Director: Patrick Brice (2017)
Starring: Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan, Karan Soni
Find it: IMDb
"I think I might be deeply untalented," YouTube documentary maker Sara (Akhavan) sobs into the camera as this found footage comedy horror sequel begins. Moments earlier, serial killer 'Aaron' laments the onset of a midlife crisis, no longer taking the same pleasure in his work. The story of two depressed, disillusioned creative types meeting each other and finding themselves in the process, Creep 2 would be quite sweet, if it wasn't for all of the serial killing.
Mark Duplass's beautiful weirdo returns, this time calling himself Aaron (taking the name of the guy he axed to death at the end of the previous movie) and rocking a patchy hipster beard and ponytail. As with the previous movie, he is joined by an aspiring filmmaker, replying to his dodgy-as-fuck Craigslist ad. That's where most of the similarities end though - Aaron comes clean as a serial killer from the start, and the pair's chemistry is very much impacted by Sara's cool, no-nonsense attitude to to his weirdo behaviour.
While Sara doesn't believe that Aaron could be a murderer (his preferred nomenclature), and we know that he is, she's not a complete idiot either. Indeed, there are times when she is revealed to be almost duplicitous as her subject, seeing through his tantrums and manipulating him to her own ends. That lends Creep 2 a sense of unpredictability that could have been lacking in a more passive hero or heroine. In spite of being the one left holding the camera for 80% of the time, Sara actually feels like a real character. Too often, found footage characters are there just to scream and react: here, Sara is just as important to the story as Aaron.
But this is still Mark Duplass's show, and his Aaron is as beautifully creepy as he was last time we met. Duplass literally bares all, both emotionally and, in the case of his todger, physically. It's another raw, unsettling performance, all calculated bullshit and temper tantrums. And, of course, Peachfuzz is back too. While the ending struggles for a decent payoff - I could quite happily never see another found footage movie in the woods at night ever again - this sequel is more than worthy, continuing the story in a fresh and exciting manner.
Like its predecessor, to say much more would be to spoil the various lovely shocks Creep 2 has up its sleeve. Now that the cat is out of the bag, it's not quite as effective as Creep, but now the tension and surprise comes from a different place anyway.
Image via Rolling Stone, and their thoroughly fantastic interview with Mister King
All of the big Stephen King releases of late 2017 reviewed, by me, for Nerdly UK and Starburst Magazine. Which was your favourite? Sound off in the comments, as though The Dark Tower stands any chance whatsoever...
50 Shades of Hey, read this GERALD'S GAME review I wrote for @STARBURST_MAG! https://t.co/gO5EZEQxaj pic.twitter.com/nSqEfR6ici— Joel Elvis Harley (@JoelHarley) September 22, 2017
Does It float or sink like a turd? For @NerdlyUK, Here It is, my review of IT: https://t.co/ZMn9OQYoi7 pic.twitter.com/Dy7tVxjSE5— Joel Elvis Harley (@JoelHarley) September 7, 2017
For @NerdlyUK, my review of the Stephen King 'adaptation' THE DARK TOWER: https://t.co/MvmNCszRw1 pic.twitter.com/NQZyt3DCtf— Joel Elvis Harley (@JoelHarley) August 18, 2017
Director: David F. Sandberg (2017)
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Samara Lee, Miranda Otto
Find it: IMDb
The prequel-to-the-prequel-to-The Conjuring, telling the story of how the doll that came to be in the possession of the Warren family came to be haunted in the first place. Confused yet? Don't worry, ultimately it's just another scary doll movie. When their daughter is killed in a tragic accident, the grieving Mullins family make a bargain with a/the devil, placing the 'Annabelle' doll at the heart of it.
Years later, a displaced orphanage is relocated to the Mullins farm. Mrs. Mullins (Otto) is disfigured and bedbound, Mr. Mullins (LaPaglia) a scary old grump who stomps around his own home looking like the last person who'd invite a houseful of orphans to come live with him. And yet, he does, and with it comes the warning that the girls should stay out of his dearly departed daughter's room. Naturally, it's only hours (minutes, in watching-the-movie time) before one of the girls goes snooping somewhere she shouldn't. Annabelle ensues.
As the title promises, Annabelle: Creation goes right back to the beginning, opening with the very carving of Annabelle herself. One of the major questions plaguing this mini-franchise has always been Annabelle's creepiness - why the hell would you purposefully make something so terrifying as Annabelle, and then market it for children? - and Creation does nothing to answer that. As we open, dollmaker Samuel finishes up crafting Annabelle, looks at it, and thinks 'yep, that's a job well done, sure that won't terrify anyone at all!'
