Culture Representation: Taking place in mainly in the fictional city of Mandarin, California, the horror film “Mid-Century” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Two spouses, who are doctors, move into a haunted house built in 1955 by an architect with a sinister past.
Culture Audience: “Mid-Century” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring and predictable horror movies.
“Mid-Century” does nothing unique or interesting in this witless and dreadfully dull story about ghostly revenge. The cast members’ performances are as flat and unremarkable as the wood panels of the mid-20th century house that spawned the movie’s title. It’s yet another formulaic movie about people who unwittingly move into a haunted house and find out too late what the house’s secrets are.
Directed by Sonja O’Hara and written by Mike Stern (who is the movie’s producer and who has a supporting role in the movie), “Mid-Century” doesn’t have an original concept, but it could have at least delivered a lot of suspense. Unfortunately, the movie fails on every level of horror entertainment. Instead of jump scares, “Mid-Century” is more like to bring big snores to people who waste any time watching this lackluster misfire.
“Mid-Century” begins by showing a renowed architect named Frederick Banner (played by Stephen Lang), sometime in the 1950s, in the fictional city of Mandarin, California. Frederick seems to be friendly when he greets his new neighbor Anthony Waxtan (played by James Gaudioso) when they’re outside: “How does the Mrs. like the neighborhood?” Anthony replies cheerfully, “She’s on cloud nine.”
Anthony’s wife Joanne Waxtan (played by Ellen Toland) might like the neighborhood overall, but she doesn’t like the way that Frederick has been leering at her. Joanne tells Anthony that she caught Frederick staring at her in the couple’s garden on a previous day. A concerned Anthony tells Joanne not to speak to Frederick.
Later, Anthony gives Joanne some lingerie as a gift. While she’s alone in the room, Joanne tries on the lingerie, while intruder Frederick lurks in the hallway and watches. Frederick then makes his presence known by creepily saying to Alice: “You and Anthony look so happy together. I admit, I haven’t felt like that since my Alice passed. You sure do look lovely, Joanne.”
A startled Joanne shouts for Anthony to help her. Frederick tells her, “Lower your voice, please. Don’t make me take off my belt.” It’s then that viewers see that Anthony can’t help Joanne. Anthony is outside the house, and he’s dead, hanging from a noose. It doesn’t take a genius to know who killed Anthony.
After “Mid-Century” reveals from its very first scene what Frederick was all about, it takes a sluggishly long time for the current residents of a Frederick Banner-designed house to discover his sinister past. The movie fast-forwards to the present day, when married couple Tom Levin (played by Shane West) and Alice Dodgeson (played by Chelsea Gilligan) have arrived in Mandarin to temporarily live in a house that was designed by Frederick Banner and built in 1955. Tom and Alice are both doctors who previously lived in San Diego, but they moved because Alice was sexually harassed by a supervisor named Dr. Volker (played by Bill Chott), and she quit her job over it.
Tom and Alice have rented the house for the weekend, but they might settle permanently in Mandarin if they like the area and if Tom can set up his own practice there. The house is owned by a weird man named Eldridge (played by Stern), an acquaintance of Tom’s and Alice’s who recommended the house to the couple. The trailer for “Mid-Century” already reveals what was supposed to be a surprise in the movie: Eldridge is really Frederick’s son, who grew up in foster care after his parents died. And you know what that means.
Later in the story, Tom and Alice find out that Frederick’s first wife Alice disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1958. Frederick’s next wife was Joanne, the widowed neighbor whose husband was killed by Frederick. Joanne and Frederick died a month apart in 1983, in the same house where Tom and Alice currently live. Frederick passed away first. Joanne died of a heart attack.
“Mid-Century” is overstuffed with a multitude of horror clichés. It isn’t long before Tom and Alice find out that the house is haunted. The usual things happen: Dead people appear and disappear in ghostly form. The house’s current residents do research in old books and newspaper articles to try and find out the history of the house. And certain people in the story end up dead.
Two other characters are part of the story, but not in a very interesting way: Marie Verdin (played by Sarah Hay) is someone connected to Frederick’s past. The truth about Marie is incredibly predictable. Another name from Frederick’s past that comes up is Emil Larson (played by Bruce Dern, shown in flashbacks), who died in 1976, at the age of 92. Emil, who had a huge influence on Frederick, is described in the movie as an author, futurist, painter and agnostic mystic.
“Mid-Century” has a “reveal” about Frederick that is supposed to be shocking, but it’s really as bland and underwhelming as the rest of the movie. All of the cast members play their roles as if they’re going through the drab motions of people who just don’t care enough to give convincing performances. “Mid-Century” is so monotonous and lacking in creativity, it’s the type of dud that will be forgotten quicker than you can say, “Stupid horror movie.”
Lionsgate released “Mid-Century” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on July 26, 2022. Peacock began streaming the movie on October 24, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and on the fictional planet of Pandora, the sci-fi action film “Avatar: The Way of Water” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) portraying humans and non-humans.
Culture Clash: Jake Sully and Neytiri, the heroes of 2009’s “Avatar,” are now the leaders of the Omatikaya clan on Pandora, but Jake becomes the target of revenge for being a traitor to Earth, so he and his family escape to live with another clan on Pandora, with an old enemy in pursuit.
Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Avatar” fans, “Avatar: The Way of Water” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a top-notch sci-fi film.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” has set the bar even higher for sci-fi epics. The movie’s technical achievements and story surpass the first “Avatar” film. Expect to be immersed in a visually stunning world that has a lot to say about protection of families and the environment. At 192 minutes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a more than worth the time of anyone who wants to be entertained for a little more than three hours by a magnificent achievement in sci-fi cinema.
Directed by James Cameron, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that is fully appreciated if viewers have seen or know about what happened in 2009’s Oscar-winning blockbuster “Avatar,” which was also directed by Cameron. Mild spoiler alert for those who haven’t the first “Avatar” movie, which took place in the year 2154: The movie’s main hero, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), a wheelchair-using U.S. Marine, was assigned to be a bodyguard for Dr. Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver), the leader of the Avatar Program that gives the ability for humans to appear in the form of something else.
Jake defied the government’s plan for military people to disguise themselves as Pandora natives call the Na’vi, in order to deplete the moon planet of Pandora (located in the Alpha Centauri system) for the precious resource unobtanium. Na’vi people are a humanoid species with blue skin, and the average Na’vi adults are about 10 feet tall. At the end of the first “Avatar” movie, Jake left behind his human life on Earth to become a Na’vi.
At the beginning of “Avatar: The Way of Water” (whose screenplay was written by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver), it is about 15 years after the first movie took place. Jake (who has fully inhabited his Na’vi body) has been happily married to Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldaña), the female Na’vi who saved his life in the first “Avatar” movie. Jake and Neytiri fell in love in the first “Avatar” movie. They now live on Pandora, where Jake is the leader of the Omatikaya clan, which lives and thrives in the forest.
Jake and Neytiri are now parents to four children: teenage son Neteyam (played by Jamie Flatters) is the “role model” eldest child; teenage son Lo’ak (played by Britain Dalton) is slightly rebellious and living in the shadow of Neteyam; adopted teenage daughter Kiri (played by Weaver) is haunted by the memories of her biological mother; and pre-teen daughter Tuk (played by Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) is friendly and playful. The four Sully kids are very close to a human named Spider (played by Jack Champion), who was orphaned by the war between the Na’vi and humans.
The movie later reveals Spider’s family background and who one of his biological parents is. Spider spends so much time with the Sully kids that he’s almost like part of the family. However, Neytiri is nervous and wary about Spider becoming so close to the kids because she doesn’t completely trust humans, who are called Sky People by the Na’vi. The humans were responsible for nearly destroying Neytiri’s family in the first “Avatar” movie. One of the survivors was Neytiri’s mother Mo’at (played by CCH Pounder), who makes a brief appearance in “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
Kiri’s origins are revealed near the beginning of the movie: She was created from the DNA of Dr. Augustine. Mild spoiler alert for those who don’t know what happened in the first “Avatar” movie: Dr. Augustine died in the first “Avatar” movie, but she makes an appearance in flashbacks in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Throughout the movie, Kiri feels a psychic connection to that is both confusing and comforting to Kiri.
In the first “Avatar” movie, the U.S. government’s Resources Development Administration (RDA) was in charge of raiding Pandora for unobtanium because resources on Earth have diminished. The RDA still exists in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and they consider Jake to be a traitorous enemy because of what happened in the first “Avatar” movie. As described in the “Avatar: The Way of Water” production notes: “In addition to having an armada of weaponized land, air and sea vehicles at their disposal, the RDA has brought with them a secret weapon: an elite team of soldiers resurrected as recombinants (recoms). Recoms are autonomous avatars embedded with the memories of the humans whose DNA was used to create them.”
This group of recom soldiers has been tasked with one primary mission: find and kill Jake. The leader of this mission is Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang), the avatar of the human Colonel Miles Quaritch (also played by Lang), who was head of RDA’s security force and Jake’s biggest adversary in the first “Avatar” movie. During this mission, the recom soldiers appear in the form of Na’vi when they go to Pandora to hunt down Jake.
Through a series of circumstances, the Sully family is are forced to leave their home. They flee to another part of Pandora, where they are taken in as refugees by the green-skinned Metkayina clan. Whereas the forest is the primary domain of the Omatikaya clan, the ocean is the primary domain of the Metkayina clan, which reluctantly lets the Sully family live with them because it’s a Na’vi tradition to help refugees of Pandora.
The leaders of the Metkayina clan are upstanding and fair-minded Tonowari (Cliff Curtis). and his compassionate wife Ronal (played by Kate Winslet), who is pregnant when this story takes place. Ronal and Tonowari tell their teenage children—daughter Tsireya (played by Bailey Bass) and older son Aonung (played by Filip Geljo)—to attempt to teach the Sully kids how to adapt to the clan’s water activities, customs and traditions. Aonung is somewhat hostile to these newcomers, while Tsireya is welcoming.
