Tag Archives: 1.5/5

Stowaway

In Ridley Scott’s The Martian, Matt Damon plays a brilliant astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and with the aid of a robust sense of humor and scientific intellect along with NASA assistance, he makes it back to Earth. The new sci-fi snoozer Stowaway finds four space travelers in a similar predicament, who work through a life-or-death struggle in the most rote and matter-of-fact way possible. The special effects are believable enough and the process of how the astronauts deal with their stressful situation is likely accurate but that doesn’t mean it makes for an engaging movie. Watching the film is like reading an inventory list of dehydrated food supplies or an instruction manual for how to eat them; it’s the cinematic equivalent of the saltine cracker challenge.

The film opens on the faces of three crew members during the takeoff of a space shuttle owned by Hyperion, a sort of fictional SpaceX of the near-future. The aim of their two year, Mars-bound mission is to test food production on the red planet, spearheaded by tireless research from the ship’s biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim). The rest of the trio, medic Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) and commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), round out a lean crew that grows too large when the latter finds an unconscious man behind a ceiling grate. He turns out to be a concussed launch support engineer who unwittingly became an accidental stowaway on a ship that only has resources to support three people and apparently not enough to abort the mission altogether.

In his directorial debut Arctic, director Joe Penna told a similar survival story to the one found in Stowaway but with even fewer people, revolving entirely around a stranded pilot played by Mads Mikkelsen. Taking place in the oppressive tundra of the Arctic Circle, the film has a convincing and menacing sense of environment that carries over to the unforgiving outer space surroundings of Penna’s sophomore effort. Adapting from “The Cold Equations”, a sci-fi short story that has also served as the basis for a Twilight Zone episode of the same name, Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison lay out the terms of the crew’s conundrum in fittingly unfeeling terms.

A creative decision becomes apparent early-on, one that dictates the story is told only from the perspective of these four voyagers. When Barnett communicates with a head technician at Hyperion, we only hear her side of the phone call and we don’t meet any other characters besides those four. This is in contrast to a space movie like The Martian, where we bounce between Mars and Earth and are introduced to supporting players to get a more complete picture. This withholding context should make the proceedings more tense, since we’re stuck on the ship with the crew, but the isolation only makes things painfully dull. The third act features an action setpiece of sorts but everything leading up to it is essentially hand-wringing devoid of the kind of moral ambiguity that could have made things interesting.

I’m not sure there’s a group of actors who could have given this lifeless tale what it needed but it’s certainly not for lack of trying. Aside from some fleeting sparks of chemistry with her two male cohorts, the charming Anna Kendrick is sadly miscast in a role that squanders her spunky sense of humor. Daniel Dae Kim deserves a starring role with more meat on the bone than this and Toni Collette, one of the best actresses around, is forced to push her melodramatic lines to their breaking point. Shamier Anderson might come across as the best of the quartet in his titular role but even his efforts fall short. Overacted and underdirected, Stowaway is a Netflix movie that barely passes muster as a screensaver at which to occasionally glance behind your smartphone after a hard day’s work.

Score – 1.5/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters and streaming on HBO Max is Mortal Kombat, a martial arts fantasy movie starring Lewis Tan and Jessica McNamee about an MMA fighter who recruits Earth’s greatest champions for a high stakes tournament in another universe.
Also coming to theaters is Together Together, an indie comedy starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison about an introverted young woman who becomes a gestational surrogate for a single man in his 40s.
Also in theaters is The Asset, an action thriller starring Michael Keaton and Maggie Q about a pair of premiere assassins who team up to track down the killer of their mutual mentor.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Cherry

Transitioning in and out of a franchise-defining role can present a unique challenge to an actor, especially early in one’s career. Take Daniel Radcliffe. Starring in the first Harry Potter movie at the age of 11, he only appeared in one non-Potter film, the Australian weepie December Boys, during the octology’s 10 year run. His effort to break free from the specter of the bespectacled sorcerer in the 10 years since the series capping Deathly Hallows has led to roles that range from safe to bewildering, with flashes of brilliance in between. Tom Holland, currently filming the second sequel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, has faced a similar challenge shedding the image of his squeaky-clean superhero persona when taking on new projects like the pitiless dud Cherry.

