Lights Out (2016)

There’s No You Without Me.

I saw today’s movie in a RedBox and started to remember that the trailer looked like it had some nifty spooky things in how they handled light, and since I had an October Horrorthon to prepare for, it seemed like a good enough reason to give it a shot.  …And that’s pretty much it.  There aren’t always good stories to these things.  Anyway, the movie was Lights Out, written by Eric Heisserer, directed by David F. Sandberg, and starring Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, Gabriel Bateman, Alicia Vela-Bailey, and Alexander DiPersia.

A man is murdered in a warehouse by a creepy shadow lady that looks like Penance from Generation X – let’s just call her Diana (Vela-Bailey).  That man had a wife, Sophie (Bello), who is crazy, a stepdaughter, Rebecca (Palmer), who has left the family, and a son, Martin (Bateman), who is not sleeping well.  When Sophie can’t be reached, Rebecca is contacted by child protective services because Martin keeps falling asleep in class.  When asked, Martin claims that he can’t sleep because his mom keeps him up by talking with her friend Diana.  …OH SNAP!  That’s the name I gave to the evil ghost lady, isn’t it?  That’s strange…

I found myself fairly underwhelmed by this movie, but I wouldn’t say I hated it.  It was just kind of … regular.  The story was a pretty basic haunting thing with a few twists to separate it from the pack a little, but that’s not really what sets it apart.  They even put it in the title!  It’s all the lights on and off stuff.  That stuff was fun, but also was occasionally problematic.  A ghost thing that can only be seen when it’s almost pitch black means that we will barely be able to see her most of the time.  At least until they bust out the giant, check-your-hotel-room-for-semen style black light that this family has in their basement for some odd reason.  Then you’ll see her and she just looks like a zombie or a lady with a skin condition.  But the stuff they did with the darkness and the rules they set was fairly interesting, it just wasn’t that spooky, even if you ignore the fact that it shouldn’t be nearly that hard to keep yourself in the light.  Go buy a battery or fire powered lantern, for crying out loud!  But what they did go for with scares was used mostly for jump scares which can be fun, but probably won’t make your movie a classic if you can’t build enough tension and spookiness.  Plus, only 3 people died in this movie!  Super powered zombie ghost shadow lady should’ve tried a little bit harder.

There were at least some good performances in this movie.  Teresa Palmer’s character was a bitch to people randomly and seemingly without reason in the beginning, but came around to a very likeable character when she started trying to look out for the welfare of her half-brother.  She seemed to make fairly good decisions for the most part, but I cannot fathom how this girl would be in a haunted house with a shadow ghost that likes to jump out of the darkness at people and yet Rebecca still thought it would ever be a good idea to walk backwards into an open doorway.  You should just hold your flashlight and spin around in circles until morning…or until you throw up.  Either way, it seems pretty fun.  I found Gabriel Bateman annoying, but I’m not entirely convinced that’s not just because I hate most kids.  Maria Bello is great though.  She plays really her role very unhinged but also sympathetic at the same time, which made the ending more disappointing.  She couldn’t have found a better way out of this situation than she did? And by “she,” I feel like I actually mean “the writers.”  Boyfriend guy was just kind of there to me and didn’t really make an impact beyond seeming like a big creep for being so determined to move in with Rebecca in the beginning that he wanted to leave some of his stuff there, and when she said no, he tried to stash a sock there.  As if having some article of clothing in a girl’s house means that you’re dating now.  If that were the case, I’d start leaving clothing in girl’s houses instead of leaving with their underwear like I do now.  The only other character that stood out to me was the child protective services lady.  She seemed nice enough, but I found it really dumb that when she was trying to indicate that she didn’t believe Rebecca was fit to raise a child, her examples seemed to be that Rebecca likes Heavy Metal music (or at least posters of them) and marijuana.

I feel like the best thing I can say about Lights Out is that it’s nifty.  The story of the movie is fairly basic with one or two new ideas, but mostly the movie rests on the shoulders of one or two solid performances and some interesting jump scares based around lighting effects.  You could probably get roughly the same effect of this movie by just watching the 7 minute short film of the same name that inspired this movie, but watching the movie isn’t a terrible option either.  Lights Out gets “Mom, we need to talk” out of “We’re living with a dead woman.”

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The Thing (2011)

So, I’m Gonna Die Because I Floss?

Today’s RedBox movie is another remake, but this time of a movie that I’ve actually seen.  The 1982 film is a classic Sci-Fi Horror movie that I was always pretty fond of.  Today’s movie calls itself a prequel, but the trailers made it look like it was pretty much the same movie.  That wouldn’t really be a bad thing though, as the original was a pretty cool movie.  There was only one way to find out, so I picked it up at the RedBox and started watching the prequel to the movie of the same name, The Thing, written by Ronald D. Moore and Eric Heisserer, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Joel Edgerton, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Trond Espen Seim, Kristoffer Hivju, Stig Henrik Hoff, Jorgen Langhelle, Paul Braunstein, and Kim Bubbs.

Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen) to investigate the discovery of a spacecraft found under the ice in Antarctica.  She is shuttled to the base by helicopter pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton), and his copilots Derek (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Griggs (Paul Braunstein) to join Halvorson’s crew.  They find a creature encased in ice and take a tissue sample to find out if it’s Brendan Fraser.  Instead, it’s an alien creature that breaks free of the ice and goes missing, later surfacing and killing their dog.  They set it on fire, but it kills one of the researchers.  An autopsy reveals that the alien was copying the researcher’s cells and trying to imitate him.  The helicopter attempts to take one of the injured researchers away from the facility, but Kate finds some blood and discarded tooth fillings.  Figuring out that the alien has infected one of the people on the helicopter, she tries to flag it down, only to see the alien attack from inside and the helicopter crash miles away.  When she returns to the bathroom, the blood has been cleaned up.  Now the crew must figure out who amongst them is also an alien in disguise and try to stop the creature from reaching the mainland and infecting us all.

Even while watching the movie, I had a hard time figuring out if this was supposed to be a prequel or a remake.  If it was supposed to be a prequel, then history really repeats itself in the original because it starts off very similar.  The alien even decides that the dog should be the first to go, which is just a dick move on it’s part.  By the end of the movie, they tied it together, but only insomuch as they threw in the scene that opens the original movie over the credits of this movie, as if it was an afterthought.  It seemed like they were going to try to remake it, added a little stuff at the end, and then just decided to make it a prequel.  That being the case, this movie is inferior to the original.  Standing on it’s own, it would be a fine movie, but when you compare it to the original classic, it loses.  It’ll make me sound pretty hipster, but the story of this movie was good, but the original was better.  Being basically the same story, the first movie just told it better.  It’s one of the things I’ve noticed about movies from the 80’s in comparison to movies today.  See, back in the 80’s, technology and economy made it so these horror movies were unable to show their creature that much, either because it didn’t look that good or they just couldn’t afford it.  When I think back to the original Thing movie – as well as Jaws and Alien – what benefited them was their inability to show the creature.  The Thing showed their creature much more than the other two, but also didn’t have their creature running down the hall in broad daylight.  It made it much more psychologically intense for the audience.  In the original movie, we didn’t know any better than the people in the movie who was infected, but in this movie they don’t have to rely on that very much and they just have the guy say “No I’m not” and then have his face split in half.  The creature looks really good in this movie (in it’s various incarnations), but it’s not scary unless you consider gruesome scary.  What the original (as well as Jaws and Alien) did so much better was focusing on the characters and the atmosphere and having the creature affect everyone without actually being seen.  I didn’t care about anybody in this movie, so I could’ve given two shits when they got killed.  The movie’s just taking the basic premise of the original and filling it with gruesome money shots of what the writers always thought the alien could’ve done.  With all the tension and psychology covered up by lots of money and special effects, this movie is just barely better than any average slasher picture.  Much as in the first movie, they try to devise a test to find out who’s infected, but it gets sabotaged.  They then resort to looking into people’s mouths to see if they have fillings (as the creature can’t replicate inorganic material) and then just waiting for one of those guys to kill something so they can burn it (as it dies quickly in fire).  It occurred to me that, though it would be painful, having everyone hold their hand over a candle would’ve been a much more elegant solution to their problem.  If it just hurt, you’re okay.  If you split in half and killed everyone, I raise the possibility of you being infected to 20% sure.  To further ruin the original with money, they even go to the alien spaceship for the finale of the movie, which further takes me out of it.  I can’t relate to being chased down the halls of an alien spaceship.  The last time I was in one, I was strapped to a gurney and … I don’t wanna talk about it.  It just turns the movie into more of a sci-fi movie than a psychological horror.  The alien wasn’t the issue in the original; it was the infection.  It could’ve been just a regular disease in that movie and it wouldn’t have changed anything.  Also, the ending of this movie was kind of easy, quick, and lackluster.

The performances were all quality in this movie.  I can’t say I have any particular praises or criticisms for them.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead was good.  The Wikipedia page claimed that her character was supposed to have many traits in common with Lt. Ellen Ripley from Alien, and I can kind of see that.  She was a stronger character than most women are portrayed in movies as, and probably spent about as much time cowering in fear as any of the men, but she would also get behind the business end of a flamethrower when the moment called for it.  Plus, she was in Scott Pilgrim, so I already liked her.  Eric Christian Olsen, on the other hand, had to win me over.  He was in that awful prequel called Dumb and Dumberer, so I has a bad taste in my mouth for this guy.  But his performance in the movie was very real and I liked him.  I’ll forgive you for Dumb and Dumberer for now, but I’m keeping my eye on you!

I feel like, even though I didn’t really care for this movie, I can actually recommend it to you.  If you’re a fan of the original (as I am) then this movie might let you down by making a dumber version of what we already liked and calling it a prequel, when it was only barely a prequel.  If you’ve never seen the original, then you can go into this movie fresh and will probably enjoy yourself.  It’s a decent enough movie that’s hindered by it’s failure to succeed on it’s 30 year old successor.  And so the remake … I mean prequel … to the Thing gets “We found a fucking alien!” out of “You think they’re gonna pay a bonus for bringing home an alien instead of core samples?”

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