October 2023 In Review

October has left us (for quite a bit now!), and it allowed me to finish my revisit of the Saw franchise while also attending a couple of film festivals, and of course I included my rewatch of Halloween. So, let's see what films I watched this past month.

Blackberry (2023) - 4/5 - This familiar tale of a rise and fall is told in electric ways which feel fresh and highlights Johnson as a director to watch.

Past Lives (2023) [rewatch] - 5/5 - An impeccably crafted tale about diverging paths as two childhood friends lose contact, before spending their adult lives trying to reconnect while moving forward. There are many constants for the pair, from Hae Sung downplaying his capabilities as being "ordinary", or Nora's awards aspirations, yet they have undoubtedly grown from the people they were since they last saw each other in person at 12-years-old. A gentle story about how nostalgic memories are sometimes all we can have to hold onto someone who was so important to our lives.

Saw VI (2009) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - Goodness, I really undervalued this one. This time, the game is personal as Jigsaw targets health insurance executives and the system which fails the people it should protect in favour of financial savings. Yes, it's not a subtle metaphor, although it is played tremendously which makes the game a compelling delight from breathtaking beginning to stunning conclusion. Outside of that, Detective Hoffman worries that the police are closing in on him as he tries to continue on Jigsaw's work. I must admit, Hoffman has been an element which I preferred in theory to execution, and this entry just further highlights that he is the weakest link. There is also pretty notable rewriting of the past to include him which answers some notable questions, yet also feels rather convoluted in places. Regardless, this has left me with my second-favourite of the franchise so far. Although, Jigsaw targeting someone because he's a smoker does still feel like a ridiculous choice.

Saw 3D (2010) [rewatch] - 0.5/5 - Dubbed upon its release as "The Final Chapter", this seventh entry feels anything but final as it barrels through a middling plot while tacking on some answers to lingering threads. It goes through traps which feel tenuously connected, from the laughable in the daylight opener where Jigsaw becomes a relationship therapist, to a Chester Bennington starring car trap which has decent gore to it. Mixed up within is a new low for the Detective Hoffman story, as he chases around Jill for revenge, with Jigsaw's ex-wife being reduced to a whimpering damsel that feels divorced from the figure who was at the end of the previous film. There is also an unengaging story with a new character who faked being a Jigsaw survivor, and it all adds to a misogynistic streak which unfortunately lingers through this film. Add to that the distracting inclusions made to capitalise on the 3D release, and this feels like a corporate idea of what a Saw film should be. Easily the worst of the series so far, and I'm hoping it does not get lower than this.

The Nun II (2023) - 2.5/5 - I must be honest, Michael Chaves' directorial style does little for me. There are admittedly flashes of brilliance, such as the newspaper stand sequence, yet the overriding feel is that he's a puppet operated by studio executives and producers to do their bidding. Admittedly, this film is an improvement over 2018's unfortunate The Nun, and it helps that there is interesting character work which makes it easier to care for Maurice and Sister Irene here. Yet these points of interest feel adrift in uninteresting scares, particularly when it opts for jump-scares a bit too often. The unfortunate thing is that there is little to the titular character, relying on repurposed chills, glaring CG work, and toothed snarling to mask how there is little to Valak, right down to the overly familiar design. I wanted more fun inclusions with promise, like when an altar boy's spirit appears to wreak havoc, but we instead were lumbered with boarding school mean girls and self-serious elements which left me checking my watch.

Best film of the month and Best film
rewatched: Halloween (1978)

Jigsaw (2017) [rewatch] - 2/5 - A legacy sequel to the Saw series released seven-years after the highly publicised final chapter, this revisits the series by mixing a new series of games with intrigue as to who is continuing on John Kramer's legacy. I must say that the first half kept me interested with the set-up and the ongoing case, but it soon becomes apparent that little new is being done here, as the tension-free traps feel like the series on auto-pilot. Many of the key players in this film are saddled with underwritten characters, particularly with those playing the game who are little more than their sins. It is also clear that the writers have backed themselves into a corner, as they are trapped with ending the film on the most obvious revelation or delivering an out-there twist for this series which would deliver Fast & Furious levels of ridiculous retconning. All that's left for me are the 2020's films in this series, and I hope they are an improvement on this one.

When Evil Lurks (2023) - 4/5 - A grim banger whose dread-inducing atmosphere evilly confirms that nobody is safe.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) - 4.5/5 - An uncompromised vision of human fury bursting alive through cyberpunk body horror.

Funny Games (1997) - 4.5/5 - A brutal piece that offers no respite for viewers, with the smallest glimmers of hope being snuffed out rather quickly.

