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Spiral: From the Book of Saw | Review

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It’s quite a relief to be able to say that the ninth film in a horror franchise is actually pretty entertaining and not completely terrible for once. Most horror franchises start to drop in quality as the sequels keep getting churned out and it was definitely looking like the Saw franchise was heading in that direction after the last few films. Spiral: From the Book of Saw isn’t really Saw 9 and its place within the franchise isn’t quite the same as the many sequels but it’s a turn for the good. It’s not amazing but it’s an entertaining film with enough kills and enough gore to keep you engaged right the way through, even if it never reaches the level of the first two Saw films.

Spiral introduces a whole new set of characters including Chris Rock’s police detective Zeke Banks, and him and his rookie partner are tasked with a dark investigation trying to stop whoever’s out there killing cops. And thankfully, the Saw writers have learnt that not every single story has to link back to John Kramer. The new killer seems to be a Jigsaw copycat that’s playing gruesome games with people but he’s still using some really horrible traps.

As far as the traps and the kills go, Spiral has some of the best in the entire franchise. The kills are brutal and bloody and they’re really inventive and outside the box like we’ve come to expect from the traps in the franchise. But one thing Spiral does really well, and one of the reasons why it’s much better than almost all of the Saw sequels that have come before it, is because it’s not complete torture porn. Yes, there’s lots of gore in this and Saw fans will get what they’ve come to see but, there’s a very strong focus on plot and on the characters and it exists as much more of a film in its own right. Some of the previous instalments in the franchise have felt like pure torture porn; there’s not always a particularly good plot, the characters are never likeable and it’s just complete violence and gore. Whereas Spiral strips that back enough that it stands as a police crime thriller film on its own. But it does still has lots of gruesome murders that fans of the franchise love to see so much.

However, one of the biggest problems with Spiral is the writing. There are quite a few times, particularly earlier on, where the film tries to be quite funny and make lots of jokes, and all credit to Chris Rock for trying to inject a bit of humour into the franchise, it’s just that a lot of the jokes didn’t land and didn’t quite do it for me. Some of them did and some were quite funny, but on the whole the humour felt out of place. Additionally, one of the best things about the first film was the incredible ending and the big twist. Spiral tries to create a big twist except it’s just glaringly obvious. Within the first 25 minutes or so I had already figured out what the twist was and where it was going. Granted, I didn’t work out everything and it was still exciting seeing it play out, but when you can work out who the murderer is very early on, the ending doesn’t pack the same punch as it should.

In terms of the cast, Chris Rock does bring some freshness and some new life to the franchise that it had been lacking for a while. It’s really good that the first film in the franchise without Tobin Bell and without the Jigsaw killer is entertaining and does still work. It’s very excited to see that Samuel L. Jackson is in the film playing Chris Rock’s dad however he’s not in it a huge amount and it’s only really towards the end where he features a bit more prominently so that was slightly disappointing.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is an entertaining and enjoyable film with some really great kills but it is let down by its predictability and the fact that it’s not always as tight and tense as a thriller like this should be. That being said, when you reach the final few minutes and the Saw theme music comes on, you know sh*t’s about to go down!

★★★☆☆

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is released in US Cinemas on 14th May and in UK cinemas on Monday 17th May.

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Separation | Slow Atmosphere and Surprising Twists

Marriage Story.

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If you’re a horror fan, chances are you’ve heard of William Brent Bell. His disastrous 2012 found-footage gimmick The Devil Inside was nothing but an upsell to a [now defunct] website link showcased how the film’s “story” ended. The Boy (and its sequel) were also terrible but not as offensive as The Devil Inside. Bell has already made a name for himself with that 2012 film, but he’s back, with a vengeance this time around, with Separation. Aptly titled, the film tells the story of comic book artist Jeff Vahn (Rupert Friend), who is in the process of finalizing a divorce from his wife, Maggie (Mamie Gummer), and determining who will get custody of their child, Jenny (Violet McGraw). However, Maggie suddenly dies after being hit by a car, and Jenny’s custody reverts to Jeff. Maggie’s father, Paul (Brian Cox), believes Jeff had something to do with the accident, but more pressing matters are at hand as Maggie’s spirit begins to haunt Jeff and Jenny, with the latter having some spiritual “attachment” with her. And if you’ve seen Bell’s previous films, it’s no different here. Just a dull and dreary “atmospheric horror” picture with some of the worst acting of the year.

