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This is going to be a hard one to review, not only because it’s a controversial remake (in name) of a classic, but also because it’s chaotic as a movie, too. The only spoiler that I’m giving in this review is that a prominently featured unicorn figurine with an extraordinary large horn is disappointingly *not* utilized in any type of maiming or killing, which was a real missed opportunity.

He just wants to be a useful plot device symbolizing female empowerment

The Plot:

I say that it’s a remake in name because it’s quite different from the original (1974) and remake (2006).

Riley and her sorority sisters are getting ready for winter break as she is still struggling with a sexual assault that occurred in her past. She mentors another sister, Helena, while being friends with Marty, Jesse, and the out-spoken Kris. She begins to get weird texts via their school’s notification system after she and her friends perform at a talent show, opening mocking the fraternity her assailant belongs to.

Soon, the strange texts escalate and they realize that they’re being hunted by a masked figure. They must work together and fast to discover the secrets behind the university’s history and unravel its dark past, terrifying present, and devastating future…

The Good:

The acting from Imogen Poots exceeded my expectations. It was not an easy role, and had challenging dialogue to not only convey but to make believable. Good use of body movement, especially when solitary and during quiet moments, for example in the blue portrait hallway before the talent show. I think she’d be great in an indie horror.

Same with Aleyse Shannon, especially when a lot of her dialogue was very clunky. I hope she’s in more Scream Queen parts, especially in different roles.

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What I love in these Black Christmas movies is the use of Xmas décor as part of the set and lighting. Very good job with that. Cinematography was smooth and lovely until shaky-cam PG-13 violence.

Set design is beautiful with the “old tradition” narrative of the story. Every creak of the floor is real and genuine-feeling, and not a manufactured sound in post-production. Whoever scouted the areas did an amazing job.

Thoughts: Brain Roll Juice

So….yeah. It’s a heavy-handed #MeToo feminist film, so your tolerance and taste for the movie are going to be dependent on your opinions of the #MeToo movement. And it’s not subtle winks and nods, it’s most of what’s on screen, down to the pink snow shovel and diva cup used as weapons (in different ways).

Quarter for size comparison

And it’s told in the lens of Blumhouse Productions, so we get pink cat-ear headbands; Secret Santa vibrators; putting in a tampon in front of a roommate; thong-talk; the phrase “boy-cotted”; push-up bras; and the many times when people are corrected for using the term “girl” instead of “woman”. Surprisingly, there was not white wine, yoga pants, or pumpkin-scented candles present.    

What I’m saying, is that while there are things being said, things that rightfully should be said, it’s through a tight and mediocre lens. It felt more like an episode of Riverdale mixed with 13 Reasons Why than a remake of a classic slasher film, including the off-screen deaths and lack-luster ambiance.

Previously on Black Christmas…
we bought more high-waisted jeans

Also, thank goodness that the characters had stockings with their names, or literally necklaces of their names, so I knew who was who because they so often blurred together. Which is fine, almost standard, for a horror/slasher film, but not when your message is that we should care about these women from the beginning.

Character-wise, I knew almost nothing about them, any of them. It was even a throw-away line that we learned our main character’s parents had died, and this was never brought up again.

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My wild guess is this: this was not originally a Black Christmas remake; it was a script about a sorority house that was slapped with the title to promote it. It’s so disjointed -plot and script- that I think there were a lot of scenes cut by the studio because they either got worried by the message or decided to double-down on the message. I think these scenes would have made it flow better and given more character development, maybe even a better ending (which didn’t make a lick of sense).

I don’t think the changes would have made it a great movie, but I think it would have been a better one. And don’t get me wrong – there have a lot of subpar movies made since the dawn of film, and this one is better than most, if just for the effort of trying to say something, especially in a male-dominated field of horror. Props to that. But at the end of the day, will this get more hate/vitriol than Blumhouse’s Uncanny Annie or Truth or Dare, even though they were of equal or lesser value? Yeah. Will a lot that hate/vitriol come from people reading a few keywords and not actually watching the movie? Sure. Maybe that’s the real juice to roll your brain in.

Now guess which one has
made less friends

One last thing of note before I sink back into the darkness. I find it odd that with PG-13, we can’t watch a human being bleed after getting stabbed in the chest by an icicle, but we can watch a woman be assaulted multiple times, and that meets quality standards for a 13-year-old.

Oh, and Riki Lindhome co-wrote the song for the talent show.

Bottom-line:

Don’t watch this as a first date movie – super awkward. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

Movies n TV

Wheel of Time, Daughter of The Night

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We’ve reached episode four of Wheel of Time, which means we’re halfway through the season. While it doesn’t seem like much has happened so far, this is the episode where things start heating up.

The Story

We begin this episode with a flashback. Ishamael is raising something dark and twisted. As we watch, it takes the shape of a woman.

More on that in a bit.

Meanwhile, Nynaeve is healing from her time in the arches. She is quiet and withdrawn. She’s also awkward and uncomfortable around Egwene now that she’s initiated and Egwene is not. Her new friendship with Elayne isn’t helping.

