Horror

BETTER WATCH OUT

Director
Chris Peckover 
(Undocumented)

Stars
Levi Miller, Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton

This Australian-American co-production, shot in Sydney, has been described as HOME ALONE meets THE STRANGERS. A psycho-thriller starring three internationally known young Australian stars – Levi Miller (PAN, RED DOG: TRUE BLUE), Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould (lead actors from M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VISIT), BETTER WATCH OUT won’t be forgotten in a hurry for those who are brave enough to persevere with it!

In the lead up to Christmas, Robert and Deandra Lerner (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen) arrange for their regular babysitter, Ashley (DeJonge) to mind their son, Luke (Miller) while they attend an evening function. Despite being a number of years older than him and aged at just twelve himself, Luke possesses a sizable crush on Ashley and his plans to reveal that tonight, but has his intentions thwarted when an intruder breaks into his home. As Ashley protects herself and Luke during a snowy night in this quiet American suburb, it is soon discovered that this is no normal home invasion.


Before even considering adding BETTER WATCH OUT to your watch list, you ought to know that the faux plot synopsis as mentioned above only temporarily resides for the sole intention of leading us closer to its real premise, which is much more dark, daunting and disturbing. To tell you the truth, once it becomes clear what’s really going on, and just how far the script is prepared to go with this, that ultimate premise is a mightily tough sell. At times throughout, it can be difficult to discern what exact reaction BETTER WATCH OUT is aiming to provoke and what feelings it intends for its viewers to have. Especially if you enter the cinema with the incorrect impression that this film is categorised as a comedy/horror. This uncomfortable psycho-thriller is in dire need of either a sub-plot to offer the occasional distraction from its disconcerting trajectory and/or more pronounced psychological depth attributed to its antagonists in order for it to not be as tough a pill to swallow as it is.

In any case, the story written by Zack Kahn (TV series Mad) must be commended for venturing into territory that many others rarely dare to go. Special mention must also be made to the undoubtedly challenging acting roles filled by Olivia DeJonge and Levi Miller. Their strong and committed performances help to keep viewers glued to the screen, regardless of whether BETTER WATCH OUT is reprehensible or rewarding for you to watch.

2 ½ stars


Viewer Discretion

MA15+ (Strong themes, violence and coarse language, some disturbing scenes)

Trailer
BETTER WATCH OUT

Moviedoc thanks Rialto Distribution and Ned & Co for the invite to the screening of this film.

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JIGSAW

Directors
Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
(PREDESTINATION, DAYBREAKERS)

Stars
Matt Passmore, Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen, Mandela Van Peebles, Paul Braunstein, Laura Vandervoort, Callum Keith Rennie and Tobin Bell

Like puzzles? Then have a crack at making these mismatched pieces fit together.

This is the first internationally produced feature film to be directed by two rising stars in the movie making business – German-born Australians and identical twin brothers, Michael and Peter Spierig. This film by the Spierig Brothers is an attempt to reboot the dead and buried SAW movie franchise. Speaking of dead and buried, the titular villain of this film did indeed die in SAW III, ten years ago.

In what is very much a new puzzle with the same old pieces applied, JIGSAW begins by connecting its opening police chase sequence to a group of five strangers who awake to discover they are being held captive in horrifying conditions. The quintet soon learn that their mysterious kidnapper wants to play sadistic games of torture and isn’t willing to yield unless they begin spilling the beans behind their secret that has upset the moral compass of their captor and landed them in this helpless position. As the game gruesomely unfolds, a working group of police, detectives and medical experts analyse clues and evidence found that leads them to one key suspect – the deceased killer known as Jigsaw.

Jigsaw may do a Jesus by way of his resurrection, however he is certainly no saviour to the eternal damnation sentenced upon the viewer in this dreadful reboot.

