GERALD’S GAME (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Written by: Jeff Howard & Mike Flanagan

(based on the novel GERALD’S GAME by Stephen King)

Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas & Kate Siegel

Director Mike Flanagan has quickly been carving out quite the career in the horror genre. Flanagan’s track record hasn’t been spotless (BEFORE I WAKE was shelved for good reason), but the man has delivered a tense home-invasion thriller (HUSH), a supernatural/psychological scarefest (OCULUS), and even made a OUIJA prequel into a loving throwback to 70s satanic panic flicks (OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL). Flanagan’s success has now led to the completion of a project that he’s been wanting to make since he was a teenager: an adaptation of Stephen King’s supposedly unfilmable novel GERALD’S GAME. Despite a set up that sounds like it could potentially get boring fast, 2017’s GERALD’S GAME (the third King adaptation in the space of this year) is a tense, dark, and gripping ride.

Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are a troubled couple trying to save their failing marriage. The dysfunctional pair set out for a romantic weekend at a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Gerald reveals that he brought two “real deal” handcuffs with him and chains Jessie to the bed to play a kinky sex game. However, things go horribly wrong when Gerald drops dead of a heart attack and leaves a mortified Jessie handcuffed to the headboard. As hours tick away, Jessie finds herself trapped in a seemingly inescapable situation and facing a hungry dog that begins chowing down on her husband’s corpse. If she wishes to survive, Jessie must use all of her energy to think outside of the box and confront past demons that plague her memories.

GERALD’S GAME sounds like it could potentially be a rather boring movie, because (after all) we’re watching a woman who’s handcuffed to a bed for nearly the entire film. However, Flanagan plays with narrative tricks to keep things interesting the whole way through. As Jessie’s body begins to suffer from dehydration and insurmountable stress piles up on her psyche, she begins to hallucinate. These hallucinations include an alternate all-knowing version of Gerald and herself that give pieces of advice. This was a brilliant way of showing how Jessie’s thought process was functioning, as opposed to a simple voiceover or tedious silence.

There are also childhood flashbacks that are masterfully interweaved as we get more character development behind Jessie. These flashbacks don’t necessarily feel like cheap sequences of sloppy exposition either, because Flanagan weaves our adult protagonist into them in clever ways. One scene features a very creepy Henry Thomas (as Jessie’s abusive father) talking to the Jessie and some creative editing intercuts her adult self in place of her younger self. Touches like these show that Flanagan does indeed know how to make seemingly doomed projects (this novel was considered unfilmable for over two decades) into compelling cinematic experiences.

The cast is relatively small, given the premise, but these actors do an excellent job of drawing us in. Carla Gugino portrays her growing desperation in ways that have the viewer constantly on edge, while also interacting with herself and hallucinations in a convincing manner. These were not easy accomplishments and Gugino knocks it out of the park in her role! Bruce Greenwood is scummy as pompous lawyer/husband Gerald, but also gets to come off as more likable in Jessie’s imagined version of her recently deceased husband. There’s also the “Moonlight Man” (called the “Space Cowboy” in the novel) and the less I say about him, the better. He makes for a few very creepy scenes though.

GERALD’S GAME fumbles a bit during its final 15 minutes, which heavily rely on a cheesy use of voiceover that the rest of the film never lowered itself to. To be fair to the film’s finale, King’s book also concluded in a mishmash of messy plot revelations and felt out-of-place. The ending of GERALD’S GAME is easily its weakest point, but that doesn’t necessarily lessen of the well-built suspense and disturbing imagery that came before it. There’s one squirm-inducing sequence that’s pretty much guaranteed to elicit vocal reactions and winces from viewers. It’s probably the most disturbing movie moment of 2017 so far…at least, it is for me.

Though it stumbles during its finale, GERALD’S GAME is a tense, suspenseful, and appropriately horrific adaptation of one of King’s more polarizing novels. Mike Flanagan keeps things visually interesting and emotionally engaging, while Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood nail their performances. This is a different kind of horror story, but remains a horror story nonetheless that’s grounded in reality. GERALD’S GAME may also give viewers a newfound phobia of handcuffs!

