New Releases for Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Directed by: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Run time: 102 minutes
The Lowdown: Here’s the thing – if you get suckered into watching Rings, the completely unnecessary reboot of the 2002 U.S. adaptation of the original Japanese trilogy (1998 to 2000), and you get a call seconds after it ends where a young girl’s voice whispers, “Seven days,” as in you’re going to die in seven days, just go ahead and kill yourself immediately.
Trust me, you’ll be thankful you did.
As it is, Rings has to be one of the worst reboot/reimagining/revisionist approaches to a mainstream horror movie in quite some time.
It’s one thing to remake a classic or cult-beloved film from decades ago and risk screwing the pooch. But it takes a special pair of big brass cojones to revisit a film that’s less than 20 years old and not bring one single new idea to the table.
And, honestly, director Gore Verbinski’s film, The Ring, was not a perfect film by any stretch. It was effective and quite chilling, particularly in the final act when Samara, the little girl in the well with the rich black hair, was fully realized crawling out of a TV screen, but there are ways that it could definitely be improved.
Sadly, Spanish director F. Javier Gutiérrez is not up to the task. Perhaps, that should have been expected, given the script was penned by four people, including the guy who wrote the woeful Jennifer Lawrence thriller House at the End of the Street and an Academy Award winning screenwriter who also wrote Batman & Robin, a film so awful that it shelved DC Comics’ iconic caped crusader for nearly a decade.
How bad is Rings?
For one, it starts on a plane with Matt from The Vampire Diaries (or Zach Roerig, as his parents know him) sweating because he’s at 6 days and 55 minutes since he watched that killer VHS tape his friends told him about.
Spoiler alert: Lots of stupid stuff happens, including the video playing on every headrest on the plane, and some CGI bugs flying through the plane’s windshield, before it crashes and everyone dies.
Then it jumps forward in time by two years and Leonard Hofstadter (or Johnny Galecki, as his SAG card announces him) is at an estate sale where not-Matt-from-The Vampire Diaries’ family is selling all of his stuff, including an old VCR.
Guess what’s in the VCR?
Ding Ding Ding! A tape – lo and behold, the dreaded Samara tape, which Galecki’s character, Gabriel, decides to play instead of going out partying with his college-aged girlfriend.
Suddenly, Gabriel is staring out his window and as lightning flashes, we see the eerie well from the original 2002 video, so we know bad stuff is about to happen.
Then, finally, the opening credits roll.
How much time has now passed. No one knows! But here we meet Julia and Holt, a happy high school couple, only Holt is about to leave for college and Julia can’t go with him.
He’s sad. She’s sad. They make plans to talk each night by Skype. Yadda yadda young love.
Suddenly, Julia and Holt are Skyping when Holt gets interrupted by some college buddies and he ends the video call. (Again, as viewers, we have no idea how much time has elapsed since Holt left his love to go to school.)
But key details such as the passage of time shouldn’t matter when – you guessed it – Julia is awakened later that night by a Skype call, only it’s not from Holt but some mysterious college girl who looks freaked out.
Quicker than you can say grand theft auto, Julia has taken her Dad’s car and is driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to check on her man. What she finds is his professor – and guess who that is?
Ding Ding. Ding Dong. Ding Dud.
It turns out Gabriel has created the human equivalent of a meth lab by offering extra credit to students willing to watch a VHS tape and have their experience documented for scientific research. And Holt was one of those students.
Specifically, Gabriel has created the ultimate party pad in a college academics building with a secret floor only accessible by a special elevator key, which Julia easily finds, allowing her entrance to a room filled with banks of TV monitors, each with a student’s name and a ticking clock. All the kids who have watched the video, and who apparently know they may die in seven days, are partying it up while they look for other naïve students to entice to watch the video at their request, which thereby frees the first student from the death pact with Samara.
Again, without the luxury of knowing how long Gabriel has been in possession of the tape, one might still assume that there would be some backstory provided as to how he knows to set up a kill mill on campus. Especially after Julia stumbles across a thesis - !?! – written by Gabriel about the “Samara Phenomenon.”
Seriously, how long has Leonard, er Johnny, er Gabriel been studying Samara? Long enough to pen a binder-thick report, apparently, and get it published.
You know where this is going, right?
Julia finds Holt. Holt begs Julia not to watch the video. Julia watches the video in defiance. Guess what – it’s the same damn video from Verbinski’s film 15 years ago with a few jump-cut edit additions.
Just freaking kill me already, Samara.
There’s so many different ways that Rings could have distinguished itself from its predecessors. For one – viral videos weren’t as big of a deal back in 2002.