Based on the bombshell autobiography from Army vet Nico Walker, Cherry stars Holland in the title role as a wayward young man who drops out of an Ohio university to become a military medic. In the transition, he meets the precocious but charming Emily (Ciara Bravo) and quickly falls in love with her. It isn’t long before he’s rushed through basic training and sent off to Iraq to treat soldiers’ horrific wounds while fighting for as much phone time with his true love as possible. When he returns stateside, he finds respite from his worsening PTSD by way of opioids and quickly falls down the steep spiral of drug addiction, while jeopardizing Emily’s future in the process. As hinted in the film’s prologue, Cherry eventually turns to bank robbery as a means of funding his heartbreaking habit.

After disintegrating the universe (half of it, technically) in Avengers: Infinity War and putting it back together in Avengers: Endgame, directors Anthony and Joe Russo are necessarily dealing in smaller stakes here by comparison. The main issue with Cherry is that even though the scale of the story should be much more modest, the Russos render every frame of their posturing crime drama with the same intensity of a big budget blockbuster. Nearly every scene incorporates at least one filming technique, be it exaggerated uses of focus or shifting aspect ratios, that seem designed to inspire nods of understanding from packed film school lecture halls. It’s enough to make one wonder if MCU architect Kevin Feige needed to tell these guys to rein it in more often than to punch things up during their 4 film stint with Marvel.

Beyond the over-stylization of the film’s visual palette, the Russos also lay it on way too thick when it comes to the themes of the narrative, which are displayed as ostentatiously as lighted letters on the side of a bank. There is a sensitive story still to be told about how veterans returning to the US don’t receive the treatment they need and become victims of drug abuse and suicide at disproportional and alarming rates. The directing duo may indeed care about these issues but the leading principle behind their vision isn’t “how can we intelligently convey this tragedy?” but rather “how can we make this look really cool?” When they do attempt to address the societal problems that sprout up from the story, their grasps at profundity couldn’t be any more amateurish and shallow.

The try-hard theatrics behind the camera could be forgiven if they at least generated a revelatory performance from Holland but the young actor is caught trying just as hard to shatter his clean-cut image. I simply never bought him as an ex-soldier turned hardened criminal, no matter how many four-letter words he spit out or how many times he brandished a gun in someone’s face. Ciara Bravo, whose name is incidentally homophonous with two letters from the military phonetic alphabet, is only slightly more convincing in her underwritten role. A product of directors trading epic storytelling for an epic failure, Cherry is filmmaking made rotten by the sickness of rampant over-direction.

Score – 1.5/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Premiering on Netflix is Yes Day, a family comedy starring Jennifer Garner and Édgar Ramírez about a pair of parents who give their three kids a “yes day”, where kids make the rules for 24 hours.
Streaming on Disney+ is Own The Room, a documentary from National Geographic which chronicles five students from disparate corners of the planet as they take their budding business ventures to the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.
Available to rent digitally is Dark Web: Cicada 3301, a techno thriller starring Jack Kesy and Conor Leslie about a hacker and his friends who get caught up in a secret society’s global recruitment game.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Palmer

What does Justin Timberlake want? Not yet 40 years old, the pop icon has sold tens of millions of albums in his solo music career alone, resulting in ten Grammy Awards, and performed at two Super Bowl halftime shows, one of which gave birth to the dreadful phrase “wardrobe malfunction.” Though he’s dabbled in the movie industry throughout the years with films like The Social Network and the Trolls franchise, his latest project Palmer would suggest that he wants to be taken seriously as a dramatic leading man. Since a future Tony Award seems inevitable given his undeniable music talent, it makes sense that he would want to refine his acting chops to secure EGOT status but starring in hoary pablum like this latest offering from Apple TV+ won’t do his career or his Oscar aspirations any favors.

Timberlake stars as Eddie Palmer, a soft-spoken Southern gentleman who’s just been released from prison after a 12-year stint for attempted murder. He returns to the rural Louisiana home of his grandmother Vivian (June Squibb), who takes him in on the condition that he finds a job and joins her for church every Sunday. After finding out just how difficult it is for convicted felons to land even a minimum wage gig, he’s eventually hired as a janitor for the local elementary school, where he meets a charming young teacher named Maggie (Alisha Wainwright). One of her students Sam (Ryder Allen) is also taken in by Vivian after being abandoned by his delinquent mother Shelley (Juno Temple), which causes Palmer and Sam to strike up an unlikely friendship with one another.