Scary, but not in any manner that horror-enthusiasts seek, JIGSAW‘s scriptwriters have made the alarming mistake of believing that their unoriginal, unintelligent and assumptive screenplay has the ability to surprise, and then some. With the exception of one particular twist that you may not see coming, purely due to blinding you with its stupidity, every single character and plot development is extremely predictable and often equally lame. The once creatively and disturbingly conceived games being played on the victims, then played on the mind of us as its viewers as per the original SAW movie, remains a win of the past. Whether intentional to conceal explanations that the writers know don’t make much sense or whether just due to poor sound mixing, the music and sound effects regularly overpower the films dialogue. All of those desirable features that draw horror fans to a movie such as this are rarely sighted. Furthermore, there are no genuine scares or seat-adjusting jumps, no thrills or chills and very little fun, if any at all. Had some thought and care been attributed to just some of the irksome characters that reside in JIGSAW, then you might be reading a slightly less negative review. Nevertheless, woeful characters and performances from an ensemble cast that mostly appear to have been randomly assembled from several seasons of America’s Next Top Model display a grade of acting that’s as bad as you’ll see on the big screen this year.

Well, hopefully not see. Avoid.

1 star

Viewer Discretion 
MA15+ (Strong themes and strong horror violence)

Trailer
JIGSAW

Moviedoc thanks Studiocanal and Asha Holmes Publicity for the invite to the screening of this film

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HAPPY DEATH DAY

Director / Christopher Landon (SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES)
Stars/ Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews and Charles Aitken

The new horror flick HAPPY DEATH DAY marked its birth on the big screen just in the nick of time for Friday the 13th and will be hanging around over Halloween too. In what can be described as the slasher cousin movie of earlier dramatic release BEFORE I FALL, HAPPY DEATH DAY unwraps a few neat twists to its rewinding premise.

Every morning, college student Tree (played by unknown actress Jessica Rothe who appeared in LA LA LAND) wakes up and relives the same day. That fateful day always ends the same way – with her death at the hands of a mask-wearing, knife-wielding antagonist. Tree soon learns that the only way she will ever discover the hidden identity of her murderer is to change the course of her actions leading to her final moments.


Poor young Tree, not only is she being terrorised over and over again, but it ironically all happens to be occurring on her birthday too. The often unexpected actions of this exceptional lead character as the final day in her life is replayed detours the film from being as repetitive as its destined structure suggests. As such, the ability for viewers to predict the exact timing of forthcoming thrills is teasingly hindered. There are noticeable flaws sighted in its screenplay all throughout, yet they rarely matter or interfere with the very intentional fun to be had from watching HAPPY DEATH DAY. This is a bloody (figuratively, more so than literally) entertaining movie to watch! Strong contributors to this output also includes the score, which playfully taunts its audience to the same degree as the script. Directing from Christopher Landon is sharp, who has extracted strong performances from his largely unknown cast. Each of these young actors’ timing and varying tone is right on song just as needed. But none more so than a stand-out solo performance from lead actress Jessica Rothe. She plays it bitchy, she plays it kind, she plays it feisty and she plays it frightened, all with a fierce confidence that is utterly contagious.

3 ½ stars

Viewer Discretion/ M (Horror themes, violence, sexual references and coarse language)

Trailer / HAPPY DEATH DAY

Moviedoc thanks Universal Pictures for the invite to the screening of this film.

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THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

Director / Greg McLean (WOLF CREEK, ROGUE)
Stars/ John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona and Melonie Diaz

In the year 2000, a dystopian Japanese action film was a box office hit in its home country and received audience and critical acclaim across the globe. That film, BATTLE ROYALE (BATORU ROWAIARU), was also slapped with the rare Japanese film classification of R-15 and caused its fair share of controversy, resulting in a ban to show in several other countries.

A plot that draws heavily from that film, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT pitches a premise that involves 80 employees who are working at not-for-profit organisation Belko, located (and shot on location) in the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia. Shortly after each employee has arrived at work one morning, an unknown voice over the intercom sternly advises that they are to kill three of their co-workers, or six others will instead be killed.


Sure enough, this premise does have the propensity to intrigue. However, as the twisted idea unfolds, it soon becomes evident that this experiment is left begging for a dose of originality and bright ideas it is bereft of.

