[Movie Review] Underwater: An Underwhelming Creature Feature

Typically, January is the month when a lot of big studios dump projects into theaters and don’t expect a big return. In other words, it’s the doldrums. For the last few years, the deep sea creature feature Underwater has languished on the shelf, but finally, 20th Century Fox, which recently merged with Disney, has released the film. Director William Eubank’s aquatic horror movie is generally flat on character development, but it does have some high tension scares that make it a fun popcorn flick if you’re looking for a way to pass a cold January day.

Underwater1.jpg

Kristen Stewart as Norah/Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The film stars Kristen Stewart as Norah, who is part of an aquatic research crew who must get to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory. Throughout the film, a short, blonde-haired Stewart channels Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien franchise, including adapting some of her high-action type sequences and masculine characteristics, to the point that one crew member calls her flat-chested.  In fact, Stewart is the only semi-memorable character in the film, probably because she’s given the most screen time. Her crew members have little to no character development, and when they’re offed by slimy, prickly deep sea monsters, it’s hard to care about their demise. None of them have much to do, and even Norah is given no backstory. At the beginning of the film, she comments how time becomes meaningless when submerged nearly seven miles undersea, but at no point is it clear how long the crew have been underwater or what their lives were like prior. One of them comments about a dog, but that’s about it.

That said, the film does have a few high-tension moments, including the earthquake and the crew’s struggle for oxygen at various points.  Underwater’s other positive factor is the monsters, especially the massive, Cthulu-like creature who is surrounded by deep sea blackness and is generally terrifying. The other monsters are much smaller, but still squirmy, slimy, and creepy. They slap upon the windows of various labs and thump upon the ceilings. One resembles the face sucker in Alien.

Underwater2.jpg

Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Underwater is a film that wears its influences on its sleeves, from the Alien-like shots of the laboratory’s long hallways to the Lovecraftian monsters that feel ancient and show just how indifferent the deep sea is towards human life. In one bit of cliched dialogue, a crew member comments that humans have mined the ocean and taken more than they needed, so now it’s the ocean’s turn to take back. Believe it or not, that’s one of the only memorable lines of dialogue throughout the film, as corny as it is.

After spending an hour and a half with the crew in dark, deep waters, it’s hard not to leave the theater feeling a general sense of dread, which is similar to the feeling a reader has at the end of a Lovecraft story. The depths of the ocean are an unforgiving place, best left unexplored. The monsters don’t care who they kill, since the crew is essentially impinging upon their territory. The crew stares into the abyss, and the abyss bites back.

As the year progresses, it’s most likely that Underwater will be forgotten. It’s difficult to even recall the names of the crew members. The monsters are the real stars of this film, and they’re the only aspect that make it worth watching. Final verdict: if you’re looking for something to do to pass a cold January day, then purchase a matinee ticket; otherwise, wait for this to arrive on VOD.

 

 

 

 

Looking Forward to 2020’s Horror Films

 

With 2019 officially in the rear-view (check out my best-of list), it’s time to start focusing on the new year. Below, I’ve included a list of some horror films I’m looking forward to, and as you can see, the trend of remakes and “smart horror” that dominated the first two decades of the 2000s doesn’t appear to be slowing down as we start the 2020s.

1. The Grudge January 3/Directed by  Nicolas Pesce

I’ve made it known before that I’m not a big fan of remakes, and there’s been an onslaught of them over the last 10-15 years. I’m including this one on this list, however, because Pesce’s other movies, Piercing and The Eyes of My Mother are interesting, so I’m cautiously optimistic about this.

2. Underwater January 10/Directed by William Eubank

I don’t know much about this one, other than the fact that it’s a deep-sea horror flick about a research crew who struggles to get to safety after an earthquake destroys their underwater station. Something monstrous lurks on the ocean floor. I’m intrigued.

3. Color Out of Space January 24/Directed by Richard Stanley

This is an adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most popular stories, and it stars Nicolas Cage, fresh off his performance in Mandy. Need I say more about this one?

4. Gretel & Hansel January 31/Directed by Oz Perkins

I have to confess that when I first saw the trailer for this, I wasn’t that interested. However, when I learned that Oz Perkins was behind the camera on this one, my interest was peaked. If I made a list of my favorite horror films of the last decade, Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter would be on it. Now, I’m curious as to what he’ll do with this classic tale.

5. The Lodge February 7/Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala

This is one of the film’s I’m most excited to see, especially after it generated buzz on the festival circuit and earned the cover of the most recent issue of Rue Morgue. It also seems like the perfect mid-winter horror film, based on the synopsis: during a family retreat to a remote winter cabin over the holidays, the father is forced to abruptly depart for work, leaving his two children in the care of his new girlfriend, Grace. Isolated and alone, a blizzard traps them inside the lodge as terrifying events summon specters from Grace’s dark past.

