‘Candyman’ (2021) Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The horror genre has been giving audiences so much to look forward to. Each new addition to the genre is original, unique and delivers the scares. Some aren’t as strong as others, but they add something new each time. Whether it be visually, psychologically, or emotionally, the genre has been elevated. Even with the more obscure horror films, that did not stick the landing, the director’s vision would almost always standout. With direct sequels to the original, such as Candyman, it is important to differentiate between a reboot, and a sequel. They never marketed this film as a sequel, and if I never watched the first one, I wouldn’t have gotten the references or the connection to the urban legend.

This is also supposed to be Nia DaCosta’s film. Notice how I said supposed to be. Unfortunately, with a name like Jordan Peele signed on as producer and co-writer, there is a lot of him in this movie. The main issue with Candyman is that there are two main ideas clashing. It felt like DaCosta’s vision for this film, versus Peele’s modern social commentary, were constantly trying to outdo the other. DaCosta’s direction was very strong and there were some great, unique moments, to drive the story forward. But Peele’s voice overpowered hers. The humour would undercut the scares – which were very limited- and take you out of the eerie atmosphere DaCosta created.

Every time DaCosta wanted to get deeper into the urban legend and really add some depth to the story, it was cut short. It stayed on the surface, barely making an impact. The only thing I can speak on are the technical aspects of this film, as the story itself and the social commentary, are not for me to dissect. DaCosta made some great visual choices to explain the lore and some kills were strong. However, there weren’t enough kills shown on screen and it was not nearly scary enough. DaCosta tried to work with the script that she had, but ultimately her full vision for this film was held back.

Candyman is one of the most disappointing films of the year. Sure, it visually delivered some great moments, the entire cast gave solid performances, but it was not scary, and the script was a complete let down. DaCosta and Peele were trying to say something but they only managed to scratch the surface, leaving the social commentary empty, and convoluted. DaCosta has a cool style and I am looking forward to seeing what else she does next. Just because the script was poor, does not mean that her choices as a director, should go unnoticed.

‘Fear Street Part Three: 1666’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We are back for one last Shadyside scare! Fear Street Part Three: 1666 ties up the trilogy quite nicely, making it one of the most consistent horror trilogies in the past couple of years. We dive into Sarah Fier’s backstory, as we head to the time of witchcraft, and the devil. Fier’s small, colonial town is gripped by a witch hunt, that has deadly consequences for centuries to come. Fier’s story is then combined with Samantha Fraser’s from 1994, as the group of teenagers try to put an end to the Shadyside curse before it’s too late. The way this slowly flows into each instalment and era is really well done. The characters are all somehow linked to the curse of Sarah Fier, and the reveal in this third instalment is genius.

What worked incredibly well in this third instalment is that Deena is transported to 1666 through Sarah Fier. The concept of possession normally works for the present time and the body is rarely brought into the world of the dead. So it was a really nice change of events. We see that majority of the characters from the first two films are also in this third one. Doing this allows the audience to remain familiar with the faces while telling a new story, so that the emotional connection that was previously established could carry through.

The structure of Sarah Fier’s story was interesting because of the queer representation in 1966. Relationships were kept hidden, or were called abnormal; those who were queer were automatically linked to the devil. Fier’s story became rather important once we found out what had actually happened to her. It took one person, a town filled with misogynists and loyal Christian followers to create a false narrative. This all ties together at the end of Sarah Fier’s story, there was a Saw-like montage, showing the audience everything they missed in the trilogy. Once the audience goes back with Deena to 1994 they know what the plan is to end the curse for good.

Fear Street Part Three: 1666 has a sinister atmosphere from the start and authentically presents 1666. The score was disorienting and reminded me of Hereditary, there were plenty of animals used, flies were very prominent, and the essence of the devil around the townsfolk was felt. The violence and gore in this third instalment was subtle, but effective. The fun, fancy kills, were brought in at the end in 1994, which made complete sense. All in all, this trilogy had a perfect release strategy from Netflix, allowing this to become one of their best properties in their library.

Oh, and don’t worry, there could be another sequel… I wonder where they will go next?!

‘Fear Street Part Two: 1978’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Welcome back to the Shadyside madness. In this second instalment, director Leigh Janiak pays homage to Friday the 13th, and this sequel adds much needed backstory to the possession of Samantha Fraser (Olivia Welch). We leave our new teenage friends at the end of part one with Deena (Kiana Madeira) on the phone with C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs). Josh and Deena make their way to Berman’s house, only to discover the actual backstory of the Shadyside curse. Janiack takes us to Camp Nightwing, where young Berman and her sister, experience some traumatic events. The soundtrack will transport you to the late 70s and make you feel like you are a camper all over again.

The reason why this second instalment is slightly better than part one is because it felt more compact. The story was contained to Camp Nightwing and we already knew about Sarah Fier’s story going into it. As Berman tells her story and the events of her camp experience, we sympathize with her because she felt like she was an outcast. Everyone was against her, even her sister didn’t have her back. The camp atmosphere is always fun to play with because of the open area, the lake, and of course the cabins. There are endless possibilities for the scares, and Janiack really placed them throughout the film, where the audience could least expect it. Even though it does have the same formula – like most slasher films – it still has plenty of surprises.

