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Gothika isn’t a horrible movie, but it seems it had more potential. Let me explain.

On that note, I should warn you: There are some plot points revealed in this review, so be ready for that.

Mathieu Kassovitz’ Gothika is a tricky movie to review, as it’s both halfway decent yet somewhat disappointing. What’s the basic premise? Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) is a happily married psychiatrist in a women’s mental hospital. She one day awakens as a patient accused of murdering her husband. Not bad so far, right? In fact, these aspects of the story have inherent potential.

However, in some ways, the story is weakened by its supernatural elements, and certain horror clichĂ©s. It’s another horror film that’s seemingly obsessed with night. For example, Grey gets in a car accident on a stormy night after narrowly avoiding a strange girl standing in the road. I hate to nitpick about anything, but I almost think this non-vampire movie could have used some daytime scares. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre proved this can work, and a host of other classic horror films. Hell, Joe Dante’s Piranha takes place overwhelmingly in daylight, and it’s better for it.

That aside, remember the “road girl” that Grey avoided the night she was hospitalized? Well, we quickly learn she was probably a ghost. Also, for whatever reason, this ghost is maliciously haunting her. I mean, it pretty much wreaks havoc on Miranda’s body, cutting the words “Not Alone” into her arm and thrashing her around. It’s some harsh stuff, but doesn’t quite add up in my mind. If the ghost wants her to understand something, why can’t it just appear to her and say it? It seems there’s a rule in typical movie “ghost-dom” which forbids rudimentary forms of communication. The process becomes inexplicable.

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Ultimately, it makes this vengeful ghost look more like a villain than a possible hero, and less sympathetic as a result. Perhaps the idea is that Berry can’t cope with the possession and is hurting herself? I don’t know. It’s just interesting how rare it is to see a nice ghost. If anything, the fact she wants to convey a message should calm her down a bit. Perhaps carving vague messages into someone’s arm isn’t the best approach to communication. Ever think of that, any of you ghosts out there?

The Performances

What about the acting? Aside from Halle Berry, who does a good-to-great job as usual, Robert Downey Jr. seems to really phone it in as Dr. Pete Graham. Downey typically has screen presence in films, but here it seems likjust about anyone could have played the role, and almost better. While I hate to pick on him, I just think his heart wasn’t in this performance at all. Charles S. Dutton, who plays Miranda’s husband, Dr. Douglas Grey, does a better job, but he has so little screen time that it hardly matters. I try not to trash actors, but go ahead and watch Gothika and tell me I’m being unfair. PenĂ©lope Cruz is decent as a fellow inmate who’s less crazy than she initially appears. Still, she isn’t afforded much screen time, either. Probably the best performance besides Berry’s is that of John Carroll Lynch, as the nearly always unhinged Sheriff Ryan. However, he’s almost too over the top in his anger.

Really, the movie’s core strength is Berry’s commitment to the character, and a few decent scenes. For example, the swimming pool scene is pretty well done. It’s not even that scary, but definitely has a degree of intensity and paranoia. The story itself isn’t horrible, but it seems many of the characters and scares should have been explored a little more. Gothika is not as bad as it’s Rotten Tomatoes score suggests, but it seems to be missing some key ingredients. It’s sort of like a standard frozen pizza. It’s pretty good for what it is, but you know it’s not the best of its kind.

What are your thoughts on Gothika? Let us know in the comments!

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Suburban Screams, The Bunny Man

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Someone is stalking the children of Fairfax, Virginia. He comes bearing an axe. He comes from the forest. He comes in the night.

He comes dressed as a bunny.

The story

In the 1970s, the sleepy town of Fairfax Virginia was menaced by a man dressed as a rabbit. He stalked kids and teens with an axe while they were playing in the woods, or ‘parking’. Children were cautioned to not play outside after dark. Parents were terrified. The whole community was rocked by the horrific killer who, well, didn’t kill anybody. And who might have been a whole bunch of people inspired by a truly sad tale?

Still from Suburban Screams The Bunny Man.