Beyond Timberlake’s apparent desire to win respect within the acting community, it’s difficult to know what drew anyone to make Palmer. Director Fisher Stevens is best known for his work on socially-conscious, nature-based documentaries like the Oscar-winner The Cove and Before the Flood but his narrative instincts on display here are about as pedestrian as it gets. “Ex-con mentors troubled youth” isn’t exactly the most promising starting point but I was hoping that Stevens would be able to add some sort of depth or nuance as the story progressed. Not only does he refuse to have an original take on this tired material, he leans into nearly every cliche that we’ve come to associate with this overwrought brand of melodrama that’s barely above the level of a Hallmark movie.

The script by Cheryl Guerriero is packed with characters so one-dimensional that they more closely resemble a line-up from a geometry textbook rather than an assemblage of people who actually exist in the real world. It evokes a simplistic and stereotypical view of Southern culture that’s so obvious and unsophisticated that it’s borderline insulting. This is one of those movies that seems to have been created by pulling from a hat filled with the most trite scenes imaginable, from a pack of good ol’ boys drunkenly regaling each other with stories from their glory days to a tear-filled custody hearing where the judge demands order from the courtroom. I can’t readily recall a screenplay more complacent and safe than the one that Guerriero offers here.

In the midst of a streaming war that gets more competitive every year, Apple TV+ is still in the relatively early phases of developing their original content. Though they have yet to create a series that makes their service indispensable, they’ve moved the meter a bit with offerings like Servant and Ted Lasso. From the film side of things, their partnership with A24 yielded successes last year like On The Rocks and Boys State and promises more winners in the future. Beyond those, their movies have ranged greatly in terms of quality and style, which makes it difficult to tell what kind of brand they’re trying to establish. Regardless of what the future holds for the emerging streaming service, they’ll need to do better than utterly bland fare like Palmer to command the attention of couchbound audiences.

Score – 1.5/5

Also new to streaming this weekend:
Arriving on HBO Max is The Little Things, a crime thriller starring Denzel Washington and Rami Malek about a feud between a deputy and a detective during the investigation of a serial killer in 1980s California.
Debuting on Netflix is The Dig, a period drama starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes about an archeologist who discovers and begins excavating the Sutton Hoo burial site in 1930s England.
Out for digital rental is Supernova, a romantic drama starring Colin Firth and Stanley Stucci about a pair of longtime partners who reunite with friends and family after one of them is diagnosed with early onset dementia.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Rental

Following in the footsteps of his big brother James, Dave Franco makes his directing debut with The Rental, an insipid and immature horror-thriller that never finds a sense of place or purpose. Franco tries to shake up the well-worn slasher genre by throwing in the romantic hang-ups of the mumblecore genre but he doesn’t seem to have the mechanics of either genre down. Existing at the intersection of Drinking Buddies and I Know What You Did Last Summer, it lacks both the amiable character chemistry of the former and the over-the-top gory kills of the latter.

We’re introduced to co-workers Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) as they drool over a oceanview AirBnb and since they just finished a big project, they reward themselves by booking it for a weekend away. Along with Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and Mina’s boyfriend/Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), the group makes their way to the picturesque rental property. The sweet deal starts to sour when property manager Taylor (Toby Huss) gives them creepy vibes right from the get-go and it doesn’t take long for unresolved sexual tension to rear its ugly head. After making other unsettling discoveries about the house, the four vacationers become the target of a series of violent confrontations from an unseen force.

The setup for The Rental (four friends going away for the weekend) is about as old as the slasher genre itself, so the devil, as they say, is in the details. The biggest issue with the film is that the screenplay, co-written by Franco and Joe Swanberg, doesn’t adequately capitalize on this hackneyed jumping-off point. Although Mina is certainly the most likable of the four friends, all of the characters are generally repugnant in their behavior and are increasingly difficult to empathize with. It certainly doesn’t help that Franco indulges some improvisational banter from the quartet, particularly a banal set of exchanges interpolating the word “bro”.

Franco also carries forth another proud tradition of bad slasher movies: dumb people making dumb decisions just so the plot can move forward. These four seem to be in their mid-30s and yet they have the decision-making abilities and childish senses of humor that would seem more in-line with a misfit group of teenagers. As the circumstances behind the characters’ stay become deadly, several obvious solutions emerge only to be brushed aside in favor of other hair-brained schemes. It all leads to a head-scratching anticlimax topped off with some overbearing social commentary about The Way We Live Today. That the most chilling portion of the movie plays out over the end credits tells you everything you need to know about the previous 88 minutes.

