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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Mike Flanagan

Before I Wake (2018)

So, I don’t know, maybe don’t adopt? Or something?

Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth) have been wanting to desperately have a kid, but they just can’t, so they decide to adopt a cute and nice little eight-year-old named Cody (Jacob Tremblay) who, inexplicably, has been without a family for quite some time. And while it takes awhile for them to get used to each other, eventually, they begin to grow into their own little family, where they mess around, get along, and generally have a great time together. But that all begins to change when weird, downright spooky things begin happening and no one really knows why, except for Cody himself. And then, it all becomes evidently clear why Cody has been by his own for so very long and Mark and Jessie have no idea what to do. Should they give him back and move on to the next kid and hope that there’s not some evil spirits following them around? Or stick it out with Cody and treat him as one of their own, fight these spirits, and live together in perfect harmony?

There’s mom.

Before I Wake has, infamously, been trapped in release-hell for the past few years and I’m not really sure why. The movie isn’t all that awful to the point of where the studio involved would feel ashamed to ever release it, nor is it really all that great to begin with. It’s the kind of movie that gets made, doesn’t have much hype behind it, and of course, due to some other random business-reasons, gets lost in the shuffle, is known and/or talked about, and eventually, gets released to the wide masses. But why did Before I Wake take so long?

No clue. And really, I don’t care. Had the movie stayed on the shelf longer, I would have been perfectly fine with that, because while I do appreciate how Mike Flanagan is trying to single-handedly change the game of horror, after this and Gerald’s Game, I hate to say but I’m growing a little worrisome. Granted, Gerald’s Game was a tad more inspired than this here Before I Wake, but both suffer from the same problem in that there just isn’t much of a story to really work with; Before I Wake does, thankfully, benefit from a solid family-dynamic, but never focuses on it enough to where it’s completely effective, the way it should have been to heighten the emotional drama.

Instead, it’s much more focused on the ghouls, ghosts, and butterflies that mysteriously begin to pop-up and yeah, it just takes away from everything else.

There’s son.

Of course, I’m not one to say that Before I Wake didn’t need all this horror in the first place, because it’s most certainly Flanagan’s wheelhouse, it just doesn’t feel necessary. It’s like the Babadook in that we actually deal with some real issues about love, about family, and about surviving together, as one, except that Before I Wake only occasionally passes on these ideas and themes, only to then get distracted by the spooky stuff. And it doesn’t work, really, because the spooky stuff either doesn’t make sense, or isn’t even all that scary; it’s a little cheesy, a little schlocky, and because we don’t totally care about what happens to the characters, a little dull.

That said, the cast gives it their all, with Thomas Jane putting in a pretty great performance as the dad of the family. Jane seems like he’s in a totally different movie where he’s cool, funny, and always one step ahead of the plot. Which is why it’s a shame that he gets saddled with a role that, honestly, would have been better in a much more character-based drama. Kate Bosworth is good, too, in that she has to handle a difficult role in being the matriarch of the family and it works. Tremblay is fine, too, although, because he was so young and because his role wasn’t all that demanding, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Or, at least, not as much as he would continue to do in the next few years or so. Something everybody else involved with this movie would be doing.

Thankfully.

Consensus: Though it does aim for some heartfelt notions about love and family, mostly, Before I Wake‘s a dull, unemotional, and unscary horror flick that could have stayed on the shelf for a lot longer, or even, forever.

4 / 10

Oh, and there’s a ghost-creature. Or something.

Photos Courtesy of: Relativity Media

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Gerald’s Game (2017)

Lock her up!

Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) have been married for quite some time, and as is with an aging-couple, they’ve run out of a bit-of-steam. So, they decide to spend a little weekend away in a cabin together, with barely anyone else around, hanging out, and possibly, having lots of wild and crazy sex. Or at least, this is something that Gerald thinks is going to happen, until he ties up Jessie to the bed and she doesn’t like it. But not taking a hint, Gerald goes for it anyway and soon, he keels over of a heart-attack. Now, Jessie is left all alone, in that room, tied to a bed, without any hopes of getting out. What’s a girl to do? Figure out a way to get out, by any means imaginable? Or sit there, think about her life and talk to dead people, who are constantly ragging on her for the past mistakes she made as a kid?