Grade: B+

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Disturbing Images, Terror and Thematic Elements

ouija2-poster

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Written by: Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard

Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas & Parker Mack

I had no initial interest in reviewing OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL. This was partially because I’ve never bothered watching 2014’s OUIJA (which looked terrible) and partially because this film looked like an equally bad cash-in to that film (despite talented Mike Flanagan being attached to it). When a long-time fan of this blog contacted me last October and asked me to review it because he was shocked at how good it was, I decided that I would eventually give it a go. It turns out that OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is quite good. This horror flick isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but it’s far better than it probably has any right to be. If you’re looking for a nifty little throwback to 70’s supernatural horror, then OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL should satisfy your cinematic craving.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, Lulu Wilson, 2016. © Universal Pictures

The year is 1967 and the place is Los Angeles, California. Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is a struggling widow who’s trying to keep her house afloat and take care of her two daughters, teenage Lina (Annalise Basso) and 9-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice barely makes ends meet by passing herself off as a psychic and performing phony séances for gullible folks with lots of money. Her scam is beginning to dry up, but Alice attempts to inject new life into it by bringing a Ouija board into the fake ceremonies. The Ouija board actually seems to have a connection to the spirit world, which at first seems fantastic…and then takes a dark turn when creepy Doris begins to exhibit signs of possession. Supernatural shit soon hits the fan!

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, from left: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas, 2016. ph: Justin

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL kicks things off to a good start with an old-school Universal logo and retro-styled credits. This film feels like it’s straight out of the 70’s heyday of satanic panic flicks, complete with cigarette burns in the upper right-hand corner and a soundtrack that fits the time period. Besides covering the superficial aspects of an older horror film, OUIJA also nails a less-is-more slow-burn approach for the first two-thirds of its perfectly paced 99-minute running time. There are conversations that evoke spookiness purely through lines of dialogue and little details in the background evoke more chills than any pop-up scares ever could.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, from left: Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas, 2016. © Universal Pictures

Speaking of which, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL isn’t immune from typical CGI jump scares that modern horror seems to be riddled with, but this prequel uses them sparingly. The cheesy CGI mainly arrives in the final third when the story throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. This being said, there is one hell of an effective scare that made me jump about a foot in the air. Props to Mike Flanagan for continuing to prove why he’s a rising talent in the world of horror. This single moment reminded me of the more effective bits in 2014’s OCULUS. Not everything works though, because a glowing-eyed demon is very cheesy. The same can be said about some laughable mouth-stretching and wall-crawling possession hijinks.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, from left: Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, 2016. © Universal Pictures /Courtesy

One thing that I did not expect OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL to do was to build strong characters, but it pulled off this feat rather well. There are scenes specifically geared towards the family dynamic and developing this spooky story’s main players. Elizabeth Reaser is convincing as a tired single mother trying to make things work…and ultimately inviting supernatural shit into her home. Annalise Basso (who also appeared in Flanagan’s OCULUS) is well cast as difficult teenage daughter/loving sister Lina. Lulu Wilson is appropriately eerie as Doris, saying disturbing lines of dialogue in a cutesy innocent way that makes them come off as even more disturbing. These three performers and the chemistry between them are a main driving force in this movie. It only sweetens the deal that Henry Rollins plays a concerned priest who has taken a shine to the troubled family.

ouija2-5

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL isn’t the best horror film from 2016 or the scariest supernatural flick in years, but it’s far better than it has any right to be. This prequel (to a teeny-bopper cash-grab) actually managed to be competently made, well-written and packed in a few effective scares to boot. The retro vibe is sure to please fans of old-school supernatural horror and the slow-burn of the first two acts allows a spooky atmosphere to build. Though it does have some cheesy CGI scares and a needless end credits scene to hint towards the possibilities of a OUIJA 3, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is a surprisingly solid horror flick! If you’re in the mood for a good demonic possession movie or atmospheric ghost fare, then you’ll likely enjoy OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL!