The story begins a hundred years earlier. A man whose name is lost to time is accused of stealing a cow. For this crime, he’s sentenced to death because things were a lot tougher back then. The man escaped but swore vengeance on the town. A few days later several children were found hanging from a bridge underpass, butchered and hung as though they were slaughtered rabbits.

What worked

The biggest thing to love about this episode, the one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the season, was the presence of Historian Cindy Burke. Finally, we have an actual professional talking about one of these stories. Yes, there are still first-hand accounts. But that is how these sorts of stories work best. We have the emotional retelling of evocative survivors. But we also have a professional who is emotionally separated from the situation backing up these stories with historical knowledge.

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This wouldn’t have mattered as much in any other setting. But Suburban Screams has been clear from the start that it wants to be seen as a documentary. This is supposed to be real. And if you’re going to claim that your ghost story is real, bring receipts. As many as you can.

If we’d seen more historians, detectives, and police reports through this series, it probably wouldn’t have the bad rating it does on IMDB.

What didn’t work

Well, it might still have had a bad rating. Because the acting in this episode was, for lack of a stronger word, terrible.

I don’t know if it was the directing, the casting, or just a weak talent budget. But not a single person except for the man playing the Bunny Man could act in any of these dramatic reenactment scenes.

The worst offender was probably the child playing Ed’s childhood friend. This character was way overacted. It’s as though the child had seen a parody of how little boys behave, and was told to act like that. As this was a little boy, he was likely a bit embarrassed.

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And I know, I’m trash-talking a child actor. I’m trash-talking all of the children actors in this episode. But children can act. There are lots of examples of kids doing great acting jobs. Stranger Things is an obvious example. Violent Night is another. The kid can act. These kids couldn’t act.

Is it true?

Unlike most of the other episodes in this series, The Bunny Man is a story I’ve heard before. It is a legitimate urban legend that blossomed from a few firsthand accounts of madmen doing scary things dressed as rabbits in Fairfax County, West Virginia. These events probably inspired others to do stupid things like dress up like a rabbit and run around with an ax. Much like the people who decided to dress up like clowns and scare the hell out of people across the country in 2016.

So, yes, the Bunny Man is very much real. He’s real in the hearts and minds of pranksters and West Virginia frat boys. And he is based on some very real, very upsetting, actual events.

I honestly wish the whole season of Suburban Screams had been exactly like this. Filled with facts, first-hand accounts, and proof of scary events. This was everything I wanted in a supernatural/true crime story. So if you’re giving the rest of the season a pass, I would suggest watching this episode.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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The Girl in the Trunk (2024): A Tense Danish Horror-Thriller Led by Katharina Sporrer

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If you grew up in the 90s you will know one thing–ol’ Jimbo used to have ‘trunk rides’ through the north woods with people in various states of drink screaming for more. This Girl in the Trunk movie is a different type of screaming in the film and in the audience.

The premise at first glance is simple–a terrifying snatch and grab kidnapping. The modern day twist with cell phones, cell reroutes, and trunk escape buttons all come into play with just enough realism to have you wonder if this could happen to you.

The strengths of this contained thriller fall squarely on the shoulders of Katharina Sporrer, who carries the film with such abandon that I’m pretty sure she’s in traction as I type this with an overstrained back. Make no mistake — this Danish horror-thriller works because of Katharina. The end. Not the writing. Not the direction from Jonas Kvist Jensen. Not the edits. It’s her film and she does marvels with walking the tightrope of victim and vengeance as the thriller girl.

What Worked

This movie is a weird catch. What works is one actor. That’s it. Really. Katharina does a lot with little and this is something that can stand out in movies grand and small, especially in an understated Danish horror movie.

I did enjoy the filming style and the thoughts of a low budget gripping thriller. It goes to show that with a talented person you can make a movie with very little set switches, without many effects, and without multiple casts members feeding off each other. All you need is a good basic story of abduction of girl in a trunk–some solid tense pacing–and one amazing actress like Katharina. The rest of the magic is just getting out of your movie’s way.

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I think this is what works the best: The movie doesn’t sabotage itself. It knows its limits. It knows its strength and it plays to that strength.

