A short review of the “Cabin Fever” remake (2016)

I don’t understand why the 2016 remake of Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” (2002) is so hated by critics and audiences.  It has a 0% rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, and reviews of the movie are withering.  I personally thought it was a very well made horror film; I’d rate it at least an 8 out of 10.

Sure, I understand the criticisms.  This is definitely an unneeded remake.  And the new cast here feels bland compared to the doomed vacationers in Roth’s campier, weirder outing 14 years prior.  (Although this isn’t a shot-for-shot remake, it still proceeds mostly from his original script.)

But the new “Cabin Fever” is well filmed, and it’s damned horrifying.  Director Travis Z significantly ups the gore, violence and frightening imagery — it’s not for the squeamish.  It passes the litmus test for decent horror movies, because it scared me.

Maybe I’m just partial to Roth’s basic story concept — a terrifying new illness that jumps from person to person in an isolated location from which it’s difficult to escape, turning them against one another.  It’s precisely the same plot driver as the one for John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), which is among the greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time.  And I suppose Roth’s story could be taken as modern retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” with some of the director’s sadism and unique black humor injected into it via his screwball, eccentric characters.  Remake or not, this is still a creative change of pace from a genre consistently overcrowded with slashers and shrieking ghosts.

 

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A short review of “Killing Ground” (2016)

I can’t say that the Australian “Killing Ground” (2016) is a bad horror-thriller.  It’s well made in some ways — most notably in its generally excellent cast.  (The standouts here are Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows; the latter provides a disturbingly naturalistic performance as one of the story’s evildoers.  He’s a talented actor and unnervingly skilled in his role here.)  And the cinematography is good, even if it suffers in inevitable comparison to the seminal Australian outback horror-thrillers, the extraordinary “Wolf Creek” films and TV series (2005-2017).

But I can’t actually recommend “Killing Ground” either, because I didn’t enjoy it much.  I’d rate it only a 4 out of 10 for its strengths.   What held me back from enjoying the movie more is its brutal portrayal of violence.

I realize that sounds ridiculous, given my viewing habits and the films I’ve favorably reviewed right here at this blog.  (Any entry in the “Wolf Creek” series, for example, contains far more violence and sadism than “Killing Ground.”)  And I’ll probably do a poor job of explaining it now.

But the violence here feels too … realistic.  (Other reviewers have noted this as well, and employed the descriptor “hyper-realistic.”)  Furthermore, its depiction is not in service to the story, but rather seems the sole and primary focus of the film itself.  One of my complaints about “Killing Ground” is that there is not much of a story at all.  We simply witness random violence perpetrated against ordinary innocents who we would probably like if we met them.  (I am trying to avoid spoilers here; hence my vague language.)

Writer-director Damien Power also delivers this brutality to the audience in a … prosaic manner, I guess, with little fanfare.  His movie came across to me like a faux snuff film, instead of a cinematic story of good and evil, or a character-driven survival parable.  (I submit that “Wolf Creek” hit it out of the park on both of those counts.)

If you think I’m being unclear here, I apologize for that.  The point I’m trying to make is maddeningly difficult to articulate.  And I’ll concede up front that my reaction to this film is especially subjective.

If it gives you any context, I’ll point out that critical reaction to “Killing Ground” was quite divided, with some reviewers sharing my discomfort, while others lauded the film.  Your mileage may vary.

 

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A short review of “Brightburn” (2019)

For all of its promise, “Brightburn” (2019) is the kind of movie that you can wait to rent from Redbox, rather than paying for a theater ticket.  It isn’t a bad movie, exactly — I’d rate it a 7 out of 10, due to its admittedly great premise and some nice visuals.  But you can wait for the DVD for two reasons:

  1.  The film does little with its wicked-cool premise (what if a super-powered child like Clark Kent became a homicidal bad guy?).  After walking the viewer through a horror-movie version of Superman’s origin story, the movie does almost nothing to expand on the idea.
  2. If you’ve already seen the trailer for “Brightburn,” then you’ve already seen most of the important parts.  Seriously — this is another instance where a movie’s trailer reveals too much, and shows you virtually the entire story.  I can’t see spending the ticket price to see what you might feel is mostly filler.