Spiral: From The Book of Saw (2021) - 2/5 - Credit to this film, they try doing something different with a Saw sequel as it changes gears to emulate '90s crime thrillers amidst this tale of cops being killed by a serial killer inspired by Jigsaw. The tale tries including relevant messaging involving police corruption yet dives no deeper than the surface level, instead focusing on Chris Rock delivering scrapped stand-up routines, as he prioritises making jokes about Forrest Gump and cheating ex-wives over actually trying to act. It's a dreadful performance for a self-serious character, within a work that delivers uninspired traps with watered down attempts at gore. No wonder the series went back to Tobin Bell after this, because it's clear they have not cracked the code for how to continue this series in the present day. What's left feels like a watered down try at a once dominant franchise.

Best film seen in cinemas: Past Lives (2023)

Saw X (2023) - 3/5 - Almost 20 years since the first Saw film was released, writers Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg take the 10th entry into this franchise to an interesting place by doing something different; making John Kramer the film's main character. Despite his many appearances across the series, Tobin Bell never got the chance to take center stage before his character was killed off at the end of the third film. Considering how many flashbacks were made to include him, it's telling that the creatives regretted that decision, especially when this film puts Bell in the protagonist role as it is set between the first and second films.

This story sees John travel to Mexico City for an experimental treatment for his brain cancer, only to discover the operation is a scam. What then unfolds is revenge, as the scammers are the next targets for the Jigsaw Killer's games.

Director Kevin Greutert returns from the fan-favourite sixth film and the disastrous seventh instalment for something which tries to recapture the franchise from when it was a box office juggernaut, from how it brings back past characters, to moments of frantic editing, and even turning up a colour filter (although the yellow filter appearing as soon as the film enters Mexico is a joke by now).

Adding to that feel are massive levels of disbelief (how did Billy get to Mexico?), laughable ways the film tries emphasizing a character is de-aged (Amanda's awful wig), and some dreadful performances. The latter is especially apparent when the third-act rests on it to sell obvious twists, with the denouement feels unsatisfying and the most publicized trap is part of a dream sequence. Yet I cannot deny that I had an absolute blast with this film, and would consider it one of my preferred sequels.

Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981) - 3.5/5 - Because of the date, I felt obliged to tick off another entry into this horror franchise which is a blindspot of mine. I was more impressed with this one than its predecessor, which I have tried multiple times yet cannot consider myself a fan of. The biggest difference is that I actually like the characters, as it feels like there is some attempt made to characterize the majority of them. They aren't very deep depictions, but I feel more connected to the likes of determined paraplegic Mark and fantastic final girl Ginny, who pulls off a genius move in the final act. The gore does feel a step down from the previous film, courtesy of Tom Savini not being part of this project, but there are still decent kills worth watching for. It also helps that Steve Miner is a more interesting director than Sean S. Cunningham, knowing to cut down on the slow-motion even when the plot is very similar to the first film. Although, Jason with the sack on his head is a goofy look.

Night of the Creeps (1986) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Day 1 of Forbidden Worlds began with this excellent work from Fred Dekker. An entertaining blend of time periods, aliens, and zombies, brought together with a killer sense of humour and led by Tom Adkin's perfect performance.

Mimic (1997) - 3.5/5 - Directors Cut. My one blindspot among Guillermo del Toro's feature films, which had an unfortunate production due to the Miramax of it all. This cut is as close to his vision as he could re-edit it into and, while I would consider it a lesser work from the director, it remains better than many director's best works. The story focuses on the after-effects of a scientific decision to genetically engineer bugs to wipe out a disease carried by cockroaches. Years later, the Frankenstein creatures have evolved and pose a threat to humanity. A tale of parental figures doing what they believe is best while underground, cut off from the outside world as their cries for help go unheard. A hellish road paved with good intentions which has a good cast, but even in this cut feels more like a director-for-hire gig for del Toro than a work that is uniquely his own. Still, at least he has moved onto better things.

The Guardian (1990) - 3/5 - Preceding this screening was a candid introduction from original screenwriter Stephen Volk, as he fascinatingly shared how this film was William Friedkin doing a favour to his old agent by directing this work, and retooled it to be far from the work that would've been more fitting for original director Sam Raimi. From the stories shared, his frustration is understandable.

This is a strange work which sees new parents hiring a nanny, only for it to turn out that she intends to sacrifice the baby to a tree. It comes alive when leaning into the baffling elements, be it an amazing tree murdering scene, a wolf recreating "Here's Johnny", and what unfolds in the finale. Outside of that are tense moments and believable character work, yet it is admittedly dull stuff which brings the film down.

Best film watched for the first time: Monster (2023)

Arachnophobia (1990) - 4/5 - Day 2 of Forbidden Worlds kicked off with this family film breaking up the more adult fare, and this was such a charming surprise. A fun monster movie which sees a small town menaced by the deadly offspring off spiders from different parts of the world. Brought alive by tremendous puppetry and a knowing sense of humour, this is an excellent work which shatters small town innocence with darker realities. There are such fantastic personalities on show, from the arachnids to the entertaining supporting characters, ESPECIALLY John Goodman's exterminator. A creepy crawly charmer.