 

6. The Invisible Man February 28/Directed by Leigh Whannell

This is Universal’s attempt to yet again reboot/revamp their classic monsters. Based on the trailer, however, this looks like an interesting take on the classic H.G. Wells’ story, one that focuses on abuse and trauma. It appears that Elisabeth Moss may give one barn-burning performance in this.

 

7. A Quiet Place II March 20/ Directed by John Krasinski

A Quiet Place was one of the biggest surprises of 2018 and a box office hit, so, of course there had to be a sequel. Based on the trailer, which dropped on New Years Day, it looks like the second chapter expands upon the world established in the first film.

8. Antlers April 17/Directed by Scott Cooper

I don’t know much about this one, but ever since I saw the trailer, and after I found out this one is being produced by Guillermo del Toro, I’ve been intrigued.

 

9. Candyman June 12/ directed by Nia Dacosta

There is no trailer for this one yet, and yes, it’s another reboot/remake, but it was written by Jordan Peele, who also produced it. It will also be interesting to have a woman behind the camera for this one. Additionally, this one, like the original, was filmed at Chicago’s Cabrini-Heights neighborhood, which has since been gentrified. Oh, and Tony Todd is returning! Whether or not he’ll play Candyman, that has yet to be seen. This should be a big one.

10. Halloween Kills October 16/Directed by David Gordon Green

HalloweenKills.jpg

You can’t kill the Boogeyman, and you can’t kill Laurie Strode, either! Get ready for more and more Michael, with another sequel set to be released in 2021.

I will note that most of these films are pretty mainstream, and in past years, my favorite movies of the year slipped under the radar until they streamed on places like Hulu or Shudder or were lucky enough to find larger distribution after building buzz. Expect some sleeper hits as we head into the new year. How many people were talking about Hereditary at this point in 2018 or The Witch months before its release? That said, 2020 looks to be a good year for horror with some well-known entities making a return to the big screen alongside some innovative stories that are lucky enough to get wider distribution.

Are there any films you’re most looking forward to this year? Feel free to comment below.

 

Halloween Streaming Season (Pt. 4)

 

This is my final post regarding streaming recommendations for the Halloween season. This post will focus on Amazon Prime, only movies that you can stream for free with a membership. You can check out my Hulu recommendations here.,  my Netflix recommendations here, and my Shudder recommendations here.

Let’s get down to business!

Gothic (Directed by Ken Russel, 1986) This is a strange little movie that, in part, recounts the story of the Romantic poets sitting around Lord Byron’s castle and telling each other ghost stories, which is how Mary Shelley found the inspiration for Frankenstein.

Hell House LCC (Directed by Stephen Cognetti, 2016) Since the release of the Blair Witch Project in 1999, there has been a slew of found footage films within the last 20 years. Some are better than others, but Hell House LCC is one of the most  interesting of the last few years and one of the best contemporary films to watch around Halloween. The plot is simple: On October 8th, 2009 a haunted house attraction opened its doors to the public in upstate New York. The entire crew was found dead, except for one. Five years later, a documentary crew found her…and the video footage from inside the house.

The Exorcist III (Directed by William Peter Blaty, 1990) To this day, The Exorcist III doesn’t get the love it deserves. This is a much more philosophical, slow burn film than The Exorcist. There is no preteen spewing pea soup at priests. Instead, this film is more concerned with the nature of good v. evil, but it also has one of the best jump scares in all of horror cinema. Both Brad Dourif, as the Gemini Killer, and Jason Miller, as the tortured Father Karras, give superb performances.

High Tension (Directed by Alexandre Aja, 2005) This is one of the best and still one of the most controversial films of the French Extremity movement from the first decade of the 2000s. It’s also the film that made Aja a director to watch within the horror genre. Before he filmed the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, he filmed this brutal home invasion flick. Saying more about the plot would give too much away. Check it out now.

Shadow of the Vampire (Directed by E. Elias Merhige, 2000) This is a retelling of F.W. Murnau’s classic German Expressionist film Nosferatu, sort of. In this take, John Malkovich plays Murnau and William Dafoe plays the vampire. During filming, people start disappearing, and the surviving cast and crew suspect the vampire may not be acting at all. For anyone who is a fan of the horror genre and film in general, this is a must watch.

Amazon Prime has a number of classics to stream as well, including Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Dario Argeno’s Opera and Inferno, just to name a few.

So this concludes my horror recommendations per streaming service for the Halloween season. If you have any of your own recommendations, please feel free to comment below. Happy Haunting!

Halloween Streaming Season (Pt 2)

As promised, I’m going to offer my recommendations for horror movies that I think you should watch this Halloween season. Last week, I focused on Shudder. This week, I’m offering my Netflix recommendations. Once again, I’m going to stick to films that I think are deserving of more attention. After all, most of you have seen Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre dozens of times.

Apostle: This feature, directed by Gareth Evans, is not for the squeamish. Set in 1905, the story follows Thomas Richardson’s (Dan Stevens) journey to a remote island to save his sister from a religious cult. There is gore galore and serious folk-horror vibes in this, a-la the original Wicker Man.