Tsireya and Lo’ak have an immediate “attraction at first sight” the first time that they meet each other. It leads to some romantic moments but also some tensions, particularly from Aonung, who clashes with and bullies Lo’ak during much of the story. The residents of Pandora have much bigger problems though, when Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch and his marauding team of soldiers invade Pandora in their hunt for Jake.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” has some of the most eye-popping and gorgeous visuals (especially the underwater scenes) that movie audiences will ever see in a sci-fi movie. In addition to the movie’s visual effects, “Avatar: The Way of Water’s” enchanting cinematography and production design are particularly noteworthy. “Avatar: The Way of Water” also has emotionally impactful stories about the connections that humans and humanoids can develop with other animals. And just like in the first “Avatar” movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water” has a very pro-environment message that isn’t preachy but is presented in a way that serves as a warning of what could happen when a planet’s inhabitants don’t take care of their planet.
The majority of the cast members in “Avatar: The Way of Water” do not appear in human form, due to visual effects, so their acting is on par with similar big-budget movies that use visual effects to alter the appearance of the cast members. However, Weaver (as Kiri) and Dalton have some standout moments as children who feel like misfits in their family and who feel like they have something to prove about their worth in their family. Champion’s portrayal of Spider is also admirable, because Spider goes through his own issues dealing with self-esteem, identity and family loyalty.
Other characters in “Avatar: The Way of Water” include General Ardmore (played by Edie Falco), a ruthless official from RDA; Captain Mick Scoresby (played by Brendan Cowell) and Dr. Ian Garvin (played by Jemaine Clement), who are recruited by RDA to help track down Jake and find more unobtanium; and scientists Dr. Norm Spellman (played by Joel David Moore) and Dr. Max Patel (played by Dileep Rao), who were allies to Jake in the first “Avatar” movie.
The “Avatar” universe is best experienced from the beginning to fully understand the nuances and developments of “Avatar: The Way of Water” and other “Avatar” sequels. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that has Oscar-worthy technical prowess, but the dialogue is a little on the simplistic and generic side. What the movie lacks in dazzling dialogue it more than makes up for in delivering a poignant, thrilling and entertaining story with a big heart that viewers will want to revisit.
20th Century Studios will release “Avatar: The Way of Water” in U.S. cinemas on December 16, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Detroit, the horror flick “Don’t Breathe 2” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.
Culture Clash: In this horror sequel, a blind Gulf War veteran battles against more intruders who invade his home.
Culture Audience: “Don’t Breathe 2” will appeal primarily to people who like watching mindless, ridiculous and violent horror movies.
At some point, the filmmakers of the “Don’t Breathe” franchise gave up all pretense of making realistic horror and decided to lean into very campy foolishness. In “Don’t Breathe 2” (a follow-up to the 2016 sleeper hit “Don’t Breathe”), the franchise’s elderly blind protagonist fights more like Marvel’s blind superhero Daredevil than a regular human being who is blind. Depending on your tolerance for dumb horror movies, you’ll either be amused and/or bored when watching “Don’t Breathe 2,” but you probably won’t be scared.
“Don’t Breathe 2” was written by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who also wrote “Don’t Breathe.” Álvarez directed “Don’t Breathe,” while Sayagues makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Don’t Breathe 2.” The difference in the quality of films is very noticeable. “Don’t Breathe” is a taut, believable thriller, while “Don’t Breathe 2” is a ludicrous mess. It might be hard for some viewers to believe that both movies were written by the same people.
In terms of characters, the only one from “Don’t Breathe” who’s in “Don’t Breathe 2” is protagonist Norman Nordstrom (played by Stephen Lang), who isn’t a virtuous hero but more like an anti-hero. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” viewers don’t even really find out Norman’s name. In the end credits, he’s only listed as “The Blind Man.”
Both movies take place in Detroit and have a small number of cast members. In “Don’t Breathe,” almost all the violence happened in Norman’s house, while “Don’t Breathe 2” has other locations for fight scenes in addition to Norman’s house. Fair warning to people who get easily squeamish: Compared to the first “Don’t Breathe” movie, “Don’t Breathe 2” has lot more gratutitous violence and is more fixated on showing close-ups of people’s bloody wounds.
People don’t need to see “Don’t Breathe” to understand what’s going in on “Don’t Breathe 2,” which is supposed to take place several years after what happened in “Don’t Breathe.” In “Don’t Breathe,” Norman battled against three young thieves who broke into his home to steal about $300,000 in cash that they knew he kept in the house. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” his home invaders are organ harvesters. Yes, you read that right.
What would organ harvesters want with a senior citizen who’s blind? It’s eventually revealed in the movie, but it has to do with the girl who is living with Norman. Her name is Phoenix (played by Madelyn Grace), and she’s about 12 or 13 years old. An early scene in “Don’t Breathe 2” shows that Norman has been training Phoenix to defend herself. In this idiotic movie, Norman is magically able to run through dense places like a forest or a cluttered hideaway he’s never been to before, without the use of a cane or guide dog. And he never trips or stumbles.
Phoenix is homeschooled, and she has no friends except for a young woman named Hernandez (played by Stephanie Arcila), who drives a van for a company called Lake Park Fern and Plant Sales. Norman is extremely protective of Phoenix, but he trusts Hernandez to take care of Phoenix when Phoenix needs to go somewhere that would require someone to drive her there. Hernandez comments to Norman about his parenting skills to Phoenix, “You know, you either need to loosen up that leash, or she’s going to bite it off.”
