scott Cooper, a filmmaker known for his outlaw-inspired movies about troubled loners (such as 2009’s “Crazy Heart,” and 2015’s “Black Mass”) directed “Antlers” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca. The screenplay is based on Antosca’s 2019 short story “The Quiet Boy.” Guillermo del Toro is one of the producers of “Antlers,” so you know it’s going to be some kind of story involving a mysterious creature hiding among humans. Cooper is also one of the producers of “Antlers.”

The reason why this movie is called “Antlers” is revealed about halfway through the film, which takes place in the small town of Cispus Falls, Oregon. And once this information is disclosed to viewers, the movie just becomes a countdown to when certain people in this small town will find out the secret that a mysterious killer beast is living among them. The fact that “Antlers” is about some kind of deadly monster is part of this movie’s marketing, which includes movie trailers that already showed flashes of this creature. What’s revealed when watching the movie is how the monster ended up this way, why the creature is in this small town, and how this beast has been able to hide.

Fortunately, “Antlers” doesn’t take a stereotypical “slasher flick” route of of just being scene after scene of generic people getting killed. The movie takes its time to let viewers know the main characters of the story. “Antlers” has some not-so-subtle messages about the dangers of polluting the environment. But the movie also has depressing observations about how easily children can be neglected and/or abused, as well as how that trauma can be passed down through generations.

“Antlers” opens with a scene of two grungy-looking men in an abandoned mine shaft. Their names are Frank Weaver (played by Scott Haze) and Kenny Glass (played by Michael Eklund), and they have the type of dirty and disheveled appearance of people who’ve haven’t slept or cleaned themselves in at least a few days. Frank has left his 7-year-old son Aiden Weaver (played by Sawyer Jones) in Frank’s truck outside and ordered Aiden to stay there. He tells Aiden that he has to do some work and that it’s no place for kids.

If this sounds like Frank and Kenny are involved in drugs, it’s because they are. They’re both using the mine shaft as their meth lab. But their meth cooking is about to be interrupted by a mysterious creature that attacks them. After some time has passed, Aiden becomes restless and curious to find out what’s taking his father so long. He goes into the mine shaft and then movie abruptly cuts to the next scene.

Julia Meadows (played by Keri Russell), a bachelorette in her 40s, has recently moved back into the area (Cispus Falls is her hometown) after living in California for 15 years. She works as a teacher at the local middle school. Her younger brother Paul Meadows (played by Jesse Plemons), who is in his 30s, is the sheriff of Cispus Falls. Just like his sister Julia, Paul is single with no children.

It’s eventually revealed in the movie that Paul and Julia have had a somewhat strained relationship because she abruptly moved away from this hometown. Paul felt abandoned by his older sister. And there are still bitter feelings between both siblings for why they became estranged.

In one scene, Paul and Julia have a brief heart-to-heart talk about it. Julia tells Paul about her feelings of guilt about this long exit from his life: “Just know that I have spent my entire life trying to deal with leaving you.” Julia also says that she would understand if Paul still resents her, but she couldn’t stay in their family household anymore.

Paul seems to understand but he also wants it known how Julia’s departure hurt him. “I spent my entire praying that you’d come back,” he tells her. What caused this family rift? It’s shown in nightmares that Julia has that she and Paul had an abusive father (played by Andy Thompson), who is now deceased. One of the flashbacks (with Katelyn Peterson as an adolescent Julia) makes it clear without showing anything too explicit that Julia’s father was a deeply troubled man who sexually abused her. The mother of Paul and Julia is also dead, and it’s unknown how much she knew about this abuse.

In her classroom, Julia is frustrated because her students don’t seem to be connecting with her. The kids seem bored or unimpressed with her style of teaching. At this point in the cirriculum, she is teaching them about folklore and fables. Julia asks for the students to volunteer what they know about these types of stories that can be centuries old.

Eventually, Julia finds out that a quiet and shy 12-year-old boy in her class named Lucas Weaver (played by Jeremy T. Thomas) has been drawing some disturbing images in his notebook. The illustrations include demon-like animal figures in the woods. Does one of the creatures have antlers? Of course it does.

One day, Julia asks Lucas to tell her and the classroom of students what’s the story behind one of the drawings. Lucas then tells a creepy tale of a little bear that lives with a big bear and a small bear that are different because the big bear and small bear are always hungry. Based on the reactions by the other students in the class, Lucas is now perceived as even more of a “freak” who is a social outcast at the school.

