‘Knock at the Cabin’ Is A Cinematic Mind Game – Movie Review
Over the course of his career, M. Night Shyamalan has been known for one thing: plot twists. While watching his films, you scour every inch of the frame in hopes of sussing out the next Big Reveal. The twist has been the director’s calling card since The Sixth Sense, but Shyamalan (who writes and casts all his films) is capable of much more than just shocks. When he’s at his best, and not making crap like The Last Airbender, he’s capable of creating a tense, spooky atmosphere to go along with his twisty narratives.
Knock at the Cabin is the director’s most visceral work since Signs, taking a premise we’ve seen a thousand times and twisting the formula. Cabin sees a family rent out a cabin in the woods–why are people still doing this?—and quickly discovering why the rest of us are looking at their cabin like, “hell no.”
Eight-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) is catching grasshoppers in the forest when a man (Dave Bautista) comes up to her and asks her questions about her dads, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), only to turn around and wave. He has three friends with him.
Bautista is known for his campy roles, but he’s incredible when he’s let off the leash and allowed to show off his serious side. His performance here could have easily been Dwayne Johnson With a Knife, but he’s far too skilled an actor for that. Each of his scenes have an added layer of tension and gumption, and it’s hard to think of another actor who could have pulled off this level of physicality.
Leonard (Bautista) has gathered his friends to stop the apocalypse, which apparently will happen if one of the family members doesn’t kill themselves. It’s up to our trio to decide whether these guys are right or wrong, whether or not their visions are legit or just a way of messing with the couple. The three have to make a decision by nightfall or fight back, otherwise bodies will start piling up like pieces of firewood.
Though Leonard’s story adds a layer of depth, it’s still your basic cabin-in-the-woods set-up: a bunch of people are trapped in a cabin, and it’s up to the victims to find their way out.
Still, Shyamalan demonstrates a mastery over the horror genre, aided in no small part by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke. The camera swaps character point-of-view subtly, inhabiting both victim and villain, watcher and watched. As the tension builds, the camera makes you question just who is telling the truth here.
Shyamalan blurs the line between real and fake to create a powerful (if a bit facile) cinematic mind game. That concept has been the focal point of his career, and he tops it off with a twist that makes you question everything that came before it. It’s Shyamalan 101, and we couldn’t ask for anything more. 4/5
SXSW Review: ‘Evil Dead Rise’ is a Non-Stop Gorefest Party That Never Lets Up
Klaatu Barada Nikto! Are the words used to conjure up Kandarian Demons have never let us down. It inspires chainsaws, boomsticks, and fun to explode across participating screens. From Sam Raimi’s game-changing 1981 film to the Starz series Ash Vs Evil Dead. Now, a host of deadites return with the latest blood-soaked experience, Evil Dead Rise. The latest entry in the franchise pumps new life and death through its veins by jumpstarting the film anew.
Evil Dead Rise begins with that familiar POV shot of the Kandarian force roaming the woods. As it picks up momentum, we are suddenly pulled out of the POV to realize that we are looking through a drone’s lens. The shot lets us know that we are in for a new era of the Evil Dead while having a bit of fun with expectation. The sequence brings us to a bunch of vacationing people having fun at a cabin by the lake. The introduction to these folks doesn’t last long before the possession of a Kandarian demon makes its self-known. Scalps are pulled blood is shed and the Evil Dead Rise in the short intro. We are then pulled back to the city a few days before the events at the lake.
We are then introduced to a small family with mom, Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) her two kiddos (Morgan Davies, Nell Fisher), and her sister, Beth (Lily Sullivan) all living in a high-rise apartment building. When a major earthquake manages to open a hole in the floor the small family discovers The Book of the Dead.
It doesn’t take son Danny long to play the vinyl records that accompanied the book. Once again the Evil Dead is set free and within seconds all hell breaks loose and enters the body of mom, aka, Mom.
The familiar POV of the Kandarian forces pushes across the city streets before finding the tenement building. Once inside it doesn’t take long to find its first possession victim, Alyssa. Once possessed Alyssa makes her way back to her family in their apartment home and as you could have guessed it doesn’t take long for souls to begin being swallowed and for blood, guts and viscera to begin flying.
Evil Dead Rise does a great job of keeping its evil foot pressed firmly against the gas pedal. Once we are introduced to this poor family and their apartment home, the horror, action and fun doesn’t stop coming.
Director, Lee Cronin, (The Hole in the Ground) fits perfectly into the Evil Dead family. He manages to create enough of his own vision of the Kandarian Demon hellscape to make it his own while also giving us cornerstone moments filled with boomsticks, chainsaws, over-the-top horror, and the classic Demon voice that Sam Raimi fostered in his films. In fact, Cronin takes that Kandarian demon voice even further. He manages to create a full-on character by way of possessed Ellie that resonates and becomes more incendiary throughout.