How did Phoenix end up living with bachelor Norman, whom she calls “Father”? That answer is also revealed in the movie. But a clue is in the movie’s opening scene, which shows a girl, who’s about 4 or 5 years old, walking from a burning house into the middle of a street and then lying down in the street, as if she’s in shock. The movie then picks up eight years later by showing Phoenix and Norman doing a personal safety test exercise, where he pretends to be a kidnapper who’s after her.
Phoenix fails the test because Norman was able to come up behind her and ambush her. She tells him that she’s sorry she failed the test. Norman says he won’t be able to give Phoenix more freedom until she passes all of her tests.
The movie reveals another clue about Phoenix’s identity when she’s giving Norman a haircut and asks him if the white streak in her hair is because Norman has white hair. Based on his answer, Norman has told Phoenix that she’s his biological daughter. And where is Phoenix’s mother? Norman has told Phoenix that her mother is dead.
And the reason why there are no photos of the mother is because “everything was lost in the fire,” says Norman. It’s implied that Norman told Phoenix that her mother died in this fire. However, there’s a major plot hole later in the movie. In order for this plot hole to be credible, viewers would have to believe that Phoenix has no memories of her childhood before she was 4 or 5 years old.
People who saw “Don’t Breathe” will know about Norman’s backstory that he lost his first daughter in a car accident that was caused by a wealthy woman, who gave him a $300,000 settlement that he kept hidden as cash in his house. And there’s something in that movie that reveals how far Norman was willing to go to have another daughter. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” Norman shows remorse by saying he’s sorry for all the bad things that he did in his past. It’s so people who might not have seen the first “Don’t Breathe” movie will know that Norman is far from being a saintly victim.
Besides Hernandez, Phoenix’s closest companion is the family dog: a Rottweiler named Shadow. Strangely, the movie never really shows Shadow being a guide dog for Norman, who usually moves around like a person who can see. The only indications that he might be blind are in scenes inside the house where he occasionally extends his arms in front of him, or when he’s in attack mode and uses a weapon like a blind person.
But too often, there are scenes where Norman ambushes people with perfect precision, like someone who can see. One example is a laughably unrealistic scene where he attacks an intruder in the house by breaking a window from the outside and putting a chokehold on the intruder who’s near the window. How did he see the intruder through the window if he’s blind? Don’t expect any logic in almost all of this movie’s action scenes.
Norman is a Gulf War veteran, which is why he has combat skills. It still doesn’t explain why blind Norman can fight like a person who can see. He does use a few tactics that help him figure out where his targets are. But for the most part, the movie wants viewers to literally believe that blind luck is why Norman is able to fight like a superhero, even though there are no supernatural elements to the story.
One day, Phoenix and Hernandez are out for a drive together so that Phoenix can be outside for some exercise at a local playground. The playground is near an orphanage called Covenant Shelter. Some of the shelter kids are the playground too. But they ignore Phoenix, who is lonely and fantasizes that the kids have asked her to join them in their social activities.
When Phoenix has to use a public restroom nearby, she has a strange encounter with a sleazy-looking man who is loitering inside the restroom. He introduces himself as Raylan (played by Brendan Sexton III), and he tells Phoenix that she’s pretty. Phoenix, who has her dog Shadow with her, has her guard up and tells this creep to leave her alone, or else her dog will attack him.
Raylan backs off, but not before stroking Phoenix’s hair as she leaves the restroom. As Phoenix and Hernandez drive off in the van, Phoenix tells Hernandez about this uncomfortable encounter and assures her that she’s okay. Hernandez gets a good look at Raylan, who sees her eyeing him suspiciously. Instead of reporting the incident to the police—to at least alert law enforcment that a man is loitering in a public restroom and touched an underage girl there—Hernandez does nothing and takes Phoenix home. Do you think this will be the last time they’ll see Raylan? Of course not.
Meanwhile, a scene in the movie shows a TV news report that a doctor is under suspicion for operating an organ trafficking ring in the Detroit area. It should come as no surprise to viewers that Raylan and some other thugs are part of this gang that harvests and sells organs. And somehow, they end up crossing paths with Norman, Phoenix and Hernandez. And not everyone makes it out alive.
Rayland is the top henchman of this crew. All of the subordinate thugs are very generic with no backstories. They include Duke (played by Rocci Williams), a bearded tough guy; Jim Bob (played by Adam Young), a sadistic scumbag who wears his blonde hair in a mullet; Jim Bob’s younger brother Jared (played by Bobby Schofield), who looks like a broke version of Justin Bieber; and Raul (played by Christian Zagia), a muscular type who shows glimmers of having a moral conscience.
The fight scenes between these criminals and Norman are very predictable, violent and gory. The movie offers some suspense in a sequence where Phoenix has to use her agility and wit to try to hide in the house from the home invaders. But, for the most part, the showdowns are exactly what you would expect them to be, if you expect more ludicrous fight scenes on display. There’s a plot reveal in the last third of the movie that won’t have the intended impact because it’s just so moronic.
None of the “Don’t Breathe 2” actors does anything outstanding because their characters are written in such a two-dimensional way. The filmmakers wasted an opportunity to show more of the father-daughter relationship between Norman and Phoenix, which would have given more emotional resonance to what happens in the latter part of the movie. It seems like the filmmakers spent more time on the fight choreography than on crafting a good story.