Obviously, she goes for both.

“Watch. Me. Flex.”

Gerald’s Game is the kind of movie that, as a 20-30-minute short, probably would have worked like gangbusters. It would have been short, sweet, tight and very tense. But instead, we get a 100-minute movie that feels over-stretched, long, meandering, and oh yeah, pretty boring. It’s the kind of movie that so many people get disgusted by because it’s dealing with hard-to-take ideas about sexuality, pedophilia and rape, but really is just a bore.

And it’s a shame because it seemed like director Mike Flanagan was really going somewhere interesting and cool with his career. He was taking the horror-genre, finding new and smart ways to spin it around, play with conventions and never let us forget that, oh yeah, horror stories like this can sort of be fun. While Gerald’s Game isn’t necessarily a “horror” story, it’s still one with darker, harsher undertones that makes it feel more vicious, somehow. Still, that doesn’t save the movie from feeling like it’s just spinning its wheels, figuring out where to go next, and exactly what to say.

Cause at the end of the day, what does it have to say?

Rape and incest is bad? That it has long-term effects? Marriage isn’t always pretty, despite the sometimes lovely appearance to the common-man? Don’t trust your elders? Honestly, I don’t know. It wants to pass itself off as a character-study of one woman who, for basically the whole run-time, is tied to a bed-frame, stuck talking to herself and imaginary beings that constantly egg her on, but really, don’t have much of anything to say. They just sort of hoot and holler at her for no reason because, uh, they’re dead and angry? Right?

See? So much better now.

Once again, not sure. The only thing that I am sure of is that without Carla Gugino, the movie would have been a whole lot more awful than it actually was. Gugino, for many years now, has constantly been putting in great work, but it’s mostly on the side; here, as Jessie, she shows us that she can carry a whole movie entirely on her own, staying swift and interesting to watch practically the whole way through. Due to this character’s possible mental-illness, Gugino has a lot of showing to do and she gets by with it just fine, even if the script doesn’t entirely help her out in those regards.

Same goes for Bruce Greenwood who, despite always being a welcome-presence, is just shirtless here the whole time and it doesn’t really matter. He’s just sort of there to instigate and piss-off Jessie, and that’s it. It’s a bit of a waste for someone like Greenwood, who can really make sleazy so charming, when he gets the opportunity to. It’s not like Henry Thomas here who, in flashbacks, really does himself in as a total creeper and it works. While Thomas still has the childish looks, there’s something darker and more sinister here that’s hard not to take notice of.

If only the rest of the film was that easy to take notice of.

Consensus: Despite a solid performance from Gugino, as well as Thomas, Gerald’s Game suffers from being way too mean and nasty, without much else going on, except a very limited plot and slow-moving pace.

4.5 / 10

Don’t mess with Brucie’s body. This is what happens.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Hush (2016)

Don’t speak. I know just what you’re saying.

Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a deaf author who’s best-known work is some hard-boiled crime novels that garner her all sorts of fame and fortune. Some of it’s wanted, some of it isn’t. In this one case, when she’s got her friend’s house in the middle of the woods all to herself, that’s especially so when a masked-fan (John Gallagher Jr.) begins to reign down all sorts of terror on her. Maddies’ inability to fully her is one problem in this situation, of course, but she uses her smarts and her wits to, hopefully, get the better of him whenever the opportunity comes around. But yeah, being deaf in a situation like this isn’t ideal and it’s why Maddie, no matter how far she gets, she’s always got the cards stacked-up against her. All she’ll have to do is see if she can wait out the night and survive.

Hopefully.

Okay. Maybe the freeze-frames don’t do this performance the justice it deserves!

Hush was the little movie that could a year or so ago. It literally came out of nowhere, hit Netflix right away, and oh yeah, was pretty great. It doesn’t feature many big-names at all and the director, Mike Flanagan, before this, didn’t have a whole lot going for him, except for Oculus which was, at the very least, interesting. But what worked best about Hush is that it was so sweet, so simple, and so straight-forward, that it was somehow perfect for Netflix.