Cronin manages to create that new villainess voice by way of Alyssa Sutherland. The actress goes through the motions going from struggling mother to a terrifying and completely memorable deadite queen. She remains throughout the film. Each scene sees the actress meeting the physical challenges of the role as well as the all-out evil villainess parts of the role with exceeding perfection. Not since Bad Ash has a Kandarian Demon stood out as memorably as Sutherland’s mom breaking Evil Dead bad. Hail to the Evil Queen.
Cronin also manages to create a world that may contain the other two Necronomicon books that we have seen in the past. He leaves room in the story to believe that both Bruce Campbell’s Ash and Jane Levy’s Mia may all exists with their own respective books of the dead. I love the idea that there are more than one Necronomicon in play and the director bravely opens up that possibility.
Beth (Lily Sullivan) becomes our knight in bloody armor here. Sullivan steps into the blood-soaked role of our new heroine with gusto. It is easy to love her character early on and by the time we see Sullivan bloodsoaked, with chainsaw and boomstick in tow we as an audience are already head over heels and cheering.
Evil Dead Rise is a full on non-stop gorefest party that starts up fast and doesn’t let up for a second. The blood, guts, and fun never stop or give you a chance to breathe. Cronin’s high-rise nightmare is an exquisite chapter in the world of The Evil Dead. From start to finish the party doesn’t let up for a second and horror fans are going to love every second of it. The future of The Evil Dead is safe and ready for more souls to swallow. Long live the Evil Dead.
‘Dark Lullabies’ Film Review
Dark Lullabies is a 2023 horror anthology film by Michael Coulombe consisting of nine tales creating a run time of 94 minutes; Dark Lullabies can be found on the Tubi Streaming Service. The film’s tagline, “Guaranteed to tuck you in and rock you to sleep,” is clever and suitable. I am a sucker for anthology films and series, so I was very excited to check this out. I had seen a few of the short stories already, but it was a real treat to revisit these gems.
So let’s dive right into it; this isn’t a film loaded with special effects, so if that is what you’re looking for, you may want to wait for the new Transformer film to release this year. Dark Lullabies is a film that allowed its creators to spread their wings and produce content, which I am sure was on a shoestring budget.
I’ve heard that the most popular obstacles for any production are time and money. Out of the nine tales, a few have an emotional hold over me, for many reasons, from the story, the acting, and the direction. A similar trait that these horror tales held was that I wanted to see each as a feature, as I felt there was more story to tell, and now it was up to me to use my imagination to fill in the blanks, which is never a negative.
Before I get into what I specifically enjoyed, I will point out a few flaws I had with the overall film. I understand at times, because of the powers that be, certain decisions are made, it is out of reach for the creative minds, and they can’t specifically make certain decisions. I believe the entire film would have flowed better if the title cards were placed at the beginning of each segment (some were). This would avoid confusion about one segment ending and another beginning; at times, the viewer may think they are still on the same segment because of the transition.
Lastly, I would have liked to have seen some creepy or slapstick funny host; some of my favorite anthologies had horror hosts, and I believe it would have added that final gloss over to the film. None of this was a deal breaker, just something I would have liked to have seen. I enjoyed all of the segments in Dark Lullabies; there are a few that I would like to mention specifically.
“Dark Lullabies is a culmination of 9 of my short horror films; each segment dealing with the horrors cause by people and the choices they make. Horror is not always a monster or a man in a mask. Jealousy, ego, abuse, cruelty, cheating..there are all kinds of subtle messages throughout Dark Lullabies.” – Director Michael Coulombe.
First up is the segment “Love Me Not.” I was particularly keen on this one because actress Vanessa Esperanza seamlessly delivered a lengthy monologue for nearly the segment’s duration. Jenny has experienced a broken heart countless times but will teach all her ex-boyfriends a deadly lesson on Valentine’s Day. I would have loved to have seen more of the story focusing on where Jenny’s story began and what the final straw was bringing this character to her breaking point. This segment was well-written and directed.
Second, on my list is “Bag of Tricks.” With a run time of sixteen minutes, this segment delivers a satisfying blend of terror, exceptional acting, and cinematography that’s on point and makes for that perfect story to tell on Halloween. This will satisfy your Halloween craving and is watchable any time of the year.
The segment focuses on a couple answering an ordinary Halloween evening knock at the door, turning the night into a chilling ordeal for both lovers as they meet Timmy, the ghost. I must say, the presence of the ghost costume is downright hair-raising! I hope that at some point, Writer Brantly Brown and Director Michael Coulombe will deliver us a feature, as I know so much more can be told.