Perhaps fitting for the on-screen buffoons, there are amateur mistakes made off-screen as well. While some of the cinematography by Christian Sprenger takes advantage of the idyllic locale, several key shots are sloppily rendered and unnecessarily murky. The editing by Kyle Reiter cuts away from or omits so many shots of potential violence that it almost seems like they were shooting for a PG-13 rating. Normally I wouldn’t dock a film for holding back on violent images but when we’re talking about a slasher movie, modesty is often not a virtue. If the ScareBnb horror subgenre is to continue, it needs better torch-bearers than The Rental.

Score – 1.5/5

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Turning

The haunted house movie genre is one that always seems to be in constant ebb and flow when it comes to quality. For every stellar entry like The Conjuring or Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, we get forgettable titles like Winchester and Amityville: The Awakening. The Turning, Hollywood’s latest mangling of Henry James’ classic 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, sadly falls into the category of film that only exists to make the great ones seem greater by comparison. Despite starting with rich source material and incorporating some watchable rising stars into its cast, this redundant and horribly derivative would-be supernatural thriller offers very little in the way of fresh scares.

Set almost 100 years after James’ original tale, the story centers around kindergarten teacher Kate (Mackenzie Davis) as she takes a live-in nanny/tutor position for the recently orphaned Flora (Brooklynn Prince) and Miles (Finn Wolfhard). Helping manage the vast estate where the kids reside is housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten), who seems suspicious of Kate from the moment she steps onto the property. Although Kate and Flora seem to ease into a friendly relationship, Miles presents as much more abrasive and even lecherous to their new guest. It doesn’t take long for things to sour further as the haunts of the creepy manor materialize in the form of menacing apparitions that suggest a dark history.

Making the leap to feature films after crafting music videos for artists like Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake, director Floria Sigismondi can’t find her voice within this hopelessly generic adaptation. In an all-too-rare bit of meta humor, Kate murmurs “this can’t be real” as she pulls up to the house for the first time and beholds the barrage of cliches that fall before her: the dilapidated mansion, the impossibly long driveway adorn with dead trees on either side and, naturally, the gloomy weather to match. The truth is, it’s all real, at least in the sense that Sigismondi is going to take every trick and trope associated with the spooky house genre deadly seriously from there on out.

Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes, responsible for bringing The Conjuring to life, inelegantly stuff their script with suggestions as to what’s behind all of these creepy occurrences. The character work is especially thin, not leaving much meat on the bone for Davis and company to dig into past increasingly haunted facial expressions. The presence of props from pet tarantulas to porcelain dolls perpetuate a moody atmosphere that constantly comes across as contrived. Sigismondi assembles all of these tried-and-true gothic horror elements and tosses them into a blender, producing a bland purée that only the most gullible of teens will consume.

This is the kind of film that teases you for 90 minutes, dangling all manner of red herrings and half-reveals in front of our faces, until it finally gives the viewer the unfiltered truth in the end. If The Turning is remarkable in any way, it’s certainly in how unsatisfying and downright confusing a conclusion it offers as a bitter consolation prize for enduring its preceding narrative. Everyone who worked on the film should take comfort in knowing that most audience members will stay through the credits, likely to take a moment and wipe the perplexed looks off their faces. The Turning may indeed turn heads, even if it’s to the side to signify bewilderment.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Gretel and Hansel, starring Sophia Lillis and Sam Leakey, retells the dark fairy tale about a pair of siblings who get lost in the woods and stumble upon terrifying evil in the process.
The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively and Jude Law, is an international spy thriller that follows a woman who seeks to uncover the truth behind a plane crash that killed her family three years earlier.
Opening at Cinema Center is VHYes, starring Kerri Kenney and Thomas Lennon, a comedy shot entirely on VHS and Beta about a boy who accidentally records home videos over his parents’ wedding tape.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Gemini Man

It’s two Will Smiths for the price of one in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, a clunky and dated would-be action thriller with a tired premise and even more exhausting execution. Pushing the current film trend of digitally “de-aging” actors to its breaking point, Lee continues his trajectory of foisting cutting-edge technology upon stories that don’t merit the slick upgrades in the first place. He’s proven with films like The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain that he doesn’t need 4K resolution or high frame rate presentation to tell a great story. It all starts with a well-crafted screenplay and all the high-tech bells and whistles can’t disguise the terrible dialogue and exposition on the page.

