So I learned from a friend last night about the mythical significance of Lilith in the Talmud. This was Adam’s first wife, portrayed in the same books that would later comprise the Book of Genesis — though she was excised from them when they were incorporated into the Bible. (Yes, I have weird telephone conversations with my friends before bed.)
Aside from being a notable figure for feminists (she demanded equality with Adam), Lilith is alternatively portrayed as an evil or demonic figure. If I understand correctly, this is because she defied God’s law about Adam’s superiority, essentially “divorced” him, and left the Garden of Eden. (Jewish tradition holds that Eve was actually Adam’s third wife.)
So now I understand why the name pops up so often for villains in horror films and fiction. My own favorite is the vampire queen Lilith from the 2010 film adaptation of Steve Niles’ comic series, “30 Days of Night: Dark Days.” (See the trailer in the first video below. She’s the girl with the … dark eyes.) “Dark Days” was a surprisingly terrific movie for a direct-to-video sequel … Niles seems to be the rare creator to have anything he touches turn to gold. (In addition to the movies, the many comic book limited series under the “30 Days of Night” banner have been almost uniformly excellent … “Dead Space” was pretty clunky and the 2017 reboot was largely unnecessary, but they were both still enjoyable.)
Anyway, the Lilith you see in the trailer was played by the priceless Mia Kirshner. If she seems a like a familiar female villain, it might be because you remember Kirshner as Mandy, the mysterious, cherubic assassin on “24” (2001-2014).
It also occurs to me now that the name of Frazier’s ex-wife on “Cheers” and “Frazier” was a subtle joke too — complete with an ostensibly psychic character calling her an “evil presence.”
Blumhouse’s “Truth or Dare” (2018) isn’t high art, but it isn’t quite as bad as everyone makes it out to be. I’d rate it a 6 out of 10 for being a passably good fright flick.
It’s a gimmick horror film, but the gimmick kinda works –a powerful demon possesses an oral game of “truth or dare” — then follows its players home from vacation with lethal consequences. It’s actually not quite as stupid as it sounds; I had fun with the premise, which sounds like the basis for a decent “The X-Files” (1993-2018) episode. An exposition-prone minor character explains to our protagonists late in the game that demons need not infect only people and objects, but also “ideas” like games or competitions. The notion of an idea or a philosophy being demonically possessed has a hint of creative brilliance, and I’d love to see it fully developed in an intelligent, well written horror film.
Alas, this isn’t it. And instead of lovable heroes like Mulder and Scully, we get a predictable, throwaway group of unlikable teens on spring break. The movie’s most interesting character is the one it sets up as the stereotypical jerk, Ronnie, adroitly played by Sam Lerner. The film would have been much better if it had fleshed him out as a three-dimensional character, and had the story revolve around him as a surprise anti-hero.
“Truth of Dare” also borrows maybe a bit too much from “It Follows” (2014) and “The Ring” films (2002-2017). Finally, it confuses the viewer with some head-scratching plot turns near its end.
Oh, well. The movie still doesn’t deserve the hate it gets. I figure it’s at least a fun time waster before bed on a weeknight.
If the premiere is any indication, then Jordan Peele’s relaunch of “The Twilight Zone” (2019) looks to be quite decent. It’s got Peele’s fingerprints all over it (he even serves as the narrator here), and that’s a very good thing. I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.
This first episode, written by Alex Rubens and directed by Owen Harris, channels the same muse as Peele did with his outstanding “Get Out” (2017) — it’s got clever characters, snappy dialogue and gravely dark humor. I suppose it’s impossible to gauge the quality of an anthology show by its initial episode, but I’m on board.
And one of the upcoming episodes is penned by Glen Morgan, of “The X-Files” fame. I’d say that’s an auspicious sign too.
“Pet Sematary” (2019) is an unnecessary remake, but still a decent one. I personally prefer the flamboyant 1989 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel; it was more garish and stylish, if a little campy. (And its flashback sequences involving one character’s deceased sister are priceless horror fare.) But this sleeker, more restrained update is nonetheless still made and sometimes pretty scary. I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.
The writing and directing are generally good, even if certain jump scares were so heavy-handed that they were nearly laughable. (The script wisely capitalizes on the universal, existential dread of mortality, as the first film did.) There are few new bells and whistles here; the 2019 film instead tries to distinguish itself with a key variation in the plot of King’s eponymous 1983 book. (I won’t describe it here, as I’m not certain whether it is a spoiler. But this change isn’t “shocking,” as The New York Times’ headline proclaims; it’s simply a basic story alteration.)
The cast is roundly quite good. A surprise standout for me was Amy Seimetz, who plays the mother of the story’s troubled Creed family with surprising power and nuance. She’s a damned excellent actress. And I was surprised to learn that I failed to recognize her as one of the doomed spacefarers from 2017’s “Alien: Covenant” — another role that required her to portray apprehension and panic.
There were two possible nitpicks that occurred to me as I watched “Pet Sematary,” but these probably aren’t the fault of the filmmakers, as they likely stem from the literary source material. (I read the book several times, but I was a young teenager when I did so.) As an adult, I am only a fuzzy on two story elements:
How is the character of Victor Pascow (played here by Obssa Ahmed) able to offer help to the troubled Creed family? Can anyone in his circumstances do so? Might others step forward as well? Why should Pascow be uniquely motivated? (I am again trying to keep this review spoiler free.)
Why is the mother’s traumatic childhood a factor in the story’s present? It’s … mostly tangential, right? It is a compelling character element, and portrayed beautifully by Seimetz. But I don’t fully understand how it seems to affect what transpires before us.
One final note — I’ve seen a few people on the Internet compare John Lithgow’s performance to that of Fred Gwynne in the 1989 film. (They both play the character of Jud, the family’s elderly neighbor.) Lithgow is predictably wonderful here — especially when Jud is showing kindness to the young daughter (played charmingly by Jete Laurence). But Gwynne was better, because he was so perfectly cast. It was a role that he was born to play.
“The First Purge” (2018) isn’t the best horror-thriller I’ve ever seen, but it certainly isn’t the worst, either. I thought that I would be all purged out by now, but this fourth entry in the film series is a solid prequel — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10. (There is also a TV show set in “The Purge” universe, which USA has renewed for a second season, and I’m told that it’s pretty good.) I suppose this is a durable franchise because its premise could be explored through countless different characters.
The movie has some weaknesses. The pacing is off, and you could argue that the political theme of “The Purge” films, though compelling, is getting redundant by now. (There are some specific jabs this time out at Donald Trump and his following; they’re heavy-handed, but they’re fun to spot.)
But “The First Purge” is still a suspenseful and disturbing dystopian horror film. It’s got a terrific bad guy in Rotimi Paul’s “Skeletor” psychopath and some surprisingly damned good action sequences. There is another difference here, too — this “Purge” is far less campy than the second and third films. There are fewer plot twists, fewer over-the-top characters, and far fewer trippy visuals — it feels more like a straight horror film instead of a zany one. Depending on your preferences, you might find it superior.
One more thing — given its obvious love for Staten Island, this film would make a great double-feature with “Bushwick” (2017), another thriller which seems like a love letter to its own setting in Brooklyn. And they are both urban neighborhood thrillers with a similar storytelling style.