Grade: B

11:14 (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality and Pervasive Language

1114 poster

Directed by: Greg Marcks

Written by: Greg Marcks

Starring: Henry Thomas, Barbara Hershey, Clark Gregg, Shawn Hatosy, Hilary Swank, Patrick Swayze, Rachael Leigh Cook, Stark Sands, Colin Hanks, Ben Foster & Jason Segel

11:14 is a work of pure creativity and genius storytelling! To describe the film as a mere anthology would be doing a disservice to just how well-constructed the whole thing is. Playing out sort of like a rural PULP FICTION, this is a cinematic puzzle about a group of shady individuals connected by a single moment. Featuring lots of big names and stylish flare as well as a wickedly sick sense of humor, I can imagine 11:14 pleasing fans of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers. Yes, it’s that good!

1114 1

11:14 pm on a rural road. An intoxicated man is driving to pick up a friend when he has the misfortune of slamming his car into a random somebody. Trying to cover up evidence of his crime (e.g. a corpse), the man comes face-to-face with a frustrated police officer. In the same town, a group of teenage jackasses are driving around in a van doing misdeeds when tragedy strikes in the form of a sliding window. A couple of blocks away, a father is trying to cover up the grisly consequences of the sins of his daughter. Just down the street from him, two convenience store clerks are botching a would-be robbery. These events interweave through each other and every plotline is connected in some way. The story of 11:14 is about a car accident and everything leading up to that. Everything just happens to be executed in brilliant form!

1114 2

The script of 11:14 is littered with accidents, cover-ups, insane characters and random acts of violence. The film as a whole is a collage of different stories and people. With what little screen time each performer is given, they all manage to get across exactly what kind of scumbag their individual character is. A young Colin Hanks and Ben Foster are appropriate as idiot teenagers, one of which makes an unfortunate decision involving a foreboding sliding car window. Hilary Swank is totally off her usual role as a brace-faced clerk who doesn’t exactly have the highest IQ. Henry Thomas is convincing as the drunk driver caught up in the middle of the deadly hijinks surrounding him, but is probably the least used character. Rachael Leigh Cook shows up as a beautiful femme fatale living in this podunk town. It’s also worth noting that a young Jason Segal makes an appearance as an ambulance driver. With all these big names, Patrick Swayze really steals the show as a father doing bad deeds with good intentions.

1114 3

The weaving plotlines and ridiculous (but believable) characters really sell 11:14. The style in which it’s told is also remarkably assured. This was director/writer Greg Marcks feature debut and to date, he only has one other movie to his name. That’s a pity because I would love to see many more stories told in this vein from him. Though the tone of 11:14 is pretty bleak and grim all the way through (seeing as death and violence are both present), there’s also a hilarious dark sense of humor layered over everything. This really did remind me of an early Tarantino flick and that’s probably the highest compliment you can receive on a film of this type. If there are any complaints to be had with this movie, I would say that two subplots didn’t necessarily have a conclusion (the drunk driver segment and the teenager one), while another lingered longer than was necessary (the botched robbery). However, those are totally satisfying in spite of their minor flaws. The film fits together as a nearly perfect creation.

1114 4

11:14 might be one of the coolest movies that you’ve probably never heard of. This flick is all-around great, blending together multiple storylines in an entertaining way and throwing pitch-black comedy into the mix as well. The big name cast add even more fun to the proceedings, especially seeing these actors and actresses playing parts that are so out of their usual type-cast roles. 11:14 is awesome, plain and simple. This is a must-see!

