Smile (2022) Review: It Follows made by committee.

I should say early doors, that it is entirely possible that this movie is the singular vision of one person and turned out exactly as writer/director Parker Finn intended. However I do feel like I have enough of an understanding of the way the giant disgusting industry works to feel relatively strongly that Paramount Pictures isn’t putting out an almost 2 hour horror movie that they’re not positive they can sell. Particularly when they’re putting money into weird viral marketing campaigns. So, with that aside, lets talk about the camel that is Smile.

Before I get into the issues I have with this one, I feel like it’s only fair to talk about what works first, and there are things that work to be sure. The concept on its (smiling) face, is genuinely creepy – and I wasn’t terrible surprised to hear that it was a short film before hand, because Lights Out worked much better in isolated scenes than in its totality and this kind of reminds me of that in that way. There are some truly unsettling and effective scene thought Smile, the majority of which were in the copious trailers, and one that doesn’t hit until the final moments of the movie. To spread that out across a relatively lackluster hour and fifty five minutes does not make for much to get excited about.

I will say though, there is a scene in the ending that absolutely bangs and if the movie had been more of that it might be one of my favourites of the year. Sadly, one good scene does not a good movie make. There are also some really great performances throughout; Sosie Bacon is great in the lead, and gives a pretty emotionally complex performance – for the most part. She reminded me a whole lot of Lili Taylor throughout, and I really appreciated that kind of off-beat performance. Caitlin Stasey is also great, albeit only briefly in the movie, and Kal Penn has a great and natural charm about him.

I imagine that the scenes that do work are the reasons the movie is seeing quite a bit of positive response, because when it works it does work. The other thing I see commented quite positively on is the thematic exploration of mental illness and trauma. Personally, I feel like the movie is getting an A for effort rather than credit for a real and meaningful exploration – how much of this is the fault of the studio or a bad script is kind of hard to tell, but it is there. The thematic exploration is also stated outright multiple times, seeming not to trust the audience with piecing it together on their own. It also creates an issue in the established rules of the world, and manages to simultaneously over and underexplain the smiling monster and there is some kind of disconnect between what the movie is trying to be about and what it is actually about.

Perhaps the biggest crime, to my mind, that this film commits comes down to the cat, Mustache. As soon as I saw that fucking cat I immediately required the movie to have a shot of that cat smiling with human teeth and really leaning into the wild premise and embracing a little absurdity. Instead, the cat is killed – as only true hack writer’s do – and used in a little fake out bit of nonsense, which I did not enjoy.

I will admit that it seems unfair to compare this movie to It Follows, but it really is the most obvious comparison the primary difference being that I quite like It Follows and found Smile a bit … tedious. A kind of funhouse version with a much less cohesive vision and made with the “assistance” of the production company and producers. Almost like seeing what Smile could have been in an alternate universe or something, rather than this pretty lackluster thing. \

A movie like this doesn’t need to be complicated, and should have a significantly more fun time with this premise. I think of something like last year’s Malignant, which runs about the same length but has a significantly more entertaining story that really leans into the goofiness of it all. There really could have been something like that here, and it does show through in more than one spot.

All in all, Smile just doesn’t quite put a smile (womp womp) on my face. I really wanted it to, but here we are.


Terrifier 2 (2022) Review: A piece of Art.

Alright, after 2016’s Terrifier left me feeling pretty lukewarm, and the press surrounding the sequel was bad and annoying, I had pretty low expectations for the crowd-funded follow up. Add to that an eye-watering run time* (* for a movie like this) – at nearly two and a half hours – and I had some… concerns. Honestly, the red flags really do abound with this one. So, did I throw up and faint and feel deeply scandalized and traumatized? Is Art a new horror icon? Is the genre too gross? Lets find out, shall we?

To answer those questions first, in order, No, maybe, and no. Lets start with the negatives, because they do exist and I think it’s worth talking about. The first problem is the run time, look, as much fun as I had watching this movie, it’s too fucking long. It absolutely doesn’t have the same issues with pacing as the first, the pace is a bit better, but it does go on too long and spends a lot of time on lore that it never really pays off. If you had excised the dream sequences you likely wouldn’t have missed out on much, for example, but I get the sense that they were an idea for a short film that just got spliced into this one. They are definitely sequences but they don’t do a huge amount in main story, or if it does it goes over my head and doesn’t actually get resolved.