Separation'

Granted, the acting isn’t all bad here. Rupert Friend and Brian Cox manage to hold their own even when the script starts to (quite literally) shit the bed. As of late, Cox has been an expert in playing irredeemable scumbags, and he brilliantly implements the talents he developed from Succession here seamlessly. It doesn’t matter if he pretty much plays the same dickish character as in the popular HBO show; Cox is always entertaining and seems to be the only one that truly cares about whatever film role he landed in, whether good or bad. On the other hand, Friend cannot carry a lead role in any movie. That was apparent in Hitman: Agent 47, but he seems determined to do good in Separation, even if the material is rather hackneyed.

How is it hackneyed, you ask? Well, for starters, it’s not scary. There’s a fairly creepy (if you will) ghost-like figure of a puppet that bends itself à la Pennywise/It that’s somewhat effective, but it’s only featured when Jeff has nightmares. Most of the “scares” happening in the film are inside Jeff (or Jenny’s) mind, which results in a rather weightless horror film. Maggie’s reincarnated spirit is as scary looking like the nightmare fuel wooden puppet in Steve Barron’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, whilst incorporating Udo Kier’s looks from that same film. [Side note: if you want to traumatize the living hell out of children, make them watch that movie]. It’s the only type of comparison I can recall since the film is still highly vivid in my memory, and everything looks so unsettling here. That’s a good thing, though, since the film has some sort of artistic vision.

Separation Cast And Character Guide (with Ending Spoilers)

The problem is: Bell and writers Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun don’t do anything with it to make it interesting in any capacity. Maggie is just…there…and passively haunts Jeff or the babysitter, Samantha (Madeline Brewer). And the more the film progresses, the easier it is to tell how apparent it is that it has absolutely nothing of interest to say about anything. Instead, it needlessly fills its time through tedious sequences in which Jeff has “visions” of “The Darkness,” which will eventually become the inspiration for his next comic, or he’ll try (and fail) to communicate with Maggie’s spirit through an Ayahuasca trip that’s both visually drab and completely unengaging. Heck, a drug this potent merits something truly insane, embracing its dark atmosphere to the fullest extent. Yet Bell never cares about any of that and solely focuses on how the “spirit” quasi-communicates to Jenny instead. But since we don’t spend much time with her, there’s no legitimate emotional connection to her or any of what’s happening in Separation. Oh, poor Jeff, he must fight Maggie’s evil father, who wants to take Jenny away from him, while at the same time worrying about Jenny’s mental state as Maggie’s spirit takes hold of her. If you don’t find that interesting, how about developing a will-they/won’t they relationship between Jeff and Samantha? Feels so 2000’s, right?

It’s also interesting to see how truly cheap the film’s VFX is, which exacerbates, even more, its penchant for early 2000s horror made by large studios. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film’s script were plucked from a list of unproduced movies made around that time that the previously defunct OpenRoad studios decided to…go for it in the hopes that it would revive their business. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Once its “twist” on who murdered Maggie gets revealed, Separation never really recovers. I don’t want to give it away because curious people reading this review may want to experience it for themselves at least once in their lives. So I’ll say this: it’s wild. It’s something you half-expect if you’re paying close attention to it, but it still absolutely makes no sense in the broader context of the picture. There’s something Bell likes to do and does it well, craft some of the worst endings I’ve seen in horror. It’s either non-endings, in the case of The Devil Inside, or ludicrous “revelations” in the case of his The Boy films and Separation. Here’s some food for thought: this entire film is ludicrous.

Separation wants to impress with its “slow atmosphere” and surprising twists. Yet, its twist reveals nothing strictly but turns the film’s serious setting into an unintentional comedy, absolutely deserving of every potential Golden Raspberry it will get. If you want a unique cinematic experience and continue to observe how William Brent Bell destroyed Giallo-like endings with his horror movies whilst seeing good potential squandered in an endless cesspool of…nothing…then Separation might be for you. Otherwise, stay as far away as possible [and from The Adventures of Pinocchio too…yikes.]

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Escape Room: Tournament of Champions | Review

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Ever since escape rooms became a big hit in real life and people couldn’t get enough of being locked in a room, having to solve puzzles to escape, it was only a matter of time before screenwriters took the idea and turned it into a horror film. And that’s exactly what happened. Over the past few years there have been a great number of films titles Escape Room or revolving around the idea of an escape room with a dark and deadly twist to it. But only the 2019 film Escape Room directed by Adam Robitel received a sequel in the form of Escape Room: Tournament of Champions.