The one thing Janiack does extremely well in this trilogy is the connection to each era. Even though part one takes place in the 90s, Janiack effortlessly transports her audience to a different time. Part two has the essence of a campfire story, which made the flashbacks to Camp Nightwing more effective. C. Berman is reluctantly sharing her story with Josh and Deena, and the editing brings both worlds together, in order to connect the gravity of the situation to Samantha Fraser. The characters in part two were more interesting than part one. It could be because of the sister dynamic, or even the nostalgia of a summer camp; but the camp counsellors really sold it for me.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is a solid second instalment that slightly edges part one. The consistency of the story throughout this trilogy is what is going to make this one of the best Netflix properties. The beauty of this trilogy is how each instalment pays homage to a classic slasher, while still presenting the supernatural elements of the possession. Fear Street executes the kills quite well, and the gore doesn’t feel too over-the-top. The third instalment will drop on Netflix on July 16th, and if people are loving this rollout, then we can expect more horror trilogies in the future.

‘Fear Street Part One: 1994’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Do you remember the first horror movie you watched?

My first horror movie was Scream.

To me that is the perfect horror film to start off on. It will always be the first horror movie recommendation that I would give to the next generation of horror fans. The new Netflix trilogy, Fear Street acts as a first-time horror movie for a new generation of horror fans. Fear Street Part One: 1994 pays homage to many horror classics, like Scream and that is why it works really well. The trilogy is based off the novels written by R.L. Stine, and we all know that he has a twisted mind, when it comes to the work in his library. In this first instalment, a circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years.

The reason why I call this a first-timer type of horror film is because it is not that scary. If you’re interested in watching horror films but you’ve been too afraid to watch some, then baby steps are necessary. The opening of this film is quite fun, it definitely serves that 90s nostalgia on a platter, while paying homage to Scream ahead of the opening credits. The slasher film does follow the same tropes, while still adding some surprises throughout. Does it necessarily reinvent the genre? No. But it still incorporates everything we know and love about slasher films. The main difference in Fear Street Part One: 1994 is that it combines supernatural elements with the slasher subgenre. They mixed those two together to create a pretty interesting story. Like all horror films, Fear Street has rules, and those rules must be followed in order to finish the job.

Another great thing about this first instalment is that the focus is entirely on teenagers. While they go through these horrifying tasks, they learn so much about themselves and the relationships they keep. On this crazy journey, we meet Deena (Kiana Madeira), Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch), Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger)who all have a history with each other. As they attempt to find out who the killer is, they all come together and work out their issues. There are some funny moments, but for some reason if there were jokes in the film, they didn’t quite land. It does drag on in the third act because of the three different endings, (or at least, that’s what it felt like to me) when there are multiple endings it kind of undervalues the previous kills, if the ones that follow are not as good.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 is a solid start to this trilogy and a great first horror film for the next generation. It is a supernatural slasher film that will bring horror fans back to their teenage years. There are plenty of twists and some fun lore that sends the teens on a tour through the city they grew up in. Don’t worry, even though it doesn’t have too many jump scares, the gore is definitely there and the suspense creeps in with the score. The ending of this first part will leave you wanting more and the Netflix release strategy for this trilogy is definitely working to their advantage because it hasn’t been done before.

‘Spiral: From The Book Of Saw’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After the success of other instalments in the Saw franchise, it’s only fair to keep making them. This franchise has a massive fanbase and I can see why. After watching all eight films ahead of Spiral: From the Book of Saw – for the very first time I might add – I already felt some fatigue. While watching this instalment, the fatigue continued. As a new horror fan, the first three Saw films had so much style to them that made them unique. It set them apart from other horror films. But as the franchise went on, the further the filmmakers distanced themselves from the original vision from Leigh Whannell and James Wan.

Did Spiral: From the Book of Saw follow similar tropes? Of course it did. But they wanted to focus more on the detective story than the actual link to Jigsaw and the traps. The main issue with this franchise is that the story does not need to flow from movie to movie. Seriously, trying to connect the dots over nine films is ridiculous and it’s never clear. I know what you’re thinking, “But no one cares about the story,” and I get that but if you don’t have a strong script then at least make the traps memorable. The traps in this instalment were set up for shock value and there was no struggle to get out of them.

What has happened to the Saw franchise is that it has become too polished and clean cut for the movie they’re trying to make. Give us that grimey, sketchy warehouse feel with the traps that have high stakes. Bring back that graphic, bloody, almost naseautic visuals that made the first half of this franchise shine. Making it more cinematic and clean does not help the franchise after the seventh instalment. It just strays so far away from its original style that made it work in the first place. Unfortunately, with the story not being that strong, the performances also fell flat for me. So this was a total chore for me to sit through.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is enjoyable if you are a diehard Saw fan and that is what is important here. This film caters to the fanbase that has stayed with the franchise over nine films. Seriously, NINE FILMS, that’s pretty amazing. This is a franchise that tries to reinvent itself because of the horror climate constantly changing. The Saw franchise just isn’t for me anymore but I do hope the fans enjoy their franchise and this ninth film. Will there be a Saw X? Go big or go home, Jigsaw, let’s play another game.