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The Autopsy of Jane Doe

A coroner and his son attempt to solve the mystery of how a seemingly unscathed woman’s corpse ended up in a murdered family’s basement in this psychological-horror film from Norwegian director André Øvredal. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) doesn’t have a complicated story, but is creepy and compelling enough to rise above its peers.

Coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) run a routine practice in a small town morgue, but the discovery of the pale, lifeless body of a black-haired woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) in a murdered family’s basement changes all that. Austin has plans to take his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) to the movies, but something doesn’t feel right when the sheriff wheels in a fresh corpse from a crime scene, so he postpones the date.

As Tommy and Austin begin the autopsy on the mysterious woman, they uncover clues to how she died. All her injuries are internal, and they discover evidence that she’s much, much older than she appears. The more they cut into her, however, the more unsettling events begin to manifest around the morgue. Something unseen traps and pursues them, with predictable results.

It’s eventually revealed Jane Doe was a witch who was brutally tortured and magically bound in a prison of her own flesh in seventeenth-century New England. She inflicted torment on everyone who had custody of her body, so it was shuttled around until ending up in the morgue, where only Tommy and Austin had the tools and expertise to solve the mystery.

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Grindstone Road: A Forgettable Canadian Horror Film

A young couple moves into an old farmhouse, only to experience a series of strange events. Is the ghost of a missing child reaching out for help from beyond the grave? In capable hands, Grindstone Road (2008), written by Paul Germann and directed by Melanie Orr, had the potential to be an entertaining (if not very original) horror film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even rise to the level of a made-for-TV movie.

Melanie Orr is a script supervisor (oversees a film’s continuity) who has directed episodes for a number of television shows. Grindstone Road was her sophomore effort. Paul Germann is a sound effects editor who has written a grand total of one film. Grindstone Road must have been so bad he never got another script optioned. It was like he had a weird dream and decided to make a movie out of it.

Somehow they tricked Fairuza Balk into starring in their cliched and mediocre Canadian horror film. Balk appeared in some popular movies in the ’90s, including The Craft (1996), American History X (1998), and The Waterboy (1998), then dropped off the public’s radar. She always embraced “alternative” roles, and wears a goth-ish outfit for one scene in this movie, but otherwise plays a conventional housewife. That’s like asking Jackson Pollock to paint an idyllic country cottage. It’s just not right.

As bad as Grindstone Road is, at least it has an interesting story. Wracked with guilt over a car accident that left her son Daniel (Felix Pennell) in a deep coma, Hannah (Fairuza Balk) begins having strange experiences in her new home. Her husband, Graham (Greg Bryk), is oblivious and blames the antidepressants she takes to help ease the pain. Their neighbors, an elderly couple named Ted (Walter Learning) and Linda (Joan Gregson), alert them to the possibility their house is haunted.

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Female Marketing Exec Defends Misogynist Film

Ok so my headline is kinda tongue-in-cheek, but listen to Paramount Pictures’ President of Marketing and Distribution Megan Colligan’s bizarre defense of the grotesque infanticide, cannibalism, and violence in Darren Aronofsky’s Mother (2017):

“This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold… Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.”

Not sure what Netflix production she’s referring to. 13 Reasons Why (2017)? Must have missed the graphic infant dismemberment and cannibalism in that one. I could see maybe arguing the brutal scenes were necessary for the story (such as it was), but “audacious and brave” and “bold”? Brave? Did the filmmakers take personal risks to tell a story no one else wanted to tell? Give me a break!

What bold statement does this film make? That human beings abuse the earth? Oh boy, we’ve never heard that before. Couldn’t have conveyed that message without stripping Jennifer Lawrence’s character and repeatedly punching her in the face.

Truthfully, I wanted to like this film. The preview was compelling and it looked like it had a lot of promise. I like Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. It was just so boring and unnecessary. Only the last twenty minutes are worth talking about, and only because of how graphic it was.

Mother! still has an F rating on Cinemascore. No other recent release even falls below a B minus.

