Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. In keeping with the season, this week we tackled a variety of horror films, with decidedly mixed results. Look, my hand wasn’t really on the wheel this week – I was busy trying to clear out the upper heats of Slay the Spire, and thus many of our films were decided by whatever my housemates found on Hulu or Netflix. But we still checked out a couple quasi-classics, and there was plenty of fun to be had even in the less acclaimed selections. Even now, it feels immensely freeing to no longer be writing formal reviews; even deeply flawed films often have something interesting within them, something that couldn’t really be reflected in a “final score.” Let’s dive into the cinematic weeds then, as we commence one more Week in Review!

To set the tone of this week right from the start, my first film “selections” were the fourth and fifth entries in the Underworld franchise. My housemate basically watched this whole series in two days, and though I didn’t catch the first three, the last two did a fine job of illustrating the franchise’s deal. Like the Resident Evil film franchise, the Underworld franchise belongs to the “wife guy action dynasty” franchise – star Kate Beckinsale married director Len Wiseman just after the first film, and their divorced was finalized right on time with the last one.

Like Resident Evil, Underworld sees the director’s badass wife fighting a wide array of ghosts and ghoulies, embracing the sort of gun-based martial arts made popular by films like The Matrix. The films possess an inherent tension between their aspirations towards gothic fantasy and their predominant obsession with chaotic action scenes, but ultimately, the action is fun enough to be its own reward. Also, Charles Dance is there! He seems to be playing the “dignified English vampire” role originally played by Bill Nighy, and doesn’t get much to do, but I’m happy to see him getting more work.

After that, we checked out Beverly Hills Cop, a film I’d never seen before. Beverly Hills Cop stands as one of the few Eddie Murphy films that allegedly lives up to his own fundamental talent – Murphy is one of the greatest comedians of all time, but films like The Nutty Professor don’t really do his reputation any favors. In contrast, Beverly Hills Cop is an absolutely dynamite buddy cop film, demonstrating Murphy at his best while surrounding him with a top shelf crew of capable costars.

The film’s plot is simple. Murphy is Axel Foley, a Detroit cop who doesn’t play by the rules, and ends up flying to Beverly Hills in order to secretly investigate a friend’s murder. Using his knack for manipulation and gleeful ability to skirt regulation, he conducts a covert investigation of a major conspiracy, and ultimately recruits some gallant local cops to his side, culminating in an explosive bust. This fairly loose template allows for plenty of Foley’s signature talent: absolutely charming the pants off every single person he sees.

Murphy is unstoppable as Foley, a wellspring of charisma and confidence who knows just how to dismantle every character in his environment. Sometimes he’ll play dumb, disarming a guard or server with directness, and shutting them up before they can assert any preprogrammed dismissal. Sometimes he’ll big man them, demanding to speak to a superior with the confidence of a man who knows someone’s getting fired. Other times he’ll play a friend, or a fatigued coworker, or whoever else is precisely the character needed to get what he needs. At all times, Murphy is both funny and terrifyingly convincing, his ungodly charisma stat bowling over the poor people of Beverly Hills. Supported by engaging performances by reliable role-players Judge Reinhold and John Ashton, Murphy confidently headlines one of the best buddy cop films in history.

From there, things got spookier, or at least attempted to, as we checked out the recent horror feature Within. Basically the only notable thing about Within is that it stars Erin Moriarty, who’d soon go on to bigger and brighter things as The Boys’ Starlight. Moriarty puts in a fine enough turn here, but a deeply stupid script and critical lack of any genuine horror or tension dooms this film from the start. Within is one of those films that requires its characters to act with subhuman idiocy to work, which can work in a slasher context, but feels less appropriate for a slow-burning home invasion narrative. But more importantly, the film just isn’t scary, and its developments veer so close to preposterous that by the end we were wondering if the attic staircase was the real killer, so dedicated it was to closing and opening at dramatically opportune times. Just a total waste of time, I’m afraid.

Next up was a current horror feature, Netflix’s newly released There’s Someone Inside Your House. I have two comments on this film that essentially sum up my perspective on it. First, no, there is not someone inside your house –  this is a slasher film, not a home invasion film, and the relative security of houses plays almost no dramatic role. Secondly, this film presented enough red herrings that our whole audience felt impressed by the film’s misdirection, only for the final killer to be a choice so stupid that we’d disregarded it from the start. Along with the movie’s “hello fellow kids”-tier engagement with modern youth culture, all that sticks out about this film are its broken promises.