The star of the show, again, is David Howard Thorton as Art the Clown. The performance is solid, if maybe a bit tired because I watched them back to back essentially. He made me laugh on more than one occasion, particularly his scenes in the Halloween store are genuinely fun and bizarre. The rest of the cast is stronger here too, Lauren LaVera is great as Sienna. Her performance is a bit uneven, but honestly she really brings it in some very challenging scenes. It is absolutely clear that everyone is game for this and that goes a long way.

The reason, of course, that everyone is talking about this movie has to come back to the practical effects – which are on a whole other level this time around. The money the crowd funding made absolutely was well spent because there are some excellent effects throughout. Nothing so dIsgUsTiNg that I felt ill or anything, but it really cranks things up. Which absolutely is what needed to happen to make this superior to the original. One in particular that comes to mind has to be one of the dead characters in the bed, who I think is part stop motion, part puppet, and part the actress and it is genuinely a great, gross gag.

Something that feels worth mentioning here is a bit of respect paid to something that Terrifier does, or rather doesn’t do. A standard, and extremely off putting, trope of schlock movies like this is sexual violence; and Terrifier doesn’t do it at all, despite being a pretty shocking and violent thing, it never crosses that line and honestly, it makes the whole affair seem more mature and I give it a whole lot of credit for that. The reliance on rape as a plot device or a means of shocking is one of my least favourite things about movies that are almost exactly like this series, and this one really shows that its a lazy fucking crutch that we don’t need to do anymore.

This is, by a pretty wide margin, a better movie that the original, and I think that is going to actually kind of make it worse for some folks. There is a story that is being, at least, attempted, and while I’m not convinced it actually comes together I will give it extreme bonus points for an absolutely wild post-mid-credit sequence that proved all of my predictions wrong and redundant.  If this upward trend continues, then I will expect some good things from the next one.

On an unrelated note, I just heard that David Howard Thorton will be donning the green furry mantel of the fucking Grinch in The Mean One, which… is going to be a weird thing that shouldn’t exist but I’m probably going to watch it anyways.

Terrifier 2, I must extremely begrudgingly say is great, and one of my favourite horror movies of 2022. Which is so annoying and I hate it. But I did love this movie. So.



Terrifier (2016) Review: More like Pennydumb…right? Does that track?

This review contains spoilers for Terrifier (2016)

Alright, well, with Terrifier 2 making headlines for making people faint and throw up and being just the most fUcKeD uP moViE of AlL tIMe – I thought it was high time that I got around to watching the first one. I remember, vaguely, Art the Clown’s arrival in the basically ok All Hallows’ Eve, but this one completely passed me by. So, how was this one? Has my life been forever changed by the most edgy fucked up movie of a generation?

The short answer is … no. Obviously not.

Running at 88 minutes, Terrifier somehow manages to feel too long, with so much meandering and cat and mouse and completely superfluous characters who take FOREVER to die. Look, I understand that this is supposed to be a dumb, gory, 80s throwback slasher and looking into the story in any meaningful way is a pointless exercise but the movie needed to push harder than it did. It doesn’t go far enough with the gore and kills to justify being quite this lazy with the story. It kind of tries to have it both ways?

So, lets talk about the reason to watch this movie, because despite it being too long, I think I actually kind of loved parts of it. The main reason to watch it is, surprising no one, Art the Clown. David Howard Thorton is genuinely good in this role, his performance is creepy and consistent and, occasionally, genuinely funny. He really commits to the role, and it works. His design is great too, the make up is really effective, with enough nooks and cranny to make it terrifying under the right lighting, and harmless under the right light. Writer/Director Damien Leone absolutely has a winner on his hands with Art, and I absolutely understand why people have responded to the character so well.