“Don’t Breathe 2” is a perfect example of why so many movie sequels are inferior to the original movie. It’s a sloppily made film that took what could have been a solid horror franchise and ruined it with an asinine, boring story that uses formulaic violence and gore as a lazy way to try to scare people. “Don’t Breathe 2” won’t terrify most viewers, but it might give some unintended laughs at the stupidity of it all.
Screen Gems amd Stage 6 Films will release “Don’t Breathe 2” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in El Paso, Texas, the dramatic film “Death in Texas” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.
Culture Clash: A recently released ex-con finds himself returning to a life of crime so that he can get enough money to pay for his mother’s life-or-death liver transplant.
Culture Audience: “Death in Texas” will appeal primarily to people who like watching violent crime movies with badly written, unrealistic scenes.
“Death in Texas” has too many far-fetched scenarios to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, this dreadful crime drama takes itself way too seriously. There’s a lot of corny acting from experienced actors who embarrass themselves by being in this movie. And anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of organ transplants and hospitals will be cringing at the preposterous plot development in the last third of the movie.
Written and directed by Scott Windhauser, “Death in Texas” is also exceedingly tedious with its nonsensical murders that are nothing but excuses to fill this movie with violent and often-unrealistic fight scenes. The first clue that “Death in Texas” is a constant failure at realism is in the opening scene when 37-year-old prisoner Billy Walker (played by Ronnie Gene Blevins) is in a parole hearing and gets paroled in a very phony “only in a movie” moment. (“Death in Texas” takes place primarily in El Paso, Texas, but the movie was actually filmed in New Mexico.)
During the parole hearing, which has a parole board of only two people—one named Charles (played by Clark Harris) and one named Antonio (played by Daniel Steven Gonzalez)—Billy is being questioned about his rehabiltation while in prison. Billy is asked, “Do you take responsibility for your crime?” Billy replies, “As much as I can.” It’s not exactly a sign of remorse, which is a requirement to get paroled.
Billy says that he wants to be paroled so that he can take care of his mother. Charles and Antonio are not convinced that Billy has been fully rehabilitated and is ready for release. Just as they’re about to deny parole to Billy, a woman who is later revealed as parole officer Sarah Jensen (played by Veronica Burgess) suddenly appears and shows Charles and Antonio something in a file of papers. And just like that, Charles and Antonio change their minds and sign off on Billy getting parole.
Through flashbacks, the movie shows that Billy was in prison for manslaughter, and he served seven years in prison for this crime before being paroled. When his mother Grace Edwards (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) was a waitress at a diner, Billy witnessed a customer (played by Morgan Redmond) physically harassing Grace. And so, an enraged Billy beat up this man so badly that he died. The deadly assault took place in full view of other people at the diner, so there was no mystery over who committed the crime.
It’s shown many times throughout “Death in Texas” that Billy is so devoted to his mother that he will do anything for her. And yet, after Billy gets paroled, he’s shown walking by himself on a deserted highway, like a pitiful ex-con with no one who cares about him, and then showing up at Grace’s house unannounced. She seems elated and surprised to see him.
This homecoming scene doesn’t ring true, because Billy is such a mama’s boy that he would be the type to tell his mother that he was paroled, so she would be ready for him when he got released. After all, Billy has nowhere else to go but to live with his mother after getting out of prison. Considering all the extreme trouble that Billy goes through for his mother in this story, you’d think he’d tell her that he was paroled and that he needed a place to stay instead of just showing up without telling her in advance.
It’s one of many inconsistent and sloppily written scenes in the movie, which awkwardly tries to be gritty when it comes to all the criminal activities, but then attempts to be mawkishly sentimental when it comes to anything to do with Grace. Her backstory is revealed in bits and pieces of conversations in the movie. Grace gave birth to Billy when she was 15 years old, and her marriage to Billy’s father’s ended in divorce. She also got divorced from her second husband.
Soon after Billy is released from prison, Grace (who is currently a receptionist for a law firm) is having a small house party attended by her current boyfriend Todd (played by Craig Nigh), who brags to Billy about the four days that he spent incarcerated. It should come as no surprise that Billy and Todd clash immediately, and they end up having a fist fight. Grace admits to Billy that Todd is a jerk and that she has horrible taste in men. Todd is never seen again for the rest of the movie.
Grace has a much bigger problem than a tendency to get involved with losers. She needs a liver transplant, but she has rare type AB blood and can’t find a donor match. Her liver is failing not because she abused alcohol or drugs but because it might be a congenital conditon. If Grace doesn’t get the transplant, she’ll die. And what Billy does to try to solve this problem is more eye-rolling nonsense.
First, Billy goes to see Grace’s physician Dr. Perkins (played by Sam Daly) to find out what he can do to help Grace find a donor. Dr. Perkins says that he can’t reveal certain information about Grace’s condition because of doctor-patient confidentiality. And then, Dr. Perkins proceeds to violate that confidentiality and all sorts of other medical ethics by telling Billy everything private about Grace’s medical situation that Billy wants to know.
