Review: ‘School’s Out Forever,’ starring Oscar Kennedy, Liam Lau Fernandez, Alex Macqueen and Jasmine Blackborow

June 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Oscar Kennedy, Alex Macqueen, Jasmine Blackborow and Liam Lau Fernandez in “School’s Out Forever” (Photo courtesy of Central City Media)

“School’s Out Forever”

Directed by Oliver Milburn

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the comedic horror film “School’s Out Forever” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: In a post-apocalyptic world, a rebellious 15-year-old boy, who was expelled from an elite school for boys, hides out at the school with fellow students and a few school administrators, who all try to prevent an invasion from a powerful government official whose murderous teenage daughter they are holding captive.

Culture Audience: “School’s Out Forever” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching an often-sluggishly paced, post-apocalyptic horror movie that thinks it’s funnier and smarter than it really is.

Freya Parks in “School’s Out Forever” (Photo courtesy of Central City Media)

Filled with plot holes and improbable action scenes, the comedic horror flick “School’s Out Forever” starts off with a fairly intriguing concept that it ends up ruining with formulaic shootouts and fights. It’s the type of movie where people pull out guns for an immediate attack or self-defense but instead just stand around talking for too long when their opponents could easily gun them down. It’s also a movie where the actors take inexplicably long pauses in between sentences. It makes you wonder if the humans in this post-apocalyptic world are the real zombies.

“School’s Out Forever” (written and directed by Oliver Milburn) is based on Scott K. Andrews’ 2012 novel of the same title. It’s part of a “School’s Out” trilogy of novels that many people describe as “Lord of the Flies” meets “The Hunger Games.” The “School’s Out Forever” movie is nowhere near the quality of any of the “Lord of the Flies” and “The Hunger Games” books and films. In fact, there are long stretches of the movie that look like dull, rejected scenes from a horror sitcom that no one wants to watch.

“School’s Out Forever” begins by showing main character Lee Keegan (played by Oscar Kennedy), a rebellious 15-year-old, playing a prank at the posh St. Mark’s School for Boys, where he is a student. The movie doesn’t name the city in England where the school is located, but the movie was actually filmed in London, Suffolk and Oxford. Lee and his best friend/fellow troublemaker Mac (played by Liam Lau Fernandez) have concocted a plan for Mac to place a set of school lockers on Lee, so that Lee can pretend that the lockers accidentally fell down on him in the school hallway.

After the lockers have been staged to look like they fell on Lee, he cries out in fake pain, while a teacher rushes out of a classroom to see what all the commotion is about and attends to him immediately, while other students watch. It’s not long before it’s clear that it was all a prank, since Lee has no injuries. He’s sent to the office of the school’s headmaster (played by Anthony Head), who promptly suspends Lee.

Lee tries to pretend that he has a valid claim for negligence, but the headmaster is unmoved and not falling for this obvious manipulation. He scolds Lee by saying, “You don’t give a toss about the lockers, Lee. You just like to cause trouble … We don’t indulge children. We make men. A scholarship here is rare, Lee. Very rare. You don’t realize how lucky you are. Hopefully, you will now.”

Just as the meeting is about to conclude, a teacher named Mr. Bates (played by Alex Macqueen) comes into the office with something that found in Lee’s knapsack: A plastic bag with a small amount of marijuana and a joint. Lee says sarcastically, “Who planted that?” Lee now goes from being suspended to being expelled.

The marijuana actually belongs to Mac. While Lee is waiting outside for Lee’s father to pick him up from school, Mac says goodbye and offers to tell the headmaster the truth about owning the marijuana that was found in Lee’s knapsack. Lee thanks Mac but declines the offer because Lee doesn’t think it will change school officials’ minds, and it will also get Mac in trouble too. Before they say their goodbyes, they salute each other, but Mac turns his salute into showing his middle finger.

When Lee’s father (played by Steve Oram), who doesn’t have a name in the movie, arrives to pick up Lee and drive them home, Lee apologizes to his father for getting expelled. His father tells Lee, “It’s not your fault.” It’s a major hint that Lee is someone who’s probably spoiled and has parents who want to blame other people for the problems that Lee causes.

Lee getting expelled from school will become the least of this family’s problems. While driving home from school, a news program on the radio mentions that there’s a pandemic going on and there’s considerable debate over the government closing the borders. Lee’s father turns off the radio because he doesn’t want to hear any bad news.

The movie then fast-forwards three weeks later. Lee is outside his home, where the streets look like an apocalypse recently happened. Lee is so numb from the disaster that when he takes out trash to put in a large pile that’s on his front lawn, he ignores the body of a dead, bloody woman who’s sprawled out on the house’s driveway.

What happened? Vague details are given in bits and pieces, but the pandemic apparently has caused an apocalypse where a viral disease turns people into humans that attack. They’re not human flesh-eaters like zombies, but the people who’ve gone crazy from this disease will kill for no reason. Other people with the disease that don’t go crazy eventually die a painful death where they rot away.

