THE WORST OF 2019
2019 is nearly over, people! And with it comes the inevitable best of/worst of lists that always litter the internet in late December. As we don't want to buck the trend, here's our top genre picks of the year on the big - and small - screen.
Hellboy (Director: Neil Marshall)
Based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola, Hellboy, caught between the worlds of the supernatural and human, battles an ancient sorceress bent on revenge.
Goddammit! It’s one thing to take a beloved-but-dead franchise and reboot it before the previous story arc was completed. But it’s another thing to take a promising comic-book character and stuff it so full of source material that it will alienate much of the audience and upset purists of the character in the first place. But guessed what happened with this reboot earlier this year? Originally there was a backlash once it was confirmed that Guillermo Del Toro’s trilogy with Ron Perlman would never be concluded. Attitudes began to soften (a little) when Marshall was named as director, with David Harbour taking over as Big Red. There was more backlash regarding casting and an uninspiring first trailer. Then the second trailer hit with a cool remix of “Smoke on the Water” and red-band sweary one-liners. So, people gave it the benefit of the doubt again. *Ahem*. Hellboy (Harbour) faces off against Milla Jovovich’s Blood Queen as she tries to bring about Armageddon and seduce him to rule over Earth with him. First step: destroying bloody London and Tower Bridge once again. Apparently.
God, this is a mess! Kudos for keeping the action and screenplay firmly in R-rated territory, and bonus points for distracting viewers with Jovovich’s’ does-she-ever-bloody-age appearance. But despite a slight pang of guilty pleasure during the CGI bloodshed and dismemberments, this doesn’t engage or entertain on anywhere near the level that Del Toro’s films gave. There are no central relationships to compare to the romance with Liz Sherman or Bromance with Abe Sapien, or any genuine emotional connections. Instead it’s just scrambled lame lines of exposition, hurried plot development, and forced CG spectacles. And if you’ve watched the red-band trailer, you’ve basically seen/heard ALL the good bits! The main problem is that the narrative tries (and fails) to squeeze together 4 major comic-book arcs and another retelling of the origin into one cohesive story. Not only that, but they’ve also tried to slam in supporting characters like Lobster Johnson and Baba Yaga with absolutely no explanation for the non-comic-book-readers.
It really doesn’t work, despite Harbour giving it a good shot. The MCU has a lot to answer for really, with plenty of films just throwing fairly faithful comic-book references onto the screen and expecting that to take over from good story-telling. It doesn’t. Don’t expect the teasing sequel references to come to fruition as this made a loss at the box-office, although it was perceived by the powers-that-be to be due to a lack of interest in the franchise rather than a problematic production. Either just enjoy the red-band trailer on a loop on YouTube or watch Perlman’s version with 2WEI playing over the top of it.
Black Christmas (Director: Sophia Takal)
A group of female students are stalked by a stranger during their Christmas break. That is until the young sorority pledges discover that the killer is part of an underground college conspiracy.
If “Us” and “A Christmas Carol” proved that you could take valid social issues and incorporate them into a compelling narrative, then this hugely disappointing remake (although it’s nothing of the sort) proves you can ruin it with the same intentions. A Blumhouse production and the only seasonal genre production this year, hopes were high for a quality reboot/remake of the perennial Xmas slasher. This was despite a 2006 prequel/remake from Glenn Morgan that expanded the back-story of “Billy” (the villain from the original 1974 film) which failed to ignite at the box-office. However, as details started to dribble out (it was PG13-rated, Billy wasn’t in the story, etc.), seasoned genre fans started to shake their heads, which was further compounded by a spoiler-heavy trailer that caused disappointment. Still, it was released cleverly on Friday the 13th of December in the US and UK. The narrative sees student Riley Stone (a thirtysomething Imogen Poots) become distressed as she’s targeted for jock abuse at Hawthorne College after accusing a stereotypical frat-boy-scuzz-bucket of sexual misdemeanours. Meanwhile, the season of “goodwill” does nothing to change her mood as her sorority sisters start to disappear in various odd ways…
There’s nothing wrong with having a “she-venge” film interpretation of a slasher classic. But when that slasher classic already had strong female characters and a creepy villain, why destroy all that with a wacky “supernatural” theme that just feels wrong to the story and setting? The only possible reason for opting for (*spoiler*) a genre reason for the murders, is to provide a way to turn “good” guys into “bad” guys and not be accused of reverse sexism. And it’s done in such an unconvincing and ludicrous manner that the film never recovers from it. Good job that happens at the end really. The trouble is that the film already clumsily inserts that social-commentary motif by having a feminist character being aggressive (“You’re not inspiring anyone! You’re pissing them off!”) and an irate male friend sound off that “Not ALL men are like that!”. Many slashers contain female empowerment messages (“Halloween”, “Nightmare on Elm St”, etc.) without being obvious about it or swamping the narrative. Aside from that, the film is promoted as a “sisters-doing-for-themselves” fight-back. It really isn’t, apart from a brief climactic brawl. And it doesn’t even really work as a good slasher in the early stages. Apart from a couple of good Giallo-ish images, Poots trying her hardest to make it work, and a couple of neat homage references to the original, this lame horror wasn’t going to excite anyone. It’ll make a profit due to the canny Blumhouse budgeting, but according to Wikipedia “in the United States it had the worst opening weekend ever for a horror film playing in over 2,600 theaters”. Make of that what you will. Slack Christmas.
