‘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. 

‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

SISTERS!

The Sanderson coven is back this Halloween, and it’s as if they never left Salem. Hocus Pocus 2 delivers a new tale for the next generation while subtly giving the witches we have grown to love a much-needed backstory. In this sequel, three young women, Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), accidentally bring back the Sanderson Sisters to modern-day Salem. They must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world. This is a strong sequel because it has a message about loving the people in your life regardless of disagreement. The first film didn’t have a strong storyline, so this sequel was a nice surprise because it had a bit more heart. Who would have thought that three witches who eat children would have some love? 

What worked for Hocus Pocus 2 was the “fish-out-of-water” act for the Sanderson sisters. That’s always a good angle to maximize the humour. Three witches return after almost three decades to Salem, which looks slightly different. There are new stores like Walgreens, new products, and, of course, technology. When Becca and Izzy meet the Sanderson sisters after accidentally bringing them back on Halloween night, they try their best to distract them. The tactics they use are quite funny and the comedic timing from Kathy Najimy will have anyone in stitches. Director Anne Fletcher guides the audience through Halloween night with the Sanderson sister regaining some control. 

It was also nice to see practical effects being used to bring nostalgia to the town of Salem. When they were flying or casting spells, the special effects looked great. The story between Becca, Cassie and Izzy was more engaging than the original story because it’s about three best friends coming together again to save Salem. Even though they drifted apart, they all went on their journeys to find themselves and circle back to each other. Whitney Peak did a great job carrying the film when the Sanderson sisters were causing chaos all over town. The one person who is always a delight to see on screen is Sam Richardson who plays Gilbert. He is the man who has kept “Book” and their shop (home) up to date and wanted to get them back to Salem. 

When the spooky season comes around, Hocus Pocus has always been an annual watch. Anne Fletcher has made an even better film for a new generation. With room for more covens in the future. There are two songs that the Sanderson sisters sing that work and will put a smile on your face because of the lyric change for one of them. This movie will make young girls realize that your best friends are your sisters. You will always feel loved and supported. It is a feel-good Halloween movie for the entire family. Sometimes sequels can be just as good as the original or even succeed, and this one sure exceeds it. Whenever Bette Midler gets a chance to sing and dance, and strut her stuff on screen it’s always a good time.

‘Blonde’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When biopics are made there is a certain level of care and understanding. The filmmakers chose to explore every aspect of one person’s life to have some form of admiration for what the artist brought to the world. Even if it’s embellished a bit for dramatized purposes on screen, some tell the story as authentic as possible. Some filmmakers have highlighted stories of fictionalized events in one’s life and did so tastefully by respecting who they were. Whether the story is fictional or not, many filmmakers have respected the artist they have chosen to dedicate years to behind the camera. The one filmmaker who did not do any of what is stated above is Andrew Dominik for his fictionalized Marilyn Monroe feature Blonde. 

Firstly, the fictional novel written by Joyce Carol Oates depicts the dual life of Norma Jean. She has to put on a persona like Marilyn Monroe, and she completely loses her true sense of self the longer she plays the character. Oates fabricates multiple sexual assaults, abuse, and abortions and treats mental illness as a plot device. There were already many issues with the novel, but after watching the choices Dominik made to bring this adaptation to the screen, it was better to be left to the imagination. There are extremely uncomfortable moments to watch because the person on screen does not feel like Marilyn Monroe in the slightest. There is this emotionless detachment to her, no warmth or love is radiating off of her, it’s as if Ana de Armas is playing a hollow character that no one ever knew. 

Apart from the story feeling like horrible graphic scenes placed in a sequence to show the worst days of her life, the film felt overly stylized. The cinematography did not match the story that was being told and kept changing throughout. From aspect ratio changes to colour grading to symbolic transitions that became laughable, there was no clear vision for this story. Other than to exploit and degrade a woman who has been treated with disrespect at every turn. Monroe became a sex symbol because that’s how she was marketed, but Norma Jean had a different persona entirely. They touch upon the differences but with no respect towards her as a whole person. The nudity was gratuitous and so were the sex scenes that added absolutely nothing to the story. From the beginning of this film, Norma Jean was treated as a worthless doll who longed for love but felt absolutely nothing. 

Blonde is a fictionalized disservice to a beautiful, kindhearted woman, who has always enforced love, body positivity, and equality in an industry where the studio system silenced women. Dominik showed no care towards her as a human being whatsoever and there is absolutely no sense of humanity in this film. It is a series of scenes exploiting her and showing the worst moments a woman could go through. Marilyn Monroe was a great actress; she had great comedic timing and could also play in those deep emotional moments. She was energetic and sweet, despite what was happening beneath the surface in her personal life. She fought for her position in Hollywood and uplifted other women in the industry at the same time. The woman you see in this film is nothing like the woman everyone adored. 

‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Everyone wants to live the perfect life; for some, the 60s nuclear family values are something to strive for. During the period, women were somewhat content with living as a housewife, which was considered a job, while their husbands would go out to work. They cooked, cleaned, and served their husbands, but eventually, that wasn’t fulfilling enough. Women went on to break that cycle, are now independent, and have strived for equality. Women have the right to choose the person they live with, the way they live, and most importantly, they have their careers. So why would anyone want to go back to a time that wreaked of misogyny and the perception of a perfect life under social conditioning and gender stereotypes? The answer is men. 

In the 1950s, Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) live in the idealized community of Victory, an experimental company town that houses the men who work on a top-secret project. While the husbands toil away, the wives get to enjoy the beauty, luxury and debauchery of their seemingly perfect paradise. However, when cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, exposing flashes of something sinister lurking below the surface, Alice can’t help but question exactly what she’s doing in Victory. Pugh gives another outstanding performance and carries this movie on her shoulders. Her character Alice slowly descended into madness and Pugh gave a layered performance as she gets lost down the rabbit hole. The concept was fine up until the reveal of the twist within the third act. But there are really strong moments from Pugh to make the build-up interesting enough to sit through.

Director Olivia Wilde made some interesting choices but ultimately the script wasn’t fleshed out enough to match her vision. Wilde and director of photography Matthew Libatique brought the 60s back with an old-fashioned suburban feel. The costumes and production design were authentic and brought the era back to life. Some avant-garde elements in this psychological horror miss the mark in trying to embed the concept early on. The series of images cut through Alice’s mind as she tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together through a very blurry mind. As stated above, by the time the twist arrived, it was a rush for any viewer to understand the concept entirely. And, in all honesty, it’s a bit concerning the lengths screenwriter Katie Silberman went to tell this story. It’s being marketed as a feminist piece, but under the surface, it is the total opposite, which is a bit alarming. 

Don’t Worry Darling is gorgeous to look at and the cast works well together. There are some sinister moments that Pugh delivers in a haunting way and you do emotionally connect with her. She was the strongest part of this film, with Chris Pine coming in as a close second. Without the two of them, it wouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Similar to the 60s nuclear everything seems perfect on the surface, but internally there are many issues. The film isn’t perfect and Wilde did the best she could with a script that wasn’t quite polished enough to stick the landing. It had the potential to speak on gender roles and the first half did do that, but once the twist comes in it dampens the messaging. A script like this about women in 2022 just doesn’t feel right but in a way, it does show the extent that men will go to.