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But the three girls come together when Liandrin tells Nynaeve that Perrin has been captured by the Seanchan.

Zoë Robins, Madeleine Madden and Ceara Coveney in Wheel of Time.

However, Perrin is no longer in the clutches of the Seanchan. He was rescued by Elyas and a pack of beautiful wolves. Beautiful and deadly AF by the way. If you have any fear of dogs, this episode might not help that.

Elyas explains to Perrin that he is a Wolf Brother. This means that he can communicate with the wolves, and eventually will gain some of their abilities. While Perrin and Elyas don’t exactly get off on the right foot, he does find a fast friendship with one specific wolf. After a time, he introduces himself by showing Perrin an image of himself jumping up and down. From this, Perrin assumes his name is Hopper.

Finally, we return to Rand. He and Selene have been off in the mountains. They haven’t done much more than each other so far.

And that’s exactly what it appears they’re about to do when Moiraine bursts into the cottage and cuts Selene’s throat.

Rand is surprised and furious until Moiraine explains that the woman he knows as Selene is the Dark Friend Lanfear. With this shocking revelation, the two run off into the night.

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What worked

It should be a surprise to no one that I loved the wolves in this episode. Hopper himself was worth an extra Cthulhu. But this is not just because dogs are cute. It’s also because the dog playing Hopper just does a great job.

On a more serious note, I loved how Nynaeve responded upon coming back to the real world. She isn’t okay.

Zoë Robins in Wheel of Time.

And it’s a good thing that she isn’t. Too often in fiction we don’t see the fallout of emotional damage. Hell, we don’t usually see realistic fallout from physical damage.

But she is hurt by what she experienced. And you can tell. That’s realistic character building, and we don’t see that enough.

I also really appreciate the special effects in this episode. The first time we see Lanfear, she’s eerie. She’s frightening. Part of this is thanks to Natasha O’Keeffe, who does a great job. But the effects are what really sells this.

What didn’t work

If Wheel of Time has any fault, it’s that there is far too much sitting about and talking about things. In this case, there’s a lot of standing about and talking about things. Some of this was necessary, and some of it could have been done better. Honestly, there just has to be a better way to convey that characters are struggling.

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This was most apparent with Rand and Selene/Lanfear. Honestly, anytime the two of them were on screen it was a great time for me to catch up on Instagram.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t read the books, but Rand is supposed to be the main character. And here we are, four episodes into an eight-episode season, and so far all he’s done is mess about with his emo girlfriend!

That being said, the story is starting to pick up. With four episodes left, I can’t wait to see how far we go.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Elevator Game, a Film Review

Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks.

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Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks. It adapts the supernatural myth and creepypasta of the same name while providing an original plot. This unrated Shudder exclusive stars Gino Anania, Samantha Halas, and Verity Marks. In full disclosure, I had the opportunity to interview Gino Anania and Stefan Brunner about the film.

Ryan seeks to find answers to his sister’s mysterious disappearance. To do this, he infiltrates a myth-busting web series that seems to have some ties to her final confirmed moments. Desperate to force a confrontation, he encourages them to play the elevator game. Unfortunately, there seems to be more truth to the myth than expected.

A woman bends backward to look over at someone. The street she's on is red and ominous.
ELEVATOR GAME’s Samantha Halas as the 5th Floor Woman

What I Like about Elevator Game & as an Adaptation

I am lucky to have additional insight into the development hell this movie overcame due to COVID. It’s commendable that the film manages to make it of that, even if it requires a lengthy delay of the film.

Usually, I provide a separate section for adaptation quality. However, the source material remains the ritual, which Elevator Game performs accurately. While the myth inspires many creepypastas, Elevator Game doesn’t directly take or adapt any of these works from what I’ve seen. Instead, it makes its own film based on the legend.

As the Fifth Floor Woman, Samantha Halas creates an eerie and disturbing character. While I won’t go so far as to say terrifying, she certainly makes an impression. The revelation that the stunts and performance are all her, as an actual contortionist, I give her more credit.

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Gino Anania, given a more complex role than most of his cast members, really does bring a strong performance that creates either friction or synergy with his cast members. I suppose I wanted more of these interactions as some cut sooner than appreciated.

Another amusing element is that the entire motivation for the plot to follow is a forced advertisement from an investor. Something about the chaos being a product of appeasing some investors feels uncomfortably real.

The alternate reality remains surprisingly effective. To be clear, it’s not impressively realistic but stylistic. It genuinely seems like an alternate world with a skewered impression.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes or Trigger Warning

I feel weird mentioning this, but endangering a sister’s life to push the brother’s story forward seems a common trend beyond one form of media.

No discredit to the actors, but the romance feels rushed and unnecessary. Without going into too much detail, to avoid spoilers, there is synergy between the actors but little chemistry in the plot.

