‘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.

‘Nope’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Jordan Peele’s third feature film dives deep into sci-fi and he combines conventions to make this a unique film. Nope is different from his previous two films and it’s because he dials down on the complexity of social constructs plaguing our society. The story is a bit simpler and Peele focused on the grand scale of extraterrestrial life forms. In a way, Peele explores the food chain differently, and how animals are probed, tested, and trained to be something they’re not. It’s the expectation of a certain creature versus the reality of who, or rather, what they are. Peele did something different and original in the sci-fi genre, and he should be praised based on originality alone.

After random objects falling from the sky result in the death of their father, ranch-owning siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) attempt to capture video evidence of an unidentified flying object with the help of tech salesman Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and documentarian Antlers Hols (Michael Wincott). The story is quite simple and instead of telling a complex, layered, and symbolic story like his previous two films, Peele kept it at the surface. That’s not such a bad thing when the direction and camerawork carried the movie through those suspenseful moments. Peele and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema kept the audience on their toes with the placement of the camera. The images within the frame and how the camera moved during certain moments made the audience feel like they were in the movie.

What was so fascinating about Nope was the unidentified flying object in the film. Peele combined the matriarchial figure with the vehicle of the flying object to make that third act reveal beautiful to watch. Sure, it was a bit anticlimactic because he decided not to show much, but the story centred on capturing this phenomenon on film. It wasn’t about what the antagonist was doing, but rather showing how humans react to the unknown. Humans can be deceitful, understanding, or violent when it comes to other life forms, which also parallels their treatment of animals to a certain degree. Peele set that up in the first half, and the five-part structure with the names of each horse they had at the ranch was a nice way to divide what was happening.

Nope is a visual feast meant to be watched on an IMAX screen. Peele’s direction and van Hoytema’s cinematography make for sure a visually interesting journey through the west. Keke Palmer is the shining star of the film, while Daniel Kaluuya takes a reserved backseat for this one. In a way, they both complimented each other and they created one of my favourite sibling dynamics. Even though the story is a bit generic and the characters are a bit underdeveloped, you can still have fun diving into unknown territory with Peele. Lastly, the score by Michael Abels was really strong and amplified the tension on screen. The sound design also allowed for those jump scares to hit at the right moments as well. Peele is one of the few directors who knows how to hit those comedic beats right after some heavy scenes.

‘Crimes of the Future’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Some filmmakers just excel in a sub-genre like no other. The sub-genre of body horror is not one people tend to gravitate towards because of what it entails. However, when the focus is not solely on the grotesque mutilation of the human body, one could be intrigued by the story. The one director who has owned the genre is David Cronenberg and Crimes of the Future uses the body horror as a metaphor for technological evolution. Cronenberg incorporates so much in the one-hour and forty-seven-minute runtime that it becomes hard to even process each new idea. Cronenberg highlights two topics that coincide: bodies as performative art and how new technology has harmed natural development for future generations, hence the title of the movie. 

Cronenberg writes a story about humans who adapt to a synthetic environment. He shows that the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux) are performance artists. Saul’s assistant, Caprice publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs. Meanwhile, a mysterious group, led by Lang Daughtery (Scott Speedman) tries to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution. The cinematography by Douglas Koch in certain moments when Saul and Caprice were performing captured the voyeuristic way we consume physical expression. Koch and Cronenberg show the difference in scope when it’s performance-based, sexual expression or even for scientific purposes. 

The fascination with the human body and the regenerative way the organs work in Saul’s body makes the story interesting. Cronenberg builds so much in this futuristic body horror that the scientific jargon of the future of human biology overtook the horrific aspect of the film. It felt like there weren’t enough scenes showing how Saul’s body works and what Caprice does to it, to connect with the body. It wasn’t as graphic as his previous films and at times it did feel a bit tame. It could have been the special effects work that took the realism out of the actual gruesome process. The cast did make it believable for the most part; Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart were fantastic in this. Seydoux can command the screen with just one look. And Stewart needs to choose more obscure characters like Timlin in the future. 

Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future had a strong concept that got lost towards the end of the film. The first half was all set up for a larger issue that did not pay off in the way it should have. Instead of feeling full from watching a film with messaging about a changing and deteriorating world, you will leave the theatre empty and a bit confused. Apart from this being a metaphor for the destruction of technology in our world, this can also be seen from a film industry perspective. The fate of the industry has changed so drastically because of the evolution of technology as well. The important takeaway from this film is that Cronenberg explores so much with physical bodies with a futuristic idea that parallels technological advancements and future repercussions.

