When taken completely on its own merits, 2016’s Blair Witch isn’t bad. It’s an above-average movie in the “found footage” horror sub-genre, written and directed by the team that created You’re Next (which is very good) and The Guest (which I have not seen). There are plenty of jump scares, some surprises, and a real escalation of horror that caps off with an especially intense ending. It’s hard to deny the film’s competence, which is ironically the movie’s biggest flaw.
Blair Witch feels like it was created for all of the people who saw 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” and said “That sucked! It’s so boring!” 2016’s film is the original turned up to 11. Instead of whispers and laughter in the shadows, we have deafening noises and uprooted trees. The creepy stick figures that served as a creepy harbinger of doom in the original have their own twisted purpose here, there’s more gore, more definitive fates for the different characters, and a far lesser desire to hide the supernatural elements from the camera.
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The most interesting aspects of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’ Sausage Party are what they’re NOT promoting. Sure, the movie revels in its own bad taste, with just as many sex jokes and f-bombs as you’d expect from the Pixar-but-perverted slant of its ad campaign. But the film has far more to say about the failings of organized religion: its usage to paper over very real human fears, its role in global conflicts and warfare, its hindrance of actual scientific development, and its tendency to shame people for their inherent desires. Sausage Party empathizes with believers, but never obfuscates where it stands in regard to faith.
It’s a bold, refreshing, and inherently risky stance for a studio film to make, which is probably why it’s not the part of Sausage Party that is being sold to the masses. Sausage Party’s moral can be boiled down to “promote Atheism over religion, but don’t be a dick about it,” which is a hard sell to a country in which over 75% of the population identifies themselves as having faith in a higher power. Sausage Party is not likely to change anybody’s minds on such a grand subject, but it’s fascinating to me that a project could be greenlit at all, let alone be one of the biggest success stories of the summer.
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Hardcore Henry is a lot smarter than people are giving it credit for.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. The film is a representation (and arguably, a glorification) of all of the things that run rampant in modern video games. Shot entirely in first person, Hardcore Henry is gloriously over-the-top in its action, breathlessly paced, and one of the most violent films in recent memory. It’s also crude, short on character development, and far more interested in cool moments than a traditional plot arc.
But Hardcore Henry is absolutely aware of these things. They’re not so much flaws as intentional nods to the video game medium, both positive and negative. This becomes overtly apparent towards the end (more on that in my Spoiler Section below), and for better or for worse, Hardcore Henry shows a great understanding of the “language” of the gaming medium.
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I enjoyed watching The Conjuring 2. It’s competently made, features a few clever scares, and Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson lend the film a gravity that many horror pictures are missing. But the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am in the result. The first Conjuring film is one of the best horror features in years, a testament to traditional horror filmmaking and craft. In comparison, its sequel just feels routine.
There’s a good reason for that: this film was very much rushed through production. It’s public knowledge that the demon-antagonist was completely redesigned just three months before the movie’s release, leading to a number of reshoots well into post-production. That sort of seat-of-your-pants filmmaking explains a lot about the movie, from the script, to the production, to the general lack of innovation on display.
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The key to appreciating The Witch is right there in the full title: “A New England Folktale.” The film is essentially a cautionary tale centered around a way of life and a set of standards that are extraordinarily outdated, and as such, is quite fascinating. It takes its lessons and its presupposition of the supernatural very seriously, and one could imagine the first generation of American Puritans creating such a film had the medium been available to them.
The Witch makes its point abundantly clear from the start. The first thing we see is the central family voluntarily leaving their community to go off on their own. This single moment is framed as an irreversible error, as community is all that’s keeping the dangerous and ungodly nature of the American continent from harming them. We see the daughter Thomasin recognizes this, and from the moment the town closes its gates, we know our family is doomed.
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