That’s what’s happened to Lee’s father. Lee gets a phone call from his mother (voiced by Connie Hyde), who is stuck somewhere giving medical help to those in need. She tells him that she’s figured out that people who whose blood type is Type O-negative are immune to this deadly disease. She and Lee both have this blood type.

Lee’s mother is very worried about Lee being stuck in the house with Lee’s dying father. She tells him that when Lee’s father inevitably dies, she will eventually meet up with Lee at St. Mark’s School for Boys. Lee doesn’t want to go back there, but she doesn’t know why. Apparently, she never found out that he was expelled.

But when Lee’s father dies, Lee changes his mind goes back to the school. He’s motivated to go there after an infected man invaded the home and tried to attack Lee. At the now-abandoned school, Lee finds about 16 to 18 other students, Mr. Bates and a school health administrator called Matron (played by Jasmine Blackboro), who is in her 20s. She saves Lee from being attacked by a wild German Shepherd that was roaming on school property.

Mr. Bates is trying to bring some normalcy to their situation, by lecturing the students on searching for food and telling them that non-perishable food should be given the highest priority. Lee’s expulsion from the school is no longer relevant, but he’s now back under the watchful eye of Mr. Bates. Neither of them is happy about it. Mr. Bates tells the students about the students being at the school: “You may not feel it now, but this place is still giving you a head start.”

There’s one bright spot for Lee: His best friend Mac is among the orphaned students who have taken shelter in the school. Mr. Bates has made Mac his second in command of his team. It’s a decision that he will soon regret, as Mac becomes very power-hungry and destructive in ways that won’t be revealed in this review.

During one of Mr. Bates’ lectures, a fellow teacher named Mr. Hammond (played by Richard Elfyn) and a boy named Rowles (played by Harry Tuffin), who’s about 10 or 11 years old, burst into the room in a panic. Mr. Hammond and Rowles beg to be hidden because they say that someone is out to kill them. They both hide themselves in a closet in the room.

Shortly after that, Mr. Bates and the students find out who’s after Mr. Hammond and Rowles: a vengeful teenager named Claire Baker (played by Freya Parks), who’s accompanied by a man in his 30s named John Smith (played by Gordon Alexander). They both have rifles with them. Claire announces that she and John Smith are looking for two thieves.

She adds, “I represent Warren Town and the authority of Georgina Baker, former magistrate and mayor of Warren Parish Council.” When Mr. Baker tells her that they don’t know about any thieves, trigger-happy Claire doesn’t believe him. Claire correctly assumes that the people she’s looking for are hiding in the closet, so she and John begin shooting the closet.

What follows is a battle where John dies, Claire is held captive, and her mother Georgina (played by Samantha Bond) comes looking for her with some armed and dangerous people from Warren Parish Council. It’s explained in the movie how and why Claire zeroed in on the school in the search for her missing daughter. St. Mark’s School for Boys has a very large gate that can keep outsiders away, but the gate has openings that make it easy for people see inside and shoot guns through it.

The rest of “School’s Out Forever” is a meandering slog that shows what happens during this standoff. Mr. Bates, Mac and Lee do the most interacting with Georgina. They adamantly deny that Georgina’s daughter Claire is on the property. However, Georgina doesn’t really believe them because they won’t let her on the property to do a search.

Georgina, her loyal henchman Stanley (played by Ben Dilloway) and the rest of her posse refuse to leave and remain stationed outside the school gate. Georgina won’t let anyone behind the school gates leave until she gets what she wants. The resulting standoff is montonously stretched out with repetitive back-and-forth talks between both sides that end in stalemates.

At some point in the movie, Georgina doesn’t become the only antagonist for Lee and the other people at the school. Mac eventually does some despicable things that make him a threat to people’s safety. Lee then has to decide who’s worse: Georgina or Mac? The ultimate showdown and results are neither surprising nor suspenseful.

“School’s Out Forever” is not a completely horrible movie. It’s just disappointing how dull it is when the concept begged for better action sequences, improved dialogue and more exciting pacing. Because so much of the story takes place in the protective environment of the school, the dangers of the apocalypse and the pandemic take a back seat to a very run-of-the-mill hostage story.

There are also plot holes that can’t be ignored. In his phone call with his mother, Lee never bothers to ask her the address of where she is. And it’s never explained why he didn’t try to call her back. It’s also never explained how all those people hiding out in the school never got infected, when the students were sent out to look for food.

There’s at least one occasion during a food scavenger hunt where Mac encounters an infected person, but there’s no mention of Mac having the blood type that would give Mac immunity. It’s also never made very clear how people get infected, so the movie never explains what people are doing to protect themselves from getting infected. There are brief glimpses of a few people on the outside wearing masks, but almost all the people in this movie aren’t wearing masks during this pandemic. And there are scenes where the students are neatly dressed in their school uniforms, as if they’re not in the middle of an apocalypse where they have to fight for their lives.

