Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Mad, Mad World: When Evil Lurks (2023) Review [Telluride Horror Show 2023]

Director: Demián Rugna

Notable Cast: Ezequiel Rodríguez, Demián Salomón, Silvina Sabater, Virginia Garofalo, Emilio Vodanovich, Luis Ziembrowski, Paula Rubinsztein, Feerico Liss, Marcelo Michinaux


When Terrified appeared on Shudder six years ago, I would have placed writer and director Demián Rugna as THE artistic voice to watch in horror. That movie, with all its flaws, scraped my bones with its tension and conceptual horrors. Indeed, it is the kind of statement film that should have had Rugna on the shortlist to direct every horror film for any studio project. 


Although I’m sure he was on that list, he took approximately six years to release his next feature-length film. Of course, he did have a segment in the recently released Satanic Hispanics anthology film, but the man took his time dropping his follow-up When Evil Lurks. Waiting to see this effort was almost as tense as watching Terrified.

It was absolutely worth the wait.


When Evil Lurks is the horror film to beat this year. And, if I’m being perfectly honest When Evil Lurks is the kind of horror that beats up its viewers too. While its “evil entity” is treated like a biological infestation, the combination of folk horror elements within a possession film is impressively navigated. All the while, Rugna and his team deliver some of the most brutal sequences since the French Extreme movement of the 2000s. When Evil Lurks is the kind of horror film that pulverizes its audience’s nerves and stomach in all the best ways. 


Sunday, October 8, 2023

Resharpened and Retooled: Saw X (2023) Review

Director: Kevin Greutert

Notable Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Renata Vaca, Paulette Hernandez, Octavio Hinojosa Martinez, Steven Brand, Michael Beach, Joshua Okamoto, Jorge Briseño


The third time’s a charm, huh?


Although the 8th and 9th films of the Saw franchise both essentially sold themselves as soft reboots for the long-running horror series, see our reviews for Jigsaw and Spiral: From the Book of Saw, respectively, neither one really grabbed the core ideas or style in a way that genuinely recaptured audiences after a brief hiatus after the seventh film, Saw 3D


Two failed attempts, but Saw X - which I like to pronounce as “socks” for the record, was going to find that sweet spot, right?


Well, Saw X rectifies previous misfires by returning to the start but taking a few exciting side roads. A combination of simplification in the now very lore-heavy Saw franchise and bringing back the series’ two most famous villains, Saw X does many things right, even when treading on some new territory, which has always been a problematic area for the series. With brutal new traps and a renewed sense of dramatic heft, Saw X threads many thin lines and manages to do impressively. At least when it comes to the Saw-iverse, is that a thing?


Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Untouched Corners: Cobweb (2023) Review

Director: Samuel Bodin

Notable Cast: Woody Norman, Cleopatra Coleman, Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr, Luke Busey


At a brisk runtime of 88 minutes, Cobweb still took at least 20 minutes for me to latch onto what it was doing. It was focused on the 8-year-old protagonist, the acting for the family - including his mother and father - felt four times larger than life, and the house they lived in felt like an intentional set, particularly when compared to his school life outside the home. 


I had only seen the trailer once, but my assumption from the trailer was that this film looked to capitalize on the “trauma horror” trend currently running circles in the genre. Still, this - this opening of the film all felt like it was two steps disconnected from reality in some heightened way, and my brain was desperate to figure out the tonal intent. Twenty-ish minutes in, it hit me like the clawed fingers of its spider-infested antagonist. Cobweb is a fairy tale horror flick. Not some high-brow artistic supernatural yarn. Duh. 


Once I finally grasped what this film would be with its more serious and realistic tone, I totally bought into it. Cobweb is a film that embraces this other-worldly, Halloween-injected-fun-scare style, wrapped in a fairy tale aesthetic, and is a tight, entertaining horror flick. It swirls its audience into a kind of silliness not unlike James Wan’s Malignant did with its blend and still manages to deliver just enough soul to sell the entire thing. By the time the bonkers final act came ripping out, I was fully cocooned in Cobweb - in all the best ways. 


Godsmacked: Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms (2023) Review

Director: Wuershan

Notable Cast: Kris Phillips, Li Xuejian, Huang Bo, Yosh Yu, Luke Chen, Naran, Xia Yu, Yang Le, Chen Kun, Yuan Quan, Ci Sha, Yafan Wu, Luoyong Wang, Hou Wenyuan, Tim Huang


Now that the Chinese film industry has punted many of its lower-budget films to streaming services, it’s not shocking to see a massive CGI-heavy multi-film adaptation of a classic fantasy story look and feel so much like modern Hollywood blockbusters. The initial trailers for Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms were brimming with massive superhero-like action set pieces, while the promise of this being a “part one” of a trilogy indicated that this would be E.P.I.C. Truly, this looked like the Chinese fantasy blockbuster to end all blockbusters. 


Director Wuershan’s adaption of the Investiture of the Gods story is undoubtedly just that. Nothing in Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms is subtle or straightforward. This is a big scale to the blockbuster nth degree, and it shows for better or worse. As the first part of this trilogy, it’s still a highly entertaining film; for that, it does get credit. It’s just par for the course that its stunning visual feasts and entertaining action sequences come with a script that is scattered in trying to jam in dozens stacked upon dozens of characters, plots that never feel fleshed out, and a narrative that feels elongated and still rushed. 


But it also features two massive stone monsters possessed by an occasionally headless evil wizard chasing a god stripped of his powers on horseback. So, you know, give a little, take a little.