Dr. Perkins tells Billy that Grace has six months to one year to live. The doctor keeps changing this life-expectancy number to a shorter period of time the more this idiotic movie goes on, until Grace supposedly only has a few days left to live. Dr. Perkins also mentions that because Grace is so far down on a waiting list to find a donor, it’s impossible for her to get a liver in time, unless she can get a liver on the black market.
Dr. Perkins says that he knows someone in Guadalajara, Mexico, who can sell a liver for $160,000. And as a warning to Billy not to report any medical violations, the doctor tells Billy, “I’ll obviously deny that we had this conversation.” The $160,000 price tag is way beyond what Billy can afford, so it makes him desperate. Even if Billy had ever heard of legal ways to raise money for a health crisis, such as starting a crowdsourcing campaign on GoFundMe, there would be no “Death in Texas” movie if he did things legally to solve this problem.
Billy makes several attempts to find a legitimate job, but he’s rejected by every place he goes to find work because he’s an ex-con on parole. A friend of his named Kevin (played by Rocko Reyes) is a manager at a car dealership that’s owned by Kevin’s father. In a job interview, Kevin tells Billy that he would hire Billy, but Kevin’s father is the one who doesn’t want any felons working for the company.
And so, with time running out to get the money for the liver, it becomes inevitable that Billy turns to a life of crime. He decides he’ll get the money he wants by robbing other criminals. First, he targets a drug dealer named Tyler Griggs (played by Mike Foy), a former acquaintance of Billy’s, who looks and acts like a bad parody of a rapper, complete with gold teeth and a laughably horrible attempt to sound like he’s a white guy who grew up in a black ghetto.
An even bigger robbery target is a drug rehab guru named Richard Reynolds (played by Bruce Dern), a rich entrepreneur with a shady past. He currently owns a well-known drug rehab center called Reynolds Rehabilitation Ranch. Billy sees a TV news report that Reynolds Rehabilitation Ranch has received a large of amount of funding from a recent deal with El Paso General Hospital.
Through an Internet search, Billy finds out that several years ago, Reynolds was acquitted on marijuana drug smuggling charges. Billy also discovers that Reynolds has ties to a major drug cartel. And in a silly movie like “Death in Texas,” Billy decides that Reynolds will be a perfect person to rob. Never mind that Reynolds has a small squad of violent thugs who are his bodyguards and enforcers.
Meanwhile, Grace has ended up at El Paso General Hospital because her liver condition has gotten worse. One day, while she’s in her hospital room, she’s feeling so sick that she vomits on the floor. A hospital orderly comes into her room to check on her and clean up the mess. And that’s how she meets hospital orderly John Scofield (played by Stephen Lang)—their “meet cute” moment happens when he has to clean up her vomit.
Grace jokes to John that it’s “love at first sight.” He continues the flirtation, and there are romantic sparks between them. You know where this is going, of course. Just when Grace is dying, she meets someone who could be the love of her life. It’s not stated if John is divorced or widowed, but he’s definitely an available bachelor. Billy eventually meets John, and it leads to a very tacky soap opera moment that’s part of a big, heavy-handed plot twist in the movie.
Amid all the bloody carnage in the story, Billy meets a possible love interest too. Her name is Jennifer (played by Cheryl “Cher” Cosenza), who’s a street-smart bartender with a heart of gold. Tyler is also interested in her, but Jennifer thinks Tyler is a disgusting creep. Billy doesn’t have enough money to buy a liver on the black market, but he has enough money to become a regular customer at the bar where Jennifer works.
One of the worst things about “Death in Texas” is the movie’s pathetic depiction of law enforcement. Billy’s parole officer is Sarah Jensen, the same person who barged in his parole hearing to show a mystery file to the parole board. The information in that file is eventually revealed in the movie, but it’s definitely not surprising, considering what happens later in the story. The information in the file wouldn’t be enough in real life for a parole board to suddenly switch its decision to not parole someone.
Sarah’s first meeting with Billy after his release happens when she shows up at Grace’s house unannounced to interview Billy. Billy is outside, hosing down his car, because it has blood on it from a murder that he committed the night before. But this dimwitted parole officer doesn’t even notice the blood on the car when she’s talking to Billy. And throughout the story, she keeps showing up unannounced at the house, as if parole officers never make office appointments.
Even more incompetent is a homicide detective named John Wayne Asher (played by John Ashton), who is the lead investigator in the murders that Billy commits during his crime spree. Billy makes no attempt to cover his tracks, because he easily leaves his DNA and fingerprints all over his crime scenes. As a convicted felon, Billy would have his fingerprints on record and his DNA would be in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which is a nationwide DNA database for convicted offenders. And yet, the dumb cops in this movie have a hard time finding out that Billy committed these crimes.
In addition to all of this idiotic portrayal of how law enforcement works, “Death in Texas” also bungles depictions of how hospitals work and what certain hospital employees would be able to do while on duty. There’s a big plot development revolving around the liver transplant part of the story that will make people groan or laugh at the stupidity of how this plot twist is handled. There’s almost nothing realistic about “Death in Texas,” except for a few conversations in the blossoming romance between Grace and John.
