• Countdown (2019)

    Countdown is an entertaining horror movie that is best enjoyed with some friends around Halloween. The film revolves around a cell phone application that predicts when a person is going to die. The story follows a young nurse who realizes she only has three days to live after downloading the application. She doesn't take the application seriously until one of her patients who had also downloaded it dies under mysterious circumstances. The young nurse starts investigating in order to bring the grisly series of deaths to an end.

    The movie convinces with some interesting plot elements on the pulse of time in form of the omnipresent impact of cell phones and its applications on our lives and a few sinister cases of sexual harassment in times of the Me Too movement. The film convinces with solid pace and entertains from start to finish without any unnecessary lengths. This flick has a few efficient jump scares in the middle section and convinces with an eventful finale.

    The film obviously also has some flaws most contemporary Hollywood movies suffer from. The story is shallow and simplistic. The characters are rather exchangeable and lack development and depth. The first third of the movie kicks off too smoothly and isn't truly scary. The film's predictable conclusion might be eventful but is ultimately everything but surprising. The film's final scene before the credits leaves room for a potential sequel in an extremely lazy way.

    You won't get profound cinema while watching Countdown but that couldn't have been expected anyway. What you will get however is a contemporary, entertaining and gripping horror movie. It's certainly better than Escape Room, Ready or Not and Truth or Dare. On the other side, it can't compete with more profound genre entries such as Mandy, The Wailing or Us. In the end, Countdown fulfills its expectations solidly but won't leave a deeper impression.

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  • It: Chapter Two (2019)

    It: Chapter Two tells the story of what happened to the members of The Losers' Club as they confront evil clown Pennywise to kill it for good twenty-seven years after the events of the first movie. In my humble opinion, this second movie shouldn't have been made in the first place. The first part had an intriguing atmosphere, stunning characters and diversified plot that ended on a bittersweet note. Some stories don't need a conclusion as some unanswered question might actually spark the audience's creative imagination. In order to cash in on the first film, the producers decided to opt for a sequel nonetheless.

    The main issue is that this sequel doesn't have the magic of the first movie. The coming-of-age vibe of the teenagers with their beliefs, bonds, fears, hopes and motivations was second to none. What we get here are seven rather depressing adults in their mid-life crises who haven't become the wonderful people they could have been.

    Another problem is that the movie constantly dwells on the past, has a ploddingly repetitive script and re-tells parts of the first film over and over again. There are numerous horror movies with considerable lengths that never get boring with classics like The Shining or recent masterpieces such as The Wailing. However, this film here overstays its welcome with lengthy storytelling, tiring flashbacks and endless dialogues. This movie should have been about one hour shorter than it actually is for a more dynamic, entertaining and relevant structure.

    Not everything is bad about this movie as you might have guessed by looking at my rather positive rating. The special effects are as great as they can get. The smalltown settings are perfectly chosen. The light techniques and camera work are precise, captivating and atmopsheric. The film includes a good balance of humorous and serious parts. The adult actresses and actors are doing a wonderful job and one has to point out a charming but melancholic Jessica Chastain in particular as well as James McAvoy who underlines his reputation as one of the most diversified, talented and unique contemporary actors as usual.

    The movie's saving grace however are the gripping final thirty minutes. The duel between The Loser's Club and Pennywise is fascinating to watch and feels like a reward after a stuttering start. The action scenes are intense, the characters develop depth and the special effects are spectacular. Make sure to enjoy such cinematography on the big screen while you still can.

    In the end, It: Chapter Two is quite a mixed bag. The film is technically well done but simply overstays its welcome. Personally, I didn't need a sequel at all but can objectively admit that this film has slightly more strengths than flaws.

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  • Suspiria (2018)

    Suspiria isn't only a remake of Dario Argento's movie but an expanded reimagination of the legendary Italian horror movie. The film is set in Berlin during the German Autumn and follows the story lines of a young American dancer who arrives at a dance school and an old psychotherapist who investigates the disappearance of one of his troubled patients. The two story lines intertwine in six chapters and an epilogue with a total length above two and a half hours and find their climax in the mysterious dance school.