As the initial reactions to the disconcerting announcement are seen, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT does immediately summon an undeniably ominous curiosity. Even though zero effort has been put into the characterisation department, the deadly scenario does demand the full attention of its viewers. Any stranglehold that THE BELKO EXPERIMENT may have cast to this point gradually erodes once the actions of its mostly annoying and unlikeable characters and its plot trajectory become far too foreseeable. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY writer and director James Gunn, who writes this screenplay, was also set to direct this film until a last minute change of heart due to personal reasons. Unfortunately for Gunn, Australian filmmaker Greg McLean’s direction is just as uneven as the script itself is. It unsuccessfully attempts to combine a Tarantino-like concoction of excessive and bloody violence with macabre humour, yet doesn’t want to be taken lightly as a work of horror-like thriller either. Adding to the unevenness of this picture are a handful of music-driven, slow-mo’d slaying scenes that never quite fit. Had the finale unveiled a badly needed unforeseen twist, then there may have been warrant to recommend THE BELKO EXPERIMENT. Rather, another obvious development will leave you feeling as though this is something you could have scripted yourself!

Instead, get onto Netflix and watch an episode of the similar yet superior series, Black Mirror. 

2 stars

Viewer Discretion/ MA15+ (Strong themes and bloody violence)

Trailer / THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

Moviedoc thanks Rialto Distribution for the screening invite to this film.

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IT

Director / Andy Muschietti (MAMA)
Stars/ Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jack Dylan Grazer and Chosen Jacobs

Even Stephen King himself has endorsed this first chapter of a planned two-part feature film retelling of IT, stating that a “wonderful job” has been done. The fact that this cinematic adaptation is much closer to King’s 1986 novel than what the mini-series produced four years later was, will no doubt be a significant contributor towards his positive feelings.

It is late 1980’s in the town of Derry, Maine. A number of individual kids – the stuttering student Bill (Lieberher), the granny-glasses wearing Richie (Wolfhard), Beverly (Lillis), who lives with an oppressive family member, the overweight library visitor Ben (Taylor), as well as Stanley (Oleff), Mike (Jacobs) and Eddie (Grazer) – are experiencing some form of bullying. United by their bullying encounters, as well as separate horrifying confrontations with beings that represent their worst fears, the newly formed group search for a frightening, shape-shifting entity who adopts the appearance of a clown, named Pennywise (Skarsgård).

An alluring visual design, innovative horror sequences and a largely unknown, yet talented ensemble cast do indeed ensure that IT consistently floats its viewer’s boat.

For starters, the tone is darker. Much darker, which is made clear by a menacing and superior opening sequence partially seen in the record-breaking film trailer. Heed that as both a warning and a recommendation! It’s a tone that easily settles itself into and all throughout this horror film. Even so, IT is quite a thrill to watch as it teases and taunts viewers in equal measure. A frequent supply of creatively conceived and ominously designed visual scenarios together with the camaraderie of its characters and its production give this film both a freshness and taste of nostalgia that is easy to embrace. These slickly executed scenes and the amalgamation of its narrative display the real skill and vision that director Andy Muschietti possesses. IT also impresses by way of a strongly written script that truly seizes upon its full potential and is more than capable of engaging its audience. A sub-plot revolving around the history of the kids’ hometown and the film’s themes (some of which are very heavy), are genuinely compelling. On a lighter note, the jocular banter that is exchanged among the younger cast members is highly amusing and even breaks a cinema convention or two along the way. The support and the strength that they lend one another has real substance too.

This old clown is up to new tricks that are guaranteed to feed you a fright or five.

3 ½ stars

Viewer Discretion/ MA15+ (Strong horror themes and violence)

Trailer / IT

Moviedoc thanks Roadshow Films for the screening invite to this film.

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ANNABELLE: CREATION

Director / David F. Sandberg (LIGHTS OUT)
Stars/ Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson

A prequel to both THE CONJURING films and 2014’s ANNABELLE, ANNABELLE: CREATION marks the fourth addition to THE CONJURING film universe. 

Aussie duo Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto play Samuel and Esther Mullins, who invite Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and several orphaned girls to live with them at their residence. Despite the generous offer, the Mullins’ are quite reserved people, after a personal tragedy shattered their existence several years earlier. Samuel, a doll maker, isn’t particularly hospitable towards the girls while Esther mysteriously never emerges from her bedroom. As the girls slowly settle into their new place, Janice (Telitha Bateman) comes across Annabelle while curiously exploring her new surrounds and unwittingly brings the creepy doll, who has sinister plans, to life.