 

Cam: This was one of Netflix’s best horror additions last year. In short, it follows a cam girl (Madeline Brewer) who suddenly realizes that she has a doppelganger willing to be as extreme as necessary to generate more viewers. From there, things get weird…. and weirder.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe: Before he directed Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, André Øvredal directed this feature, a 2016 flick about a corpse who may or may not have been a witch and is left in the hands of father and son Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch). This film is heavy on atmosphere, and the scares build and build the more that the duo learn about the young woman and her history. Watch this now if you haven’t yet.

 

Gerald’s Game: Mike Flanagan is one of the best American horror directors working in the business, and Gerald’s Game is a solid adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a wife, Jessie (Carla Cugino), who is left handcuffed to a bed after her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) has a heart attack. Left for days, Jessie starts to have bizarre and creepy hallucinations

The Blackcoat’s Daughter: Oz Perkins is another director to keep an eye on. This movie is a lot of things- part haunted house story, part possession story. In short, it’s about two girls, Joan (Emma Roberts) and Kat (Kiernan Shipka), who are left alone at their boarding school over winter break and have to battle an evil force. It’s a slow burn, one heavy on mood and bleak tones.

 

TV worth binging: Everyone knows about Mike Flanagan’s “The Haunting of Hill House” from last year, but I can’t recommend enough the 8-part French series “Marianne.” It deals far more with abject horror and it has some scenes just as horrifying as the bent-neck lady in episode 5 of “Hill House.” “Marianne” is one of the most underrated series released on Netflix this year.

Time to Cue Up the Horror Flicks

Happy October! It’s that time of year when everyone is looking for that one good horror recommendation. First, let me state that if you want some solid suggestions, check out Horror Homeroom or Signal Horizon any day of the week for some of the best insight on contemporary horror.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll offer some suggestions for the major streaming networks. I will keep each list fairly short and try to offer recommendations beyond the usual mainstream fare. First up, I’m focusing on Shudder, the all-horror streaming network owned by AMC and also available through Amazon Prime.

Shudder

One Cut of the Dead (2019/Directed by Shinichiro Ueda) This Japanese flick is one of the most creative films available anywhere. Even offering too much of a description will give too much away. That said, it rewrites everything you think you know about the zombie narrative, and the closing minutes are one big kiss to independent film-making. It also begins with a 36-minute long continuous shot. Stream this now!

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019/Directed by Issa Lopez) This Spanish film is beautiful, heartbreaking, and terrifying in its depiction of gang violence in Mexico. The child actors are simply phenomenal, and the fairy tale-like quality is reminiscent of early Guillermo del Toro. This is a must watch and will probably end up on several best-of lists at the end of the year.

Body Bags (1993/Directed by John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis) This is  a rare anthology featuring three separate stories loaded with celebrity cameos, including Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, Tom Arnold, and John Carpenter as a wise-cracking mortician. Shudder is most likely the only place you’ll be able to watch this, so check it out while you can. It’s a fun horror comedy perfect for this time of year.

Incident in a Ghostland (2018/Directed by Pascal Laugier) This French film by the director of Martyrs is imperfect, especially in its portrayal of trans people, which, in this case, happens to be a one-dimensional central villain. While Incident in a Ghostland may not be as haunting or horrific as Martyrs, it still has a lot to say about trauma and fractured memory. The plot is simple: a mother and her two daughters suffer a terrifying home invasion during the first night in their new home. That story-line, coupled with the visuals, make this a must-watch. Laugier is one of the most interesting directors working in the genre right now.

The Old Dark House (1932/Directed by James Whale) When it comes to Universal’s first golden age in the 1930s, The Old Dark House is sometimes lost in the conversation. Everyone talks about Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and the Universal Monsters in general, but this is one of my favorite films from that era. Whale’s direction here is stellar in creating a creaky old house that travelers stumble upon. Then, they encounter a family with dangerous secrets. There is plenty of subtext to unpack here, and as usual, Karloff is phenomenal. Between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Whale created another horror masterpiece.

Other contemporary films to stream: Satan’s Slaves, The Witch in the Window, Terrified (a must see, one of the best of 2018), The Taking of Deborah Logan (Odd, creepy, unsettling, unique for the found footage genre), Hell House, LCC.

Classics to stream: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, Zombi, The Changeling, Deep Red, Hellraiser, Re-Animator, Phantasm, Henry, Black Christmas

TV shows to stream:

  • “Creepshow” Yes, the reboot is really that good! A new episode will air every Thursday through Halloween. Horror lovers shouldn’t miss this.
  • “Dead Wax” This is such a creative Shudder original about a record that kills people. Hopefully, it gets a second season.
  • “Channel Zero” This four-season series based on Creepy Pasta stories initially aired on the Syfy network  and was cancelled way too soon. The final season drops this month on Shudder.
  • “NOS4A2” A worthy adaptation of Joe Hill’s bestselling novel.

 

Up next, I’ll offer recommendations for HULU. Stay tuned!