Even before Lucas told this story, he was being bullied at school by some other boys. The leader of the bullies is a mean-spirited brat named Clint Owens (played by Cody Davis), who gets his comeuppance when Lucas puts dog excrement in Clint’s backpack for revenge. It sets off a feud between the Clint and Lucas. And if you know how horror stories like this usually go, things will not end well for one of these boys.

In the meantime, Julie notices that Lucas looks pale and undernourished. She gently and tactfully tries to find out from Lucas what his home life is like. The only thing that Lucas will tell her is that his mother is dead, and that his 7-year-old bother Aiden is homeschooled. Lucas resists Julie’s attempts to befriend him. Julie feels like she can relate to Lucas, because they are both treated like outsiders at the school.

Julie takes her concerns about Lucas to her boss, Principal Ellen Booth (played by Amy Madigan), who seems distracted and very reluctant to get involved. Principal Booth tells Julie that after Lucas’ mother died of a drug overdose, child protective services investigated suspicions that the Weaver household was abusive, but CPS didn’t find enough evidence to warrant taking the children away from the home. And so, Frank Weaver was allowed to keep custody of Aiden and Lucas. Principal Booth promises Julie that she will stop by the Weaver household in the near future to check up on the children.

Cispus Falls has been on an economic decline for years. And it’s been made worse by the opioid crisis and meth epidemic that have ravaged Cispus Falls and its surrounding areas. However, the drug-related crimes that have been plaguing the community somewhat pale in comparison to the murders that have suddenly begun to happen in Cispus Falls: Mutilated bodies, including one of the meth lab men from the opening scene, are being discovered in the town’s wooded area.

Paul and his small team of police officers begin to suspect that a people-killing wild animal is on the loose. But there are many signs that this is no ordinary animal. Footprints indicate that this creature can walk upright. And the bite marks are unlike anything that the local forensic pathologist has ever seen.

There are some supporting characters in “Antlers” that are quite formulaic. Rory Cochrane portrays Daniel Lecroy, one of the cops on the Cispus Falls police force. Grahame Greene is Warren Stokes, a stereotypical elder resident of the town who seems to know everyone’s business and the town’s history. Warren is also the one who talks about the Native American folk tales that offer clues into the mystery behind the creature.

Between the disturbing drawings made by Lucas and the discovery of the mutilated bodies, it doesn’t ake a genius to figure out what’s going on. Julie does her own investigating, and Paul eventually finds out what she’s learned. Therefore, the main suspense in the story comes from wondering who’s going to die and who’s going to survive.

The bond that Julia tries to form with Lucas runs almost parallel to her trying to heal her fractured relationship with her brother Paul. There’s an underlying message of how children with dysfunctional or absentee parents can often find strength and support with each other if they don’t put up too many emotional barriers. Lucas’ plight becomes very personal to Julia. She feels like she wants to “save” Lucas because she knows what it’s like to be a kid who needed help but no one was there to save or protect her.

As expected, the creature’s full physical appearance is eventually shown in the movie. These scenes with the monster attacks should bring enough chills to horror audiences, but “Antlers” ultimately does nothing groundbreaking with how this creature looks or acts. (Dorian Kingi portrays the antlered monster.) The movie doesn’t over-rely on CGI visual effects for gimmicks, but it does rely on a suspension of disbelief that all the mayhem the creature causes wouldn’t eventually be noticed by more people and would eventually make big news. For example, if this situation happened in real life, it would need more than a small-town police department to handle it.

An argument could be made that “Antlers” should have been a short film. And there’s some validity to the argument, since the movie tends to drag for long stretches to an inevitable conclusion. However, the principal cast members’ performances serve the story in a competent way. No one is a bad actor here, but no one is outstanding either.

One of the big issues that “Antler” doesn’t address adequately is how Lucas has been able to keep his big secret for as long as he has without raising suspicions sooner. However, it might be the movie’s way of showing how abuse and neglect of children can happen in plain sight and nothing is really done about it. People (such as Principal Booth) who should be mindful of the warning signs sometimes prefer to deny that there’s a problem and make any excuse they can to avoid getting involved. In that respect, you don’t need an antlered monster to know that these real-life tragedies are their own horror stories.