It’s clear that the filmmakers were more concerned with staging violent scenes than thinking through many of the details that would’ve made this a more suspenseful and believable movie. The acting in the film isn’t terrible, but it isn’t remarkable either. Macqueen’s portrayal of Mr. Bates is the performance that has the best comedic timing, although that’s not saying much when the comedy fizzles out by the last 15 minutes, and the movie that just becomes a violent free-for-all. There’s a good concept that was waiting to be creatively expressed in “School’s Out Forever,” but that concept ended up just like the classes in St. Mark’s School for Boys after the apocalypse—abandoned and permanently dismissed.

Central City Media released “School’s Out Forever” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 18, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on February 15, 2021.

Review: ‘The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2,’ starring Mike Epps and Katt Williams

June 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michael Blackson, Mike Epps, Zulay Henao, Bresha Webb and Lil Duval in “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2”

Directed by Deon Taylor

Culture Representation: Taking place in Atlanta, the horror comedy film “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with a few white people and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married father and his bachelor cousin are convinced that their new next-door neighbor is a vampire.

Culture Audience: “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching crass and unimaginative movies filled with derogatory name-calling of women and black people.

Shamea Morton, Katt Williams and Sisse Marie in “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The good news is that “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” knows that it’s a silly and vulgar comedy. The bad news is that this movie fails miserably at being funny. This idiotic film also has rampant sexism and thinks that black people calling each other the “n” word is automatically supposed to make people laugh. It’s just a pathetic excuse for a comedy film.

“The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” is the follow-up to the 2016 horror comedy “Meet the Blacks,” both directed and co-written by Deon Taylor, a filmmaker who’s known for churning out low-quality movies with predominantly African American casts. In “Meet the Blacks,” which Taylor co-wrote with Nicole DeMasi, the Black family relocated from Chicago to Beverly Hills, California, where they encountered horror that was ripped off directly from 2013’s “The Purge,” a movie about a United States where all crime is legal, for a designated 12-hour period one day out of the year.

In “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2,” which Taylor co-wrote with Corey Harrell, the Black family is now in a horror scenario that’s a direct ripoff of the 1985 movie “Fright Night.” Family patriarch Carl Black (played by Mike Epps) and his goofy cousin Cronut (played by Lil Duval), a bachelor who lives in Carl’s backyard, begin to suspect that their new next-door neighbor is a vampire, but no one believes them at first. The other members of the Black family are Carl’s wife Lorena (played by Zulay Henao); their college-age daughter Allie (played by Bresha Webb); and their underage teen son Carl Jr. (played by Alex Henderson). Allie and Carl Jr. are Carl’s kids from a previous marriage.

Carl has a shady past as a thief. As seen in “Meet the Blacks,” he’s been trying to leave his criminal life behind. In the beginning of “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2,” it’s mentioned that Carl wrote a best-selling non-fiction book about the horror he experienced that was shown in the “Meet the Blacks” movie. However, irresponsible Carl blew all the money he made from the book, and the family has now been forced to downsize to a smaller home in Atlanta. Carl is currently unemployed, while Lorena is the family’s breadwinner—and she’s very unhappy that she has to carry all the financial weight for the family.

Meanwhile, Cronut (who is also unemployed) lives in an oversized camper in the family’s backyard. It’s a promotional camper that’s left over from a book tour that Carl did, and it still has images of Carl and the book emblazoned on the sides of the camper. Carl has some hard feelings toward Cronut, because Cronut talked Carl into some bad business deals that led to Carl losing his money.

The family’s financial problems have resulted in Allie dropping out of college, because Carl wrote a tuition check that bounced. Allie is dating a disabled man, who’s about the same age as Allie, named Freezee (played by Andrew Bachelor, also known as King Bach), who uses arm braces in order to walk. Carl is very prejudiced against Freezee because Carl doesn’t want Allie to date a disabled man. Carl gets even more upset when Allie says she wants to move away and live with Freezee.

Cronut is immediately suspicious of the new neighbor Dr. Mamuwalde (played by Katt Williams, who’s styled to look like Leon Russell from the 1970s) because Dr. Mamuwalde moved into the house next door well past midnight, and the only activity in the house seems to happen at night. During the first house party that Dr. Mamuwalde has at his home, it looks like a swingers party is going on in the backyard. Dr. Mamuwalde also seems to be avoiding meeting his new neighbors.

When Dr. Mamuwalde surfaces, he is almost always seen with two scantily clad women named Salt (played by Sisse Marie) and Pepper (played by Shamea Morton), who are both dressed in lingerie and are mute for most of the movie. Dr. Mamuwalde has a creepy servant named Monty (played by Cory Zooman Miller), who gives vague answers about Dr. Mamuwalde when nosy Cronut goes over to pay a visit. Carl eventually encounters Monty too, and Carl also thinks that something unusual is going on at Dr. Mamuwalde’s house.

At first, Carl thinks Cronut has a wild imagination about Dr. Mamuwalde being a vampire. Carl thinks that Dr. Mamuwalde is probably a pimp. It turns out that Dr. Mamuwalde is a vampire and a pimp. Later in the movie, Dr. Mamuwalde kidnaps Lorena and Allie because he wants them to be his sex slaves. In a lowbrow comedy like this, would you expect anything else?