Make no mistake — this film works because of Katharina. The end. Not the writing. Not the direction. Not the edits. It’s her film and she does marvels with walking the tightrope of victim and vengeance. Jim Phoenix on The Girl in the trunk

What Didn’t Work

When I saw this screener pop into my box, I knew there was just something about the setup I wanted to see play out. This could have gone extremely bad–but because of Katharina’s presence it swerves out of the ditch and into cinema gold.

I am not sure if this movie works only because of her acting, but I know it doesn’t work without her. The other cast members seem out of place–clunky at times. Some of the writing is a level of bizarre ‘I call bullshit’ that I haven’t seen this side of film school.

With that said, there really isn’t much of anyone else in the film for most of this mysterious true crime style film. This seems to work to its advantage, as we focus on the painful consequences for the kidnapped girl in the desert heat, with no bystander to help as she suffers heat exhaustion, bites, mental and emotional abuse, and deep uncertainty all in a very tiny trunk.

Final Verdict of The Girl in the Trunk:

The Girl in the Trunk is a story we’ve heard before, and sometimes in better ways. However, this film is worth the stream. The runtime is tight, the pacing works well, and, as I stated before, Katharina is an amazing actress who pulls this entire thing off. Almost on her acting alone, I give this 4 out of 5 Cthulhu.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Dark Deviations: A Halloween Episode in May

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Smiling Friendsfirst Halloween episode aired in January 2022, so this May release isn’t completely out of character. The much anticipated second season of the bizarre Adult Swim show has, as of June 5,2024, delivered five intriguing stories about geometrically-distorted beings and blob-shaped humans. Episode four, “Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” is a truly terrifying sight to behold.

A Mission to Make the Boss Smile

Smiling Friends is a small company whose mission is to make anyone and everyone smile, per the customer’s request. Each episode consists of various missions the four main characters, Allan, Glep, Pim and Charlie, must accomplish. These tasks can range from saving the career of a homicidal frog to finding true love for a reclusive shrimp. Season two episode four’s dilemma is to save the Boss, a charismatic, unnaturally proportioned man and Smiling Friends’ CEO. We rarely get a glimpse into the Boss’ personal life, but now we are invited to his wedding, where he is marrying none other than Satan’s daughter, Brittney.

The Smiling Friends main cast at the Boss's wedding.
(Left to right) Allan, Glep, Pim, Charlie and a new friend at the Boss’ wedding.

Naturally, marrying Satan’s daughter comes with some major consequences, the biggest of which is losing all free will. Brittney has completely possessed the Boss and transformed the Smiling Friends business into Brittney’s Beautiful Demonic Flowers. It is up to the smiling friends must find a way to save their jobs and creepy, beloved employer.

The Scariest Smiling Friends Mission

“Erm, the Boss Gets Married” is one of the scariest episodes in the series. There are jump scares, Brittney’s hellish face is even worse when she smiles. The animation is enthralling, terrifying and hilarious. Creators Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack went out of the box for this Halloween special and were especially creative with the journey to the Boss’ exorcism. Britney’s screechy demise is abrupt, as most endings in Smiling Friends are. The show is wholly unhinged, and the final lines come from Pim shouting, “HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYBODY!!!!”

While the plot is similar to South Park‘s season three episode “Succubus,” this Smiling Friends episode still upholds its own uniqueness and is fun to watch. Stick around after the credits, and you will see a delightful scene: the Boss in the middle of a screaming match with his ex-father-in-law, Satan, over their personal property in hell.

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The Verdict

“Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” is a ridiculous May Halloween special that keeps the audience on their toes. It is one of the scarier episodes in the season. The creators have a knack for illustrating uncomfortable-looking characters and complicating the simplest of storylines. It would be exciting for Smiling Friends to do more than just one horror themed episode per season, especially with how good Hadel and Cusack are at creating terrifying creatures. However, since the seasons are short, these special holiday episodes are a fun once-a-year treat. The show is already weird and scary enough; it would be overkill if they did too many spooky specials.

(That said, if the Smiling Friends creators ever decided to make an entirely new horror animated series, I would be first in line to watch the entire thing.)

“Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” earns 4.5 out of 5 cthulhu. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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