The Nun: Horror film is Predictable, but Fun

2.5 out of 5 stars (Decent)

The Nun poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5814060/

The Nun is the newest installment in the popular Conjuring film series, though you don’t need to have seen the other films to get it.  While it certainly isn’t as good as The Conjuring 1 and 2, the film is a suitably fun Haunted House Movie (or, Haunted Abbey Movie in this case), and should satisfy people who enjoy easy, predictable jump scares with friends.  Unfortunately, anyone expecting a character-driven story like the first two Conjurings will be sorely disappointed.

Father Burke (Demian Bichir) has been sent to an Abbey by the Vatican to investigate a nun’s suicide.  He is joined by unavowed novice Irene (Taissa Farmiga, TV’s American Horror Story) and comedic relief guide Frenchie (an enjoyable Jonas Bloquet), and the trio sets off to the abbey unaware of the sinister and supernatural evil that calls it home, namely a ghostly Nun (An effective Bonnie Aarons).

I understand why most critics are being harsh on this film.  This is a horror series that has stood out from the crowd by providing engaging stories and interesting characters along with effective scares, and this one is more focused on the scares.  The characters are not as interesting as they could be, but the performances are good enough to get you through if you like this kind of thing.  I’ll likely forget most of the details of this film after writing this review, but I enjoyed watching it with my cousin alone in the dark theater.  This should have been a Halloween release, not a Summer one.  The dark, gothic design of the Abbey and candle-lit hallways make it perfect for home viewing parties with friends, and there are unexpected bits of humor to lighten the mood (something other films did not have), to good effect.

The Nun’s biggest failure is its reliance on predictable jump scares over an engaging story or characters.  The camera movement repeats in every scary scene to prepare you for the ghouls to pop out: Shot of the room from the ceiling, then a close-up shot of the character’s face, then the camera slowly turns to reveal the ghost behind them.  It’s fun, but seriously predictable and feels longer than its 96-minute runtime.  Despite that, I would still recommend renting the film, as there are enough good effects and some good humor to make it a fun ride. Rent it.

Rated R for Terror, Violence, And Disturbing/Bloody Images

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Dino Sequel Darker, Scarier, and More Thrilling

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

I am baffled by the critical reception to Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomSitting at an unbelievable 51% critics rating on Rottentomatoes.com, reviewers are claiming this entry is stale, unimaginative, and lacking the magic of its predecessors.  I completely disagree with those criticisms and believe the film actually improves the series by being darker, scarier, and providing all the expected dino-action without sacrificing the heart and character of this franchise.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom should leave moviegoers totally satisfied with action, thrills, and a scarily plausible plot in today’s world.

The film picks up 3 years after the events of Jurassic World.  Now that the raptor’s out of the bag, the world is debating over the creature’s rights, with an active volcano threatening to sink Isla Nublar.  Scientist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, sans high heels) and dino trainer Owen (the eternally awesome Chris Pratt) are called into action by elderly Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who promises to relocate the creatures to a sanctuary safe from pesky humans.  Little do they know this expedition will lead to a conspiracy that will change human life forever.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom absolutely delivers as a summer blockbuster.  The story feels realistic, the characters have developed a bit, and the action is some of the best you’ll see this summer.  The effects are still astonishing and mix flawlessly with the dedicated human actors, who continue to sell the outlandishness.  Newcomer Isabella Sermon is also great as Lockwood’s young daughter.  She’s cute, likable, and believably terrified when called upon, all the more impressive when you realize it’s her first acting role.  Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard continue to have wonderful chemistry, and the climax is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The film has a few problems that hold it back from being one of the greats.  Rafe Spall’s human villain simply lacks a threatening screen presence and is one of the weakest baddies this year.  The writing for his character isn’t amazing, but I was more taken in by Wayne Knight with his goofy shaving cream can in the original than by this guy.  Knight was enticing in his greed, but this guy is so milquetoast that he comes off more like one of those 90’s villains who wants to close the rec center than a manipulative businessman.  Worse still, Toby Jones appears as a secondary bad guy, and is much more engaging.  I either would have made Jones the main villain or recast Spall with David Cross (Tobias from Arrested Development).  There’s also some mediocre aging make-up and weak explanation for Sermon’s accent, but my complaints end there.