Searchlight Pictures released “Antlers” in U.S. cinemas on October 29, 2021.

Review: ‘Last Night in Soho,’ starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy

October 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie in “Last Night in Soho” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features)

Last Night in Soho”

Directed by Edgar Wright

Culture Representation: Taking place in England (mostly in London), the horror film “Last Night in Soho” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A fashion student in London has nightmarish visions of a nightclub singer from the 1960s. 

Culture Audience: “Last Night in Soho” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Edgar Wright and horror stories that have intriguing murder mysteries.

Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy in “Last Night in Soho” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features)

Stylish and unnerving, “Last Night in Soho” is a mind-bending, time-jumping psychological horror movie that is riveting from beginning to end. The movie wears its retro influences (such as Italian giallo horror movies) on its vibrantly hued cinematic sleeves. It’s an homage to Swinging London in the 1960s as much as it’s a nod to how feminist issues have changed (or remained the same) since then. “Last Night in Soho” gets a little too conventional in its last 15 minutes, but the movie overall is an above-average thriller that’s elevated by compelling performances. Get ready for a spooky and fabulous ride.

Edgar Wright directed “Last Night in Soho” and co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Wright is also one of the movie’s producers. Although “Last Night in Soho” is not the first horror movie from Wright (his filmography includes the zombie flick “Shaun of the Dead,” his 2004 feature-film debut), “Last Night in Soho” is a departure for Wright in many ways. And it was a risk that paid off to be one of his most accomplished films in years.

For starters, “Last Night in Soho” is Wright’s first movie where women are the main protagonists. As such, it made sense that he collaborated with a female screenwriter for the movie; it’s the first time there’s a female co-writer on a feature film that he’s directed. “Last Night in Soho” also marks a big change in Wright’s typical comedic tone for his movies, because “Last Night in Soho” is most definitely not a horror comedy. The movie does not let up in its intent to terrify and keep viewers on edge to see what happens next. And, for a lot of people, that’s the best kind of horror movie.

“Last Night in Soho” begins with a whimsical opening sequence of British protagonist Eloise Turner (played by Thomasin McKenzie), a young woman in her late teens, who is at her home in a small town in England’s Cornwall county. She’s whirling around and dancing joyfully in a mid-length flare gown made of newspaper, as Peter and Gordon’s 1964 hit “A World Without Love” plays on her turntable in her bedroom. It’s a gown that Eloise designed herself because she’s an aspiring fashion designer, but she doesn’t have the money for luxurious fabric.

Eloise has a pixie-ish, otherworldy air about her, almost like she stepped out from a time machine from the 1960s. However, Eloise isn’t from the 1960s, the era of her grandmother’s youth. Eloise is currently living in the early 2020s, but she has a fascination with pop culture and fashion from the 1960s. Her collection of vinyl records consists almost entirely of 1960s music. She also prefers literature and movies from the 1960s.

Eloise is a shy loner who lives with her widowed grandmother Peggy (played by Rita Tushingham) in a cozy house. A love of fashion runs in the family. Peggy is a seamstress. Eloise’s unnamed mother (Peggy’s daughter) was also an aspiring fashion designer. Tragically, Eloise’s mother committed suicide when Eloise was 7. Eloise’s father has not been in her life. Viewers will get the impression that Eloise’s father was never in her life because she never talks about him.

Peggy is a loving and somewhat over-protective grandmother, whose nickname for Eloise is Ellie. Eloise and Peggy have mutual respect for one another, but it become immediately apparent that Eloise (who recently graduated from high school) is restless and ready to move out and into her own place. Eloise applied to London College of Fashion, a prestigious institute. And when Eloise gets the acceptance letter in the mail, she’s elated.

Eloise breaks the news to Peggy, whose response is more cautious. London is where Peggy’s daughter moved to pursue her fashion career too. It’s implied that Peggy somewhat blames London for aggravating whatever led to the suicide of her daughter. Peggy warns Eloise: “London can be a lot … Your mother didn’t have your gift.” And Peggy isn’t talking about the gift of fashion designing.

It doesn’t take long for the movie to reveal that Eloise has psychic abilities. The first big clue is in the opening scene, when Eloise looks in her bedroom mirror while wearing her homemade dress, and she sees her mother smiling and standing next to her. Aimee Cassettari portrays Eloise’s mother, who appears in Eloise’s visions more than once in the movie.