It’s the kind of quick, swift and entertaining-viewing that’s worth being seen, regardless of if you can handle home-invasion thrillers or not. For me, while the premise is as conventional as you can get – albeit, with a deaf-woman twist – Flanagan finds smart, small, and interesting ways of turning it on its feet and making it, well, pretty fun and exciting. Just when you think you know where the material is going to wind-up, how sick it’s going to continue to get, or what twists and turns it takes, it somehow goes a different way.

And even when it doesn’t do that, it’s still entertaining enough to the point of where it’s too hard to fully and completely care.

After all, it’s a home-invasion thriller that’s unpredictable, at the very least. It doesn’t really try to break any new ground at all, but what it does do is offer up a new fresh, exciting, and smart voice within the world of horror in Flanagan. Flanagan’s style isn’t necessarily anything ground-breaking, but what he does do that’s smart is constantly keep us experiencing this whole movie through the eyes and, uh, ears of Maddie, never letting us forget that we are just as helpless as her here and it’s going to be really rough to get through it all. Flanagan never quite makes the material as sick or as decrepit as someone like, say, Eli Roth would have, but in a way, he’s much better off for that; there’s a certain respect he feels for this character, as well as the general rules and conventions of telling a horror-thriller story like this and allowing for it to unravel the way it does.

“Delivery for, uh…yeah I’m gonna kill ya.”

It also helps that in the lead role, Kate Siegel is pretty great. Being Flanagan’s real-life girlfriend, it’s a no-brainer to see her here, but Siegel deserves this role, because so much of what she has to do here is emote and use her face to show off whatever she’s going through and it’s effective. It could have easily been over-the-top or hammy, but it never gets to be that way, as we always believe whatever she’s going through, right from the very beginning. It does also help that Flanagan gives her some interesting shades of character to make her more than just a damsel in distress, caught-up in this unfortunate situation and it proves to go a real long way.

Man. Who would have thunk it? A smart, interesting, and well-rounded female character in the lead role of a horror flick?

Also here is John Gallagher Jr. who, surprisingly, seems to be having a ball as the crazy and deranged stalker here. The only issue with this character is that he’s nothing more than just this; Flanagan’s fine and content with giving Maddie the development she deserves, but never really bothers with this creepy stalker. Maybe that’s purposeful, considering it’s not his story in the first place, but it felt like something was missing in the much larger-piece of this actually rather smart and entertaining horror-thriller.

Consensus: Surprisingly smart and unpredictable, given its simple plot, Hush effectively takes genre-scares and turns them around, while also giving us a star-marking turn from Kate Siegel.

8 / 10

That face you make when you get caught shopping for new linens. Happens to the best of us.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Okay, never mind. Board-games are pretty scary.

Way before the Ouija board started popping-up, killing clueless teens left and right, it was actually quite the staple in the home of a suburban, middle-class family from the late-60’s. Recently Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) has been trying her absolute hardest to raise her two daughters, Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson), and honestly, it’s getting a lot harder with each and every day. So, in a way to not just pay the bills, but give others in her same situation some idea of love and hope, she runs a phony little business where, for a certain price, she will try to contact the dead. Of course, it’s all a wacky and wild show that the girls help their mom with, but it’s something that’s been working for so long, so why stop now? However, it all gets a little freaky when strange and evil things start happening in the house and no one really knowing whether or not it’s real. The only one who does seem to know exactly is little Doris and, well, she’s not been herself as of late.

See where this is going yet?

De Palma or Hitchcock reference? Or just plain creepy?

De Palma or Hitchcock reference? Or just plain creepy?

After the awful first flick, Origin of Evil wasn’t really high on my radar, nor really making me expect any sheer bit of greatness to be found. Then, I looked at the director and realized that I was working with Mike Flanagan, in the year 2016, again. I say “again”, because Flanagan already put out a pretty amazing home-invasion thriller out this year called Hush, where he showed that you can do wonders with an age old and simple premise, but in ways, even liven it up and make it seem fresh for future people to try out.

