‘Halloween Ends’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Within four decades of the Halloween franchise adding sequels upon sequels, Laurie Strode’s story finally comes to an end. But was it the ending she deserved? Director David Gordon Green has constructed a trilogy highlighting trauma and one man’s effects on an entire community. The first instalment explored generational trauma, the second film explored communal trauma, and the last instalment explored how to cope with it. Each film’s themes are strong, but the Halloween Ends script will leave you a bit underwhelmed. The story isn’t about Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) or even Michael Myers (Nick Castle), but an entirely new character named Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell). For a third instalment to not have the leading characters of the franchise in the majority of the film is questionable. 

David Gordon Green did something different, and that is something I can admire him for. He went a different route when developing Corey Cunningham as someone who wanted to be like Michael Myers. Almost like an apprentice in this movie. Cunningham “accidentally” killed the child he was babysitting on Halloween night, and the whole town turned against him. Almost like they were trying to latch onto a new killer for Haddonfield because Michael Myers wasn’t present. Gordon Green also tried to reverse the cycle of the child going after the babysitter, which would have worked if the story had gone in a different direction. The bones of the story are there. It’s the execution of it that didn’t quite work. In the beginning, this third film felt like they needed to fill time to stretch out the final standoff between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. And when that happened in the last fifteen minutes, it didn’t even feel warranted. 

The worst thing was that the development of Allyson (Andi Matichak) was ruined over plot convenience and the love for Cunningham. With Allyson being a Strode and seeing what her grandmother went through. The decisions she made in this film felt so out of character. We didn’t see the strong, fearless, and grounded Allyson from the previous two instalments. Instead, we see a young woman desperate to find love and risks her relationship with her grandmother to get it. It’s the most disappointing aspect of the trilogy because she was such a strong character. And her connection with Laurie is what made many audiences connect with her. It almost feels like an entirely different character. And she is only there to connect Cunningham to a Strode for the return of Michael Myers. It became a very convenient way to tie everything together at the end. It felt like Gordon Green did not know where the story was originally going after 2018. 

Halloween Ends is probably the most anticlimactic way to end the franchise because of how detached Michael Myers and Laurie Strode was from the story. It had the potential to be a good ending if Gordon Green decided to stick with one direction for Cunningham in the end. People thought Halloween Kills was too graphic and had too many kills. This third film is the total opposite. There was one good kill, and the film lacked the suspense that Halloween (2018) was filled with. It’s an underwhelming finale to a feud that has lasted four decades. Laurie does get some closure, and there are references to Halloween (1978). But it doesn’t deliver anything epic in terms of a final story. The opening of this film felt like an entirely different movie than the other two in the trilogy, and it didn’t feel like Halloween. 

‘Werewolf By Night’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The feel of old-fashioned monster movies isn’t present in horror movies today. What they offered was something different. Horror doesn’t only consist of scares, an excessive amount of blood, or graphic violence. It can also bring some humanity to the monsters we see through their interactions. Old-fashioned horror monster movies would design a different way to scare audiences through the use of lighting, shadows, and an incredible score. These films would tap into the viewers’ psyche and tap into their fears. The cinematography has always been an important factor when constructing these monster films and director Michael Giacchino brought this all back in the Marvel Special Werewolf by Night. It is a wonderful homage to the comic books and the monster movies audiences have loved. 

When a secret group of monster hunters gather at Bloodstone Manor following the death of their leader, they engage in a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic which will bring them face to face with a dangerous monster. Co-writers Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron adapted the comics most simply. It was one evening filled with lore, monster hunters and creatures lurking in the shadows. Jack (Gael Garcia Bernal) has a secret of his own but is more interested in finding out who this creature is that they must kill to retrieve the Bloodstone. Ulysses’ wife Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris) is the one orchestrating this evening for her husband. When their estranged daughter shows up, Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) wants to put a stop to the tradition. 

