specialk

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Still/Born [Review by SpecialK]

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Carefully-groomed hedges, grates within gates within grids, and tiny, comfy plots to live out the rest of eternity. If you’re picturing a cemetery, that would be a fair guess, given that director Brandon Christensen artfully paints the suburbs with a beige-infused palette of endless, terrifying monotony in Still/Born.

In the film, Mary and Jack give birth to twins, although only Adam survives while his sibling is stillborn. Since Jack just made partner at his firm, work keeps him busy while his wife spends quiet days alone with her new son, battling traumatizing hallucinations of the baby she couldn’t bring home. As if this weren’t enough, she starts to sense someone is hovering over Adam, poised to snatch him up when she’s not looking. The worst part? She’s the only one who seems to notice, and people think she’s crazy when she explains her concern. The lines between demon and dream, hallucination and depression, and paranormal and psychosis blur as Mary scrambles to save her son.

At its core, Still/Born is a solid horror film. Christensen lures us into the muted, sterile comfort of a McMansion, and just when our eyes glaze over during yet another scene of Mary folding gray laundry in a gray room, we are thrown out of our seats by a mile-high jump scare, followed by a soundtrack of eerily sliding bass strings. Christensen effectively relies on steadfast modern techniques, like Paranormal Activity-style hauntings caught by security cameras, The Conjuring-like demonic audio More >

Winchester [Review by SpecialK]

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“Wide unclasp the table of their thoughts,” and “These same thoughts people this little world.” If you see Winchester, you learn early on that these phrases are etched into two beautiful stained glass windows in the Winchester mansion. But you may not know that they frame the house’s grand ballroom, that they are from two separate Shakespeare plays, and that nobody knows exactly what Sarah Winchester, the architect of the M.C. Escher-esque home, intended when she designed them that way.

Winchester is rife with rich and playful Easter eggs like these—from the remake of real photos of Sarah Winchester with Helen Mirren’s likeness, to cameos by the house’s most famous and most mysterious architectural features, such as the door to nowhere. But unfortunately, if you haven’t been to the house, the film is a flop, and even the great Mirren herself can’t save Winchester from its meandering plot or cheesy horror tropes.

The Winchester Mystery House, aka the Most Haunted House in America, is a super rad and seemingly random mansion that today rises from the earth like a massive tombstone amid the strip malls and highways of western San Jose. It has a fascinating history that is as American as pioneers, apple pie, and the release of intelligence committee reports. Too soon?

Ok, let’s peel back a few layers of this fascinating story. In the second half of the 19th century, Sarah Lockwood Winchester survives the tragic deaths of her one-month-old daughter, and later, her husband More >

Insidious: The Last Key [Review by SpecialK]

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Look, I know it’s 2018, and we should be all “onward and upward,” but I’m here to remind you that it’s ok to let yourself enjoy some truly harmless gratification now and again. Come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s sleeping in when you know you shouldn’t, or peeling back the lid on that pint of ice cream you know is better left in the freezer. Or maybe it’s playing and replaying that moment during the 2018 Golden Globes when Natalie Portman called out Hollywood for not tipping its hat to a single female director—sigh, yeah, now that was a satisfying burn.

Much like any guilty pleasure, Insidious: The Last Key has all the makings of what should be a bad film. Really, I know I shouldn’t like, let alone recommend it, yet here I am finding the franchise’s fourth film to be the best since the original.

Tracking closely with a growing trend set out in the first three films, this one focuses almost exclusively on the story of parapsychologist/friendly grandma character/heroine Dr. Elise Rainier, played yet again by the lovely Lin Shaye. We travel back to Elise’s childhood in Five Keys, New Mexico, where she suffered an abusive father, the death of her mother, a less-than-happy home built next to a prison, and a lot of beige 50s-style decor. As if that weren’t enough, Elise had to deal with her abilities to see dead people and travel out of her body to everyone’s favorite foggy haven in the afterlife: the Further.

After this flashback to Elise’s childhood, More >

Friend Request and Flatliners [Twofer Review by SpeicalK]

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After seeing the Thursday evening preview of a new horror film, I typically rush home to crank out my thoughts to help you, dear readers, determine whether it’s a must-see, or whether you should forget it was ever released in the first place. But you may have noticed that two opening nights in this fall’s frightening lead-up to Halloween—Friend Request and Flatliners—have come and gone without a peep from me. Oh trust me, I saw both films, I just kept finding extremely legitimate reasons to avoid writing about either. “It’s too late to start tonight,” for example, or “A dogs-trying-to-befriend-cats YouTube video with goats?!”