My third mention is “Silhouette.” It is amazing how being polite to someone could have paid off for the gentleman in this segment. With a run time of about eight minutes, Silhouette delivers a powerful punch, and again, the concept, if expanded on, I believe would make a great feature. I am always in the mood for a good ghost story!
My fourth and final mention is “Stalk.” This story was clever and simple, which made it very unnerving. Do you ever feel as though someone is following you? What would you do if that was your reality and someone was stalking you? Would you run, hide, or fight back? Stalk will be sure to leave your appetite howling for more!
Dark Lullabies is a decent anthology that allows these talented individuals to showcase their art, and I hope to see more of this in the future. From the planning, coordination and management, directing, and editing, I know a lot of heart and thought went into producing each of these nine shorts. Remember to check Dark Lullabies out on Tubi.
REVIEW: ‘Scream VI’ Is an Action-Packed, Galvanizing Tour de Force
I kinda wish I could say that the Scream franchise has jumped the shark with this latest chapter — we all know that day is coming — but it hasn’t. Not this time.
We might have the “core four” to thank for that. The “core four” consists of last year’s survivors, Sam (Melissa Barrera), Tara (Jenna Ortega), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad (Mason Gooding). That accolade doesn’t just go for the on-screen characters, but Scream VI has some of the best damn young actors in Hollywood today.
Easter Egg Hunt
This review is going to be somewhat short because I don’t want to give away any spoilers or inadvertent clues to this edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. But I will move forward as if you have already seen the last film, so if you haven’t, check it out before you see Scream VI, there are a lot of things you should know that are going to make your experience a lot richer.
First, let’s start with the ubiquitous cold open. Scream VI has the weirdest and most satisfying prologue since four. Again, it is better that I don’t mention what it involves because that’s part of the fun. But I will tell you that Easter has come early because there are eggs everywhere. If any movie can get you to watch it twice, it’s this one. Once, for the main action, and again to for the IYKYK treasure hunters.
Scream VI has the most action sequences of the first three films combined. This is like the Die Hard of horror. Again, giving anything away is not going to make us feel good so we’ll move on. But suffice it to say that there are some real nail-biting showpieces that never had this much bang in past films. I found myself yelling at the screen amongst my journalistic colleagues and I never do that. This is a fun ride in a full theater so don’t go through all your popcorn in the first 30 minutes.
Family & Core Four
In Scream (2022) there was a heavy emphasis on family. We got to see Sam’s slow descent into madness while trying to stave off Ghostface. Eventually, her psycho superpower was enough to beat the killer with the help of Master Yoda…er, Daddy Billy Loomis. Scream VI is forged on the strength of extended family. As Dom Toretto would say, “I don’t have friends, I have family.” And of course, there is the sisterly relationship between Sam and Tara. Only a year has passed since the events in Woodsboro and they haven’t had time to heal, let alone understand how to move forward. Both Barrera and Ortega have so much talent.
I said before that you should watch the 2022 Scream before Scream VI. I would also recommend you watch all of the Scream movies before heading into this one. Whereas in Scream (2022) fandom was cut down to size, Scream VI is an Oscar speech to aficionados of the franchise. It is going to be helpful as a fan to have a refresher, and helpful to people who only casually watch for reference points.
Let’s put it this way: if you have never seen a Scream movie you will still have fun, but you run the risk of ruining your date’s post-movie high by asking a lot of questions. Don’t do that. Do your homework.
Scream VI has such a solid backbone it can stand on its own. Enough can’t be said about this talented group of actors. They really appreciate the franchise.
You have to remember some of these actors weren’t even born when the first Scream was released. In fact, Ortega wouldn’t come into the world until seven years later. That means everything Wes Craven did by re-inventing the horror rules back in 2009, a refreshed generation has entered the picture and re-invented their own. Just as we millennials appreciated what the original movie did back then, a whole new crowd is going to appreciate what it does today. Craven is applauding from the grave.
So yes, Sidney might be missed in spirit, but you’ll hardly know she’s gone. Or is she?
The Unmasking (No Spoilers)
As with all the Ghostface movies, there comes that element of anticipation as you try to figure out who is holding the knife and wearing the mask. That final 10 minutes when the killer is revealed and the audience lets out a collective “ooohhh…!” If the filmmakers have done their job, the reveal leaves us with “that tracks” rather than “I knew it!” Scream VI follows that same formula where it’s not so much the destination as it is the journey. I won’t say anything more about that.
Final Thoughts: Scream VI
Bloodier than the ones before it. With more action than in recent memory, and a cast full of talented actors, I bet Scream VI is going to float to the top of franchise favorites. While the formula is relatively unchanged, the movie still has tons of surprises. This can’t be said for vintage slashers of the past.
Scream continues to change the game (and the rules) and so far, it has worked; no sharks have been jumped. Until that day comes, the king of slashers still reigns supreme.