Rings, however, is not content to pursue the timely idea of what a killer VHS video might do if it was copied and uploaded to the Internet and suddenly went viral on smart devices, cell phones and YouTube across an entire college campus. Oh no, that whole potential subplot is forgotten in a matter of seconds.
No, what Gutiérrez and his cadre of writers come up with instead is…wait for it…Vincent D’Onofrio – playing a blind priest with some connection to Samara whom Julia and Holt stumble upon in the hopes that he’s a nice man willing to help them defeat the black-haired evil.
I won’t even ask if you think for a second that D’Onofrio’s Father Burke is a good guy.
As subplots stack up and collect dust, and D’Onofrio looks for his Edgar suit while chewing scenery like a cicada, Julia and Holt scramble to find a way to beat Samara without resorting to making some other poor college schlub watch the stupid video instead.
Will they prevail?
Who will survive?
Does anyone care?
If you do care, I’m sure someone somewhere is furiously cribbing Rings 2. My advice – sit by the phone and wait for the call and please, pretty please, don’t share whatever crap story they cobble together with us poor innocent moviegoing masses.
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No. Gore – Not enough.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Samara.
Buy/Rent – Neither.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Shout! Factory, 86 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Far too few horror films today actually strive for and earn the right to be called scary.
Most recent examples, such as 2016’s Blair Witch, which some horror-based websites called the scariest movie ever made, are exposed as lacking any solid jolts, any distinct narrative creativity and, worst of all, any actual ‘Holy Crap, I might soil my pants’ moments of genuine terror.
And that’s what makes The Autopsy of Jane Doe such a beautiful and much-needed gift from the movie gods.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is as chilling and downright terrifying as the all-time horror classics (The Exorcist, Halloween, etc.), yet it still manages to find new and freaky ways to goose its audience with electric jolts. It’s imbued with moments of such intensity that even upon a second viewing, you’re still likely to pull your feet up off the floor and look around the end of the sofa.
It’s also a great opportunity to become familiar with the work of director André Øvredal, who previously helmed the fantastic Trollhunter, one of the best found-footage films ever made.
Øvredal, working with screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing, have crafted an elaborate network of surprises and scares that realize, and maximize, the benefit of the underground mortuary where the bulk of the film takes place.
His two leading actors, Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, both genre veterans, deliver some of their strongest work in years as a father-son team of morticians assisting local law enforcement with a particularly strange case. Their natural rapport lends such believability to their screen relationship, which is critical for the film’s brutal third act where Øvredal and Co. tighten the screws and put the audience through an excruciating series of discoveries that help finally explain the mysterious nature of Jane Doe.
As Jane Doe, a character who lies naked with her eyes and mouth open for much of the run time, actress Olwen Catherine Kelly is a revelation. She is genuinely creepy in silent repose.
Finally, this being a fully-formed exercise in unabashed horror, kudos and props have to be extended to the practical effects team. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a masterwork in minimalist, psychological horror, but there are moments that demand a visceral gut punch, and boy howdy, Øvredal’s crew delivers.
You’ve probably noticed by now that BVB is saying very little about the plot. That’s on purpose. The less you know, the better. Trust us. You may push play with open eyes, but you will be staring at the screen through intertwined fingers before it’s through.
There hasn’t been a horror roller coaster ride like this in quite some time. Buckle up and enjoy. They sadly don’t make enough of these anymore, for sure.
And, just FYI, if you want to own The Autopsy of Jane Doe, this disc is an exclusive Walmart edition, which is available now through the national retail chain, but the Blu-Ray won’t be available at other retailers until June 27, 2017.
Beyond the Gates (Shout! Factory, 82 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Great ideas are hard to come by these days, especially in the horror genre.
For every revisionist approach to zombies, vampires, werewolves and witches, only a rare few films actually find something new and interesting to say and even fewer find new and exciting ways to visualize their idea in a way that creates compelling cinema.
For fans of a certain age (Yes, I mean us old 40-somethings), who grew up browsing the aisles at the local VHS rental shop, there is nostalgia aplenty to be mined in the long-forgotten artifacts of the pre-digital generation.
First-time feature director Jackson Stewart, who is in his early 30s, missed the heyday of the VHS boom, but it’s clear he has a love and appreciation for such antiquated anachronisms as the VCR board game.
For the uninitiated, such games involved watching a VHS tape while playing a traditional board game. Players received prompts and instruction from characters depicted on the tape.
Beyond the Gates tells the story of a particularly evil VCR board game that literally transports its players to a different reality where they must fight for their lives to secure four keys, which can unlock the door back home.