The other thing that the movie gets so much love for seems to be the practical effects, and I’m going to try to separate my feelings about the effects in this one with the effects in the sequel, so bear with me. I love practical effects and wet puppets, I don’t need realistic gore, the less real the better honestly, no one needs to know what it actually looks like when someone gets their head crushed, so lets up the gore and go way over the top. Terrifier does a pretty good job with this line, and in general the thing is effectively silly, and most of the gore gags are a lot of fun. They just get a bit few and far between and the thing really drags in the middle when it could be smashing.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the movie is genuinely funny, and makes a couple of jokes that were extremely smart and showed a real love for the genre. Which kind of makes the script being just so-so all the more disappointing, because the moments where it really works are so good. There are two moments in particular that I want to highlight and give credit for, the first is the first time Art just uses a gun. The moment is so well set up and got a genuine laugh out of me. It’s absolutely a question we’ve all asked “Why don’t they just use a gun?” – and it really hits right. The other comes closer to the end, when a character inexplicably goes back into the scary building even though there are vehicles outside, and then Art drives the truck back into the building and into the character. There are more moments that are funny, but truly those two are exceptionally funny.

It’s clear that I have complicated feelings about this one. I had fun, sometimes, and was bored more often than it was fun, unfortunately. The pacing isn’t great, and the characters make absolutely irredeemably bad decisions (WHY DID YOU GO BACK IN THE BUILDING???), but Art really does hold the whole thing together and it really does work. I wasn’t repulsed or offended, and I was kind of hoping for a bit more edge. It kind of ends up being a just-ok slasher flick that never quite takes the joke as far as it should and it suffers for that.



Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022): He’s A Libra Moon And That Says A Lot!

The following may contains spoilers for Bodies Bodies Bodies. 

Alright sports fans, I have officially abandoned the 31 Days of Musicals in favour of enjoying my life. So, lets get right into an absolute banger of a movie: Bodies Bodies Bodies from the fine folks at A24. A classic tale about the worst people on earth being the absolute worst, and also Pete Davidson is there being himself; and you know what? It absolutely rules.

Director Halina Reijin and writer Sarah DeLappe have managed to assemble one of the most entertaining horror movies that I’ve had the pleasure of watching in 2022. The movie manages to be funny and extremely tense, and sprinkle in enough violent death and carnage to round the whole thing out. I really had low expectations of this one, worried it would be an empty and irritating mess, but it really isn’t. The characters are all extremely likable in how deeply unlikable they are, they are the very definition of deeply toxic people who kind of deserve each other, and inflict pain and suffering for seemingly no reason. It also manages to be a really satisfying whodunnit, that literally had my wife and I sitting on the edge of our seats wondering where things were going to go.

This is how you portray rich people, not as cool and aspirational, but as real and true fucking nightmare human beings, who don’t mean anything they say and who will say anything to ensure that they feel like they’re good people. This is one of the few movies that manages to make jokes about virtue signaling and hypocritical liberal bullshit, without it being some kind of gross right-wing propaganda. Instead, it takes aim at the center from the left in ways that are just so funny and gratifying. What if, instead of us eating the rich, we left them alone to eat themselves?

Along with a sharp-as-hell script, the movie has a spectacularly on-board cast. Amanda Stenberg and Mara Bakalova are the audience anchor characters, but this is an ensemble through and through. It also has the rare honour in this genre we all love of being almost entirely a story about and by women, the male characters have a role to be sure, but this is never their story and it really gives this wonderful and fresh feeling to the whole thing.

It’s hard to say too much about the story without spoiling it, hence the warning at the beginning, but it is so worth just going in as blind as possible. There are red-herrings and turns aplenty, and some really excellent tension throughout; building to a real fucking gut punch that manages to be extremely funny at the same time.

If I write much more, I’ll get to specific and I don’t want to do that, so lets close by saying: seek out this movie. It’s an easy contender for one of my favourites of the year. My expectations were, genuinely, low on this one and I’m so glad I gave it a look anyways. Just think, I could have been watching Kiss Meets the Phantom tonight, and that would have really been a night wasted. So, if you want a solid sexy thriller to check out this spookiest of seasons, add this to the list.