Giacchino and director of photography Zoë White build that old horror mood together. The production design was simple as they crafted a little maze within a town for the hunt. As Giacchino moves through the maze with Jack and the rest of the hunters, he slowly moves the camera when the characters are in the frame. There’s a symmetry with the lighting and highlights that White expertly designed so it feels as if you are coming out of the shadows with them. There are some beautiful shots in this special presentation and it’s because of her work. Once we see the werewolf, Giacchino’s choice to show the kills and movement through shadows and flashing lights is fantastic. It was lovely to see a project go back to the genre’s roots. 

Werewolf by Night is one of the best Marvel projects that has come out this year. Director Michael Giacchino had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with this special presentation, and it worked. On top of that, he is one of the best composers, and his score for this project brought that sinister feel as they navigated through the town. It worked as a contained story. The ending of this could also lead to more tales about the Werewolf by Night. The reason why the end worked so well is because of what is referenced, and it is such a layered way to end the special. It is a perfect Marvel project to bring in the Halloween season, and it’s something that fans will return to every year. Giacchino did a great job with this, and it’s only fair that we get to see more. 

‘Smile’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Horror movies have different ways of getting inside our heads. Sometimes it’s more so the thought of the concept than actually seeing it on screen. Smile shows a spirit following your every move and waiting to consume you. After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can’t explain. As an overwhelming terror begins taking over her life, Rose must confront her troubling past to survive and escape her horrifying new reality. Newcomer Parker Finn did a great job in directing his first horror feature and made some unique choices that went back to the roots of horror. 

It feels like jump scares are scarce these days and it’s because some horror films are more focused on other elements. Sometimes the anticipation isn’t built properly and the score fades into the background, but Smile delivered on those fronts. The script is the main issue with Smile as it gets repetitive and dwindles when Rose investigates this spirit’s previous victims. It drags in the middle as she slowly loses her mind and doesn’t know what her reality is anymore. Even though Bacon gives a strong performance, the script is what brings her down. Parker Finn tried to tie in Rose’s past to the spirit to create this grand finale of facing her trauma, but it didn’t make sense to incorporate it the way they did. It felt like he didn’t know how to end the film. 

What Parker Finn does deliver are the scares. After watching many horror films, some can feel numb to the jump scares or anything remotely startling. So for Smile to anticipate the spirit’s every move and create that suspense, it did the job it set out to do. Even with its weak script, when certain deaths happen it comes as a shock and some visuals will stay burned in your mind. The idea of having a person smile at you in a sinister, taunting manner days before your death is somewhat horrifying. But, the script also handles mental health poorly when exploring the nature of this concept. It may be difficult for some to watch because it does discuss suicide and the spirit being tied to mental illness. Nothing is fully being addressed with Rose’s mental health; it is just used to integrate her trauma in the third act. It’s as if they needed a reason for others to believe that she was unstable before the spirit.

Smile delivers on the scares, making it entertaining for the most part. The script is the weakest aspect as it does slow down in the middle and loses the thrilling aspects that made the film’s first half interesting. The jumps are placed to reel the viewer back in when it gets dull in certain places. For the most part, Sosie Bacon’s performance was strong up until the third act. It is entertaining because of the tension in certain scenes and some scares that came out of nowhere. The way Finn created this warped reality for Rose worked in some instances, but unfortunately, the film was a bit too predictable towards the end. It’s a fun film to watch for the jump scares, but not a memorable one because of the generic script. 

TIFF ’22: ‘Pearl’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After watching Ti West’s X in theatres, he surprised audiences with a teaser for the prequel film Pearl. Now, if you haven’t watched X then you might not understand what West is trying to do in this prequel. It’s possible to watch Pearl and then go watch X but the plot twist is not as effective watching it in that order. Pearl (Mia Goth) has had a troubled past and her parents know just how dark her mind is. West set this prequel in 1914 at the height of Spanish influenza and in the middle of wartime. The story is co-written by Goth and is a powerful character piece for her. Goth is incredible in Pearl and will go down in horror history as one of the best murderers.