Other neighbors who are in this story are wide-eyed and fearful Rico (played by Tyrin Turner), who disappears and has a fate that’s very easy to predict; tough guy Hugo (played by Danny Trejo), who doesn’t say much, but he observes more than he lets on to other people; and married couple Clive (played by Gary Owen) and Bunny (played by Jena Frumes), who are both completely useless to the movie’s plot. Owen was in “Meet the Blacks,” but playing a different character named Larry. In “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2,” Owen plays the token white guy who’s supposed to be racist.

Clive is a military veteran who’s a paraplegic and a proud supporter of Donald Trump. (Clive wears a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, in case it wasn’t clear what his politics are.) Meanwhile, Bunny’s only purpose in the movie is to look like a basic Instagram model—she wears a bikini top and Daisy Duke cutoff shorts that leave little to the imagination—so that Carl and some other men can ogle her.

In fact, all of the women with significant speaking roles in the movie are exploited as sex objects at some point. Mother and daughter Lorena and Allie are both stripped down to their underwear in separate scenes. Not surprisingly, they’re wearing the type of lingerie that makes it look like they’re trying to be like Victoria’s Secret models.

Meanwhile, the men are fully clothed, except for one not-very-funny scene where a shirtless Cronut tries to seduce Bunny. There’s also a disgusting incest joke where Cronut suggests to his second cousin Allie that they have sex. He tells her that because they’re second cousins, it would be legal for them to have sex in Georgia.

Snoop Dogg has a small role, portraying himself as a TV talk show host who interviewed Carl in the past when Carl was promoting his book. One day, when a depressed Carl is at home, watching TV, and feeling sorry for himself, he sees an African man named Mr. Wooky (played by Michael Blackson) being interviewed on the show. Mr. Wooky claims to be a supernatural expert who can get rid of ghosts, vampires and other unwanted paranormal entities. Guess who Carl ends up hiring to get rid of the vampire next door?

All the so-called “jokes” in the movie are forgettable, and most are awful. Many of the jokes are about perpetuating the despicable and negative stereotype that black men hate themselves and don’t respect women. The visual effects are cheap-looking and not scary at all.

And all of the cast members are unremarkable in their roles, although Williams seems to be having some fun with his campy Dr. Mamuwalde character. Carl Jr. is barely in the movie; his total screen time is about five minutes. Rick Ross has a cameo as Mr. Saturday Night, who’s enlisted to help Carl and Cronut battle Dr. Mamuwalde. Mr. Saturday Night is another unnecessary character that was created just so the filmmakers could put hip-hop star Ross in the movie.

And a mid-credits scene announces the third movie in this series will be called “Chapter 3: The Ghost Squad,” starring Carl, Cronut, Mr. Wooky, Snoop Dogg and Hugo as the Ghetto Ghostbusters. Whether are not this “Ghost Squad” movie is really going to happen, you’ve been warned.

Lionsgate released “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” in select U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on July 9, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on August 10, 2021.

Review: ‘Funhouse’ (2021), starring Valter Skarsgård, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Khamisa Wilsher, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Amanda Howells and Jerome Velinsky

June 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Amanda Howells, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Mathias Retamal, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield and Valter Skarsgård in “Funhouse” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Funhouse” (2021)

Directed by Jason William Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed North American city, the horror flick “Funhouse” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with two Latinos, one African American and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A twisted multimillionaire chooses eight strangers to live in a murder house, where they are contestants on a “Big Brother” type of reality show that awards $5 million to the last contestant who can stay alive.

Culture Audience: “Funhouse” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that pander to the lowest common denominator with atrocious screenwriting, acting and directing.

Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Khamisa Wilsher and Dayleigh Nelson in “Funhouse” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Funhouse” is the epitome of everything that people despise about bad horror movies. Even die-hard horror fans will be disgusted by the abyss of stupidity and awful filmmaking in “Funhouse.” There are trash dumps and toilets that have more redeeming qualities than “Funhouse.”

In addition to being sexist, dull and horribly acted, “Funhouse” has a very misleading title because it’s no fun to watch this movie at all. All of the characters are self-absorbed dolts, while the entire movie (written and directed by Jason William Lee) is built on the loathsome concept that people around the world would love to watch a “Big Brother”-styled reality show where the contestants are murdered in cruel, bloody and gruesome ways. The last contestant standing will get a $5 million prize.

This gimmick concept isn’t shocking for a horror movie. What’s offensive is how shockingly bad “Funhouse” is in executing this concept in the movie. There’s a plot twist at the end that viewers are going to hate because it makes absolutely no sense. And leading up to that idiotic final scene, it’s a tedious and repetitive slog of horrendously bad dialogue and airheaded young people getting slaughtered. What also makes “Funhouse” so insufferable is that it’s obvious that the filmmakers thought they were making a good movie, so there’s the stink of pretension to this film too.