Grade: A

GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Intense Strong Violence, Sexuality/Nudity and Language

GangsNY poster

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian & Kenneth Lonergan

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Lewis, John C. Reilly & Stephen Graham

Martin Scorsese is one of my favorite directors. That’s part of the reason this film comes off as underwhelming. There are makings of a great movie in GANGS OF NEW YORK, but things eventually disappoint in a last hour that feels totally separated from the solid first two acts. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards in the year of release (including Best Picture, Director and Actor), GANGS seems like it was tampered with a lot in its production stages from (mostly likely) the studio and (least likely) the screenwriters. Though there are fantastic qualities about it, GANGS OF NEW YORK is a slight disappointment when you consider it’s from Scorsese.

MCDGAOF EC042

The film begins in 1846, a bloody battle between the Natives (born New Yorkers) and the Dead Rabbits (an Irish Immigrant gang) takes place in the snow-covered Five Points of Manhattan. This bout of hand-to-hand combat leaves the Natives victorious and a priest bleeding to death on the ground. The priest’s son witnesses the whole affair and vows revenge on his father’s killer, a greasy maniac called Bill the Butcher. 16 years pass and the priest’s son has grown up into a young man named Amsterdam. Returning to New York from an orphanage, Amsterdam gets in deep with Bill’s gang and enacts a slow revenge. However, Bill is clever and remains highly dangerous. Amsterdam’s plot gets more complicated as things go along as New York’s political background is changing, inciting many outraged citizens.

MCDGAOF EC029

Leonardo DiCaprio worked his way from the pretty boy in TITANIC to a phenomenal actor in THE DEPARTED. GANGS OF NEW YORK was taking place when he was going through this transformation. He’s solid enough in the role, but his character is a blank slate. Cameron Diaz plays his love interest in the form of a thieving Irishwoman and her accent is a bit appalling. Besides being unable to pull off her would-be accent, she just seems miscast. Other familiar faces pop up in Jim Broadbent as the actual historical figure Boss Tweed, Liam Neeson is Amsterdam’s father, and Brendan Gleeson shows up for a few quick scenes. Another good character is John C. Reilly as a dirty cop who takes bribes from Bill’s Natives. Speaking of which, if there’s one reason to watch GANGS OF NEW YORK, it would be Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher. He demolishes every other performer as the best villain to ever grace a Scorsese film. Day-Lewis also shows an emotional side to his character and doesn’t make him a total monster, but remains a frightening bad guy regardless.

MCDGAOF EC013

GANGS OF NEW YORK also has tons of atmosphere. Cinematography is slick and the sets are fantastic. It feels like you’re watching a piece of history unfold in front of your eyes. Some of the political corruption, set around the main story, did actually happen. Thus adding an interesting layer onto the film for history buffs who might be intrigued to check out more information on New York Draft Riots. Scenes between DiCaprio and Day-Lewis are fantastic, especially one discussion that packs a powerhouse of emotion for both of their characters. The violence itself is unflinching and arguably bloodier than Scorsese’s other work. GOODFELLAS and CASINO may have spurts of gun fire and beatings, but they didn’t have a central villain talented in the art of meat-carving as a side job. You can see where that might lend to the violence.

MCDGAOF EC033

The film works phenomenally as a simple revenge story until a certain point. Politics and historical context floods its way into the almost Shakespearean tale of revenge and derails the ending entirely. Certain choices seem odd, given everything seen in characters up to that point. The final conflict is disappointing in how rushed it is. Things almost come off as more of an obligation than an actual conclusion. One might argue that the ending of GANGS OF NEW YORK wastes the viewer’s time invested in the two hours before that decline.

MCDGAOF EC017

GANGS OF NEW YORK is just okay. It seems like a lot of potential faded by the shrug-inducing ending. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is the sole reason that you might want to check this film out. He’s amazing as Bill the Butcher! Everything else ranges from great to disappointing. Leo was good in his role, but the character is a blank slate. He’s a guy who wants revenge and loves Cameron Diaz (with a bad Irish accent), but I can’t describe a discernable trait that makes him a good character. The atmosphere and sets are impressive, but this is one of Martin Scorsese’s lesser efforts. Slightly recommended, if you want to see Daniel Day-Lewis scare the hell out of you as an awesome villain.

Grade: B-

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