Eloise is legally an adult, so she’s free to live on her own. Peggy doesn’t discourage Eloise from pursuing her dreams, but she tells her granddaughter that she’s welcome to move back with Peggy in this small town if things don’t work out for Eloise in London. And so, with a bittersweet farewell where they try not to break down and cry, Eloise has her bags packed and drives off in a taxi to her new life in the big city.

Eloise has been assigned to live in a hotel-like dormitory with other students from London College of Fashion. Her roommate is the talkative and worldly Jocasta (played by Synnøve Karlsen), who is also a first-year student at the fashion institute. Jocasta is originally from Manchester and thinks of herself as the hippest queen bee at the school.

The first sign of Jocasta’s pretentiousness is when she insists that no one use her last name. She explains that she wants to be a one-name celebrity. “Just like Kylie,” Jocasta tells Eloise. “Kylie Minogue?” asks Eloise. “No,” Jocasta says with exasperation, as if Eloise is stuck in the 20th century. “Kylie Jenner!”

In their first conversation together, Eloise and Jocasta tell each other a little bit about their backgrounds. When Eloise says where she’s from, Jocasta says in a pitying voice, “I’m sorry,” as if she really meant to say, “I’m sorry you’re a country bumpkin from a small town.” Jocasta also seems amused by Eloise’s homemade clothes, which Jocasta obviously thinks are unfashionable, unflattering and unsophisticated.

Jocasta softens up a little when she mentions that her mother is also dead: She passed away from leukemia when Jocasta was 15. But that empathetic side to Jocasta is short-lived. She has a “mean girl” streak that Eloise sees for the first time when she hangs out at a pub with Jocasta and three other female students from the dorm: Lara (played by Jessie Mei Li), Cami (played by Kassius Nelson) and Ashley (played by Rebecca Harrod), who do not have distinguishable personalities and are essentially echo chambers for Jocasta’s bullying nature.

On this night out, Eloise quickly notices that Jocasta, who seemed friendly to her in their first meeting, is actually mocking Eloise when she thinks Eloise isn’t looking. Jocasta also influences her cronies to laugh at Eloise too. At Eloise’s first time going to a dorm party in London, she’s timid, socially awkward, and isn’t interested in getting drunk or stoned like many of the other partiers.

When a drunk guy (played by Josh Zaré) aggressively flirts with Eloise at the party, a nice guy classmate from the fashion institute gets the rude partier to back off of Eloise. The gentleman student introduces himself to Louise. His name is John (played by Michael Ajao), and it’s obvious that he feels an immediate attraction to Eloise, who is inexperienced in dating. Eloise gets uncomfortable when she senses that men want to act on their sexual attraction to her. John is respectful to her and tries to initiate a friendship with Eloise. The movie shows how their relationship develops over time.

At London College of Fashion, Eloise gets encouragement in the classroom from a teacher named Ms. Tobin (played by Elizabeth Berrington), who thinks Eloise has a lot of talent and potential. Jocasta and her gaggle of mean girls continue with their catty whispering and thinly veiled insults directed at Eloise, who tries to ignore them. But the last straw for Eloise is when she overhears Jocasta telling the other girls in the clique that Eloise’s mother committed suicide, and Jocasta predicts that Eloise will go crazy and drop out of the school.

It’s enough for Eloise to look for a new place to live. She answers an ad to rent a room in a house owned by an elderly woman named Ms. Collins (played by the Diana Rigg), who is a no-nonsense landlord. Ms. Collins bluntly tells Eloise some of the rules of the house, including no male visitors after 8 p.m. and no loud partying. Rigg (who died in 2020, at he age of 82) was quite a casting coup for “One Night in Soho,” since she was a 1960s icon for her role as Emma Peel in “The Avengers” TV series.

It’s why there’s an air of authenticity to the story when Ms. Collins reminisces about her heyday in the 1960s. It’s a topic that Eloise is fascinated by, and Ms. Collins is pleasantly surprised by how much knowledge and reverence that Eloise has for 1960s culture. Eloise thinks she’s found an ideal place to live. But maybe Eloise should’ve paid more attention when Ms. Collins demanded two months’ rent as a deposit (instead of the usual one month’s rent), because Ms. Collins said that previous tenants had a tendency to quickly move out and break their lease.