A woman holds a man's arm as an elevator door closes.
ELEVATOR GAME – Verity Marks as Chloe Young and Gino Anania as Ryan Keaton

What I Dislike or Considerations

Elevator Game remains set in providing a B-movie experience. Its tight budget leaves little room to surprise the viewer visually. While I am surprised at what it accomplishes, it’s far from overwhelming. This film also remains the first production of Fearworks, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’m interested in the future, but Elevator Game leaves much to grow from.

Rebekah McKendry may have a directorial style that influences dialogue, but the line delivery evokes an overexpression that’s common in Lovecraftian films. I say this not as a direct negative, but it remains a required taste best known before viewing. As this isn’t Lovecraftian, I fear it removes some of the reality and tension of those haunting elements.

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Many of the characters feel underdeveloped, making me wonder if cutting these roles might lead to more invested characters. While the performances hit their marks, a tighter cast might give each role more to work toward. As this is a tight cast already, it seems an odd issue to rectify.

Final Thoughts

Elevator Game provides an interesting B-movie experience for those who know the legend. For those expecting something different, this film may not work for you. This film overcame a lot to exist but doesn’t break the mold. While I am excited to see Fearworks pursue further ventures toward its ambitious mission statement, I find Elevator Game falling short of its goal.
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism, a Film Review

My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2022) is a R-rated horror comedy directed by Damon Thomas, available on Amazon Prime.

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2022) is a horror comedy directed by Damon Thomas. Based on Grady Hendrix’s novel of the same name, this R-rated film stars Elsie Fisher, Amiah Miller, Cathay Ang, and Rachel Ogechi Kanu. As of this review, the film is available to Amazon Prime subscribers.

Abby Rivers (Elsie Fisher) and Gretchen Lang (Amiah Miller) seek to escape the monotony of high school drama with their friends. However, in their efforts to have fun, Gretchen Lang encounters a troubling otherworldly demon bent on controlling her body. It’s up to Abby to help her overcome this demonic threat.

A VHS style cover with a girl with red eyes dominating the page. Two girls below here with pink balloons. A clocktower to the right and a field to the left
My Best Friend’s Exorcism Novel Cover

What I Like in My Best Friend’s Exorcism

The effects are surprisingly good. While not overwhelming, these effects never take me out of the film. Even the less realistic scenes fit the overall tone while looking better than expected or required. The 80’s aesthetic strengthens that believability.

Continuing that thought, My Best Friend’s Exorcism oozes the 80’s. Perhaps this comment should set an expectation for the viewer. I can’t exactly comment on the accuracy of the era, but it certainly fits the era of film. If 80’s films don’t interest you, consider looking somewhere else.

While I don’t meet the target audience, the jokes land and provide an enjoyable horror comedy feel. My Best Friend’s Exorcism focuses more on comedy than horror, but this remains a common trend in horror comedies.

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The performances remain strong throughout, with leads Elsie Fisher and Amiah Miller pulling off that best-friend chemistry. The cast purposely captures that 80’s nostalgia. Added to the campy nature of the film, one might grow irritated with the acting choices. For me, it certainly fits with the tone and setting.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings

Drug use might deserve a mention on this list. While I don’t find this egregious, I imagine this point, or some other technicality, earns the film its undeserved R-rating.

The possession lends itself as a rape allegory, with some characters even believing this to be the trauma Gretchen Lang suffers from. While this isn’t the case, the conversation remains for those who want to avoid such material.

Body horror describes a few scenes of the film, though sparingly. However, one scene convinces me to bring this up for those who get squeamish at the cracking of bones or slimies in the body.

A character is tricked into outing themselves and faces some homophobia because of it. This homophobia is rightfully taken as cruel, not condoned in the slightest, but it remains potentially triggering and deserves mention here.

Two girls sit on a bed, looking at each other. Flower wallpaper in the background.
Elsie Fisher as Abby Rivers (Left) and (Amiah Miller as Gretchen Lang (Right)

What I Dislike, or Food for Thought on My Best Friend’s Exorcism

This film seems to earn its R-rating off some technicality. It is neither raunchy nor gruesome for those expecting that from their R-rated horror films. For me, it’s more an issue of setting expectations. I expect my R-rated horrors to hit hard. My Best Friend’s Exorcism doesn’t.

It would be unfair to expect something like Jennifer’s Body, as this is a lighter and zanier film. There are elements of sisterhood and bodily autonomy that echo the cult classic, but My Best Friend’s Exorcism remains an entirely campier affair.

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In terms of performances that lack the intended impact, three over-the-top anti-drug spokesmen outstay their welcome. It’s clearly a jab at D.A.R.E., which certainly works in increments, but then one character becomes an important part of the plot and still keeps his caricature.

Final Thoughts

My Best Friend’s Exorcism fits the taste of an 80’s horror comedy fan. Don’t expect to be frightened at any point, but the comedy lands well enough. The film knows its niche and hits most of its targets. It’s hard to say if the film will stand the test of time, but it certainly earns its runtime.
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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