Review: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,’ starring Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon and William H. Macy

May 8, 2024

by Carla Hay

Owen Teague, Freya Allan and Peter Macon in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”

Directed by Wes Ball

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth, 300 years after the events of the movie “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the sci-fi/action film “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” features a cast of characters who are apes and humans.

Culture Clash: A group of apes team up with a human to try to defeat an evil dictatorial ape that wants to take over the world. 

Culture Audience: “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise and sci-fi action films where most of the characters are not human.

Travis Jeffery, Owen Teague and Lydia Peckham in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

After a slow start, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” turns into a familiar “good versus evil” sci-fi adventure story with the expected battles. It’s not the best “Planet of the Apes” movie, but it’s not the worst either. The action sequences and how the apes are portrayed should please fans of this franchise. The movie’s biggest flaw is how underdeveloped the human characters are.

Directed by Wes Ball and written by Josh Friedman, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is a spinoff/continuation of the trilogy that began with 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Rupert Wyatt), and continued with 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Matt Reeves) and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Reeves). The hero ape at the center of this trilogy was Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), who became a legendary leader. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” takes place on Earth, 300 years after the event of “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Do viewers need to see this trilogy before seeing “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”? Probably. That’s because Caesar is mentioned so many times in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” he’s an unseen character in the movie. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” has a captioned introduction explaining that a virus has caused apes to be superior to humans. Caesar was a brave leader of apes who “stood up for his kind,” but he also believed in a world where it’s possible for apes and humans to peacefully co-exist, even if many humans try to dominate or destroy apes.

In “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” (which was filmed in New South Wales, Australia), humans are almost extinct from Earth. The “good apes” at the center of the story are from the Eagle Clan. These apes believe that they can communicate to eagles through a special ape-singing skills. The apes in the Eagle Clan look for eagle eggs to take and possible bond with when the eagles hatch from the eggs. The Eagle Clan has a rule that if eagle eggs are found in a nest, at least one egg has to be left behind in the nest.

The movie opens during one of these egg-hunting trips to show three young adult ape friends who are hunting together: earnest and intelligent Noa (played by Owen Teague); Noa’s strong-willed love interest Soona (played by Lydia Peckham); and Noa’s daredevil best friend Anaya (played by Travis Jeffery). The Eagle Clan lives in peaceful harmony with each other.

In the beginning of the story, Noa is hesitant and insecure about some things in his life. Noa doesn’t think his eagle-singing skills are up to the level of many other apes in the Eagle Clan. Noa’s parents are supportive, but his father thinks Noa should be more confident.

One day, the Eagle Clan is brutally invaded by an army of apes led by an evil dictator named Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand), who orders that the Clan’s village be burned, and the surviving Eagle Clan members are forced into enslavement. In the chaos and mayhem, Caesar escapes. When he returns to the devastated and burned-out village, his family and friends are missing.

Naturally, Caesar goes on a mission to find his loved ones. Along the way, he meets a wise warrior orangutan named Raka (played by Peter Macon) and a mysterious woman, whom Caesar and Raka name Nova (played by Freya Allan), but she later reveals that her name is Mae. Nova/Mae pretends to be mute for much of the story until (to no one’s surprise), she admits she can talk. Nova/Mae says her deceased mother taught her to pretend to be mute for her own protection because intelligent humans are seen as a threat to apes.

Another human in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is Trevathan (played by William H. Macy), who is being held as a prisoner by Proximus Caesar, so that Proximus Caesar can learn all he can about human inventions and knowledge. Trevathan doesn’t have “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” get a meaningful sense of who he really is.

Noa is a little suspicious of Nova/Mae at first, but Raka believes in Caesar’s philosophies and urges Noa to give Nova/Mae a chance to prove her trustworthiness. Nova/Mae is supposed to be enigmatic, but perhaps she’s a little too mysterious because her personality is somewhat dull, even if her action sequences are among the best in the movie. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” never explains why Nova/Mae runs around in a tank top and jeans, while other humans in the story wear loin cloth outfits.

As for the ape characters, Teague and Macon stand out for their respective performances of Noa and Raka, who develop a protégé/mentor type of relationship. However, all the other ape characters with significant speaking roles, including villain Proximus Caesar, are a little too generic and predictable. The love story between Noa and Soona is a quite tepid. Most of the dialogue in the film is simplistic. These highly intelligent apes should have more interesting conversations.

The action sequences and visual effects in the movie are hit-and-miss but certainly aren’t terrible. Most of all, the story is formulaic but not necessarily in a bad way. The movie has no mid-credits scene or end-credits scene but has the expected ending that guarantees a sequel, since “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is conceived as the first movie in a trilogy. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” doesn’t offer any real surprises, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of comfort food for people who are fans of the franchise.