Mother! A Pretentious Danse Macabre

 Mother! (2017), staring Jennifer Lawrence as the titular character and Javier Bardem as her husband, Him, is writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s nihilistic allegory for Biblical creation and the rape of nature. Though marketed as a psychological thriller, Aronofsky told Vanity Fair after the Toronto International Film Festival the film is “about how it must feel to be Mother Nature.” It was partially inspired by Shel Silverstein’s picture book The Giving Tree. No, really.

The story itself isn’t very interesting. A writer lives with his much younger wife in an old octagonal farm house on the prairie. Uninvited house guests interrupt their solitude. Their transgressions worsen, climaxing in a murder that leaves a permanent, bloody scar in the floor. Things settle down again after Mother becomes pregnant, but then crescendo into an orgy of violence and depravity as the writer’s fans take over the house and begin worshiping him.

It’s difficult to say for what audience Mother! was intended. People who enjoy long, boring interludes punctuated by moments of extreme violence? It’s not for the squeamish or easily triggered, but it’s not a work of genius either. For my part, it was painful to see talented actors and actresses, including Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, wasted on this pretentious monstrosity.

Throughout the film, and especially in the final act, Mother is marginalized, tormented, brutalized, and violated. At one point, her clothes are torn open and she is repeatedly punched in the face. Finally, her heart is torn from her burnt chest. I think it’s a little bizarre that A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence, who prides herself on playing strong female leads and on being a role model for young women, would agree to star in her boyfriend’s deranged snuff film.

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First Impressions of Mother!

Curiosity led me to watch Mother! (2017) last weekend, writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s nihilistic allegory for Biblical creation… or something. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as Mother [Earth] and Javier Bardem as Him. I’ll mention that Darren and Jennifer are a couple only because it helps explain why she agreed to appear in this pretentious and awful film. Like Him, Darren Aronofsky is a writer and significantly older than his love interest, Jennifer Lawrence. Hmm, it doesn’t take a psychology major to figure out what’s going on here. Anyway, these are my first impressions:

  • If I hadn’t read about its controversial ending ahead of time, I probably would have walked out of the theater. When Mother wakes up the morning after having sex and declares “I’m pregnant,” someone in the audience actually started laughing. I had a hard time staying awake until the end.
  • Knowing what Mother! was about prior to watching it may have ruined the experience for me. It was hard to miss the obvious symbolism and painful attempt to distill the Biblical story down to its worst elements.
  • I considered comparing this movie to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Fando y Lis (1968), but that would be giving it too much creative credit.
  • When Fando y Lis premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival, a riot broke out and the director’s car was pelted with rocks. It was banned by the Mexican government for its sacrilegious depiction of Catholic ritual. But will Mother! have that kind of impact in 2017 America? Or will audiences simply react with revulsion to its grotesque Grand Guignol and miss the religious symbolism altogether?
  • I think it’s a little bizarre that A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence, who prides herself on playing strong female leads and on being a role model for young women, would agree to star in her boyfriend’s deranged snuff film.
  • Once again, the setting was the best part. Everything had a raw, earthy look and feel. Real texture. I love when the characters literally dig into it and organic wounds open up as though the house itself is alive.
  • Why are films so out of focus lately? Is this the “shaky camera” trend of the late-2010s?

Look for a more thorough review on Thursday afternoon.

IT: Classic Horror Reborn

Seven pre-teen outcasts overcome their fears to confront a shape-shifting creature that takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and awakens every 27 years to feed on children in It (2017), the latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name.

Written by Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga and directed by Andy Muschietti, It was filmed on a budget of $35 million and grossed over $117 million in its opening weekend. It revives classic American horror by delivering more than just jump scares. It was genuinely scary, but also at times heartfelt, funny, and sincere.

It‘s success is even more surprising given its director’s lack of experience. Andy Muschietti, an Argentine screenwriter, has only directed one other full-length feature. To entrust the long-anticipated reboot of one of Stephen King’s most iconic horror tales to an inexperienced director is, well, incredible. That he actually pulled off making It into a blockbuster will ensure a long career. It‘s opening box office earnings completely eclipse The Sixth Sense‘s and that film made director M. Night Shyamalan a household name.