The opening scene of “Funhouse” is an indication of the dreck to come. A gory murder has just taken place in a living room of a mansion somewhere in North America. (“Funhouse” was actually filmed in Canada.) The smirking lout who owns the mansion looks on sadistically, as a pretty young blonde has been using a baseball bat to beat to death another young woman, whose bloody body is lying on the floor and is probably dead already. Much later in the movie, it’s revealed that this creepy psycho is a multimillionaire named Nero Alexander (woodenly played by Jerome Velinsky), a tech entrepreneur who hates people who find fame through reality TV or social media.

The woman who committed this vicious murder is not identified by name in the movie, but in the film’s credits, she’s listed as Gilda “The Mad” Batter (played by Debs Howard), and it soon becomes clear that she’s become a murderer for money. Nero sneers at Gilda, “You’re not finished. You still have one final obligation.” And so, after Gilda finishes with her baseball bat beatdown, she stabs the murder victim, carves out the heart, and serves the heart to Nero on a silver platter.

Nero curtly says to some bodyguards nearby: “Clean her up, give her the money, and get her the fuck out of here.” An exhausted and bloodied Gilda, who seems on the verge of collapsing, is given a suitcase full of cash. Nero’s thugs grab her and practically push her out of the room. Now that it’s been established that Nero gets pleasure from watching people murder, the rest of this sordid story shows how he’s the secret mastermind behind a new “Big Brother”-styled reality show where the contestants want a chance to win a $5 million cash prize, but the show is really a setup to massacre people.

The contestants are all in their 20s or 30s, and they arrive from around the world. At first, the contestants think that it’s a legitimate show. They soon find out that they will be imprisoned and forced to commit murder in “survival of the fittest” challenges. The last contestant who manages to stay alive is the grand prize winner. All of the contestants were chosen because they found fame on social media or reality TV.

And only in a dumb movie like “Funhouse,” this livestreamed show becomes a global sensation. There are several cutaway shots throughout the movie depicting people around the world (including some children) watching the show, as if they’re watching a harmless soap opera. In some of these viewer scenes, they’re essentially rooting for which contestants will live or die. It’s just all so moronic.

The eight strangers picked to live in this torture house are:

  • Kasper Nordin (played by Valter Skarsgård), a reality star originally from Sweden who found fame in America as a backup singer of a famous American diva named Darla Drake (played by Kylee Bush). Kasper and Darla fell in love, got married, and starred in their own reality show together called “Darla and Kasper: Back-Up Love,” before the marriage crumbled and his popularity declined.
  • Lonnie Byrne (played by Khamisa Wilsher), an American whose claim to fame is starring on a show similar to “The Bachelorette,” getting engaged twice, and being dumped by both fiancés.
  • James “Headstone” Malone (played by Christopher Gerard), a disgraced mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighter/reality TV star who’s originally from Ireland and the most aggressively obnoxious out of all the contestants.
  • Ula La More (played by Karolina Benefield), an Instagram model from an unnamed European country. Ula is famous for her sexy image, but she looks like she’s stuck in 2005 and trying to be like how Paris Hilton was back then.
  • Ximena Torres (played by Gigi Saul Guerrero), a celebrity gossip blogger from Mexico. Ximena is cynical, likes to talk tough, and doesn’t hesitate to start a jealous catfight with anyone she thinks is a bimbo. In other words, you can almost have a countdown to the battle that Ximena and Ula will inevitably have.
  • Dex “El Shocker” Souza (played by Mathias Retamal), a reality star/rapper, who seems to have an instant connection with Ximena when they first arrive in the house.
  • Nevin Evinsmith (played by Dayleigh Nelson), a fidgety Brit who’s famous for having some kind of entertainment/extreme stunt YouTube channel.
  • Cat Zim (played by Amanda Howells), originally from the Philippines and a quiet former chess champ who found fame on a reality TV show called “The Real Witches of Westchester.”

Kasper, who has no real talent at anything, has been trying to cling to fame by being on reality shows, but he’s gotten tired of it and wants to be known as a legitimate entertainer and is trying to break into acting. There’s a brief scene early on in the film of Kasper talking to his agent by phone and telling his agent that he doesn’t want to do this “Big Brother” type of reality show, which is called “Furcas’ House of Fun.” His agent insists that the show will boost Kasper’s sagging popularity, because Kasper was made to look like a gold-digging villain in his divorce from Darla. “It’s redemption time,” the agent tells Kasper.

It’s the closest thing that “Funhouse” has to a backstory for any of the characters, since Kasper is portrayed as the main protagonist. MMA jerk Headstone, who has a ridiculous-looking green Mohawk, is cocky, rude and absolutely annoying. Viewers might be shocked to know that the actor portraying Headstone is Irish in real life, because his acting is so bad that it sounds like he has a fake Irish accent. What isn’t surprising is that Headstone and Ula hook up at some point in the movie.

The contestants have been brought to a mansion, where in the main living room, they are greeted on a big video screen by their “host” Furcas, a computer-generated avatar made to look like a talking panda. Furcas is really Nero in a back room somewhere with his voice in disguise and wearing some type of computer headset so that he can control Furcas’ physical motions. The disguised voice has that distorted computer sound that makes Furcas sound genderless, but Furcas makes it clear early on that a man is controlling the Furcas avatar and all the mayhem that ensues.