And that same kind of fun and creativity that he brought to that little gem, he brings to the big-budget, yet, somewhat intimate horror-thriller that is, yes, big on the scares, but is also bigger on the smaller moments where there’s something creepy lurking in the background, sometimes out of frame, but we never quite know. Flanagan actually works pretty well as two kinds of horror film makers; he’s all for the crazy and insane carnage that most horror movies work in, but he’s also all for the much quieter, subdued side that most horror movies seem to stay away from, in hopes that they don’t bore their audiences from seeing all sorts of ghosts, ghouls and creatures. But it works for Flanagan – he’s playing both of his sides here, but they work well hand-in-hand, as opposed to making it seem like the movie itself was done by two different directors.

See, because yes, Origin of Evil is quite freaky, but it takes its time with itself, which probably makes it freakier.

It’s actually a surprise how understated the movie can actually be; rather than just jumping right at us with all of the ghost stuff, the movie actually helps develop these characters, their relationships with one another, and what exactly they’ve been through as a family. We get a sense, early on, that mostly everyone in this movie is a beaten down and broken individual, who has had some sort of tragedy in their life and just trying whatever the hell they can do to get by. Henry Thomas eventually shows up as a priest that takes a liking to the family, and rather than diving into some creepy romance with Reaser’s character, the movie shows how they’re both hurting and maybe don’t need to sex all of the pain away, but probably just be there for one another, get in their pajamas, watch some wacky rom-coms, eat ice cream, and yeah, maybe end the night on some cuddeling.

What a sham! Right, guys?!? Right?!?!?

What a sham! Right, guys?!? Right?!?!?

Okay, maybe it is dangerously close to sex, but so what? They’re grown-ups and they’re allowed to!

Anyway, where Origin of Evil does lose some points is in explaining just what the powerful and mysteriously evil force is, or better yet, what it solidifies. The movie goes for an extra extreme and harsh explanation that, sure, makes some sort of sense, but also seems like it was just being written as it was being explained by the cast. It almost makes you want to see the movie of that, even if yeah, it would be different from what we have here – a much more melodic, but altogether effective horror flick that does hark back to the good old days, but also shows improvement in messing with the formula of the modern-day horror flick.

Even though there isn’t all that much blood, gore, or even violence, Origin of Evil shows that you can still be pretty damn scary by playing it small, but also, attentive. Flanagan is a smart writer and director, in that he knows and understands just what it is that make so many of those older horror-flicks, like Halloween or the Exorcist, so memorable and chilling in the first place – we actually care enough about the people involved that, by the time they start dropping like flies, well, it matters. Most horror movies I see nowadays, not just forget about that, but don’t seem to have any intentions on even trying. If anything, Origin of Evil proves, just like the Conjuring 2 did earlier this year, is that all you need to make a good, solid and smart piece of horror, is just give us people we want to actually see live through the proceedings.

Oh yeah, and a whole bunch of scares, too.

Consensus: While it’s definitely different from its predecessor, Origin of Evil is also much better, smarter, scarier, interesting and thrilling, blending a great deal of “boo scares”, with smaller ones that creep on you a whole lot more.

8 / 10

Silly kids. When they gonna learn!

Silly kids. When they gonna learn!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Oculus (2014)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Tell me, do these jeans make my butt look big?

When Kaylie and Tim Russell (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) were both very young, they saw their father (Rory Cochrane) shoot their mother (Katee Sackhoff) in cold blood. The case gets thrown out as a standard case of murder in the first-degree, however, the kids think differently. See, they think it’s all because of some strange, ancient mirror they had ever since they moved on, which ironically enough is exactly once all of the weird, creepy stuff started to happen to this family in the first place. Nobody believes these two, seemingly crazed-kids, so the government sends Kaylie away to an orphanage, where she’ll most likely be made fun-of her life and taught to be independent; whereas Tim becomes a bit of a nut-case, and is sent to a mental-institution, where he is studied and tested, while he’s also trying to come to grips with what it is that he really saw: Was it a dream-like sequence to get their minds away from the grim reality of this grisly murder, or is this mirror actually possessed by some sort of demon. Neither of the two really know for sure, which is why, 10-12 years later, the two reunite at their childhood home where the murder occurred and play their own little game of Ghost Hunters. Except, it’s just them, and the mirror that’s been haunting their lives for the past decade or so.