20th Century Studios will release “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” in U.S. cinemas on May 10, 2024, with a sneak preview in U.S. cinemas on May 8, 2024.

Review: ‘Bloody Hell,’ starring Ben O’Toole, Caroline Craig, Matthew Sunderland, Travis Jeffery, Jack Finsterer, Meg Fraser and Ashlee Lollback

January 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ben O’Toole in “Bloody Hell” (Photo courtesy of The Horror Collective)

“Bloody Hell”

Directed by Alister Grierson

Some language in Finnish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Helsinki, Finland, and Boise, Idaho, the darkly comedic horror film “Bloody Hell” has a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An American ex-con, who spent eight years in prison for manslaughter, vacations in Helsinki, Finland, where he is kidnapped by a murderous family.

Culture Audience: “Bloody Hell” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in horror movies that have dark humor, but the comedy falls flat in this gruesome and predictable film.

David Hill and Meg Fraser in “Bloody Hell” (Photo courtesy of The Horror Collective)

It’s not easy to mix offbeat humor with horror. And that’s why there are very few horror comedies that can truly be considered classics. “Bloody Hell” tries very hard to be an eccentric-minded horror movie, but the comedy is weak and the horror is just gory but not very scary at all. Directed by Alister Grierson, “Bloody Hell” fares better visually than it does with the movie’s mediocre acting and the movie’s screenplay (written by Robert Benjamin), which has a lot of terrible dialogue and hollow characters.

The central character in “Bloody Hell” is Rex Coen (played by Ben O’Toole), an American in his early 30s who lives in Boise, Idaho. Throughout this 93-minute movie, there is absolutely nothing revealed about Rex’s background before this one pivotal moment in his life: One day, Rex goes into a bank called the Sawtooth County Credit Union, with the intention of flirting with a bank teller named Madeleine “Maddy” Augustine (played by Ashlee Lollback), whom he’s apparently had a crush on for quite some time.

What starts out as a fairly uneventful bank visit descends into mayhem when four masked and armed robbers with shotguns burst into the bank and take everyone hostage. The bank customers are ordered to stay on the ground, while the employees are ordered to get the cash that the robbers want. The four robbers (played by Ryan Tarran, Scott George, Daniel Weaver and Brad McMurray) are each wearing a terrifying mask: a demon, a werewolf, a lizard and a gorilla.

Just by chance, one of the women who’s crouched near Rex happens to have her purse open, and he sees that she has a pistol inside her purse. The expression on Rex’s face tells viewers that if the purse was closer, he would make a move and take the gun and try to be a hero and save everyone. And what do you know: When the robbers order the customers to throw their wallets and purses at them, this woman’s purse flies through the air and happens to land right in Rex’s lap.

He ends up taking the gun and has a shootout with the armed robbers, even though he’s outnumbered and outgunned. Rex corners one of the robbers in a room and shoots him, but a stray bullet accidentally kills a woman named Angela Reynolds (played by Oakley Kwon), who had been hiding in a nearby closet. Rex ends up being convicted of manslaughter for her death.

Throughout the movie, there are flashbacks to this bank robbery and Rex’s trial. Giving this information in bits and pieces doesn’t serve the story very well because it still doesn’t reveal much information about Rex. At Rex’s trial, the overzealous prosecutor (played by Charles Allen) shouts when he declares of Rex’s reckless actions during the bank robbery: “This wasn’t self-defense! This was madness!”

Rex is sentenced to eight years in prison. And when he gets out of prison, he’s surprised when he goes into a grocery store to see that his prison release is on the cover of a tabloid magazine. He’s also recognized by strangers every time he goes out in public. People, including paparazzi, want to take his picture. Some people treat him like a folk hero, while other people treat him like a repulsive criminal.

One of the worst things about “Bloody Hell” is that Rex hallucinates having an alter ego, which is supposed to represents his conscience. Therefore, there are many scenes in the movie where he has conversations with an avatar that looks exactly like Rex. The idea itself isn’t bad, but the dialogue is mostly drab and witless.

“Bloody Hell” also repeats an annoying gimmick of Rex having fantasies of things happening, but it’s presented as ‘”real” in the movie until it’s revealed that it was all in Rex’s imagination. For example, in a scene that takes place shortly after Rex gets out of prison, he’s eating at a diner by himself while some paparazzi are inside the diner taking photos of him. In frustration, Rex gets up and overturns the table. But it’s quickly shown that this angry outburst was all in his head.