Like the Annabelle movie before it, Creation lacks the heart and soul of The Conjuring proper. Sure, there are the requisite jump scares and brilliantly banal monsters (most notably its scarecrow, and a cameo from The Conjuring 2's scary nun), but too often it feels as though it's just going through the motions, routinely lining up the shocks rather than plotting them organically. If you like watching screaming young girls and women being dragged off into the darkness or thrown against walls, then Creation is the movie for you.
While it works well in the moment (and cinema), it's instantly forgettable, and will be rather useless on the smaller screen, where its loud noises and jump scares will be helplessly dulled. The kids and their nun (the nice one, played by Stephanie Sigman) do well - and Otto and LaPaglia class the joint up too - but it desperately misses the warmth of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.
Annabelle: Creation is a fine cinema experience but a much less interesting story. The first three-quarters consist of by-the-numbers plotting and dull story. The rest of it is little more than a series of impressive but loud jump scares and cheap shocks. In the end, this dry, empty Annabelle prequel simply lacks the creativity to bring itself to life.
Director: Adam Wingard (2017)
Starring: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley
Find it: IMDb, Netflix!
Having never seen the original Japanese Death Note movies, or anime upon which it is based, I was more inclined to like this remake than most. I have enjoyed almost everything director Adam Wingard has done thus far (his through-the-motions Blair Witch reboot aside) and love the various bits of Death Note imagery I have seen pop up throughout my years on the Internet.
And Wingard's Americanised remake starts off well, wasting no time, with the mystical notebook literally falling from the sky to the feet of young Light Turner (Max Landis lookalike Wolff) in the very first scene. Not even ten minutes later, Light meets death god Ryuk (Jason Liles, with the voice and mo-cap face of Willem Dafoe), in a brilliantly chilling, fun scene. As the first death-by-note unfolds in a wonderfully gory Final Destination fashion, I found myself digging Death Note, and settling in for a good time.
And then, the rest of the movie. In a world in which Columbine and Sandy Hook happened (fuck you Alex Jones) and the threat of bitter, bullied loners becoming school shooters remains a clear and present danger, Light using Ryuk/the death note on bullies, teachers and classmates was never a viable option. Especially not with the majority of the cast white-Americanised, as they are here. And especially especially not with Wolff's unfortunate resemblance to a certain Aurora cinema shooter.* And so Light unleashes the power upon criminals, dictators and the FBI Most Wanted list, like an omnipotent version of the Punisher. After hooking up with crush Mia (Qualley), the pair create a pretentious alter ego for themselves, claiming anonymous responsibility for their crimes.
All of which would be fabulous if their behaviour felt in any way natural or plausible. Unfortunately, the writing consistently depicts the pair as winging-it amateur hour psychopaths, both enjoying their crimes way too much but never properly explaining why they bother to go after criminals. The weak dead mom bit doesn't count, and we're left wondering why they don't just go murder the bullies and classmates that piss them off daily, like the petty monsters they patently are. The writing can't settle on what it wants Light to be, so it flails between conflicted hero and murderous villain, not convincing in either department. And Mia - painted as the more evil of two evils - is even worse.
The bulk of the film is filled with an un-engaging game of cat and mouse between the idiot and a weirdo, Stanfield's masked, hooded detective 'L' jumping on tables, swatting shit onto the floor all the time (they really took the 'cat' part literally) and never stopping Light, even though he knows precisely who he is and what he is responsible for. The viewer is supposed to be conflicted in this battle between detective, criminal and criminal's girlfriend, and we are - but for the wrong reasons. I hated all three of them so much that I didn't want to see anyone succeed in getting what they wanted. Except, maybe, for Ryuk, who wants to ditch Light and give the book to someone who isn't a complete loser.
Frustrating flashes of Wingard's usual pizzazz keep the film at least watchable throughout. As previously mentioned, the first ten minutes are legitimately great, and there's a fun chase sequence during the back half, leading into a clever, flashy finale which re-ignites the flagging viewer interest. In a movie in which everyone else is terrible, Dafoe and Shea Wigham get all the good stuff, even if the former's time is mostly limited to eating apples and making threats.
And Ryuk looks awesome, glowering from the shadows and spookily observing all over Light's shoulder. But Ryuk has always looked awesome, and will continue to do so in the original movies and anime - all which would doubtlessly be a better use of one's time than this rushed, uneven, disappointing remake. Death Nope, thanks.
*Not Max Landis