All of the acting in this movie veers between hokey and robotic. It’s as if no one was giving the cast members any consistent direction. And if they were given any competent direction, they certainly weren’t paying attention. Not that better acting would’ve saved this terrible movie, because “Death in Texas” was dead on arrival with its horrendously awful screenplay.
Vertical Entertainment released “Death in Texas” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 4, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans and briefly in Baltimore, the horror film “The Seventh Day” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, Asians and African Americans) representing Catholic clergy and middle-class citizens.
Culture Clash: Two Catholic priests who hunt demons try to perform an exorcism on a 12-year-old boy who’s accused of murdering his parents and 16-year-old sister.
Culture Audience: “The Seventh Day” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dull and mindless horror movies about exorcisms.
An exorcism patient who’s strapped to a bed probably has more fun than anyone who watches this tedious train wreck of a horror film until the movie’s very ludicrous end. “The Seventh Day” (written and directed by Justin P. Lange) also has an awkward mix of experienced, more talented actors with less-experienced, less-talented actors whose lack of talent further lowers the quality of this already substandard movie. It’s the type of forgettable horror flick that’s heavy on gore but unbearably light on an interesting, well-crafted story.
“The Seventh Day” begins with a flashback to Baltimore on October 8, 1995. A middle-aged priest named Father Louis (played by Keith David) is getting ready to travel somewhere with a priest in his 20s named Father Peter Costello (played by Chris Galust), who is Father Louis’ protégé. The two priests are going to an exorcism in Baltimore on the same day that Pope John Paul II was visiting the city. (The movie includes archival footage of this visit.)
Father Louis says in a voiceover: “It chose today of all days. The Holy Father, a mere stone’s throw away. I suspect that’s no coincidence.” What is the “it” that this priest is talking about? The demon that these priests are hunting, course.
Father Louis then tells Father Peter: “I fear that this one will be different from the others. This one seems to have a purpose.” Too bad this movie doesn’t seem to have a purpose except to badly recycle ideas from other exorcism movies.
And then Father Louis says, “Soon, Peter. I promise. I have complete faith in you.” This is the type of simplistic dialogue that’s littered throughout the movie. Viewers of this dreck will soon lose faith that it will get any better.
Father Louis and Father Peter are overseeing the exorcism of a boy named Nicholas “Nicky” Miller (played by Tristan Riggs), who’s about 12 or 13, with Nicky’s parents (played by Heath Freeman and Hannah Alline) also in attendance. Nicky is strapped to a bed. Because Father Louis is training Father Peter to be an exorcism master, Father Peter is leading this particular exorcism session.
As Father Louis says the Lord’s Prayer, the lights in the room start to flicker. And then little Nicky starts to talk like a man trying to sound like a demon. A possessed Nicky blurts out this insult to Father Peter: “You look lost, you dumb animal! You should find yourself a new shepherd!” Is this demon supposed to be terrifying or is this demon trying out someone’s rejected lines in a stand-up comedy insult act?
It might be bad comedy, not horror, because Nicky then shouts, “Smile like you’ve never done before!” His face (through some cheesy visual effects) then contorts into a bloody grin that would make “It” evil clown villain Pennywise laugh at the absurdity of it all.
All hell then breaks loose. The crucifix necklace around Mrs. Miller’s neck is snatched away by an unseen force quicker than a drag queen can snatch a wig. The crucifix is thrown across the room, right into the jugular veins of Father Louis’ neck. This injury then causes Father Louis to bleed to death, right there in the room, in the time it would take for Pennywise to let out one of his famous giggles. That was quick.
But that’s not all. Nicky’s skin on his arms starts to burn until his whole body bursts into flames. It’s one of the more gruesome scenes in the movie. Meanwhile, the Pope is visiting “a mere stone’s throw away” in Baltimore, and no one in the room bothers to ask, “Where’s the Pope when you need him?”
“The Seventh Day” then fast-forwards to the present day in New Orleans. Father Peter (played by Guy Pearce) is now a jaded, middle-aged clergyman. He’s in a meeting with an unnamed archbishop (played by Stephen Lang), who wants Father Peter to train a young priest named Father Daniel Garcia (played by Vadhir Derbez) to become a master exorcist. Father Daniel is called into the room, not knowing that he’s about to become an exorcist protégé.
As the archbishop explains to Father Daniel, they are part of a small secret society of Catholic clergy who still provide training on how to perform exorcisms. According to the archbishop, the Vatican adopted a negative attitude toward exorcism and stopped teaching exorcism rites. And now, only a “handful, no more than a dozen” Catholic clergy secretly train for and perform exorcisms.
The archbishop tells Father Daniel, “You need to know that Father Peter trained with the very best. And I feel, in my heart, that I’m putting you into the right hands.” The archbishop describes the late Father Louis as the “most revered” exorcist in this secret society. The archbishop, who knows about the botched exorcism that killed Father Louis, conveniently doesn’t tell Father Daniel about this messy tragedy.
The archbishop might feel that he’s putting Father Daniel in the right hands, but Father Peter isn’t as open to the idea of taking on this new trainee. At first, Father Peter is cold and condescending to Father Daniel and treats him more like an altar boy who’s supposed to do errands. At one point in the meeting, Father Peter orders Father Daniel to go across the street to get Father Peter some coffee.