Trust me honey, there's nothing wrong reflection. Nothing. At. All.

Trust me honey, there’s nothing wrong reflection. Nothing. At. All.

While it may seem like every horror movie that comes out nowadays, may be an exact carbon-copy of the last (a statement which does hold some truth), there are those very surprising exceptions that take the horror-genre, and sort of spin it on its ears. These types of movies don’t really commit such an act by coming up with a new, inventive way to tell their story, but instead, realize that what makes and breaks horror movies nowadays, is whether or not they can be entertaining. Sure, everybody can be pissing their pants by showing them every jump-scare in the book, but is that really fun to watch? Expecting a scare to happen, so that when it does happen, you jump a little bit less than you would have, had you not known anything about any horror movie, ever made?

Personally, I think where most horror movies really make their gravy is in just how much fun they can have with toying and teasing with the audience’s expectations; and in Oculus, there’s plenty of that. However, it’s not the type of toying and teasing you’d expect from a movie like the Cabin in the Woods, where it’s clearly obvious that the creators behind it think that are a lot smarter than average the movie-goer. It’s more like the kind of toying and teasing you do with a dog when you’re playing fetch with it – you take it this way, that way, and all of a sudden, you surprise them and have them absolutely excited.

Bad analogy, I know, but it’s all I got in the tank right now.

Though this is his first-outing behind the camera in a big-screen feature, Mike Flanagan shows that he has the chops to do a bit more new, and exciting things with the horror-genre. Not only does he bring us into his story with interesting, somewhat sympathetic characters, but he never allows for this story to get too over-blown or insane. Actually, that’s a lie. He totally does. In fact, that’s probably my biggest problem with this movie is that when all is said and done, and that abrupt-as-hell ending hits you, it comes too quick. But even worse, it doesn’t exactly make much sense.

But see, this is where I start to get a bit jumbled-up in my own words now. Because the aspect where this movie really works, is in the way it is able to just keep on messing with us, having us look at one thing, while surprising us with a completely other, different thing. Which, yes, is fine and all, but after awhile, some of it does start to make you scratch your head and wonder just what the hell is going, or how did that happen. Not going to give too much away, but I’ll put it like this, that mirror likes to do a lot of tricking, without ever treating, so be ready for that.

However though, like I said before, that whole aspect of not knowing what’s going on, is sort of what works so well for it in the end. This is a horror film in the sense that we get scares, ghosts, blood, teeth pulled-out, murder, screaming, people with freaky, glowish-eyes, and all that other jazz, but it’s also a lot more like a thriller as well. Mainly because instead of making this an all-out gore-fest where people in the crowd go “yuck!” and “ew!”, while covering their eyes and simultaneously throwing up their dinner, Flanagan keeps his sights on building up suspense to where you feel like anything could happen with this story, at just about any second. And I don’t mean that because it’s a fun movie, I mean that literally, because it gets confusing-as-hell.

Horror convention #208

Horror convention #208

But I don’t want to harp on that too much, because the fact of the matter is this: It’s a fun horror movie. That’s all you really need. Sure, the performances from the cast are good; Karen Gillan in particular that seems like she’s never heard of comedy a single day in her life and delivers every line in a straight-forward manner, which actually works and makes us look at her as a bit of a cook-ball, which is what this movie definitely wanted to have going for it. However though, this is less about them and more about the show. The show that keeps on going, regardless of how nonsensical it gets. Which, granted, is about ten minutes into it, but really, are horror movies really the type of movies you want to be realistic about?

Yeah, didn’t think so. Just enjoy and shut up!

Consensus: While Oculus doesn’t set out to try and re-invent the horror-wheel, it still does a fine job at building tension, characters and a twisty story to exciting proportions, even if you may not be coming out of it totally convinced you know everything that happened.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Wait? We're supposed to be playing twins?"

“Wait? We’re supposed to be playing twins?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net