Alright, so those last two were maybe less “flawed but interesting” and more “utterly without merit, critique-worthy only as a warning to others.” But don’t worry! Our next feature was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, which was undoubtedly one of the most lopsided, intriguingly broken films I’ve recently experienced.

The thing about The Village is, so much of it works! Shyamalan’s fatal flaw as a director is his fascination with misdirection – but if you actually remove the misdirection, you can appreciate what a talented craftsman he is. One of my general storytelling maxims is “a twist will only possess emotional impact if the audience is already invested in the pre-twist story.” Shyamalan doesn’t have that problem – if anything, he has the opposite issue, where he is so good at setting up an evocative status quo that his twists are always a letdown.

In The Village, Shyamalan creates a vivid backdrop for a folk horror classic. Elements like the various shielding rituals that preserve its village from monsters, or the creeping disconnect of the story’s anachronistic historical moment, build an air of unease that is massively elevated through the film’s gorgeous cinematography. Bryce Dallas Howard absolutely slays in her portrayal of a young blind woman who embodies her town’s future, and the secondary cast is stuffed with actors on the level of William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver. Even the monster designs are excellent, with the film’s most horror-adjacent sequences measuring up to any straightforward horror film. The lighting, the acting, the worldbuilding, the set design – so much in The Village is genuinely excellent.

Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s genuine skill at direction is matched only by his misguided confidence in his storytelling abilities. The Village squanders its vast potential with a twist that could theoretically result in an interesting finale, but in practice just deflates all the tension from the film’s third act. It doesn’t even really feel like the film has a third act; the “climax” feels like a dramatic afterthought, and when the movie ended, it took us a moment to realize that was really all there was. All told, The Village is two thirds of an exceptional folk thriller, followed by twenty minutes of unfocused disappointment. I left the film disappointed, but mostly because this film felt capable of greatness for the majority of its run.

Finally, we also watched a horror film that didn’t disappoint at all, and offered basically everything we could hope for: V/H/S 94, the latest entry in the V/H/S found footage anthology series. Single entries in the V/H/S catalog have been good or even great, but the series has never felt consistent – until now. V/H/S 94 not only contains several of the series’ best entries, it also lacks a single weak entry – all four of this film’s core entries are excellent horror shorts, with only the police raid sequence that connects them proving underwhelming.

The film’s first sequence is heavily reminiscent of The Tunnel, most likely due to the simple fact that “local news team gets too zealous about reporting on people living in tunnels” is such a convenient found footage conceit. Well, this team does indeed get a bit too ambitious in their reporting, leading to a finale elevated by one of my favorite monster designs of recent years. The second sequence is a slow burn, as we follow a young funeral home employee through a night wake vigil. It’s a necessary breather in the overall structure, while also serving as a fine demonstration of how much dramatic leverage can be drawn from bumps in the night.

After that, Timo Tjahjanto (May the Devil Take You, The Night Comes For Us) returns to the franchise. Tjahjanto’s “Safe Haven” stands as the peak of the V/H/S franchise, and his new entry “The Subject” is a worthy followup. Shifting from devil-worshipping cults to mad scientists, Tjahjanto offers a feast of mechanical body horror, and once again compresses what feels like an entire film into a lean thirty minutes. V/H/S 94 finishes off its exemplary run by sending a bundle of white supremacists up against a laudably vengeful monster, making for a collection that isn’t just the best V/H/S film, but also one of the best found footage movies period.

Our last film moved us back out of horror, as we rewatched a film I’ve seen a few times now: School of Rock. Starring Jack Black as a would-be rockstar who pretends to be a substitute teacher, only to turn a classroom full of kids into his new band, School of Rock is a charming love letter to music, personal expression, and sticking it to the man. Jack Black clearly poured his heart and soul into this film; from its sense of childlike wonder to its absolute reverence for the rock canon, his personality comes through more clearly and more winningly in this than any other film.

As appropriate for a film so respectful of music’s richness and power, the main band members are all brilliant musicians in addition to fine actors. In fact, they’re probably better than Jack Black himself; I got a little amusement out of Black demonstrating power chords to his new guitarist, just minutes after watching that guitarist finger pick his way through a classical guitar solo. The film is happy to include such jokes at its own star’s expense; the hero here is music, not Jack Black, and his character’s untamed delight at seeing kids get passionate about Led Zeppelin or The Replacements is palpable and infectious. Rock only dies if we lose our passion for it, and thus I’m happy this film will always exist, standing as a perfect family film that also serves as a loving introduction to rock history.

By admin