One of the more interesting things about “Brightburn” is its story concept, which is borrowed wholesale, of course, from DC Comics — apparently without any agreement with the company.  I’m no expert on intellectual property rights, but … isn’t that kind of a big deal?  Why is nobody commenting about it?  This is essentially an unauthorized “Elseworlds” tale.  (For those who don’t read comics, “Elseworlds” was an official DC imprint series where its characters were re-imagined in “what-if” scenarios, unconnected with the “real” DC universe’s continuity.  What if Superman landed in the jungle as a baby and was raised by animals?  What if he landed in Soviet Russia?  What if he were found by Thomas and Martha Wayne, whose subsequent murder motivated his emergence as Batman?)  

To make matters even more interesting, I’m willing to bet that some people will like “Brightburn” better than a few of the official Superman movies, especially 2016’s head-scratching “Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice.”

The filmmakers appear to making no effort to lampshade the intentional similarities, even in the movie’s marketing.  (Even the boy villain’s “logo” in the story is like a twisted cubist remix of Superman’s logo.)  I suppose if they claimed that “Brightburn” was a deliberate parody of the Superman mythos (and you could kinda view it that way), then it seems acceptable as satire.

 

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A review of “Hush” (2016)

I feel like I should have enjoyed “Hush” (2016) more than I did.  It isn’t a bad movie — it’s well made, and it stars Kate Siegel, who this year’s exceptional “The Haunting of Hill House” has led me to really like as an actress.  (Siegel also co-wrote the film with director Mike Flanagan, who is her husband and who was also the writer and director of “Hill House.”)  Siegel is again quite good, and their collaboration here results in a competent, serious horror-drama with no glaring flaws.

Yet my mind wandered.  Even if there was nothing seriously wrong with “Hush,” it didn’t much distinguish itself.  Just about everything you watch here is a standard stalker-vs.-lone-woman scary movie, with little in the way of twists or unexpected plot developments.

Yes, the difference here is that the protagonist is deaf and mute, and is therefore less able to defend herself — but Siegel and Flanagan don’t capitalize on that much in conceiving this story.  By the end of the film, I didn’t get the sense that the character’s disability even affected the course of the story very much.  Events would have unfolded more or less the same way if she hadn’t had this disability.  (Or am I missing something?)  I also get the sense that the protagonist being an author was supposed to affect her choices and strategies in trying to survive, but that didn’t come across consistently or well.  (And it results in “tricking” the viewer at one juncture in a way I didn’t like.)

I can’t actually recommend “Hush” to others because it didn’t thrill me.  But I can’t objectively say that it’s a bad movie.  So I figure I’ll rate it here a 7 out of 10.

A few random observations:

  • Siegel is a talented performer.  I predict she’s going to go on to great things.  Don’t let my lukewarm response to this film dissuade you from catching her elsewhere — especially in “The Haunting of Hill House.”
  • The story’s antagonist is fairly generic; he appears to be simply be a random serial killer in the script, and we get hardly a hint about his motivations.  But John Gallagher Jr. breathes plenty of life into him with a disturbingly authentic, naturalistic performance.  He’s also a very good actor.
  • I saw a plot twist coming that didn’t actually occur, and I wonder if what I saw was a vestige of an earlier version of this movie’s script.  (And it isn’t a spoiler if it didn’t happen.)  During a stalk-and-talk scene in which the bad guy taunts his victim, he inexplicably addresses Siegel’s character as “Squish.”  That sounds like a pet name that parent would give to a very young child.  The twist I predicted was this — Gallagher’s character was not a serial killer who selected his victims at random, but a long lost, homicidal brother who was then parodying the parent by invoking the pet name.  He was motivated by pathological jealousy after growing up with his disabled sister, who he felt monopolized his parents’ attention and sympathies.
  • We learn from dialogue that the protagonist became deaf and mute after contracting meningitis when she was a child.  I knew that meningitis could make a person deaf (or blind).  But … also mute?  Why am I skeptical about that?  Wouldn’t that only happen if someone became deaf when he or she was a baby — so that the disease could delay key early childhood language-acquisition processes?  I have no idea why I am so hung up on this minor bit of exposition.  Maybe watching so many zombie or plague movies has made me a stickler for the way diseases are portrayed in a horror story.

 

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