Eloise’s bedroom is directly across from a business that flashes neon red and blue lights all night, so her room is often bathed in red and blue at night. It’s a striking visual motif that’s used throughout the movie and becomes increasingly sinister as the story goes on, and red becomes the dominant shade. At first, Eloise doesn’t mind the distraction of these blinking lights.

But then, Eloise’s seemingly peaceful existence in her new home is shattered when she starts having vivid nightmares. In these nightmares, Eloise has stepped back into the mid-1960s and is an invisible observer of the turbulent life of an ambitious, aspiring pop singer in her early 20s named Sandie (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who’s looking for her big break at any nightclub that will book her. (Sandie spends a lot of time in London’s Soho district.) In these dreams/visions, Eloise can see herself in mirrors, but the people in the dreams can’t see her.

At times, it looks like Eloise has morphed into Sandie in these dreams. But it soon becomes apparent that it’s just wishful thinking from Eloise, who has a growing admiration of Sandie. At first, Eloise seems enchanted by what she thinks is Sandie’s glamorous and sexy life. Sandie is everything that Eloise is not: confident, extroverted, and someone who is unafraid to go after what she wants. Sandie also ends up influencing how Eloise designs clothes and how Eloise undergoes a makeover.

Sandie begins dating a slick, smooth-talking manager named Jack (played by Matt Smith), who has several female pop stars as his clients, including Cilla Black (played by Beth Singh), who has a brief singing performance in the movie. But (you knew this was coming), Jack is a playboy. And even though he helps Sandie with her career, at what cost will it come to Sandie’s heart or her life? As time goes on, Eloise’s dreams about Sandie become increasingly ominous until she’s certain that Sandie’s life is in danger.

Eloise is haunted by the feeling that Sandie was a real person, not a figment of Eloise’s imagination. Much of “Last Night in Soho” involves the untangling of this mystery. Eloise’s dreams-turned-nightmares about Sandie start to negatively affect Eloise at school, because she starts having alarming visions of Sandie during the day. Expect to see Eloise have more than one public freakout in this movie. Eloise and some of the people around her start to wonder if she’s going crazy.

Adding to the mystery, there’s an elderly man (played by Terence Stamp) who seems to be following Eloise, ever since she arrived in London. The identity of this man is eventually revealed. Meanwhile, when Eloise talks to her grandmother on the phone, Eloise pretends that everything is just fine.

“Last Night in Soho” has such great attention to detail in the movie’s production design and costume design, it’s an absolute visual treat to watch this movie. This is a movie that namechecks Biba, the now-defunct but still legendary department store that was a mecca for Swinging London fashionistas. In addition, “Last Night in Soho” has a well-chosen soundtrack (not just 1960s music) that perfectly conveys the mood that the filmmakers want for each scene. Petula Clark’s 1964 hit “Downtown” is used in a standout sequence.

But all of these assets would be wasted if the actors’ performances in the movie were substandard. All of the principal cast members bring emotional authenticity to their roles. Fortunately, McKenzie and Taylor-Joy, who are the heart and soul of the movie, give fascinating performances, filled with angst, happiness, vulnerability, strength and hope. Taylor-Joy does her own singing in some dazzling scenes where Sandie is showcased on stage. Taylor-Joy is American-born with an upbringing in Buenos Aires and London, so her British accent is authentic. In real life, McKenzie is from New Zealand, and her British accent in the movie is entirely believable.

Eloise and Sandie are two young women living in London and who seem to have very different lives and contrasting personalities. However, Eloise and Sandie share some things in common: They have to make decisions about how they want to pursue their dreams and how much they want their careers to be a part of their identities. And they both have no family in London and no real friends to turn to for support, so they have to make it on their own while navigating the emotional treachery of people who want to demean them.

“Last Night in Soho” also demonstrates larger issues that are relatable to women, such as thoughts and safety precautions that women have to experience when they are traveling alone that aren’t as major issues for men who travel alone. There’s a very realistic scene of Eloise trying to get herself out of a creepy situation when a middle-aged taxi driver (played by Colin Mace) tries to take advantage of her being new to London when Eloise is his passenger. At first, the driver appears to be friendly and chatty, but it soon becomes obvious he’s just trying to fish for private information about Eloise. He then tells Eloise in no uncertain terms that he’d like to get to know her better.