It’s a fantastic concept that today’s moviemaking technology could take in so many different directions. And in the hands of a more skilled director and a better writing team – Stewart co-wrote the film with Stephen Scarlata, whose only other credit is coming up with the story to Final Girl, which itself was a fitful and frustrating exercise in meta-horror – Beyond the Gates could have easily been an instant cult classic.
What they came up with instead is a huge missed opportunity.
Brothers John (Chase Williamson) and Gordon (Graham Skipper) Hardesty return home to tend to the estate of their father, who used to own a VHS rental shop in their hometown. The brothers have little use for one another. Gordon is high-maintenance and prone to angry outbursts. John is carefree and homeless.
The brothers discover the titular game locked in their dad’s office at the rental store. Of course, John wants to immediately play it. Once opened, however, the game becomes a Pandora’s box of evil incarnate, which John, Gordon and Gordon’s girlfriend must somehow defeat to save their father’s soul.
Beyond the Gates gets lots of support from veteran character actors Justin Welborn as dirtbag Hank and Matt Mercer as Officer Derek. But Stewart completely wastes genre icon Barbara Crampton as Evelyn, the gothic femme fatale who serves as the grainy video host of the board game.
Poor Crampton spends the entirety of the film looking out from a vintage TV screen, her hair in a tight blonde bob cut and her eyes shellacked with heavy dark shadow.
Here’s a pro tip: If you’re lucky enough to score the actress who elevated Re-Animator and From Beyond to cult status, don’t keep her confined to a nothing part where the only thing visible is her face. Crampton has the chops to transform even the most mundane story plots, but she can’t do it on her own as a floating head.
I really wanted to love Beyond the Gates. As film ideas go, it’s an unobstructed layup that you shouldn’t be able to miss. It had such potential to just be a fun, campy, gory throwback to horror’s mid-80s heyday.
As it is, I can barely recommend it, even to fans who love Crampton and who go gaga for any retro approach to old school horror.
Mindgamers (Universal, 99 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Speaking of missed opportunities, Mindgamers, the new film from director Andrew Goth, is so bad that its IMDb page doesn’t even list a screenwriting credit.
This is the kind of high-brow science-fiction film that pretends to know exactly what the future will look like, and apparently that future is filled with a bunch of brilliant college students working on the evolution of virtual reality when they’re not consuming copious amounts of psychedelics.
But wait, there’s more.
The students are working on behalf of a crazed former Catholic priest (Sam Neill, clearly needing a paycheck) who has constructed a wormhole-like device that allows cerebral connectivity to occur between multiple subjects, thereby transferring muscle memory and muting freewill to make it possible for a static host to control the brain activity of anyone else connected.
There’s a brief subplot where Neill’s character experiments on young children to the point they cry tears of blood, but don’t think about that too much because it’s blink and on to the next half-baked idea.
BVB make it through nearly 40 minutes before finally hitting eject. Don’t let our sacrifice be in vain. Avoid at all costs.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Another Evil (Dark Sky Films, 90 minutes, Unrated, VOD): It’s fitting that in a week of new releases filled with great potential, there’s not one, but two new films that manage to make a mess by squandering seriously solid ideas.
We’ve already bashed on Beyond the Gates long enough. It’s time to talk about Another Evil, the debut feature from writer-director Carson D. Mell.
Mell’s film has a great premise – a family moves into a new home and discovers it’s haunted, but the ghost proves to be the least of their worries when a paranormal investigator arrives and refuses to leave.
What’s best about this idea is that it’s both fresh and timely given the glut of ghost-hunting reality shows populating cable television. And in the right hands, such an unexpected twist could reap a windfall of laughs and possible scares, depending on the design of the ghosts.
Another Evil has the feel of a classic Abbott & Costello routine whereby the straight man, Dan (Steve Zissis), resorts to contacting local paranormal experts to help exorcise his family home. After a genuinely funny experience with the first ghost whisperer, whereby Dan is told matter-of-factly that the spirits are friendly and should just be left alone, Dan recruits Os (Mark Proksch), who bills himself as an ‘industrial-grade exorcist.’
Upon entering the home, Os becomes convinced that he has an honor and an obligation to protect Dan and his family, no matter the cost. And even as Dan’s objections rise in volume, and he demands that the exorcist vacate the premises, Os is undeterred.
Reminiscent of the classic Saturday Night Live skit, “The Thing that Wouldn’t Leave,” Mell tries mightily to wring laughs from what should be an easy punchline, but he can’t help getting in his own way.
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Saturday Night Fever: 40th Anniversary Director’s Cut