‘X’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There are two ways to look at the adult film industry, as a job or as something morally wrong. Ti West explores sexuality and religion in the late 70s with the rise of the adult film industry in X. In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast finds themselves fighting for their lives. The women in this cast all gave strong performances and they are the reason this film doesn’t fully fall apart. However, once the second half hits, and they all disperse, that’s when it all goes downhill. Writer-director Ti West attempted to use his flashy camerawork and choppy transitions to mask the fact that he simply just wanted an excuse to make a tasteful adult film without being shamed.

The one thing that really impressed me was the camerawork. From the very first frame, I knew that the visuals were going to overpower the story, I just didn’t know how much. Stylistically, it felt like a true flashback to the 70s with the angles, shadows, and sound design. West also paid homage to Kubrick’s The Shining with an axe through the door and it was great. Along with the great directorial choices, the kills were incredibly strong. Most of the kills came out of nowhere and you didn’t really expect them to happen, they also went on for longer than they should have, but it worked. West did build the anticipation with each kill; the only issue is that he saved them all for the second half and we already knew the outcome because it was shown at the beginning.

If it weren’t for Brittany Snow, Jenna Ortega and Mia Goth doing what they could with a pretty concerning screenplay, then this would have been a totally different movie. The downfall of X is that you could feel that a man directed this and it is rather exploitative. There are moments throughout this film that make you cringe because of the dialogue and what actually happens with these characters. West does touch upon beauty and ageism in the most twisted way possible, but as a man I don’t think he fully understood the way women view themselves at any age. The second half of this film is just very concerning as the concept gets away from West and goes off the rails, while still being quite predictable with its horror conventions.

X attempts to divert the viewer’s attention with its flashy camerawork, wicked transitions, and unique sound mixing, so they don’t pay attention to the actual story. If you want sex, blood, and gore, then you definitely get it but don’t expect any sort of substance from this movie. West believes that he had some sort of relevant social commentary that would shine through with his female characters in giving them some sort of sexual freedom, but it didn’t really go anywhere. The first act was all set up, and then the horror elements kicked in and West just abandoned what he had set up in the first place. What happens in this film is really questionable and even though he stylistically paid homage to 70s horror, the script just wasn’t strong enough.

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Due to the popularity of other slasher films making direct sequels to the original film in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw Massacre decided to take a stab at it. Now, the difference between this slasher film and the others is that they had a distinct final girl. We have Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott, both of who have been the central focus in their designated franchise. Texas Chainsaw Massacre never really had a memorable final girl, but they had Leatherface. No matter how many sequels they make with Leatherface, nothing compares to the original film and the stunning cinematography. The kills in the original were brutal and the film itself had more tension because of the camerawork alone. This direct sequel doesn’t really add much to the story and it doesn’t even have a strong enough motivation for its characters.

In order to make Leatherface relevant for this generation, the story needed to be centred on influencers. After nearly 50 years of hiding, Leatherface returns to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town. These young kids have no idea what they are getting themselves into, as they step into the house owned by an elderly lady with some demons of her own. Director David Blue Garcia does some good work in building anticipation but the story just doesn’t pan out as well as it should have. The story is straightforward and feels recycled, but we are all really watching this for the kills, aren’t we? It doesn’t matter if any of these characters survive because they are just placed in this town to get murdered with no prior knowledge of Leatherface.

This is the type of sequel where you’re just waiting for the kills to happen. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has some of the most brutal kills I’ve seen in a while. There’s so much blood and gore, that even the close-ups of anything piercing someone’s skin will make you cringe. The kills will also make you laugh because of how bold they are. You can definitely feel every single blow to the head or axe to the chest. It does get a bit ridiculous in the third act because it could have ended in three different spots, but it kept going. They tried to make a final girl out of Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré) but it just didn’t make any sense because no one is connected to her enough to make this feel like “one last time” heading out to kill Leatherface.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a sequel that tries to recapture the same essence of the original but falls flat. The characters are hollow and there is absolutely no reason to even root for them. Leatherface has always flown under the radar and his backstory was always weak. If we compare his story to Jason, Freddy, or Michael, each of their stories is a bit more developed, which created well-rounded antagonists. In this case, it felt like they were mimicking the importance of other franchise villains with Leatherface in their place. Fans of the franchise will definitely appreciate the kills but at the end of the day, it’s just a recycled story trying to cater to this generation to make it relevant again.