A passable horror flick, ANNABELLE: CREATION does yield to symptoms of horror movie syndrome, yet in doing so it offers audiences momentary frights and plenty of fun, which are frequently distributed all throughout.

Of course, your prospects of being drawn into these many mildly suspenseful passages will largely depend on your ability to foresee the imminent jump coming. As a horror aficionado myself, almost all of these sequences do happen as expected. Although its likely predictability does limit the film’s chances to genuinely scare, ANNABELLE: CREATION continues to entertain, courtesy of some aptly timed tongue-in-cheek humour and a serviceable plot that holds some mystery. Patience is certainly tested as the not-so-surprising revelations hiding beneath its mystery are delayed for too long. Further proceedings even become repetitive as the plot attempts to involve each of the orphaned girls making a frightening discovery to realise that their new abode isn’t so humble. Thankfully, those self-opening doors and creaky floors are soon nailed shut as ANNABELLE: CREATION lifts its game in a decidedly more horrifying finale. 

This prequel should satisfy fans of mainstream horror until further instalments in THE CONJURING film series, THE NUN (2018) and THE CROOKED MAN (TBA) haunt our screens.

3 stars

Viewer Discretion/ MA15+ Restricted (Strong horror themes and violence) 

Trailer / ANNABELLE: CREATION

Read up also on Moviedoc’s review of THE CONJURING 2

Moviedoc thanks Roadshow Films for the invite to the screening of this film.

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GET OUT

Writer & Director / Jordan Peele (Feature film debut)
Stars/ Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford and Caleb Landry Jones

Movies as genius as this are few and far between. Masterfully and studiously crafted, intelligently written and flawlessly executed, GET OUT is a broadly appealing and accessible horror film at heart that functions as a menacing mystery invite to all.

Not a single moment of screen time is wasted in Jordan Peele’s remarkable debut as feature-film director. Peele is pitching a familiar premise that most of us have had to do at some time in our lives – that rather awkward and nerve-wrecking obligatory task of meeting the parents of your partner for the very first time. In GET OUT, that time has arrived for Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young African-American photographer who has been dating his Caucasian girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) for four months. Upon their immediate arrival, Chris observes several disconcerting and bizarre sights in the surrounds of the mysterious family estate of Rose’s parents. 


It is both exceedingly fun and playfully haunting to watch. It deliberately provokes questions and is strikingly thought-provoking all at once, all throughout. It is without a doubt one of the very best films of 2017.

Just as intended, the GET OUT screenplay allows plenty of room for the imagination. It cleverly compels its audience to assess each situation and analyse every word spoken in hope that the prediction to its conclusion and its secrets are somewhat accurate. As it keeps turning out, writer/director Jordan Peele is purely toying with that imagination of ours. Like a master player in the game of chess, Peele continually reminds us that he is the king (or queen if you prefer) of this board and we are merely a pawn, guessing moves that he already knows are coming.

Many films can maintain their mystery for most its duration. A few less are able to conjure up a conclusion that justifies and satisfies. A rare combination that catapults GET OUT to an elite level of filmmaking is its seamless integration of realistic themes weaved into a completely fictitious story, done so in a manner that is reminiscent of the brilliant 2014 thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, NIGHTCRAWLER. Another is its innovative amalgamation of genre. Not only is GET OUT a horror film that sustains its mystique right through to the very end, it is also irresistibly funny when it wishes to be and has a surprising amount of depth in its characterisation and storytelling. To place the cherry on top for horror movie lovers, sudden bursts of more stereotypical horror elements are incorporated very tongue-in-cheek style into this superb film. And finally, the conclusion is better than satisfying, it is rewarding. There is virtually no ambiguity to any answers given to many questions raised. These revelations not only make perfect sense of themselves, they will leave you talking about this film for days after and quite likely eager to pay a second visit.

You need to get in to GET OUT, which is simply unmissable!

4 ½ stars

Viewer Discretion/ MA15+ (strong themes and violence)

Trailer / GET OUT

Moviedoc thanks Universal Pictures for the distributor pass to see and review this film.

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