And then I realized the problem—both films were so ridiculously mediocre that I’d rather claw my own eyes out than sit down to write about them individually. So here we are—me with my vision intact, and you with a fun new way to read about the latest scary movie releases: a two-for-one Special…K.

Let’s lay some groundwork first. In Friend Request, our protagonist Laura is a beautiful, popular, and friendly college girl who manages to have a solid moral compass and doesn’t let her ego get out of control—sooo relatable, right? One day, a brooding Sméagol of a girl named Marina friends Laura on Facebook, and despite Laura’s best efforts to be cordial, she gets creeped out when Marina gets all “my precious” with her, and Laura unfriends her. Bad move. Marina kills herself, films it, and posts it on Laura’s Facebook timeline, but Laura can’t seem to delete More >

Mother! [Review by SpecialK]

Here’s what you’ll hear about Mother! People will say it’s brave. Brilliant. Unlike any film ever made. They will smile, shrug, and say it’s “an Aronofsky.” You’ll hear how it pushes audiences beyond what they can handle. It’s blasphemous. Offensive.

With descriptions like that, the buzz alone will draw people to the theaters by night and have coworkers getting in fistfights over it at the water cooler by day.

You wanna know the truth? It’s a bore. It’s the ultimate in unabashed narcissism at every level, and I cringe to think that even writing this review will contribute to the putrid cloud of commentary that surrounds this film, puffing up writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s insufferable ego (and box office ticket sales) even further. But for you, dear horror readers, I’ll take that risk to make sure you stay far, far away from this waste of talent.

How is it so self-absorbed? Let’s break it down. Level one: the story. Jennifer Lawrence and her husband Javier Bardem live in a house. (Yes, I’m intentionally refusing to use the wretchedly obnoxious titles the characters are burdened with in the actual cast list). He’s a poet. She’s—his wife. Some people show up and refuse to leave. She’s annoyed by it and tries to give them the boot by politely pleading with Bordem. Sorry, Bardem. He doesn’t see any cause for alarm, and basks in the attention the guests shower upon him as their favorite writer. The film escalates, Lawrence’s sacrifices mount, and—without even trying to hold More >

It [Review by SpecialK]

I’ll never forget when I first watched The Exorcist. It was the morning after a bunch of us spent the night at a middle school friend’s house. Her mom had left for work, and our parents wouldn’t be picking us up for another few hours. I sat enveloped by an 80s-style velvet sofa, with my feet grazing the family room’s plush carpet, and the afternoon sun streaming in through the vertical blinds. As we watched the iconic horror film, I knew I’d never forget the pea soup vomit, the obscene anti-religious scenes, or the pingy little theme song.

But I also knew that I’d missed out on something. Raised in the special effects of the 90s, a part of me knew that when my older siblings watched the film just ten years prior, they didn’t notice the mechanical way Regan’s head turned on her body, the awkward sound mixing that made her possessed voice fall far short of believable, or the painfully slow pace. While The Exorcist was the ultimate horror film of a generation, I knew some of its true beauty would be forever lost on me.

I felt the same when I saw the original It, the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s book. Confession: I hadn’t seen it until this year. I’d always skipped over the title simply because I never found clowns to be that scary. But in anticipation of this fall’s full-length feature film, I knew I had to see the original. Let me tell you, watching that film 17 years after its release didn’t help. The plot felt slow, I found the adult storylines annoying, and I More >

Annabelle: Creation [Review by SpecialK]

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Oh, no thanks, no water for me. This face is purely decoration, really—about as plastered on as Renee Zellweger’s in 2014. That’s a joke. You can laugh, kid.

You know, after starring in two movies, you’d think my third go at this would be easier. But no, the press junket is the hardest part. They set you up in this hotel room—I mean look at this, what is this, polyester? Ugh—and you answer the same questions all day. It’s exhausting. It’s so nice to get a breather between those ridiculous Hollywood reporters who slap on grins that are more artificial than mine, and ask the fluffiest, ditziest of questions—“What’s it like to be the only actor in the film who is also an inanimate object?” or “Do you have elbows?” or “What made you decide to do a nude scene in this film?” Gag.