Smith stars as Henry Brogan, an esteemed assassin on his way to retirement after 25 years of service for the DIA. His final hit, carried out against a terrorist traveling on a bullet train, is called into question when one of Brogan’s inside contacts informs him that the man was actually a civilian biochemist. Shortly after, Brogan discovers he’s being surveilled by a fellow agent named Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and after DIA soldiers descend upon their location, the two make a run for it. The man behind the mission to take out Brogan is Clay Varris (Clive Owen), the leader of a black ops unit who used Brogan’s DNA to create a copy of him and has sent the clone to take him out.

To create the idea of a younger-looking Will Smith, Lee uses a combination of motion capture from Smith’s performance along with the increasingly prevalent de-aging effect to composite a new character. As far as we’ve come with technology, the results of this experiment still aren’t entirely convincing. In most of the action scenes, especially the characters’ first bike-bound confrontation in Colombia, Junior (the name for Brogan’s clone) often moves with a weightless artificiality that rarely feels credible. Most of Junior’s scenes are shot either at night or in dimly-lit rooms, for reasons that become devastatingly obvious when a scene late in the film set in broad daylight reveals just how dismal the de-aging effect can look.

No amount of cosmetic retouching can hide the fact that this script, which has allegedly been kicked around Hollywood since the late ‘90s, is simply abysmal from start to finish. The dialogue, which includes yikes-inducing lines like “it’s not gun time, it’s coffee time” and “I’m finding myself avoiding mirrors recently”, is wall-to-wall tin-eared. It’s the kind of shoddy screenplay that sets up a character’s bee allergy so blatantly from the onset that we have to assume a payoff is coming later on, though “payoff” is perhaps much too generous.

Smith does what he can to pack maximum gravitas into his mirthless mercenary but it’s ultimately the same kind of stilted dramatic performance we’ve seen from him on multiple occasions. Like his work in recent clunkers like Collateral Beauty and Bright, he loads the characters from his dramatic work with an irrevocable joylessness so as to garner respect from audiences and fellow actors alike. I was no fan of the Aladdin remake from earlier this year but it was at least good to watch Smith have fun — and, heaven forbid, smile — on screen again. Gemini Man should serve as a reminder that it’s best for some movie ideas to stay buried.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, once again follows the Sleeping Beauty antagonist as her goddaughter Princess Aurora is proposed to by Prince Phillip, sparking a war between humans and fairies.
Zombieland: Double Tap, starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, brings back the band of misfit zombie fighters as they meet new survivors of the apocalypse while squaring off against an evolved threat.
As part of Fright Night, Cinema Center will be screening 1989’s Pet Sematary. Local artists will be in attendance to re-create iconic movie posters for sale. Those who dress up in zombie garb will receive a $10 ticket & a complimentary small popcorn.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Aladdin

Disney’s endless parade of live-action remakes based on beloved animated classics continues with Aladdin, a pointless and tedious exercise in cynical corporate filmmaking. While one could argue that there’s still value in trying to “refresh” films like Cinderella and Dumbo that were released 70 years ago, the artistic merit behind bringing back movies that aren’t even 30 years old yet seems dubious at best. Even though this retread isn’t quite as bad as the abysmal Beauty and the Beast variant from 2017, it offers virtually no improvements from its predecessor and wastes most of its opportunities to branch off into new directions.

This “re-imagining” follows many of the same plot details of the 1992 original, in which the amiable “street rat” Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and his pet monkey Abu scrounge for food in the city of Agrabah. After sneaking away from the palace, Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) crosses paths with Aladdin and the two have an instance connection, despite the disparity between their social standings. Through deception by the treacherous aristocrat Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), Aladdin becomes trapped in a mystical cave, where he meets a magical Genie (Will Smith) who grants him three wishes.

The easiest way to sum up Aladdin would be to say that it feels like watching a version of the original that has been stripped of most of its charm and personality. It’s simply an odd experience to watch a film that quotes specific story beats or lines from an existing work but does so in the most lifeless and stilted way imaginable. If anything, this nagging sense of déjà vu made me appreciate the stellar voice work and vibrant animation style of the original even more by comparison. Perhaps Disney is going for a grounded or serious approach for this live-action iteration but the muted tone does no favors to the magical elements of the story.

