Horror

Midsommar

First Hit: Early on, I was hopeful and interested, but as the story moved along it failed to deliver intrigue and died an unhappy but amusing unintended death.

While watching the film, the approach of the story reminded me of “Get Out” in that people are brought to a place unsuspecting of the weird darkness that is ready to befall them. But more like "Us,” Jordan Peele’s follow-up film, this story fails by being too overt and complicated in its presentation.

At the beginning of the film, I thought the scenes were exciting and created a hopeful promise of a good story. Many of these scenes, were well depicted, including Dani (Florence Pugh) panicking because her bi-polar sister wasn’t responding to Dani’s emails and that her parents not answering their phone. She did a great job of depicting insecurity and panic.

Looking for support, she calls her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), but gets little relief from her fears, because of the tone tenor of his voice while attempting to support her tells a different story. We understand that he’s disengaged and tired of her insecurities.

When Dani learns her sister has killed herself and her parents, Christian does what he can to support her, but we all know, he’s doing it out of guilt and now barely cares about any future with Dani.

Christian likes hanging out with his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) who are encouraging him to find another girlfriend because Dani’s too clingy.

These set-up scenes are excellent and made me wonder where this story was headed.

During a group conversation with his buddies, Christian reluctantly tells his friends that he’s invited Dani on their group trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s family and experience the Midsommar celebration.

The reluctance and inability of Christian to communicate with Dani, and with his friends about Dani, is part of the slow burn that develops in Dani that is key to actions later in the film.

Heading into Pelle’s communal family compound, the audience notices the welcoming nature of this group, but also there’s a hint of darkness in the interactions between the outsiders and the communal group.

Then the story really starts to dive into weirdness. Along with another outside couple, Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe respectively), we get a sense that these outsiders were brought here for another reason (hence the reference to “Get Out”).

There are overtly graphic deaths that are meant to be honorable in their execution as this commune believes that at age 72 you’ve served and it’s time to leave. When I say overtly graphic, I mean this. They are not easy to watch and not for the faint of heart.

But this is just part of the weirdness of this story, and by the time it is clear what is going on, the story was both comical and poorly conceived.

Pugh was strong. Her ability to be needy, vulnerable, and edgy was very good. Reynor was excellent at being a guilt-ridden boyfriend. Harper was one of the more clearly defined characters and brought a saneness to this story. Poulter is always good at being the goofy, slightly outrageous, obnoxious character. In this film, he carries on this role. Blomgren was outstanding as the commune member who gently supports Dani through her transition. Madekwe was sufficiently outraged bordering on too much at the demonstration of the deaths of two older people. Torchia was good in her minor role as Simon’s finance. Ari Aster wrote the screenplay and directed this film. The story felt overly complicated and seemed to get confused with itself. For instance, there is this scene when Pelle says this event only happens every ninety years, but what part is annual and what part is every ninety years? When do the other old people pass, annually? What parts are every ninety years, and what parts are annual? I didn’t understand the meaning of talking about this ninety-year sacred event. There were moments in which the direction was clearly impactful and engaging, while other sections pushed the story more than required to make the point or that the parts didn’t quite make sense.

Overall: This film was too long and uneven its storytelling.

Ma

First Hit: Moderately thrilling at times.

This is a story about someone who was bullied as a high school student and finally having the opportunity to go overboard and get back at what was done to her.

Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) picks up the nickname “Ma” from a bunch of high school kids for whom she buys liquor because they are too young to buy it themselves. “Ma” also offers these kids a place to party and drink the alcohol she obtains for them.

Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mom Erica (Juliette Lewis) have just moved from San Diego to her mom’s hometown in Ohio. Erica has taken a job as a cocktail waitress while training to be a card dealer at a casino.

Attending high school on her first day, Maggie meets up with Haley (McKaley Miller) who convinces her to join her and a few friends for a drinking party just outside of town. One of Haley’s friends and someone who smiled and said “hi” to Maggie is Andy (Cory Fogelmanis). Maggie joins them on this adventure, especially because Andy will be there.

Standing outside the liquor store, Maggie gets Sue Ann to buy some liquor. Sue Ann convinces the kids to follow her to her house where they can party, and she can keep tabs on them.