And so begins Father Peter and Father Daniel’s training session, where they travel by car together in search of some pesky demons to expel. It has all the makings of a formulaic movie about a cynical and gruff older cop who’s assigned to mentor/train a naïve and eager-to-please younger cop—except that Father Peter and Father Daniel have crucifixes, not guns, as their weapons.
One of the first things that Father Peter tells Father Daniel is that he doesn’t like wearing a formal clergy uniform because it can intimidate some of the people with whom they interact. Father Peter’s preferred fashion style makes him look more like an angst-filled, scruffy liberal-arts college professor, with a well-worn plaid blazer and a chain-smoking habit as part of that image. It takes a little while for Father Daniel to loosen up in his wardrobe choices, but he eventually starts to wear more casual clothing when he’s with Father Peter, except when they want to use their priesthood to get certain privileges.
As they spend more time together, Father Peter warms up to Father Daniel and opens up a little bit more to Father Daniel about his past. He tells Father Daniel about the horrific exorcism of Nicky Miller and that Nicky burst into flames and died. Father Peter says that he’s still haunted by this tragedy. Meanwhile, Father Daniel won’t tell Father Peter much about himself. When Father Peter asks Father Daniel why he wants to become an exorcist, Father Daniel doesn’t really give an answer.
Before Father Peter and Father Daniel find out about the big exorcism that they have to do in this story, there’s a nonsensical scene of the two priests encountering a demon at a run-down area where homeless people live. They stop in the area, since Father Peter seems to know a homeless charity worker named Helen (played by Robin Bartlett), who is there to distribute some food.
Upon arrival, the two priests see a homeless man named George (played by Acoryé White) chanting out loud while standing over a cylinder garbage can whose contents have been lit on fire. As Father Peter and Father Daniel get closer to the man, Father Daniel brings out a rosary and prays. George reacts as if Father Daniel is the crazy one.
Suddenly, Helen cries out in pain and a wind-like explosion happens that knocks everyone out except for someone who’s become possessed by a demon. (Take a wild guess if it’s George or Helen.) The two priests manage to exorcise the demon in the most mundane and predictable way possible. There’s really nothing terrifying about this scene. Besides, there’s another exorcism in the movie that’s supposed to be scarier but it’s even more ridiculous.
Charlie Giroux (played by Brady Jenness) is a 12-year-old boy who’s going on trial for the murder of his parents and 16-year-old sister. For now, he’s being kept in solitary confinement in a juvenile detention center. And so, Father Peter and Father Daniel naturally want to find out if this boy is possessed by the devil.
They use their status as priests to visit Charlie at the detention center. However, Father Peter thinks Father Daniel should learn how to do these interviews on his own, so Father Peter usually waits outside while Father Daniel talks to Charlie. Thus begins a tiresome and repetitive slog in the movie: Father Daniel does a series of interviews with Charlie, who tells the priest that he keeps having visions of strange men crawling on his chest until he can’t breathe. At one point, Charlie does the inevitable hissing “demon child” attack on Father Daniel, just in case it wasn’t clear that Charlie needs an exorcism.
There are also some distractions to stretch out the already thin plot. Father Daniel suddenly shows that he’s got psychic abilities, so he’s able to vividly see what happened in the Giroux house and what led up to the murders. And so, that leads to scenes of Father Daniel being a ghost-like voyeur in the house, where he spies on some family arguments. It explains the type of relationships that Charlie had with his father (played by Major Dodge), his mother (played by Stephanie Rhodes) and his sister Nellie (played by Evangeline Griffin) before the murders happened.
And there’s a very unnecessary and badly written scene of Father Peter and Father Daniel interviewing some kids, who are around Charlie’s age, at a hangout called Skate City, where the priests and the kids use a ouija board. And somehow, even though these two priests are not psychiatrists or lawyers and have no reason to be involved in Charlie’s murder case, Father Peter and Father Daniel have convinced the cops to let them watch while the police interrogate Charlie.
Longtime actors Pearce, Lang and David have considerable talent that is wasted in this junkpile movie. Fortunately for David, who has the unfortunate role of a priest killed by a crucifix necklace, he isn’t in the movie for very long. Lang has a mediocre supporting role that only gets a few scenes.
Pearce seems to know he’s in a terrible movie and makes an effort to bring some personality to a character that’s written as very hollow. Father David has a much more lackluster personality. Together, Father Peter and Father David are a dreadfully monotonous duo.
This horrendous movie is made worse by Derbez’s wooden acting and Jenness’ hammy over-acting. And because Derbez and Jenness share several scenes together, it makes for a lot of embarrassingly bad moments that are hard to watch. A more effective director should have been able to prevent this clumsy mismatch of actors by making better casting choices.
“The Seventh Day” writer/director Lange makes the same mistakes that a lot of directors of terrible horror movies make: They spend more time on violent mayhem and visual effects (none of which are that good in this film) and neglect the elements of telling a captivating and suspenseful story. The casting in this movie doesn’t work well, and there’s a plot twist which is predictable and obvious to anyone paying attention. It might be hard to pay attention though because “The Seventh Day” is so mind-numbingly boring that it might put people to sleep.
Vertical Entertainment released “The Seventh Day” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on March 26, 2021.