The Silence (Director: John R. Leonetti)
When the world is under attack from terrifying creatures who hunt their human prey by sound, 16-year old Ally Andrews, who lost her hearing at 13, and her family seek refuge in a remote haven.
To be fair to The Silence, it was being made at around the same time as John Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ so it was partially handicapped before it was even released. ‘That looks an awful lot like that Quiet Place film’, many people said to themselves upon seeing the trailer. Although the concept of A Quiet Place was actually startlingly simple, it still felt high concept. And when another film appears to be aping that, it’s not a good look. Add to this the fact the film attracted a bit of criticism during filming for casting the audibly unimpaired Shipka as the main character, whereas A Quiet Place actually went the other direction when they cast young actress Millicent Simmonds in her role.
The familiarity between the premise of this and A Quiet Place isn't too much of an issue really. There's quite a lot of mileage you can wring out of the concept of any sound being a mortal threat. It makes for some really great set pieces too, potentially. Closing a car door, walking across gravel, a mobile phone ring tone. All these things can spell the end. The Silence makes a fairly good fist of it for the most part. The opening thirty minutes or so where we see the breakdown of the normal way of life and the invasion of the monsters is competently done, if a bit brisk. The problems come later in the movie...
From a casting perspective, it's a bit of a dream team for yours truly. I've always loved Stanley Tucci and thanks to Chilling Tales of Sabrina, I'm also big fans of Shipka and Otto. There are some effective action set pieces too and the tension is well worked at times (kudos for the mobile-phone vest idea too, that kinda rocked). It's engaging without ever being thrilling and trundles on at a leisurely pace.However the reason that The Silence ultimately fails is the conclusion. Boy, I was expecting another ten to fifteen minutes but instead we are dished up a super rushed final minute that just feels wrong. It's almost as if they ran out of money and had to tie things off on one day of shooting. It's a real mess and devalues everything good that came before it. Shame, because for 70 minutes or so I was thinking 'Oh I think I've found one of these films where I don't understand the criticism'. Turns out, it is maligned for a reason.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate (Director: Daniel Farrands)
Pregnant with director Roman Polanski's child and awaiting his return from Europe, 26-year-old Hollywood actress Sharon Tate becomes plagued by visions of her imminent death.
It’s now been over fifty years since Charles Manson and his followers went on a killing spree in Los Angeles. There were a number of victims that fell victim to the ‘family’ - the most famous of those being Sharon Tate, the young (and pregnant) wife of Roman Polanski. The details of the crime are tragic and savage and this has proved a potent combination for film-makers over the years - and we’ve had a slurry of films and TV shows dealing with the case. Some good (Aquarius, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and some not so good. In fact, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is up there with the worst.
The playing around with facts in real life murder cases is always dangerous and here we have an attempt to add something extra to proceedings with the notion that Sharon Tate prophecies her own death. Real footage of Sharon Tate and the crime scene and interviews with the real life perpetrators are interspersed with fictionalised and dramatised interviews and it all just feels messy - and in bad taste. The dialogue is really clunky too. It’s difficult to take the script seriously when it has lines like ’Is life a random series of circumstances or is there some greater plan?’ squirrelled away in there. From a horror point of view the film also falls flat due to the distinct lack of tension. We know what happens here and we are shown the murders throughout the film thanks to the fictional Sharon’s premonitions. On top of this the camera work is rather uninspiring, the acting a little stunted and it’s guilty of ham fisted exposition on multiple occasions. Ultimately, there shouldn’t really be many places or subjects that films shouldn’t cover. but maybe the Manson thing has just had it’s day eh?
3 From Hell (Director: Rob Zombie)
After barely surviving a brutal police shootout, the demented Firefly clan unleash a whole new wave of murder, madness and mayhem.
Rob Zombie is a film-maker that generates a lot of opinion. In the early part of his directorial career there were many horror fans (myself included) who thought that we had a potential horror master on our hands after the release of the insane and nightmarish House of 1000 Corpses. However, he’s never really been able to replicate that high and the Halloween reboot didn’t win him any fans either. There’s undoubtedly a competent director in there somewhere, but his latest flick, ‘3 From Hell’ - the third in his Firefly trilogy - is another flop.It has all the same ingredients that went into its superior predecessors. Gore, blood, violence, filth, profanity, surrealism, black comedy. It just doesn’t come together. Instead of making a delicious pie, they instead resemble a cake that’s made out of maggots and dog shit. It all feels rather predictable too. We’ve seen this stuff before, but done much better. And whilst there has always been a sense of the absurd and fantastical about these films, 3 From Hell takes it a step further and at times just becomes incredulous. The script is full of empty platitudes and 'one-liners' that are meant to impress but that fall short most of the time. “Don’t tell me what’s impossible motherfucker, I am the impossible,” yells Otis at one point. It might look ok on paper but in reality, these become quite tiresome.
