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.



Hellraiser (2022) Review: I have such sighs to show you.

Ever since Jamie Clayton was announced as taking on the role of “The Priest”, a role made iconic by Dough Bradley in 1987, there have been hot takes and big feelings all over the internet. The biggest and hottest being the internet cry-baby set who get upset whenever a woman does anything for any reason, there were cries of this movie being yet another example of going “woke” and ruining the original, etc etc etc. So, now that this huge deal of a movie has come, has the apocalypse happened? Are all the cis men being fired from all the movies that exist? Is horror forever dead?

I suppose I’ve kind of shown my hand with the title of this review, but just in case I’ve not – obviously my hilarious build up in the first section was all to say that Hellraiser (2022) is just… fine. Far from the genre-defining masterpiece or disaster that the pre-release reviews from people who hadn’t seen it, instead it falls right down the middle of the road and left me feeling kind of meh about the whole thing. Running at 2 hours, it easily overstays its welcome by 30 or 40 minutes.

Lets get to the positives first though, and likely address the question on everyone’s mind: how is Jamie Clayton as “the Priest”. The short answer is, she’s great. She carries herself with the same gravitas as Bradley did, her makeup is solid, and she really is a frightening presence in the movie. Unfortunately, she is criminally under-used and makes extremely brief appearances across the two hours, and unfortunately her presence is not such that she is a “Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs” type performance. The cenobites all look great, honestly, and are creepy when they show up – but again, the bulk of the movie has them flitting about in the background until the third act.

The movie is also basically well acted by the human cast, and it looks pretty good. As movie, on paper and in aesthetic, it’s basically a good movie. Unfortunately, it falls apart in the writing and most of the effects. What worked so well about the 1987 film was the relative simplicity of the plot and the extremely gross wet puppets and practical effects. This movie has decided to go… a different route. There are some practical effects on the cenobites, but everyone is noticeably free of goop, and many of the more extreme kills happen in shadow and darkness, so it never seems to want to commit to going as far over the top as it should. The cenobite make up isn’t especially realistic, so having some goofy and over-the-top effects would be in the spirit of the original for sure.

Then there are the CGI effects which… aren’t great, and if anything only shed light on the differences between the original and this one in ways that aren’t particularly flattering. All of that said, the Lament Configuration prop in its various configurations  is pretty solid. Also the weird machine one of the characters has driven into him has a pretty cool and fun vibe to it, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense.

I wonder if there is just an issue here with adaptation. Lovecraft and Barker both seem to suffer in adaptation – there is this effort to over-explain the worlds that either author’s work has created, when what works and makes it unsettling is how much is unknown. Describing the unknown thing in the walls that no human can fathom kind of  takes the edge off of it. Y’know? There is a lot of lore here and it all feels forced and unnecessary. My enjoyment of the Hellraiser world didn’t come from fully understanding the motivations and intricacies of the cenobites, the fact that they are so detached is what makes them scary.

All in all, the movie is basically fine but really not worth all of the discourse that has been going around about it. What you’ve got is essentially a fine horror movie that is being built up into this other thing that it just isn’t. It needed more wet puppets and to be much shorter. I’m sure I’m going to be in the minority here with this middle of the road review, but what can you do? 2022 hasn’t delivered a ton of great horror, hopefully it improves.