Don’t worry if you can’t remember which film called Escape Room this is a sequel to because the film opens with a recap of the events of the first film, almost like you’re watching the “previously on..” section at the beginning of a TV show. The film sees Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) who narrowly survived the escape room in the previous film and now they’re out to bring justice to the evil corporation known as Minos and put a stop to their dastardly murders.

The two arrive in New York City and are unexpectedly trapped in a subway carriage with four other people and much like the previous film, they must escape from a series of complicated and deadly escape rooms or face death. The twist this time around, as the title suggest, is that all of the people trapped in the room are the winners of previous escape rooms and this is now a tournament of champions.

The set-up feels much more contrived this time around and the whole thing really verges into the realm of being incredibly far-fetched and unbelievable, far more than the first film ever did. But if you’re willing to go with it Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is an absolute blast of a time and even better than the first film.

In the words of one of the film’s characters “We play the game, or we die”. It’s as simple as that. And if you’re happy to go along with it, Tournament of Champions is a gripping rollercoaster thriller ride that doesn’t stop until the very end when the credits start to roll.

Whilst not as gory as the Saw franchise, the Escape Room films definitely take inspiration from the former with each of the different rooms having some deadly twist to them. But whereas in Saw you watch the traps for the bloody murders, in Escape Room, you’re entertained by all the deadly rooms because of the intelligent ways the characters discover to escape. You hold your breath as the clock counts down to their imminent death, on the edge of your seat, hoping they solve the puzzle to escape the room.

The rooms feel more intricate and the puzzles harder to solve this time around but that only makes it even more tense. The whole film is packed full of suspense as you don’t know who’s going to live and who’s going to die. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a heart-racing thrill ride that manages to up the thrills, the suspense and the intensity of all the rooms.

However, much like the first film, it does go a little off the rails as we approach the film’s denouement, and the writers try to tie everything together. The ending does make it feel a bit too cheesy and does put a bit of a damper on the rest of the film, but because of how thrilling the rest of the film is, you can just about get passed that.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a thoroughly engaging and thrilling film that will have you engrossed and entertained right up until the very end and if you’re willing to look past the film’s incredibly contrived and far-fetched plot, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a great time with this film.

★★★★☆

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is released in cinemas on Friday 16th July.

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Son (2021) | Film Review

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Son opens with a really strong scene that immediately grabs your attention, in fact it demands your attention. We see Laura (Halloween’s Andi Matichak) driving frantically away from something. We don’t quite know what she’s running from but against the heavy downpour of rain and the empty streets we see Laura giving birth in her car. The film then flashes forward a few years and picks up with Laura’s son now a young child. This bleak, dreary opening sets the film up really well but unfortunately Son doesn’t quite manage to reach this level of fear again until towards the end of the film.

After the opening scene the film picks up with Laura’s son David now eight years old and one night a mysterious group of people break into their house in an attempt to kidnap him. Laura runs to call the police and to get help from their neighbour but once the police arrive they find no sign of forced entry or of anyone else ever having been in the house. And thus the creepy atmosphere of the film starts to build as we begin to realise that something’s not quite right with David or Laura. Or both of them. Nonetheless, the detective played by Emile Hirsch (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) believes Laura and shows some sympathy towards her.

Not long later, David starts to get very sick and he starts throwing up blood so Laura takes him to the hospital and just as you might expect in a horror film like this, the doctors don’t quite know what’s wrong with David. All this mystery building up and the atmosphere carries a sense of foreboding but there is always this sense of familiarity and of feeling like you know where the film is going to get to by the end of it which does take away from the fearful feeling that the filmmakers would want you to have.

It’s not just David that’s not well either as Laura is afflicted with horrific nightmares and dreams about the cult that she escaped from before David was born. Laura fears that the hospital staff are a part of this cult too and so she takes David and the two go on the run in search of safety. The two are on their own now as David becomes increasingly ill, suffering from psychosis and convulsions and Laura starts to do whatever she can to protect her son.

Now that the two are on the run from the police and trying to get to safety, again, it has that sense of familiarity and despite the film’s potential, the problem is you know exactly where the film’s going and the ending feels very predictable. There are some strong ideas in there and there are definitely some gnarly scenes too to really put you at unease but ultimately it doesn’t feel particularly fresh or new.

There’s enough gore and thrills in Son to keep you entertained and Andi Matichak and Luke David Blumm both give excellent performances, which elevates the film, and is particularly praiseworthy for such a young actor. But despite a few very tense and chilling scenes, overall there’s nothing too daunting.

★★★☆☆

Son is streaming exclusively on Shudder now.

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