The contestants are told that because there are cameras in every single room of the house, if a contestant has any nudity on camera, the contestant can choose whether or not the cameras will blur out the nudity. It’s the only control these contestants really have while they’re in the house. Everything else is dictated to them and decided for them.

The contestants are warned that if try to leave the house, they will be disqualified. Later, they find out they can’t leave the house anyway because they’re being held as prisoners. They are also told that they’re required to give a five-minute confessional interview every day.

Just like the viewer-based voting on “Big Brother,” viewers of “Furcas’ House of Fun” vote on which contestants they want to stay in the house. The two contestants with the lowest percentage of votes have to face off against each other in a challenge that’s really a battle for their lives. The challenges are predictably heinous.

There’s one called Piñata Party, where a contestant is blindfolded and told to hit a piñata with a baseball bat, but the piñata is really a bound-and-gagged contestant who ends up being beaten to death. And when the blindfold comes off, the person holding the bat is horrified to find out that they’ve just committed murder. “Funhouse” wants viewers to believe the absurdity that a blindfolded person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between hitting a piñata and hitting a human body.

Another challenge is called the Blind Rage Challenge, where two contestants go after each other with axes in a pitch-dark room. And the challenges get worse. In the Forget Me Not Challenge, a contestant fails a memory test and is then tied up and stretched to death. It’s not an original way to die in a horror movie, because it’s been done before in other horror flicks, but you get the idea of how low “Funhouse” will go for murder scenes.

Furcas has anonymous and disguised male assistants interacting with the contestants to do things like bring them meals and monitor the activities during the deadly challenges. These assistants, who do not speak, dress in dark business suits and wear panda helmet-sized masks that look like they’re made out of papier-mâché. The production design for the house is as tacky as this movie. The house’s main room, where Furcas gives instructions by video, has nude female mannequins on display in glass cases.

It doesn’t take long for this misogynistic movie to objectify women. The only people who have nudity in the film’s male-female sex scenes are the women. And it should come as no surprise that there’s a scene where Instagram model Ula bares her breasts on camera in a desperate bid to get enough viewer votes to stay in the house.

Later, Cat masturbates on camera for the same reason. While she’s masturbating, Cat looks at the camera and makes a knife-slitting gesture across her throat, as a way to tell the sicko behind this show that she’s going to get revenge. It’s all so cheesy and ridiculous.

As the body count piles up, “Furcas’ House of Fun” gets some criticism from the public, including Kasper’s ex-wife Darla, who does a TV interview pleading for the remaining contestants to be set free. The movie has several cutaway shots to a snarky YouTuber called Pete Sake (played by Bradley Duffy), who constantly mocks and ridicules “Furcas’ House of Fun.” Law enforcement is trying to track down the culprit behind the show, but Nero has covered his tracks by making his computer identity untraceable and setting up wild goose chases for anyone trying to find out the location of the house.

Nero is so confident that he won’t get caught that he gives a TV interview where he disparages the “famewhore” mentality of wanting to becoming famous for being on reality TV or social media. His rants sound a lot like the rants that Furcas spews on “Furcas’ Fun House.” He rails against “the Kardashianization of humanity.” Nero having the same speech pattern as Farcas’ speech pattern would be a big clue to Farcas’ identity in the real world, but not in this movie. Nero’s TV interview is just another dumb plot development in an idiotic story.

Just when you think “Funhouse” couldn’t get any worse, the last 15 minutes prove that this movie is utterly revolting and worthless. And there’s nothing scary about this so-called horror movie. The only fear that “Funhouse” might generate is the fear that some misguided filmmakers will think that this abominable movie deserves a sequel.

Magnet Releasing released “Funhouse” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on May 28, 2021.

Review: ‘Phobias’ (2021), starring Leonardo Nam, Martina García, Hana Mae Lee, Lauren Miller Rogen, Macy Gray and Ross Partridge

June 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Leonardo Nam and Martina García in “Phobias” (Photo by Vertical Entertainment)

“Phobias” (2021)

Directed by Camilla Belle, Maritte Lee Go, Chris von Hoffmann, Joe Sill and Jess Varley

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the horror anthology movie “Phobias” features a predominantly white cast characters (with some Asians, Latinos and African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Five people with five different phobias are held captive by a mad scientist who does experiments on them, with the goal to create an invention that will make their phobias come to life.

Culture Audience: “Phobias” will appeal mostly to people who don’t mind watching low-budget horror flicks that are plagued by substandard screenwriting, mediocre-to-bad acting and very derivative scare gimmicks.