Christine (1983) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - From the opening set to Bad To The Bone, this is a brilliant work bringing alive the talents of horror masters John Carpenter and Stephen King in damn fine form. A bullied teen sees a way to better himself by fixing up an old car, although it soon becomes clear the car is jealous and murderous in glorious fashion. The connection between the pair is effectively felt, making it all the more tragic how such a toxic relationship affects the lead character. A marvellous work that's also very entertaining for how it tries to make "Shitters" into an insult.

The Hidden (1987) - 4.5/5 - What a phenomenal way to close out the festival. As a parasitic alien body-hops through humans to commit murder, play loud rock music, and steal Ferraris, two mismatched cops team up to stop the alien's real-life game of Grand Theft Auto. This wild ride peaks with the astounding opening, which sees a bank robbery followed by an astounding car chase full of carnage, although that doesn't stop how astounding the following events also are. An absolute blast which makes great use of the body-swapping premise of the villain, while also allowing terrific action, an exceptional dog performance, and a fantastic use of a flamethrower. Brilliant stuff.

Psycho II (1983) - 4/5 - What could have been a cheap cash-in is instead a compelling tale and a darn impressive follow-up.

Bite (2023) - 2.5/5 - For a film with cannibalism, it unfortunately lacks bite.

Biggest Disappointment: Cat Person (2023)

The Pope's Exorcist (2023) - 3/5 - An entertaining work brought alive by Crowe's fun performance.

Poor Things (2023) - 5/5 - Within an already strong body of work, Lanthimos has created one of his strongest outings which is also one of 2023’s best films.

Door (1988) - 4/5 - A stylish piece of previously lost home invasion horror.

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) - 4.5/5 - Review to come

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992) - 3.5/5 - A polished sequel effectively depicting trauma and whether one can rise above letting it define who they are.

Cat Person (2023) - 1.5/5 - It is astounding how a third-act can transform an interesting look at modern dating into an overblown mess which misses the point spectacularly.

Biggest Surprise: The Hidden (1987)

Veronica (2017) - 3/5 - A well-acted tragedy that unfortunately lacks in scares.

Sister Death (2023) - 3/5 - A compelling study of the titular nun that delivers unsettling imagery.

Five Nights At Freddy's (2023) - 2/5 - Outside of the basic premise, I had no knowledge of the video-game series that this Blumhouse feature adapted, so went into this with no expectations. The premise sees Josh Hutcherson's character desperate for work, so agrees to take a security job at an abandoned restaurant which is home to animatronic mascots which come alive and commit murder. When it comes to the set design and animatronics, the film excels at bringing those elements alive. This makes it a shame how the latter - arguably the film's best selling point - feel underutilized in favour of dull family drama. When it comes to the more horror focused elements, I cannot say they fared much better with the dream sequences feeling overdone. I also understand why the security job unfolds across five nights, but there does not feel like enough plot to live up to the titular timeframe. I have seen people call this gateway horror, and I can see how this could be a starting place for young fans of these games onto watching bigger and better horror films (although the 15 rating given in the UK does not help that). However, I do think there are better age-appropriate alternatives for gateway horrors than this. Also, in terms of the premise, Willy's Wonderland is a better film.

Ginger Snaps (2000) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Review to come

Suitable Flesh (2023) - 4/5 - A horny and gruesome blast that is a fantastic showcase for the committed cast and directorial flair.

Worst film of the month: Saw 3D (2010)

Psycho III (1986) - 3.5/5 - Anthony Perkins moves behind the camera for an interesting continuation where the lead character seeks independence from his inner demons.

Mary Had A Little Lamb (2023) - 1/5 - Just watch 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre instead.

Monster (2023) - 5/5 - The second film I've seen from Hirokazu Kore-eda, and it is solidifying that I need to seek out more from this exceptional director. The inciting incident for this film is a young boy's accusation that his teacher is a bully who hit him. With each perspective adding more truths to this story, what unfolds is a heartfelt story of characters who believe lying is the right decision, only to find themselves burdened by the mistruths that were misguidedly shared. A masterfully humanist work that deserves to be seen by so many people.

All Of Us Strangers (2023) - 4.5/5 - Living in a near-empty tower block in London, screenwriter Adam finds his lonely life punctuated by his mysterious neighbour, Harry. This leaves Adam to contemplate on his grief-stricken life, missing his long-dead parents and lingering on the conversations he never got to have with them. Andrew Scott delivers an exceptional portrayal in this tale of grief and tragedy brought alive with such subtlety, as the heartfelt and heartbreaking tale shows why Andrew Haigh is such an extraordinary talent.

Halloween (1978) [rewatch] - 5/5 - The way Carpenter uses shadows and slow tracking shots to build tension and chill spines is absolutely phenomenal.

Best film of the month: Halloween (1978)
Best film seen in cinemas: Past Lives (2023)
Best film watched for the first time: Monster (2023)
Best film rewatched: Halloween (1978)
Biggest Disappointment: Cat Person (2023)
Biggest Surprise: The Hidden (1987)
Worst film of the month: Saw 3D (2010)

Number of films watched: 36