4 star(s), 110 minutes, streaming
First things first, I’d like to welcome Neil Marshall back, given that it has been too long—12 years to be exact—since the writer/director responsible for “Dog Soldiers,” “The Descent” and “Doomsday” last made a genre film worth championing.
Secondly, I’m here to tell you that not only is Marshall back with a vengeance, but his latest—“The Reckoning,” a gruesome and gritty tale set during the 1600s when witch hunters were allowed to detain and torture anyone so accused—is possibly his best-looking film to date.
Seriously, “The Reckoning” is packed with some of the most gorgeous cinematography to ever grace his work, including a wonderfully-extended opening sequence packed with backstory and rich character development.
If you’re a longtime Marshall fan (like me), you know he isn’t shy when it comes to the gory stuff, and “The Reckoning” is no exception. Whether focusing on the decomposing victims of bubonic plague or better still, ceding centerstage to the fantastic Sean Pertwee as the formidable witch hunter supreme John Moorcroft, Marshall also has made one of his goriest films yet. Moorcroft’s meticulous approach to excising a confession of witchcraft, which can last days and utilize an array of horrific medieval implements, is something to behold.
Of course, none of this would matter without a sympathetic and strong central heroine, which is where Charlotte Kirk comes in. Kirk, who co-wrote the script, plays Grace Haverstock, whose own mother was burned alive by Moorcroft when Grace was but a girl. Kirk gives her all to the performance, and it works.
“The Reckoning” isn’t perfect—it could lose about 15 minutes and likely feel more urgent—but it’s a solid genre effort that fans of cut classics like “Witchfinder General” should love.
A Ghost Waits
3.5 star(s), 80 minutes, streaming
I’m going to blame COVID-19 for my initial reaction upon first viewing “A Ghost Waits,” a new romantic horror-comedy from director Adam Stovall.
I first screened “A Ghost Waits” way back in early October when the film premiered as part of the Screamfest film festival. Stovall’s movie had already taken the top three honors at Frightfest 2020, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for co-star and co-writer MacLeod Andrews.
I fired up my laptop and immediately felt ‘Meh.’ At first, I wondered if it might be because “A Ghost Waits” is shot in black-and-white. Then I wondered if I was expecting something scarier. Finally, I decided that given the current state of world affairs, I just wasn’t in the mood for an old-timey supernatural love story.
Jump forward four months, and I decided to give “A Ghost Waits” a second chance, which made all the difference. I noticed jokes that I had missed the first time around. I picked up on subtle nods to classic films. And I fell under the spell cast by Andrews, as Jack, a lowly handyman who feels lost in life and Muriel (Natalie Walker), a ghost who feels stuck haunting the same two-story home by herself for decades on end.
“A Ghost Waits” owes a great debt to “Beetlejuice,” both in style and substance, but it’s not ripping off a beloved property, merely building on many of the same themes.
If anything, I think the perfect description is this: Imagine if Kevin Smith had made “Beetlejuice” as a two-person character study instead of “Clerks,” but without the vulgar humor and litany of pop culture shout outs.
That to me is “A Ghost Waits,” in a nutshell. It’s a sweet, delightful story of two souls navigating the horrors of life and afterlife without an anchor, until they meet cute and realize they were meant to be.
Let Him Go
3 star(s), 113 minutes, streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD
There’s a lot to be said these days when a filmmaker delivers a good, old-fashioned thriller that feels unearthed from cinema’s simpler time.
Writer-director Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) does just that with “Let Him Go,” a slow-boil family drama that explodes with violence in its third act. The film involves two grandparents who go to extreme lengths to protect their only grandchild from a ferocious family of ne’er-do-wells in Big Sky country.
“Let Him Go” is notable for its two stars, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, and both iconic actors deliver. Lane, in particular, turns in a fierce performance as Margaret Blackledge that stands tall as some of her best screen work to date. Costner, who plays George Blackledge, takes a much more low-key approach to his southwestern retired lawman of few words. His simmering emotion and the way he slowly releases steam is reminiscent of his work in 1993’s “A Perfect World.”
This one might have escaped your radar, but “Let Him Go” is definitely worth a watch.
A Nightmare Wakes
2.5 star(s), 90 minutes, Shudder
I realized two things watching the latest Shudder streaming horror exclusive, “A Nightmare Wakes.”
One, I’ve officially lost count of how many movies have been made telling the story of how Mary Shelley came to conceptualize her classic work, "Frankenstein." And, two, apparently I have little taste for any of them, even Ken Russell’s well-regarded “Gothic.”
“A Nightmare Wakes” juices its narrative with some notably dark details, including non-consensual sex, and does a good job visualizing the drug-fueled hysteria that helped spark Shelley’s creative process, but I personally just couldn’t find the necessary hook upon which to attach myself to the importance of re-telling this particular story, despite the obvious talents of writer-director Nora Unkel.
2 star(s), 95 minutes, streaming
Much like last year’s superior dementia-fueled horror, “Relic,” writer-director Jake Mahaffy utilizes every tool at his disposal in selling the central conflict at the heart of his latest, “Reunion,” which benefits from having Julia Ormond as an acting anchor.
Ormond plays Ivy, a dutiful wife caring for her husband as his brain is ravaged by Alzheimer’s, who is forced to expand her caregiver responsibilities with the arrival of their daughter, Ellie (Emma Draper), who is pregnant with her first child.
Mahaffy wastes little time teasing a past traumatic event involving Ellie’s step-sister, which becomes the main thrust of the supernatural warfare that quickly erupts, and he deserves credit—much like Natalie Erika James did in “Relic”—for turning a childhood safe haven into a literal house of horrors and a key character despite its inanimate form.
The problem with “Reunion,” though, is not lack of effort, it’s lack of narrative oomph. I literally tried to watch “Reunion” on three separate occasions and fell asleep each time long before the closing credits.
1 star(s), 78 minutes, streaming
A washed up former mixed-martial-arts fighter finds herself trapped in purgatory and forced to fight to the death in a no-holds-barred tournament against an array of demons and other otherworldly evil denizens in order to save her soul.
That sounds fun, right? Well, let me tell you, reading my synopsis is way better than the actual film, and will save you four bucks and an hour-plus of precious time that you can never get back.
Also available as of Feb. 2:
Tesla Ethan Hawke heads up this unorthodox and unconventional look at the life of Nikola Tesla, which is now available to stream or buy on Blu-Ray.
Wild Mountain Thyme An excellent cast (Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm and Christopher Walken) star in the third film by Oscar-winning writer John Patrick Shanley, which is now available to stream.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.
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