In this prequel, Pearl is an ambitious starlet who wants to be in the pictures. She is stuck on the farm with her strict mother and sick father, while her husband Howard is off at war. West and cinematographer Eliot Rockett recapture the magic of classic Hollywood with vibrant technicolour and a glossy glow. The film would not be complete without Tyler Bates’ thrilling score that would creep out at the right moments. These aspects are essential to set the tone and create an atmosphere for Pearl to project her personality into the frame. Goth delivers one of the best performances of the year as she shows her range. Pearl wants to be famous more than anything, she wants people to love her and adore her. And as the film goes on, she understands that she is not like the others.

Pearl undergoes an identity crisis. There’s this sad realization that living our dreams comes in different forms and sometimes it doesn’t happen the way we plan it. Pearl’s mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) explains that sometimes you have to work with what you have. The second half of this film has Pearl facing different obstacles as she descends into her madness and ultimately accepts who she truly is. Goth gives an impressive monologue and speaks with sincerity. It’s heartbreaking to watch her fall apart and then watch her rebuild herself within moments of expressing her deepest secrets. Pearl just wanted to break the cycle so she wouldn’t end up like her mother, and she does it more graphically. 

From the moment we meet Pearl we are locked into her world. We fall into her ambition to become a star and stick with her through it all. There is a part of Pearl that many can resonate with and that’s why you will end up rooting for her. Many uncomfortable moments happen throughout but that just adds to the mystery of Pearl. Goth can play both sides incredibly well and the anticipation to see what she does next is what drives this to the end. Pearl is a simple story that shows how life doesn’t go as planned but you learn how to make the best of what you have, even if that means you go a little bit mad. It is a refreshingly original horror picture that will suck you into her world and spit you back out in the end. 

‘Orphan: First Kill’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When the original Orphan was first released many people rallied behind the performance of Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). She gave such a chilling and believable performance that the first film has become a must-see horror film every October. If you are a horror fan, you know her name and that is why many people will watch Orphan: First Kill to understand her backstory a bit more. Her presence on screen alone will send chills down your spine, but watching her interact with others is where she becomes even more fascinating to watch. Fuhrman does fantastic work in both films and is the main reason this prequel works. 

After escaping from a psychiatric facility in Estonia, Esther travels to America by impersonating the missing daughter of a wealthy family. Yet, an unexpected twist arises that pits her against a mother who will protect her family at any cost. From the start of the film director William Brent Bell sets the tone and brings the audience back to a different era. The lens is all foggy as if it were a dream in Esther’s mind and the viewer gets to watch her descent into madness. At the time, Esther was in her cell and she knew how to draw people in, which is one of her many talents. Then, of course, she went in for the most brutal kill imaginable. It was fun to watch because you see this young girl who appears to be so sweet and innocent engage in such violent situations. 

What worked forthis movie was the pacing and the timing of the twist in the middle of the film. Once Esther gets adopted there needed to be something more to carry the movie out to the end. And set up her future storyline. Esther’s adopted family Tricia (Julia Stiles), Gunner (Matthew Finlan), and Allen (Rossif Sutherland) all welcome her back with open arms but notice that something is different. The twist is possible the best part of the movie and Julia Stiles is very strong in this. Her chemistry with Fuhrman carries the second half of this film and the third act has some great sequences. The lighting and sound design throughout the movie created a different atmosphere in each room, especially where Esther felt the safest. 

Orphan: First Kill is another sequel that will leave you pleasantly surprised because of how detailed Esther’s story is. It has been years since the first one was released, so it is only natural to bring it back with a good enough backstory for her. If it’s even possible Fuhrman shined even more in this prequel because she had to develop a different side to her and it added so much depth to the original movie. The cast is great and there are some graphic kills in the movie that will make you clutch your stomach because of how much contact Esther makes with some objects. It’s a fun horror prequel that will make you want to watch the original right after.