The word spreads around school that “Ma” will not only get them booze but let the kids drink and have fun in her basement. But there is something suspicious about “Ma” and Maggie suspects there is an underlying current of weirdness.

We learn that “Ma” went to school with Maggie’s mom and Andy’s dad Ben (Luke Evans) because the story cuts back and forth through time showing these adults as kids in high school and the mean trick they played on Sue Ann.

It is in this context that Sue Ann decides she’s going to get revenge on the people that embarrassed and humiliated her. She does this through their kids, the ones coming to her house to party.

Secrets are revealed, and the and the sick pain “Ma” feels about what was done to her expresses itself in several horrific scenes.

Spencer is rather good as the kind veterinarian assistant and the off the charts psychotic revenge focused woman in her hometown. She did a great job of changing her look as needed. Lewis is always interesting to watch on screen. She always makes me think she’s just hanging out on edge. Silvers is excellent as the somewhat shy, yet intelligent young girl. Miller is keen as the friend who creates excitement around herself. Fogelmanis is very good as the young man who cares about Maggie. Evans is terrific as the man who is the primary subject of Ma’s vengeance. Scotty Landes wrote this script that attempts to tell the darkest side of what happens to people who are bullied. Tate Taylor got strong performances from the young cast and Spencer.

Overall: It was fun to watch Spencer change her expressions from light-hearted and helpful to dark and revengeful.

The Intruder

First Hit: A day after watching this movie, I’ve forgotten almost everything about it.

A good film has you remember something about it, the next day, next week, next month, and next year. This film barely made it to the next day. A movie like “Wait Until Dark,” which might be categorized as the same genre, is still is with me today, and I saw it in 1967.

The idea of this film is; a couple decides to buy a country home in Napa Valley, fix it up, and hopefully raise a family in their new home. The house they fall in love with is owned by a man who claims his wife died about two years ago from cancer and it’s time for him to move on and live in Florida with his daughter. But, with any good horror mystery, there is a wrinkle in the idyllic story.

Here we have Annie and Scott Russell (Megan Good and Michael Ealy respectively), having had success, wanting to move from a condo in San Francisco to a home in Napa Valley. The home Annie falls in love with is owned by Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid).

The faults started early for me. The looks and quick switches in attitude by Peck made him a creepy suspect too soon. He didn’t sell the story of his wife dying of cancer well enough. That is what disappointed me about this film. It telegraphed too loud and too early the player's positions in this film.

Annie, on her part, was too trusting too early and in apparent situations where caution would be the by-word, she wasn’t. Scott was on edge too early as well. His mistrust and skittishness seemed a little too fabricated.

Anyway, after buying the house, Peck keeps showing up at Russell’s home, mowing the lawn, yelling at people installing a security system, and trying to be helpful. He isn’t, and the creepiness oozes from his eyes and a fake smile.

The story unfolds as one might imagine, but the over crafting from the beginning led to an apparent predictable ending. Additionally, I live in the San Francisco Bay area I’m surprised that Scott, as a high-level advertising executive, would consider making a daily commute from Napa to San Francisco. It might have been better if they had moved to Mill Valley, Fairfax, or other Marin County areas, than Napa. I couldn’t get around the commute as being something viable.

Ealy was OK as Scott. However, his suspicions were telegraphed too early in the film. Good was acceptable as Annie. Her naivety towards Peck by not seeing his obvious behavior flaws was not believable. As a for instance, note the scene when she invites him in to share the pizza he delivers to her, dumb. Quaid overacted the part, but I did think his evil grin was well done. He sort of had a “Chuckie” look to him. Joseph Sikora as Scott’s close friend Mike was reasonable in his role as up and coming young, robust and rich guy. Alvina August was acceptable as Mike’s girlfriend who put up with Mike’s posturing. David Loughery wrote a good script, but it was the direction by Deon Taylor that failed to make the story memorable. He didn’t get much out of his actors and sided on overacting to make this film.

Overall: This film is totally forgettable and not worth seeing.

Us

First Hit: Started off OK, but then became a contrived, overburdened, and almost laughable story.

I was a fan of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. However, here the characters felt pressed in their roles and the premise and ending was apparent to me early on.

The ability to keep the audience focused on one thing while using sleight of hand to set us up for a surprise is what this film is about. However, when the crowning moment appears and I sat there and said to myself, “yeah, that was expected,” it didn’t work.

Us didn’t work for me because Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o also plays Red) was a little too odd from the beginning. Her looks and way of being stood out a too much.

The set-up from her going into the house of mirrors as a child and being adversely affected wasn’t strong enough to make me buy her subsequent adult behavior. Therefore I started trying to figure out why is she was the way she was — darkly edgy.

The story is, that as a child, Adelaide enters a house of mirrors and gets scared. We are to believe this had a profound effect on her. Then we meet her later in life married to Gabe (Winston Duke also plays Abraham). They have two children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex respectively). On a family vacation, they decide to take a day trip to Santa Cruz. Adelaide doesn’t want to go because this is where the house of mirrors, where she was frightened in as a child, is located.

Events, with Jason wandering off at the Santa Cruz beach near the house of mirrors, spark’s a visit from their dark underworld counterparts.

The story gets more complex by adding in their friends Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss respectively) and their twin daughters Becca and Lindsey (Cali Sheldon and Noelle Sheldon respectively).

The underworld expansion and counterpoint to each of the characters were mildly entertaining.

Nyong’o telegraphed the part more than I would have liked. I’m not sure whether this was at Peele’s direction or her interpretation. Regardless, outside of a few strong scenes, I didn’t buy it. Duke had some funny scenes, like his first foyer in his boat, but his role didn’t work for me and I didn’t think he and Nyong’o worked as a couple. It just didn’t seem to fit. Joseph was probably the best thing in the film. When she got in the driver’s seat of the car and insisted in driving, and when she took the golf club in hand, the audience knew she meant business. She was excellent. Alex was good as the son, however, the mask fixation didn’t work for me, and I understand why it was part of the role. Heidecker and Moss were strong in their supportive roles. Peele both wrote and directed this film and for the most part it didn’t work. It made me wonder if he’ll fall into the same trap as M. Night Shyamalan; create a wonderful first film and then slowly fall into the abyss of ever increasingly bad films.

Overall: This film was failure of suspense, thrill, and horror.

Greta

First Hit: The story portrayed here was poorly constructed and did not keep me engaged.

The plot is about a Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an older lonely woman who plays the piano looking for companionship. To find it, she leaves purses with a few objects in them on the New York Subway, one being her ID. Her hopes are someone will notice and return the handbags.

We are introduced to Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young waitress who has recently lost her mother to cancer. She’s living with her best friend Erica Penn (Maika Monroe). While coming home one evening, Francis found a purse on the subway. Finding the ID, Frances finds Greta’s home and returns the handbag.

They strike up a friendship based on that they’ve lost loved ones; Greta her husband and Frances, her mother. However, it becomes obsessive on Greta’s part, and the creepiness begins after their first meeting. Greta’s weirdness of Frances’ time and attention hits a high mark when Frances finds additional purses, like the one she returned. The gig is up.

Figuring out that Greta does this to entrap young women, she also realizes that these women, including her, are replacements for her daughter whom Greta says is living in France. But is she?

As the story unfolds, Greta’s behavior becomes more obsessive and creepy. Finally, she drugs Frances and locks her up.

The story continues to unfold from here and how it ends is only slightly surprising.

The best part of the film was the quality of the cinematography and sets. Greta’s home had a beautiful quality, including its own creepiness. The apartment where Frances and Erica lived was perfectly modern for two young women. However, the story and film felt pushed through and forced.

Huppert was, at times, excellent in her expressions, but overdone as the story unfolded. Moretz was good, she carried the naivety of her role well enough, but again it was the story and direction that made all of it not work. Monroe was good as the roommate, and her final scenes were excellent. However, during the movie the story just guided her to be more flighty than needed. Ray Wright and Neil Jordan wrote a mixed-up script that created an overemphasis on the creepiness of the character. Jordan didn’t help matters with the direction because the creepiness was overdone.

Overall: This story didn’t quite work.