Lauren Miller Rogen and Mackenzie Brooke Smith in “Phobias” (Photo by Vertical

The ambitious concept of the horror flick “Phobias” is so terribly mishandled that the end result is a movie that relies on boring and over-used clichés. The movie’s tone and acting are uneven. The screenwriting is sloppy. “Phobias” has an anthology format, with five different stories by five different directors, all clumsily tied together with a common theme: Five different people with five different phobias are kidnapped by a mad scientist who experiments on his victims so that he can create an invention that will manifest their phobias. The anthology is told in six chapters: “Robophobia,” “Outpost 37,” “Vehophobia,” “Ephebiaphobia,” “Hoplophobia” and “Atelophobia.”

“Robophobia” (written and directed Joe Sill) is the first story in the anthology, and it’s the one that’s filmed the best—although that’s not saying much because nothing in this movie rises above the level of predictable and mediocre. Robophobia is the fear of robots, drones, artificial intelligence and any robot-like machine. Set in Los Angeles, “Robophobia” focuses on a lonely bachelor named Johnny (played by Leonardo Nam), who lives in a small, cluttered dingy apartment with his wheelchair-bound, widowed father Jung-Soo (played by Steve Park), who wears an oxygen tube for his breathing problems.

The movie doesn’t go into details about what Johnny does for a living, but he’s a computer nerd and he’s financially struggling. Johnny doesn’t have a social life either, since there’s no indication that he has any friends. One night, after buying some computer supplies that he can barely pay for at an independently owned electronics store, Johnny (who is minding his own business) is bullied by about three or four random thugs on the street.

The leader of this group is a racist scumbag named Dirk (played by Micah Hauptman), who threatens Johnny by saying, “Look at me again at me the way you did inside of there [the store], and I’ll knock your fucking lights out, China boy.” Johnny replies, “I’m Korean.” Dirk snarls back, “Same fucking thing to me.” Johnny avoids getting into a fight by quickly riding off on his bike, but Dirk and his goons catch up to Johnny and beat him up.

At home, Johnny doesn’t tell his father how he’s gotten the injuries, and he refuses to get medical treatment or file a police report. Not long after getting assaulted, Johnny starts getting mysterious text messages on his computer from a someone or something that seems to know everything about Johnny’s life, including what he’s doing at that exact moment. The mystery messenger knows facts, such as Johnny has a sick father, what Johnny is currently wearing, and how much money is in Johnny’s bank account.

The mystery messenger asks if Johnny wants a friend. Johnny is intrigued but also paranoid. It isn’t long before the mystery messenger starts speaking to Johnny in an eerie computer voice on Johnny computer and on his phone. The voice says to Johnny about Johnny’s unhappy life: “I can help, but I need your help.” Johnny asks, “To do what?” The voice replies, “To stop bad things. I want to be part of your world, the real world, to see what you see.”

Johnny soon finds out what this mysterious force behind the voice is capable of doing. A neighbor named Mr. Romero (played by Gerardo de Pablos), who lives on the same floor, has been very abusive to his wife. Johnny has witnessed some of this abuse. And then one night, Johnny hears a major ruckus and screaming coming from the Romeros’ apartment. Johnny sees that Mr. Romero has been burned to death, with his terrified wife (played by Katia Gomez) wailing over his charred body. It’s implied that Mr. Romero was set on fire, but not by his wife.

Viewers can easily predict what happens next. One night, while out on the street, Johnny is cornered again by Dirk and his gang of bullies. This time, Johnny is emboldened by his “friend” with the computer voice, which has told Johnny that Dirk’s father abused Dirk when Dirk was a child. Johnny figures out that this past abuse is the reason why Dirk has become a violent bully, and Johnny says that to Dirk’s face.

Dirk’s reaction confirms that what Johnny said is true. At first, Dirk is shocked that Johnny knows this personal information, and then Dirk gets very angry. Just as he’s about to beat up Johnny, something bizarre happens: An electrical entity seems to appear, and Dirk bursts into flames. Dirk’s fellow thugs run away in fear. Johnny (and this movie’s viewers) know that what caused this spontaneous combustion is the same force that’s uses the computer voice to talk to Johnny.

Although this mystery force has killed the “bad people” in Johnny’s orbit, the camaraderie between Johnny and this mystery force doesn’t last long. The mystery force tells Johnny that Johnny is torturing his sick father by letting him live instead of letting him die. Johnny vehemently disagrees and gets alarmed when the mystery force says that it wants to take the father.

What follows is a somewhat ludicrous chase scene in the apartment, where Johnny and his father try to get away from the mystery force, which has now manifested itself as a giant, shapeless electrical energy. After Johnny begs for mercy, the mystery forces says that it will let Johnny and his father live if Johnny follows this order: “Find me another.”

The movie abruptly shifts to the next chapter titled “Outpost 37” (written and directed by Jess Varley), which shows that Johnny and four other people have been kidnapped and are being held captive by a crazy scientist named Dr. Wright (played by Ross Partridge), who has made Johnny his most recent victim. Dr. Wright calls this prison Outpost 37, and the five people are in a section called Block 10, which looks like a combination of a dungeon, a psychiatric ward and a scientific lab.