These problems are minor in the grand scheme of things.  We come to these movies for the dinosaurs and characters, and we get great results with both.  While it doesn’t match the original classic, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a surprisingly solid sequel with great action, good characters, and the possibility for future adventures.  Also look out for Jeff Goldblum in the beginning and end returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm, and BD Wong as Dr. Wu.  This is one attraction you need to see up close.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Science Fiction Violence and Peril

“Krampus”: Holiday Horror Flick Deftly Mixes Scares with Humor

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Krampus poster
Image from http://www.joblo.com/

Good modern Christmas films are hard to find. Sure, we rewatch Home Alone and The Santa Clause each year, along with the Rankin-Bass collection, but there’s a depressingly small selection of modern Christmas flicks.  2008’s Four Christmases is funny if you like old Vince Vaughn, and one can always find their Elf DVD to watch for the umpteenth time, but the 2010s had yet to bring us a memorable Christmas film (Seth Rogen’s The Night Before could have filled this void were it not for its overdependence on raunchiness, but that’s another article).

Then, like that gift you never know you wanted, Krampus came down under my cinematic tree. On paper, Krampus sounds like yet another film where we watch good actors get killed until there’s one left and then we can go home, having gained nothing, but lost two hours of our lives.  However, with perfectly-cast actors, a surprisingly tense script, and taught direction, Krampus is a holiday movie that will make you believe in the Christmas spirit, or else.

The film opens with Max(newcomer Emjay Anthony) having another bad Christmas. The reason?  His middle-class parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) are at the throats of their redneck siblings (David Koechner, Allison Tolman, and Conchata Ferrell).  Max is sick and tired of these repeated family feuds at Christmastime, finding solace in the arms of his grandmother (Krista Stadler) amongst all the chaos.

The last straw comes when one of Max’s cousins chastises him for still believing in Santa Claus, causing the boy to rip up and discard his letter to him. Little does Max know that this act will bring a supernatural demon upon his family that will force them to put aside their differences and work together to survive.

I did not know about this film until a friend recommended it. He told me that the film’s comedic side was kept out of the advertisements, leading to people being somewhat disappointed with the final product.  I personally enjoyed the film’s clever mixture of horror and laughs throughout most of the proceedings.  I say most because the movie decides to drop the humor in the third act, a decision that doesn’t ruin the movie, but definitely makes it strange when you think about where the movie began.

The cast here is perfect. Adam Scott fits well into the lead role, and Toni Collette is a force to be reckoned with, as always.  Emjay Anthony is appropriately sympathetic as Max, never becoming annoying like many kid actors do these days.  However, David Koechner totally steals the movie.  I believe this is his best role since the Anchorman movies, as it allows him to be absolutely hilarious as well as do some decent dramatic work.  Koechner’s character would have been annoying had it been played by another actor, so I am happy that he was chosen.  The rest of the family also holds their own, each becoming more likable as the film progresses.

I also must compliment the writing of this movie. The first 20 minutes cheat you into believing that the film will be another holiday dysfunctional family comedy a la Nothing like the Holidays or Christmas Vacation.  I generally detest dysfunctional family “comedies”, as watching people argue for two hours is not my idea of entertainment. Arrested Development is excluded from this, as it does it right.  However, the difference between this and Nothing like the Holidays is that the dialogue here is darkly comedic rather than outright hurtful, allowing for laughter to come.  However, the horror comes in at the start of act 2, seeing a majority of the comedy come in witty bits between the horror elements.  This works because, for the most part, one element doesn’t hurt the other.  The film maintains its dark and intimidating tone despite having funny bits.  Combining horror and humor is a very hard task, and I applaud the writers for being able to accomplish that throughout most of the film.

Unfortunately, that delicate balance drifts over to the horror side in the third act. I personally had no problem with this, but it may surprise people who were under the impression that the film was a comedy with horror elements in it.  The tone is at its darkest in act three, and the funny lines become few and far between.  There’s one sequence that is somewhat darkly comic, but it is played up more for serious horror than dark humor, which, given that the sequence involves (I’m not kidding here) demonic gingerbread men, I’m surprised they pulled off.  That is the genius of this film.  It gives you scenarios that you think will fail epically, but makes them work to the film’s advantage.

If you like horror films with a dash of humor, then this will be for you. If you like lighter horror comedy fair, I suggest Fright Night from 2011.  It’s not Christmas-themed, but it is entertaining.

All in all, Krampus is a well-written, perfectly cast horror film with a comedic edge that manages to both scare you silly and make you laugh.  See it.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Horror Violence/Terror, Language, and some Drug Material