Eloise knows exactly what he means and what he wants. She astutely decides to be dropped off at a grocery store instead of her intended destination. Eloise peeks apprehensively from the store window as the taxi driver, like a stalker, waits in his car and watches for her to come out of the store. And she breathes a sigh of relief when he eventually drives off. Most women and teenage girls have experienced this type of stalker-ish unwanted attention.

Aside from Eloise’s nightmares, the movie lays bare the constant threat and damage of sexual harassment and sexual degradation that could always be a possibility when men with power decide to abuse their power with women. Even though Eloise is invisible to the people in Sandie’s world, Eloise becomes very protective of Sandie, who’s vulnerable to this type of disrepectful treatment. And this protectiveness taps into a rage that represents what a lot of women feel when they go through the same type of misogyny.

Eloise’s invisibility is symbolic of how many women feel invisible and powerless to stop this societal problem. “Last Night in Soho” does not get bogged down in any feminist preaching, and it does not lose sight of its intention to be a horror movie. But it’s a horror movie that will make viewers think beyond the gory scenes and think about what can happen when a feminine psyche is pushed to the limits.

Focus Features will release “Last Night in Soho” in U.S. cinemas on October 29, 2021.

2021 Horror Movie Hub

There’s no doubt about it: Horror movies are hot right now. Here’s a list of horror flicks with U.S. releases in 2021. They’re all here, whether they are movies with theatrical releases, films that went directly to video, or movies that are only available on streaming services or TV networks. (Movies that were originally released before 2021 and were re-released in 2021 are not included.) Movies that were reviewed on Culture Mix get a featured spotlight, while all the rest of the movies are listed below.

For the purposes of this list, “horror movies” are defined as movies that are intended to be scary, which are often different from crime movies. For example, “Halloween” is a horror movie. “Scarface” is not. As a helpful guide, the movies on this list are identified by the subgenres in horror.

NOTE: This list is only for movies released in the United States. The availability of a movie on this list might vary outside the U.S.

Horror Movies of 2021: Culture Mix Reviews

The 8th Night (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
Antlers (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
The Arbors (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
Army of the Dead (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)
Bingo Hell (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)
Black as Night (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Content Services)
The Blazing World (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Blood Conscious (Photo courtesy of Dark Sky Films)
Bloodthirsty (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)
Bloody Hell (Photo courtesy of Entertainment Squad/The Horror Collective)
Cactus Jack (Photo courtesy of Cactus Jack Film LLC)
Candyman (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Censor (Photo by Maria Lax/Magnet Releasing)
The Columnist (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Demonic (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
The Devil Below (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
The Djinn (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
Don’t Breathe 2 (Photo by Sergej Radovic/Screen Gems)
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)
The Evil Next Door (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
Fear of Rain (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
The Feast (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
The Forever Purge (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Funhouse (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
Gaia (Photo by Jorrie van der Wal/Decal)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)
The Green Knight (Photo courtesy of A24)
Halloween Kills (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Held (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
In the Earth (Photo courtesy of Neon)
Jakob’s Wife (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder)
Killer Among Us (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Lair (Photo by Laura Radford/1091 Pictures)
Lamb (Photo courtesy of A24)
Last Night in Soho (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features)
Madres (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/ Amazon Content Services)
Malignant (Photo by Ron Batzdorff/Warner Bros. Pictures)
The Manor (Photo by Kevin Estrada/Amazon Content Services)
Masquerade (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)
The Night (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
The Night House (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Old (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Paranormal Prison (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
Phobias (Photo by Vertical Entertainment)
A Quiet Place Part II (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (Photo by Shane Mahood/Screen Gems)
The Retreat (Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution)
Saint Maud (Photo courtesy of A24)
School’s Out Forever (Photo courtesy of Central City Media)
Separation (Photo by Blair Todd/Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)
The Seventh Day (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
The Sinners (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)
Spiral (Photo by Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate)
The Stylist (Photo courtesy of Method Media/Sixx Tape Productions)
Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures/Voltage Pictures)
Titane (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)
Too Late (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
The Unholy (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems)
The Vigil (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
The Village in the Woods (Photo courtesy of 4Digital Media)
We Need to Do Something (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
Werewolves Within (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/IFC Films)
Witch Hunt (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)
Women (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Complete List of Horror Movies Released in 2021

  • sci-fi horror = futuristic science or outer-space aliens
  • slasher horror = killer humans or wild animals
  • supernatural horror  = evil spirits
  • vampire horror = killer vampires
  • zombie horror = killer zombies