Zombie will always continue to make grindhouse horror to be honest, but after over a decade of this stuff now it feels as if he's stuck on repeat and there are so many time you can rewatch the same stuff over and over again. Let's hope that the end of this trilogy marks a new chapter in his film-making career.
The War of the Worlds (Director: Craig Viveiros)
In London during the Edwardian era, George and Amy's attempt to start a life together is interrupted by a Martian invasion of Earth.
Before nailing the reworked version of “A Christmas Carol”, the BBC managed to balls-up another adaptation of a literary genre classic with this immensely annoying interpretation of the H.G. Wells sci-fi classic. This 3-episode miniseries managed to open with a promising first hour, and then descended into boring flash-forwards, “worthy” social context and sub-plots, and barely any tripod-on-warship-or-cannon action. This managed to piss-off a good proportion of the UK audience, who took to Twitter to slag it off the second that it concluded. The painful thing here is that the first episode is so promising, but all that potential is frittered away by the conclusion. The story starts as a very faithful take on Well’s original story, albeit that the narrative is pushed forward a few years to Edwardian England (instead of the Victorian era), when the world is on the verge of the first World War. “Explosions” are viewed erupting from the surface of Mars by astronomer Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle), with a “meteorite” landing in in rural England near George (Rafe Spall) and Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson), a couple ostracised by society for a choice they have made. Of course, that meteorite is anything but a celestial rock and the invasion of Earth by spiders-from-Mars begins… Whilst it’s still a little slow, the first hour depicting the emergence of the first Tripod/Fighting machine and the mysterious meteorite is well played-out and quite compelling, especially when the heat-ray is used for the first time. But sadly, after that, it all goes down-planet quite quickly. There are a number of reasons for this. Eleanor Tomlinson is quite good as the female lead, and a reactionary Wells would probably have loved the emphasis on her character (the wife in the novel is barely acknowledged). But so much time is spent on drippy melodrama about her and George’s frowned-upon-romance that it gets quickly annoying. Not only that, but one of the most destructive elements about the miniseries is the dumb use of flash-forwards (curse you “Arrow” and “Lost” for the damage you left in your TV wake!). It means that the mysterious red planet sections glimpsed in the first episode, completely take over in the later chapters and… by God!... they’re depressing! Instead of an exciting trek through middle England besieged on all-directions by fighting machines and Martians, we get long drawn out red-filtered red-weed-covered misery-fests about humanity at extinction level. Sure, it’s a climate change message and social subtext about… stuff. But we (and according to Twitter that’s most of the UK) wanted a straightforward adaptation, comparable to Jeff Wayne’s musical version. The visuals for the tripods are quite impressive at times, but badly underused (there goes the budget), and it could have so easily been a great literary adaptation. Instead, we have the two leads moaning about divorce, and long chemistry lessons about the red weed. Aaargh! Frustrating. Could have been so much better. A Mars a day… is more enjoyable than this failed effort.
Don't Watch This (Directors: Kattrena Clarke, Makenzie Coleman, Deja Cruz)
A collection of very short horror films.
I mean, the creators of this series must have hoped that the title wouldn't prove to be some kind of ironic warning to viewers. However, that's basically what has happened. We always find it hard to tell people that they shouldn't watch something – as ultimately it's all a matter of taste and whilst we may loathe something, someone else might think it's the best thing since sliced bread (Ahhh, sliced bread. A wonderful Lady Macbeth).
Unfortunately this Netflix mini-series pretty much lives up to it's name. The good thing is that as it's is basically a collection of five short horror films, so if you are morbidly curious and decide to check it out – you'' have wasted less than half an hour of your life. Horror shorts can be a lot of fun and often don't get quite as much love as they should do. Director's such as David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation' got their break through showing off their skills via this format and there are a whole host of talented film-makers operating at microbudget levels just waiting to be discovered. Without writing off the careers of those involved here, Don't Watch This doesn't give us anything remarkable. In fact, most of the shorts are really quite awful. The stories are disinteresting, the acting is poor (which isn't rare for indie shorts ultimately) and from a technical perspective there is nothing of any note here. No glimpses of potentially talented directors or storytellers. And worst of all, none of them are remotely scary or unsettling. You can forgive most other flaws if the films at least invoked some kind of sense of horror – but they don't. Netflix are renowned for having relatively high standards when it comes to deciding what to include in their library but it looks like this one slipped through the net.