With the exception of Naomi Scott, who does a fine job of conjuring both the grace and panache that make Jasmine a memorable heroine, none of the actors are able to access the defining aspects of their respective characters. Both Kenzari as Jafar and Navid Negahban as The Sultan are one-note and spectacularly miscast in roles that require some over-the-top flourishes to make their characters work well. Massoud strains hard to keep the ship afloat in the titular role but there just isn’t enough in his performance past his flashy smile to mirror the affability of his animated counterpart.

But perhaps it’s time to address the Genie in the room. Since footage of Will Smith as the singing and dancing jinn emerged months ago, many have lambasted the off-putting computer-generated work that sloppily rendered Smith’s face atop a smoky blue monstrosity. I won’t add to the sea of well-founded criticism that’s already been heaped upon it but would instead call out a more galling aspect tied to this Genie, which is that it relies too much on comedic callbacks derived from Robin Williams’ performance to get its point across. It’s obvious the heads at Disney don’t adhere to the axiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and Aladdin is further proof that they aren’t likely to adopt it any time soon.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Godzilla: King of Monsters, starring Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler, pits everybody’s favorite green lizard monster against other gargantuan foes like Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.
Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton and Jamie Bell, is another music biopic hot off the heels of recent Oscar winner Bohemian Rhapsody detailing the life and career of English rocker Elton John.
Ma, starring Octavia Spencer and Luke Evans, is the latest Blumhouse horror film that follows a group of teenagers after they accept an invitation to party at a lonely woman’s house but soon regret their decision.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Nun

Since the Conjuring series of films began with the first entry in 2013, the R-rated horror franchise has summoned supernatural scares that have translated to hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. The Conjuring generated the spin-off Annabelle about a creepy possessed doll and The Conjuring 2 has now led to another spin-off called The Nun, spelling out the backstory for the Valak character that was introduced in that film. Like the rest of its companions in the Conjuring Universe, this film relies heavily on jump scares with jarring audio cues but it lacks an engaging story or any involving characters to make this prequel journey worth taking.

After a nun is found dead after apparently taking her own life outside a Romanian monastery, The Vatican tasks Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) with investigating the incident. There, they meet “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet), the man who discovered the nun’s body while delivering supplies to the abbey, who aides them in their examination. As the trio spends more time on the premises, they begin to witness supernatural sightings and seem to be haunted continuously by evil spirits that tie back to a demonic entity known as Valak, who is usually held in check by constant prayer from the nuns but has seemingly grown more powerful.

The issues with The Nun start fairly early on, as the first scenes of the spooky Nun character set up the general pace and timbre of the rest of the scares and frankly, it’s nothing that we haven’t seen done better countless times before. It leans into religious iconography like upside-down crosses and ominous headstones in ways that scores of other horror films (The Exorcist series, for one) have all invoked in more creative ways. All of the visual clichés are firmly in place as well, like the close-up/pan to an empty area/pan back to close-up with scary figure behind main character sequence, but they’re brought down even further by a murky visual palette that makes for an especially drab viewing experience.

Some of these rote horror movie beats might be worth forgiving if there were other redeemable aspects to the film but the terribly thin script doesn’t allow for any sort of intrigue in the story or any interest for the characters. Even though this would seem to be an explanation of how the Valak creature came to be, the film gives very little in terms of details on the origins of this nefarious being and the answers that we’re given are perfunctory at best. It’s also extremely inconsistent about the actual powers of this spirit, who is shown early on to be powerful enough to bury someone alive in the blink of an eye but then is almost comically under-powered the rest of the film as it conjures up hands to grab at the protagonists.

The first two Conjuring films have been aided greatly by the effortless chemistry between leads Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson but this trio of actors, including Vera’s younger sister Taissa, doesn’t have the same kind of spark to make their characters engaging from the get-go. While they aren’t able to make much happen together on-screen, I’d hardly say it’s their fault as the three are saddled with shamefully underwritten roles that do them no justice. The Nun may have enough frights in it for fans of the series to find it worth watching but I have to imagine that most moviegoers won’t find nearly enough for the film to justify its existence outside of being another payday for Warner Bros in this lucrative franchise.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Predator, starring Boyd Holbrook and Trevante Rhodes, is the third sequel to the 1987 sci-fi action classic that pits a group of mercenaries against a town overrun by the titular creatures.
A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, is a mystery-thriller that centers around a blogger who attempts to solve a missing persons case that involves her best friend.
White Boy Rick, starring Matthew McConaughey and Richie Merritt, tells the true story of Richard Wershe Jr., who is notorious for being the youngest FBI informant ever at age 14.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup