August 2021 In Review

August has left us, and it was a month of film festivals for me. Between covering Fantasia and Frightfest, I was spoilt for choice with films while also cramming in the Phantasm series, finishing the Hellraiser saga, and more gems from 2021. So, let's see what films I caught this past August.

Paul Doods Deadly Lunch Break (2021) - 1/5 - Paul Dood is a charity-shop worker who wishes to prove his worth on a national talent show, aided by his ill mother. The actions of 5 selfish people shatters his hopes over one afternoon, resulting in Paul seeking deathly revenge. After seeing the misery heaped onto our well-meaning lead, the prospect of revenge feels understandable, and the potential is there for a thriller about one person's loosening grip on reality in the name of online fame. Instead, viewers witness awkward comedy nestled in-between convenient circumstances which feel like a cop-out, complete with nonsensical decisions and lapses of logic. It's unbelievable how the film keeps forgetting HOW MUCH the livestream actually shows. It was just a boring exercise which didn't work for me.

Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021) - 3.5/5 - I've had a tough relationship with Zack Snyder's DC comics adaptations, as whatever interesting ideas I found seemed lacking in execution. Maybe it's because we've already had a disappointing Justice League film, but this was actually decent.

Granted, having a flawed version of the same film makes comparisons easier, as there's a singular vision in play, while the villains and arcs actually work this time. The biggest improvement comes with Ray Fisher, who becomes the MVP with his portrayal of Victor Stone, a tortured former athlete who grows comfortable in his cybernetic skin.

It helps that there's terrific action scenes and Junkie XL is doing good work with the score. Although, for all the praise I have, I'm still not onboard with Snyder's vision. His indulgences are in play throughout, from an overuse of slow-motion to the boring use of muted colours. Most of all, this feels like a decent 2 and a half to 3 hour film trapped within a four hour runtime. I appreciate moments like Diana and Arthur chatting graveside, it's little beats like that which help sell this team, but we didn't need set-up for sequels which probably won't happen or a superhero cameo that leaves viewers wondering where they've been throughout the past events. It's a flawed piece, but a marked improvement on the director's other DCEU works.

The Last Thing Mary Saw (2021) - 4/5 - An unsettling tale set in 1843, as Mary's family subjects her to torture in the name of God. An effective blend of witch trial and religious family drama, spearheaded by a cold and chilling grandmother who rules her family with fear rather than devotion. A tragic period tale from intriguing beginning to effective ending.

Jungle Cruise (2021) - 3.5/5 - Of all the films involving Dwayne Johnson in the jungle, this may be my favourite of the lot. His skipper takes an adventuring pair of siblings down the Amazon river in search of a myth, only to be chased by a German aristocrat wonderfully played by Jesse Plemons. It's a tale which harkens back to old-school adventures mixed with modern-day sensibilities, for better or worse. While there were plenty of enjoyable beats which brought to mind 1999's The Mummy, there were times the action got CG heavy and undiscernible in ways which threatened to remind you of 2017's The Mummy. Still, the cast were an utter treat to be in the company of, and the amount of dad jokes really appealed to me.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021) - 4/5 - After uncovering a creepy video of a broadcast signal intrusion, James (Harry Shum Jr) becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind it in the hopes to find the truth behind his partner's disappearance. These bizarre and unsettling videos take him down a rabbit hole of paranoia and conspiracy theories, as James disregards any warnings to give into this obsession.

A chilling tale whose mystery envelopes the viewer, punctuated by sudden bursts of grisly moments. Harry Shum Jr effectively captures the lead's determination and unravelling, as he goes further down this creepy journey in search of a purpose and a reasonable answer.

Much like James' journey, the answer is obvious by the end but the temptation remains to revisit what's been shown, in hope of unearthing a more satisfying conclusion. All that does is leave viewers in the same place as our lead.

Phantasm (1979) - 3/5 - Created by Don Coscarelli, this is a horror series I've heard much about but never seen until now. What I got was a surreal take on grief and loss, as a medley of unique ideas came together for a fascinating experience. By the time the Tall Man released his signature weapon, I was in awe of how this film could zigzag between tones, and was gasping for the more strange ideas. I can't say it all worked for me, with Mike being a little creep and the budgetary constraints being VERY apparent, but I was invested in these characters who seemed to solve everything by shooting at them. I'm definitely coming back for more.

King Knight (2021) - 4/5 - A heartfelt tale about the fear of opening yourself up to an unaccepting world, and finding comfort in a makeshift family.

Ghost Rider (2007) [rewatch] - 1/5 - The 2000s are a fascinating time to look back on superhero films, where anything could happen with these adaptations but the results were less promising. 2007's Ghost Rider is a fascinating example of this, as Marvel's flaming skull character appropriately stars in this cinematic hot-mess. From Nic Cage's awkward performance to how clearly a different actor is playing the Ghost Rider, this production is ill-fitting to this actor and the character. Between the blandly designed villains, the dull action sequences, and the disastrous plotting, mistakes were made in rewatching this.

Best film of the month, Best film watched in cinemas,
and Best film rewatched: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Phantasm II (1988) - 3/5 - After the way 1979's Phantasm ended, it's understandable the sequel has to tie things up firstly. Through an action sequence and a 7 year time-jump, the ending gets resolved with some unnecessary extra steps, before the film truly kicks into gear. The surrealism has been dropped this time, morphing the story into a fun revenge flick with blood and pus flowing freely and I am here for it. The biggest topic of contention is Mike's recasting, as James LeGros gives a less interesting performance in the role than his predecessor. Regardless, I was still invested in Mike and Reggie being driven to kill The Tall Man, as played by a deliciously creepy Angus Scrimm. Less interesting was them retooling Mike's backstory to include Liz, a sudden love-interest with a telepathic connection to the lead.

The Empty Man (2020) - 4/5 - Ever since 20th Century Studios lost confidence in this film and buried it, David Prior's feature debut has gone into legend, with people singing its praises and giving it the attention the studio neglected to. It's clear why the studio was worried, as I can't see how they could've sold this 137-minute slow-burner to the masses while accurately representing the film. It's a shame, because the final product is an absorbing piece of horror that's fully confident in its vision.

The story following a retired cop's search for missing teens is fascinating, journeying down various avenues which are inspired and unexpected, although there's perhaps too many ideas. A mini-series would seem more fitting for these various ideas, although the final cut is reportedly a rough-cut due to studio panicking, though I can only theorise how Prior's preferred edit would have changed things. From the astounding opening prologue to the haunting ending, this is a unique feature with stunning imagery and an exceptional performance from James Badge Dale. This is one that's going to linger with me, and I hope more people give this a try.

Phantasm III: Lord of The Dead (1994) - 3.5/5 - After an opening which disregards a prominent character from the last film, this instalment gives us a road movie mixed with dreamlike surrealism, for a blend of the first two films which is an absolute blast of a sequel. Revelations come forth this time, unveiling layers to the Tall Man and his machinations, while the adventures of our leads are greatly improved by Gloria Lynne Henry's excellent turn as Rocky. What hurts the film is Reggie, as he's gone from a supporting character who causes things to go pear-shaped by thinking with his dick, to the lead who acts like an utter creep towards Rocky. It's a shame, as his relationship with a recently discovered kid is rather sweet to watch.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) - 2.5/5 - It never gets old for me how each film follows on immediately after the last while the actors considerably age between the old & new footage, and how the important characters from the last film die off-screen to never be mentioned again.

For this penultimate chapter, the story kicks things up by included many interesting ideas, especially regarding The Tall Man and Mike's importance. Sadly, they're hampered by clear budgetary cuts and a snails pace which makes a 90-minute runtime drag on. By now, I do wonder how many times Reggie will mess up due to his horny creepiness, because it's unbearable by this point.

Free Guy (2021) - 2.5/5 - There's an interesting idea at the centre of Shawn Levy's latest film, regarding somebody discovering they're a background character in a violent video-game. There's shades of The Truman Show and Ready Player One in this premise, although it's delivered in quite a bland manner. There's a genuine earnestness to Guy, the NPC played by Ryan Reynolds, although it can often disappear for the Deadpool star to perform his usual shtick. Your mileage may vary. Shining brightest among the cast are Jodie Comer and Joe Keery, delivering terrific performances as the programmers deeply invested in the game, run by an over-the-top Taika Waititi. There are genuine laughs to be had, although one wishes they hit more often, especially for a comedy film.

Phantasm: Ravager (2016) - 1.5/5 - Nearly 40-years since the first instalment was released, the Phantasm series reaches its end with this finale. It has the makings of a fond farewell to these characters and the franchise, although that's sadly lessened by how low-quality and amateurish this production feels. The surrealism and dreams are for Reggie this time, hinting at the idea this series is a way for him to cope with grief, although that just muddies things up in an already messy film. Between the locations, the camerawork, and especially the visual effects, David Hartman is an ill-suited director who makes this feel like a cheap student film. It's wonderful to see Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, and A. Michael Baldwin back to close things off, but it being in this rubbish just feels bittersweet.

Ravenous (1999) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Considering how problematic this films production was, it's astounding none of it feels evident upon watching the film. Antonia Bird's curious mixture of western, comedy, and horror is a riotous time which gets unbearably tense and chilling throughout the blood-soaked set-pieces. An excellent little gem which works far more than it should.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Nothing says "bonding" like taking your 19-year-old brother to see this classic on the big screen. It's his first viewing, it was my fourth, and we were both suitably creeped out and impressed by the film. A masterclass in how editing and scoring can heighten and improve scenes, from simple beginning to the unforgettable ending.

Best film watched for the first time: Hellbender

The Exorcism of Carmen Farias (2021) - 2/5 - A creeping atmosphere promises so much, only for disappointing reveals to let things down with repeated lacklustre pay-offs.

Hellbender (2021) - 4.5/5 - Supernatural growing pains anchored in relatable material, this excellent piece of independent filmmaking is as joyous as it is menacing.

Followers (2021) - 1.5/5 - Considering its horror-roots, it’s a shame the ghostly elements fail to quicken the pulse.

Caveat (2021) - 3.5/5 - An amnesiac drifter agrees to look after a troubled woman on an isolated island, while wearing a harness to limit his movements. Big mistake. The directorial debut of Damian McCarthy is a creepy and chilling piece, making use of the isolated location and the tense scenario rather well. Go into it knowing little, and enjoy it on Shudder.

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005) - 1.5/5 - Considering this is the eighth entry into the Hellraiser series, it's a shame this film feels embarrassed to be associated with the franchise. What's been crafted is a convoluted revenge/slasher flick parading in Hellraiser skin, and is just a tiresome feature which leaves quite the cast as underutilised.

When I Consume You (2021) - 3.5/5 - My first experience with a Perry Blackshear film, and it's quite a bleak one. A pair of siblings live with an unsettling dread lurking beneath, as they're pursued by a malevolent force which has haunted them since childhood. Their trauma has made these two dependant on each other and motivated them to do better by other kids, but the evil force has vicious plans which drastically affects their lives. While the metaphor didn't always land for me, this was a well-acted tale whose atmosphere is excellently conveyed by Mitch Bain's score.

Alien On Stage (2021) [rewatch] - 5/5 - An inspiring piece of DIY sci-fi, and a must-see for fans of Ridley Scott's classic.

Biggest Disappointment: Dune (1984)

Captain Voyeur (1969) - 2.5/5 - One of John Carpenter's early short films from his student days, and it shows much of what he'd do in his feature films. It's interesting to see the groundwork laid for the directors later career, particularly in this simple short with good sound design, but otherwise this short of a masked voyeur is nothing special.

Sweetie, You Won't Believe It (2021) - 4/5 - A slice of Kazakhstani cinema that blends fun with ultraviolence, the comedy and gruesome kills working wonders on-screen.

Don't Breathe 2 (2021) - 1/5 - If you're hoping this ill-advised sequel will justify its existence, don't hold your breath.

When The Screaming Starts (2021) - 3/5 - Effectively comments on how far someone will go to make a name for themselves, a point mirrored in the way our media fetishizes murderers whilst ignoring their victims.

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) - 0/5 - I've reached the end of my journey through the Hellraiser series, and in all honesty, it's appropriate to close things on this meta-sequel. How is it meta, you ask? Because starting the film is like opening the Lament Configuration, as only pain lies within and you'll entirely regret it.

The production history says this film was made in just a few weeks, a quick turnaround to keep ahold of the franchise rights, and it absolutely shows. Everything about it smacks of a cheap rushjob, from the dull set design to the painful performances put into awful characters, and especially the awkward tries at retreading where the first film went.

The timeline simultaneously depicts a found-footage tale involving two unbearable bros, and a home invasion story regarding their families. As a result, we're trapped with these two families full of poorly written figures who switch between acting angry, horny, or idiotic. What about the Cenobites? The film doesn't care, so why should we?

This series had four films made out of original scripts, only for Pinhead to be forced in last-minute to make them part of the franchise. Despite that, this feels the least like a Hellraiser film and has somehow become the series low-point. Genuinely one of the worst films I've ever seen, and for anybody going through this franchise, god help you all with this one.

The Kid Detective (2020) - 4/5 - Colour me impressed with this feature debut from director Evan Morgan. Once a celebrated kid detective, Abe Applebaum is now a 30-something adult that's the product of unrealised potential. Haunted by a past case, he's relegated himself to solving trivial mysteries, until a client brings him his first proper case. Led by the excellent performances from Adam Brody and Sophie Nélisse, this engrossing tale balances humour and sadness so effectively, and brings dark twists complete with a third-act which is absolutely jaw-dropping. Seek out this gem, and prepare to recommend it far and wide.

The Maid (2021) - 3/5 - A ghostly tale whose second-half delivers a fist-pumping explosion of violence and righteous fury.

Biggest Surprise: The Empty Man

Mad God (2021) - 2.5/5 - A passion project 30-years in the making, and a visually stunning labour of love.