100 Candles (also titled The 100 Candles Game) — anthology horror

6:45 — sci-fi horror

The 8th Night — supernatural horror

The Accursed (2021) — supernatural horror

The Advent Calendar — supernatural horror

Aftermath (2021) — supernatural horror

Agnes (2021) — supernatural horror

Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman — slasher horror

All My Friends Hate Me — slasher horror

The Amusement Park — slasher horror

Anonymous Animals — slasher horror

Antlers (2021) — slasher horror

Aquarium of the Dead — zombie horror

The Arbors — sci-fi horror

Army of the Dead (2021) — zombie horror

Autumn Road — supernatural horror

Babysitter Must Die — slasher horror

Bad Candy — supernatural horror

The Banishing — supernatural horror

A Banquet — supernatural horror

Baphomet — supernatural horror

The Battle of Ramree Island — slasher horror

Behemoth — sci-fi horror

Benny Loves You — supernatural horror

Beyond Paranormal — sci-fi horror

Bingo Hell — supernatural horror

Black as Night — vampire horror

Black Friday (2021) — sci-fi horror

The Blazing World (2021) — sci-fi horror

Bleed With Me — slasher horror

Blood Conscious — slasher horror

Blood Red Sky — vampire horror

Bloodthirsty — slasher horror

Bloody Hell — slasher horror

Boomika — sci-fi horror

The Boy Behind the Door — supernatural horror

Boys From County Hell — vampire horror

Butchers (2021) — slasher horror

Cactus Jack — slasher horror

Candyman (2021) — supernatural horror

Castle Freak — supernatural horror

Caveat — slasher horror

Censor (2021) — slasher horror

Chompy & the Girls — slasher horror

A Classic Horror Story — supernatural horror

Claw — slasher horror

The Columnist — slasher horror

Coming Home in the Dark — slasher horror

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It — supernatural horror

Crack House of the Dead — zombie horror

The Curse of Humpty Dumpty — supernatural horror

Dachra — supernatural horror

Dark Spell — supernatural horror

Dark Stories — supernatural horror

Dead & Beautiful — vampire horror

Deadhouse Dark — anthology horror

The Dead of Night (2021) — supernatural horror

Death Drop Gorgeous — slasher horror

Death Ranch — slasher horror

Death Valley (2021) — sci-fi horror

Dementer — slasher horror

Dementia Part II — supernatural horror

Demonic (2021) — supernatural horror

Detention (2021) — supernatural horror

The Devil Below (formerly titled Shookum Hills) — supernatural horror

The Devil’s Child — supernatural horror

The Djinn — supernatural horror

Dogface: A Trap House Horror — supernatural horror

Don’t Breathe 2 — slasher horror

Don’t Let Her In: Chapter One — supernatural horror

Double Walker — supernatural horror

Dreamcatcher (2021) — slasher horror

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions — slasher horror

Escape the Undertaker — slasher horror

The Evil Next Door — supernatural horror

Famously Haunted: Amityville — documentary horror

F.E.A.R. — supernatural horror

Fear of Rain — slasher horror

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 — supernatural horror

Fear Street Part 2: 1978 — supernatural horror

Fear Street Part 3: 1666 — supernatural horror

The Feast (2021) — supernatural horror

The Forever Purge — slasher horror

Fried Barry — sci-fi horror

For the Sake of Vicious — slasher horror

Funhouse (2021) — slasher horror

Funny Face — slasher horror

Gaia — sci-fi horror

Getaway — slasher horror

Ghostbusters: Afterlife — supernatural horror

Ghost Lab — supernatural horror

A Ghost Waits — supernatural horror

Girl Next — slasher horror

The Girl Who Got Away — slasher horror

The Green Knight — supernatural horror

Grizzly II: Revenge — slasher horror

Hail to the Deadites — documentary horror

Halloween Kills — slasher horror

The Haunted Hotel — anthology horror

The Heiress (2021) — supernatural horror

Held — slasher horror

Hell Trip — supernatural horror

Honeydew — slasher horror

Horror Noir — anthology horror

Hostage (2021) — slasher horror

The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 — vampire horror

A House on the Bayou — supernatural horror

Hum (2021) — supernatural horror

Hunted (2021) — slasher horror

Implanted (2021) — sci-fi horror

Initiation (2021) — slasher horror

In Search of Darkness: Part II — documentary horror