Dr. Wright tells a terrified Johnny why and he the other “patients” have been kidnapped: Dr. Wright wants to target receptors in the brain to create a homemade cocktail that would allow Dr. Wright to extract fear into an easily controlled gas. The doctor wants to sell this gas as a neurological weapon to make him very rich.

Dr. Wright then introduces Johnny to the other four patients in the room, who are all women: defiant Sami, meek Emma, confused Alma and wacky Renee, who each has a different phobia. All of the woman are taken separately into a room where they are strapped to a chair and forced to wear an electrode headset to relive their phobias. And in case anyone has thoughts of escaping, Dr. Wright isn’t afraid to use his cane that can electrocute. The rest of the movie is a story about each of the four women’s phobias and how they got these fears.

“Vehophobia” (directed by Maritte Lee Go and written by Go and Broderick Engelhard) focuses on Sami’s fear of vehicles. Before she was kidnapped by Dr. Wright, Sami (played Hana Mae Lee) was a musician in a rock band, with her boyfriend Harry (played by Ash Stymest) as one of her band mates. A flashback shows that Harry broke up with Sami over something that happened that was Sami’s fault. It’s enough to say that someone died as a result of what Sami did.

Sami didn’t want the breakup to happen. Harry is so angry with her that he yells at her as he walks away, “You fucking used me!” He calls her “twisted” and a “crazy fucking bitch.” The heinous thing that Sami did is shown in the movie. And she is literally haunted by her decision. It’s not a very imaginative story and the scares are minimal.

“Ephebiphobia” (written and directed by Chris von Hoffmann) shows Emma’s fear of teenagers and other young people. Before she was kidnapped, Emma (played by Lauren Miller Rogen) was a seemingly mild-mannered, married teacher of high school students. But one night, three students from her high school commit a home invasion and torture her, for a reason that’s revealed in the movie.

The home invaders are all siblings: Blaire (played by Mackenzie Brooke Smith) is the ringleader, the eldest and most sadistic of the three; Grady (played by Joey Luthman) is a willing accomplice; and Isaac (played by Benjamin Stockham) is a reluctant accomplice and seems the most horrified by the mayhem that ensues. Unfortunately, “Ephebiphobia” is essentially a short film in serious need of more background information on the characters, in order for viewers to understand these characters more. As it stands, it’s just an empty story that shows a violent home invasion with a fairly implausible conclusion.

“Hopiophobia” (written and directed by Camilla Belle) is about Alma’s fear of guns and other firearms the story. Out of all the stories in the movie, this one is the least terrifying and the most predictable. Alma (played by Martina García) is a cop who accidentally commits an act that would be a cop’s worse nightmare. It’s easy to predict what that act is when it’s revelaed by the story’s title that this cop is now afraid of guns. “Hopiophobia” seems more like it belongs in a crime drama, not a horror movie.

“Atelophobia” (written and directed by Varley) depicts Renee’s fear of imperfection and not being good enough. It’s by far the most off-the-wall (and off-putting) of the movie’s six chapters. Renee (played by Macy Gray) works for her father’s architect firm and interviews a job candidate named Bill McNerney (played by Rushi Kota), who exaggerates his credentials.

Renee is a very strange person who wears black gloves. She also makes off-the-cuff remarks that are supposed to be goofy, but don’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie. And she invites Bill and two employees named Lia (played by Alexis Knapp) and Rose (played by Charlotte McKinney) to a dinner party that turns out to be deadly.

Gray, who has an image of being an eccentric artist in real life, is very miscast in the role of Renee, because Gray is not believable as an artichect executive. She’s very awkward in her scenes. In addition to miscasting the role of Renee, the biggest flaw of “Atelophobia” is its muddled message of why Renee now has this fear of imperfection.

“Phobias” makes the same mistake that a lot of other badly made horror movies make: It tries to make viewers think that gory violence is automatically scary. There’s more to terrifying an audience than just showing gruesome deaths. Otherwise, war movies with combat death scenes would be classified as horror movies. A good horror movie gives viewers a chance to get to know the characters and build suspense, rather than showing shallow snippets of the characters’ lives.

None of the acting is outstanding, although Nam and Miller Rogen make attempts to bring realistic depth to their characters. It’s a futile effort because all of the kidnapped characters in this movie have hollow personalities that are overshadowed by the horror that happens to them. Meanwhile, Partridge’s way of depicting Dr. Wright is almost like a parody of a mad scientist.

The concept of “Phobias” was promising, but the execution of that concept was poorly done. The movie somehwat rips off “Saw,” because all of the kidnapped characters were chosen so that they would be punished for the “sins” that they committed, with each punishment related in some way to each sin. The conclusion of “Phobias” is so ho-hum predictable that it makes “Phobias” the type of forgettable horror flick that will leave horror fans underwhelmed.

Vertical Entertainment released “Phobias” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 19, 2021.

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

June 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“The Unholy” (2021) 

Directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“Women” (2021)

Directed by Anton Sigurdsson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”

Directed by Michael Chaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“A Quiet Place Part II”

Directed by John Krasinski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“The Djinn”

Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“Spiral” (2021) 

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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