As In Heaven, So On Earth (2021) - 2.5/5 - Whatever imaginative highpoints the stop-motion segment contains, they're diminished by the lacking tension and lesser live-action portions.

Chaos Walking (2021) - 1/5 - What an absolutely appropriate title, as this films production history and the final product can best be described as chaotic. Filmed in 2017, reshot in 2019, and rewrites from seven different screenwriters, this is what happened just to make something competent enough to release, never mind the actual quality. The result is a film where ideas are clashing for screen-time, the central gimmick gets irritating rather quickly, a talented cast has been wasted on nothing characters, and most criminally, it's very boring.

April Story (1998) - 4/5 - A film as gentle as its score, the spring-set tale sees Nireno leaving her home to attend university in Tokyo. Running at just over an hour, this sweet-natured and charming story is worth your time, especially with Takako Matsu giving such an excellent performance as the awkward lead.

Hold Me Tight (2021) - 3.5/5 - A gorgeously animated ballet between two beings, as their forest set meeting sees their lust and passion depicted in such operatic ways.

Fruit (2020) - 2/5 - Ivan Li brings alive a bonkers orgy of sex, violence, anime and celebrities, all with computer-generated fruit. Unbelievable to watch, but ultimately a pointless mess.

Henchmen (2021) - 2.5/5 - A homage to the hallway fight sequence from Oldboy, told from the perspective of two goons further back who don't really want to fight. A nice idea executed rather tediously.

Demonic (2021) - 2/5 - Promises a possession with a high-tech edge, but only offers disappointment.

Worst film of the month: Hellraiser Revelations

Snake Eyes (1998) - 3.5/5 - From the gorgeous tracking shot which opened the film to the aerial glide through hotel rooms, Brian De Palma leads viewers through a slickly directed thriller with such stunning style. Nicolas Cage is a hoot as the corrupt cop Rick Santoro, working off his straight-laced best friend tremendously played by Gary Sinise. A solid thriller which had me hooked, although the lacklustre resolution is particularly disappointing when the original one sounds much better.

Candyman (1992) [rewatch] - 5/5 - No matter how many times I watch this film, it astounds me from groin to gullet. I won't say his name 5 times, but I will gladly give this terrifying film 5 stars.

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021) - 1.5/5 - An uninspired mess from ham-fisted beginning to insipid sequel-baiting end. Why hire such talented martial artists to deliver action scenes, when their talents will be wasted thanks to shaky camera-work and choppy editing? Those elements did more butchering than the characters ever could.

There's potential in the story, as one characters rise to hero is dogged by moral quandaries and a thirst for revenge. The problem is they attached it to a mute character who never shows their face, and casting a star like Henry Golding means his face is always on show and the audience clearly hear his struggles to hide his British accent.

Most troubling is how Snake Eyes seems more like a villain, in part due to being shackled by this ridiculous background. His actions cause the worst to happen and destroy lives, but they're glossed over because he's meant to be the hero. It's a disastrous attempt within a 2-hour long trailer.

Candyman (2021) - 4.5/5 - What an exemplary way to continue on the story of this fearsome legend. What was subtext in Bernard Rose's original is made text here, and Nia DaCosta provides thoughtful material regarding it alongside unsettling horror set-pieces and excellent portrayals for the cast. I appreciate the short runtime, although a bit longer would've been nice to let some elements breathe. I adored this.

Dune (1984) - 2/5 - Not the adaptation the novel deserves, though there's much to recommend within.

School of Rock (2003) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - My love for rock music comes down to two factors:

1. My parents constantly having the Kerrang! music channel on TV

2. My endless rewatches of this film.

Richard Linklater's feature remains as charming, hilarious, and heartwarming as it was on my first viewing.

Raya and The Last Dragon (2021) - 3/5 - The director of Blindspotting being one of the directors for Disney's latest release? No wonder this shot up my highly anticipated list, which made how safe it all felt a bit disappointing. Granted, the excellent voice-cast and wonderful animation work wonders in bringing this vibrant world and its lovely inhabitants alive, with the fluid action set-pieces especially standing out.  That all fits in-between a tale which hits the expected narrative beats, while a video-game style plot drives the story until the expected finale. There's much to admire here, but I wish there was more for me to love.

No Man of God (2021) - 4/5 - An engrossing two-hander centred around conversations with Ted Bundy, this is a refreshing take on tired material.

Best film of the month: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Best film seen in cinemas: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Best film watched for the first time: Hellbender
Best film rewatched: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Biggest Disappointment: Dune (1984)
Biggest Surprise: The Empty Man
Worst film of the month: Hellraiser: Revelations

Number of films watched: 46