I’m not a Stephen King fan and I don’t get the fascination with clowns. I never read the novel or saw the 1990 TV mini series staring Tim Curry, so I came to the theater without any preconceptions aside from bits and pieces of things I’ve heard about It over the years. Like most Stephen King novels, the horror element is a vehicle for exploring other issues, issues related to family, coming of age, bullying, confronting mortality, etc., all of which appear in this story.

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First Impressions of IT

I watched It (2017), the latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name, in a packed theater this weekend. I’m not a Stephen King fan and I don’t get the fascination with clowns, but I have to admit there is a lot of genuine excitement surrounding this movie.

I never read the novel or saw the 1990 TV mini series staring Tim Curry, so I came to the theater without any preconceptions aside from bits and pieces of things I’ve heard about It over the years. Here are some of my first impressions:

  • A good horror movie is also a good movie. This was a good movie–it was genuinely scary, but also at times heartfelt, funny, and sincere.
  • It was set in 1989, so there are nostalgic elements, but It doesn’t bash you over the head with nostalgia.
  • In one scene, there are posters advertising A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, which came out in 1989. I thought it was fitting to make reference to that franchise because many of the effects in It are reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street, especially when the hair comes out of the sink and pulls Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) toward the drain.
  • All the child actors in this movie are great. In a film that pits children against adults, the children are funny, relatable, and courageous, while the adults are creepy, sadistic, and often indifferent.
  • That being said… There are almost too many protagonists. I realize the film is just copying the number of characters in the book, but it’s difficult to become attached to the characters when there are so many. I don’t even remember their names. There’s the fat kid, the black kid, the girl, the stutterer, the one with asthma, the Jewish one, and the pervy one. There’s seven altogether… I think.
  • I’m not sure what to think about Bill Skarsgård‘s performance as Pennywise the Clown. Again, I’m not afraid of clowns and don’t think they’re creepy or funny. But Skarsgård pulled off a performance that was at the same time creepy, threatening, and maintained a weird air of innocence.
  • I’m not sure if this was a malfunctioning projector or what, but everything in the movie seemed really blurry.

Look for a more complete review on Monday! One last thing: This movie is the first of what I assume will be two parts. My understanding is that the book and mini series shows the protagonists as kids and again as adults. It (2017) only covers the period when the protagonists are kids.

Annabelle: Creation – By the Numbers Horror

A group of orphans and a nun battle a demonic force personified by a creepy-looking doll in this latest installment of the The Conjuring UniverseAnnabelle: Creation is a prequel-sequel to Annabelle (2014), a fictional account of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s battle with an allegedly possessed Raggedy Ann doll. This film departs entirely from reality, imagining an origin story for the doll. Both critics and audiences seem to enjoy it. Overall, it had a few eye-rolling moments, but it had a few genuinely scary ones as well.

Annabelle: Creation was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by David F. Sandberg. Both Dauberman and Sandberg are relatively new to their craft. Dauberman is known for previously writing Annabelle (2014) and the low-budget Swamp Devil (2008), and Sandberg has directed several short films and Lights Out (2016).

The filmmakers’ inexperience is probably why this movie doesn’t take any risks. It is a strictly paint-by-numbers modern American horror film. It is filled with obvious bloopers, like Samuel Mullins “tickling” his daughter’s feet when she’s wearing shoes. Contemporary horror cliches abound, including an isolated, creepy old house, an unrealistically large stone well, contorting body parts popular since The Ring (2002), and police who seem strangely indifferent despite horrible crimes having been committed.

Also, someone should tell the filmmakers that Catholic nuns can’t hear sacramental confessions. Only a validly ordained priest or bishop can hear confessions and absolve sins.

Though Annabelle: Creation adds nothing new to the genre, its popularity shows this is what horror audiences want to see. It opened at the top of the box office, pulling in approximately $35 million its opening weekend. Anecdotal evidence also attest to the film’s popularity. The theater was packed when I went to see it, in stark contrast to Detroit (a far superior movie).

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