You wanna know what I really think about Annabelle: Creation? How much time until the next imbecile prances in here? Five minutes? Ok perfect. I’ll tell you. First of all, ask any big star of a horror franchise—from Jamie Lee Curtis to Courteney Cox to Vera Farmiga (who is great to work with, by the way, and who is likely my only competition out there for “best Edwardian high neck collar”)—and they will all tell you that sequels are tough. When my tiny little role in The Conjuring became a starring role in Annabelle, I knew I had to deliver. And deliver I did—that was a great film. Cool 1960s style, great scary scenes, and come on, this creepy face brought it. But still, it was not as scary as its More >

A Ghost Story [Review by SpecialK]

If you were to ask me what defines a horror film, I guess I’d say—of course only after pointing you to my eye-opening scary movie reviews and once I’ve fully extolled the glories of The Parsing Haus—that at its core, it’s a movie designed to scare the crap out of you. And in truth, that’s probably also the only thing that connects all those crazy horror films: fear. As you well know, the movies that frighten me the most are the ones that conjure up my own deepest fears—ghosts and possessed kids and twists on the religious symbols I grew up with. But these don’t terrify everyone. Other moviegoers have their own triggers. For sanguivoriphobes, it’s vampires, and agoraphobes would probably cringe in terror through a documentary film about the Sahara. So I guess in truth, any film could become a scary movie when offered up to the right audience.

At first, I almost dismissed A Ghost Story as a completely horror-less film. In fact, I worried that it would just be some moody romantic drama. And in a lot of ways, I’ll be honest, it is. But when you really dig deep, in its own way, A Ghost Story begs some of the most fundamental questions and triggers some of the darkest fears we humans face during our blip of existence on this big ol’ rock we call home. Let’s dive into this somber, cosmic gem of a film.

In A Ghost Story, we are introduced to nameless protagonists played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck (oh, and Affleck’s beard—RIP). But no worries, we don’t need their names to know More >

Wish Upon [Review by SpecialK]

World peace. Never-ending financial security. Unlimited wishes. If you paused to reflect for a few moments, I’m sure you could think of some pretty epic wishes you’d make if given the chance. At the very least, you’d likely choose your wishes with more forethought than a distractible, excruciatingly self-involved teenager. But that’s why there aren’t any teen terror films about you, and why Wish Upon will probably rake in more money from theatergoing horror fans than it deserves this summer.

In Wish Upon, protagonist Clare seeks what these films tell us any teenage girl wants—her crush to give her the time of day, the mean girls at school to finally welcome her to their inner circle, and of course, to move past witnessing her mother’s suicide—you know, classic coming-of-age stuff. Clare’s well-meaning dad is played by my generation’s middle-school crush, Ryan Phillippe—who wooed us all with his sweet nothings in I Know What You Did Last Summer: “You two should check out a mirror sometime. You look like shit run over twice.” Swoon. But I digress.

Anyway, Dreamboat Dad brings Clare a magical box with mystical Chinese symbols. Her basic Chinese language skills help her determine that the box offers her seven wishes. She gives it a try, and behold, it works. But as the people in her life start dropping like flies, Clare finds herself wondering if she may have missed something in translation. She revels in her wishes and basks in her greed, but at what cost?

Well, I’ll tell you: More >

47 Meters Down [Review by SpecialK]

What’s summer without a scream-filled, flesh-tearing, bikini-bearing shark film?

June 2017, apparently.

I had high hopes for 47 Meters Down, and I still argue I had good reason to. For starters, Mandy Moore, a throwback favorite, is the star. A beautiful, down-to-earth, second-career actress who is actually not half bad at acting (especially when off-screen—sorry Mandy). And come on, sharks? Forty plus years after Jaws, we pretty much know by now exactly how to use our favorite fearsome fish to build the suspense.

Then for me there was this whole other layer of anticipation. I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on below the water’s surface, ever since I spent my childhood’s Independence Days fishing with my family in northern Michigan. Sitting in that little boat on a massive lake, it felt crazy to me that there was a whole world right below my seat that I’d never get to see.

But although it throws together the same ingredients used in last summer’s The Shallows (girls in bathing suits, huge sharks, bloody gore, beachy scenery), 47 Meters Down fails to deliver a dish we can sink our teeth into.

The premise really is beyond simple: a pair of sisters is diving in a shark cage when the cable snaps and they drop—you guessed it—47 meters down to the ocean floor. Getting back to the surface is complicated by the 25-foot sharks swirling around them, and they have no idea how to evade the predators and make it to safety without getting decompression sickness, or the bends.

But More >

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