In the Earth — sci-fi horror

An Intrusion — slasher horror

Isolation — anthology horror

Jakob’s Wife — vampire horror

Kandisha — supernatural horror

Killer Among Us — slasher horror

Kin Dread — supernatural horror

Lair — supernatural horror

Lamb (2021) — supernatural horror

Lantern’s Lane — slasher horror

Last Night in Soho — supernatural horror

Let Us In — sci-fi horror

Like Dogs — slasher horror

The Mad Hatter — supernatural horror

Madres (2021) — supernatural horror

Making Monsters — supernatural horror

Malignant (2021) — supernatural horror

The Manor (2021) — supernatural horror

The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre — slasher horror

Marionette (2021) — supernatural horror

Martyrs Lane — supernatural horror

Masquerade (2021) — slasher horror

Meander — sci-fi horror

The Medium (2021) — supernatural horror

Medusa (2021) — supernatural horror

The Midwife (2021) — supernatural horror

Mosquito State — slasher horror

Motherly — slasher horror

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To — slasher horror

Necropath — slasher horror

Nest of Vampires — vampire horror

The Night (2021) — supernatural horror

Night at the Eagle Inn — supernatural horror

Nightbooks — supernatural horror

Night Drive — slasher horror

A Nightmare Wakes — supernatural horror

The Night House — supernatural horror

Night Teeth — vampire horror

No One Gets Out Alive — slasher horror

Old — sci-fi horror

Open Your Eyes — supernatural horror

Paranormal Prison — supernatural horror

P.G.: Psycho Goreman — supernatural horror

Phobias (2021) — anthology horror

The Power (2021) — supernatural horror

The Queen of Black Magic — supernatural horror

Queen of Spades — supernatural horror

A Quiet Place Part II — sci-fi horror

The Reckoning (2021) — supernatural horror

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City — zombie horror

The Resort (2021) — supernatural horror

The Retreat (2021) — slasher horror

Roh — supernatural horror

Saint Maud — slasher horror

The Scary of Sixty-First  — slasher horror

School’s Out Forever — sci-fi horror

Seance (2021) — supernatural horror

The Secret of Sinchanee — supernatural horror

Separation (2021) — supernatural horror

The Seventh Day (2021) — supernatural horror

Shark Huntress — slasher horror

Shark Season (also known as Deep Blue Nightmare) — slasher horror

Shelter in Place — supernatural horror

The Sinners (2021) (also titled The Virgin Sinners; formerly titled The Color Rose) — slasher horror

Skull: The Mask — supernatural horror

Slaxx — supernatural horror

Slumber Party Massacre (2021) — slasher horror

Son (2021) — supernatural horror

Sound of Violence — supernatural horror

The Spine of Night — supernatural horror

Spiral (2021) — slasher horror

Spoor — supernatural horror

The Stairs — supernatural horror

Stay Out of the F**king Attic — supernatural horror

The Strange House — supernatural horror

The Strings — supernatural horror

The Stylist — slasher horror

Superdeep — sci-fi horror

Superhost — supernatural horror

The Swarm — sci-fi horror

Sweet River — supernatural horror

Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman — slasher horror

Teddy (2021) — slasher horror

There’s Someone Inside Your House — slasher horror

Things Heard & Seen — supernatural horror

Till Death — slasher horror

Titane — slasher horror

The Toll — supernatural horror

Too Late (2021) — slasher horror

Unearth — supernatural horror

The Unhealer — supernatural horror

The Unholy (2021) — supernatural horror

An Unquiet Grave — slasher horror

Untitled Horror Movie — supernatural horror

Val — supernatural horror

V/H/S/94 — anthology horror

Vicious Fun — slasher horror

The Vigil (2021) — supernatural horror

The Village in the Woods — supernatural horror

Violation (2021) — slasher horror

We Need to Do Something — supernatural horror

Werewolves Within — slasher horror

Whitetail — supernatural horror

The Widow (2021) — supernatural horror

Willy’s Wonderland — slasher horror

Wired Shut — slasher horror

Witch Hunt (2021) — supernatural horror

Woe — supernatural horror

Women (2021) — slasher horror

Wrong Place, Wrong Time — supernatural horror

Wrong Turn (2021) — slasher horror

Zombie Bro — zombie horror