Rex meets up with a bartender friend named Pete (played by Joshua Brennan), who has held some of Rex’s possessions for safekeeping while Rex was in prison. One of the items that Pete has is Rex’s passport. Having Rex meet up with a friend would be an opportunity for the filmmakers to give more insight into the type of life that Rex had before the bank robbery. But it’s a missed opportunity because it’s a very bland and boring scene that reveals almost nothing about Rex except that he wants his passport.

Rex seems unaware of how divisive his notoriety is with the public, until Pete tells him that it’s because the public doesn’t seem to know the whole story of what happened during the bank robbery. Pete says to Rex, “In some versions of the story, you’re the Dark Knight. In others, you’re the Joker.”

Rex needs his passport because he’s decided to take a getaway vacation to Helsinki, Finland. Why? Because when he was in prison, he had a world map in his prison cell, and when he threw spitballs at the map, the spitballs kept landing on Finland. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

While in the airport waiting area to go to Finland, Rex notices a middle-aged man and woman who are seated together behind Rex and are staring at him. He doesn’t think much of it, because it’s not unusual for people to stare at him or approach him when he’s in public. But suddenly, another man whom Rex has never seen before sits down next to Rex and warns Rex that the man and the woman are out to get Rex.

Rex assumes this is just another crazy person who’s approached him, so he also doesn’t take this warning seriously. But sure enough, when he arrives in Helsinki, his rideshare driver suddenly puts on a gas mask, fills the car with an unidentified gas, making Rex pass out. The poorly written movie never explains how this kidnapping was coordinated so perfectly.

Rex wakes up in a dungeon-like room, with his hands tied above him. And to his horror, he sees that his right leg has been amputated at the knee. And that’s when he finds out that he’s been captured by a sadistic Finnish family whose thrill is hunting humans, killing them, and eating them. The middle-aged man and woman who were staring at Rex at the airport are the family’s unnamed married patriarch (played by Matthew Sunderland) and matriarch (played by Caroline Craig), who oversee these horrendous murders.

This husband and wife have five children. The four oldest children are in their 20s: identical twin sons Gael and Gideon (played by Travis Jeffrey); son Pati (played by Caleb Enoka); and daughter Ali (played by Meg Fraser). The couple’s youngest child Olli (played by David Hill) is about 6 or 7 years old.

The parents and their adult sons are the ones who are the most involved in the killings. Ali refuses to kill anyone, so she’s kept in a cage. She’s only let out of the cage to do household chores and to help take care of Olli. Ali has to read Olli bedtime stories where he’s taught that it’s fun to hunt Americans and kill them.

A flashback in the beginning of the movie shows that Ali tried to run away from home when she was a teenager (played by Jessi Robertson), but the twins and her father caught her in the woods and took her back home. As for Pati, he’s supposedly so fearsome that the family only brings him out when they’re ready to scare their victims the most.

During Rex’s capture, Ali is kept in a cage in the same room. Ali tells Rex: “I like you. My family is insane, but you can’t kill them.” It’s very easy to see where the movie is going to from there, given Rex’s tendency to want to be a hero in an “against all odds” situation.

The problem with “Bloody Hell” is that even if the filmmakers wanted to have a very predictable ending, they could’ve made the movie more interesting to watch along the way, but they didn’t bother to do much to make this movie fully engaging. The conversations in this movie have no real spark or innovation. The personalities of these characters are almost non-existent. Rex is written as someone who’s supposed to be a wise-cracking, adventuresome type, but he comes across as tedious with a dumb sense of humor.

As for the action and horror scenes, they’re not very impressive and are extremely derivative of better-made horror flicks about people who are kidnapped and tortured, such as 2004’s “Saw.” Unfortunately, “Bloody Hell” does not have any real terror or surprises that a movie like “Saw” was able to convey. The visual effects in Bloody Hell” that show the “look-alike characters” (Rex and his alter ego; the same actor playing twins) are adequately done. But the horror in the movie is extremely formulaic and shows no imagination.

“Bloody Hell” has the very overused, unoriginal and outdated horror trope of a “damsel in distress” (Ali), whose only purpose in the movie is to be a pretty girl who’s not very smart and who needs a brave man to rescue her and be her obvious love interest. Today’s horror movie audiences have become bored with these stereotypes, as evidenced by the horror movies that make the most money these days. And if a comedic horror movie is geared toward an adult audience, based on all the bloody violence in it, that movie better have humor that adults can appreciate, not the childish and dull comedy that makes “Bloody Hell” a bloody bore.

The Horror Collective released “Bloody Hell” in select U.S. cinemas and drive-in theaters and on digital and VOD on January 14, 2021. The movie’s release date on Blu-ray and DVD was January 19, 2021.

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