    This movie convinces for numerous reasons. First of all, it doesn't blandly copy the original movie but adds more characters, new plots and haunting visual effects. It's very interesting to compare both movies and it's really just a matter of personal taste which version you prefer.

    Secondly, the characters in this movie are really interesting. The female lead character incarnates ambition, innocence and resilience but soon gets caught up with sinister events. The male lead character incarnates curiosity, guilt and shame and investigates both his own past and present events involving a missing dancer. The side characters in this film are also highly intriguing, especially head artistic director and choreographer Madame Blanc who is torn between supporting her colleagues and saving her protégée.

    Thirdly, the actresses in this movie are absolutely outstanding. Many of them play two or even three different roles. One simply has to point out Tilda Swinton who convincingly plays a male psychotherapist, a female choreographer and a mysterious physically disabled old woman. The movie features numerous excellent young actresses such as Mia Goth (''Everest''), Dakota Johnson (''Bad Times at the El Royale'') and Chloë Grace Moretz (''Carrie'').

    Fourthly, the movie has a truly gripping atmosphere that subtly intensifies throughout the movie. There are numerous red flags showing that something is amiss about the mysterious dance school. One student mysteriously disappears. Another one has a meltdown during a practice. The building includes numerous hidden rooms with sinister secrets. The more the film progresses, the more intense it gets until a stunning surreal finale.

    Fifthly, the cinematography of this movie is astonishing. This starts with the sinister locations along the Berlin Wall. It continues with the gloomy weather as it always rains or snows in Berlin. The numerous dance practices and performances in the movie are creative, emotional and intellectual. The use of blood, bones and urine makes the movie progressively more repulsive. The film's climax is visually stunning with outstanding light effects and visual components.

    In addition to all these elements, the movie cleverly connects the main plot to elements regarding Germany's sinister past during the Third Reich and contemporary political events throughout the German Autumn. All these events deal with guilt and shame and foreshadow or parallel the sinister events of the main plot. This movie deserves multiple views to uncover and understand its numerous references.

    There are two reasons why this movie didn't get an even higher rating. First of all, the first act of the film is quite confusing as we are introduced to numerous characters and multiple plot lines without any explanations and without any clear structure. This confusing potpourri disentangles during the second act and the movie then progresses coherently until the very end. Secondly and lastly, the movie slightly overstays its welcome with a challenging length of one hundred fifty-three minutes. The film could have been shortened by about twenty to thirty minutes without losing its essence. The filmmaker should also refrain from working on a potential prequel or sequel. This movie works very well on its own and doesn't need anything more.

    In the end, Suspiria should please to fans of moody horror movies that are willing to invest two and a half hours to discover fascinating atmospheres, characters and story lines developed with outstanding acting performances and creative cinematography. It doesn't matter whether you have watched the original movie or not since this isn't a remake but a reimagination that stands very well on its own. Original creator Dario Argento didn't appreciate this new version but his closed-mindedness shouldn't be categorized as anything more than a personal opinion among many others. Suspiria is one of the better horror movies in recent memory.

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  • Hereditary (2018)

    I'm one of the few who watched Ari Aster's second feature Midsommar before his first full length movie Hereditary. Hereditary is slightly better than Midsommar because it slowly develops a haunting atmosphere until a vibrant final quarter that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Hereditary isn't a masterpiece like The Wailing but certainly among the better Hollywood horror movies in recent memory.

    The acting is certainly one of the movie's strongest points. Milly Shapiro is absolutely astonishing as eccentric young teenage girl with odd and at times disturbing behaviour. She is a name you have to keep on your mind for future endeavourments. This movie would have been even better if she had been given more screen time. Alex Wolff plays a completely different character as a seemingly normal teenage boy who likes to party but soon becomes an isolated loner confronted with abominable dangers. Toni Collette is fully convincing as desperate, gloomy and unstable mother whose beahviour becomes more erratic as the film progresses. Gabriel Byrne complements her perfectly as calm, diplomatic and rational husband who handles the pressure around him better than anyone else. The four characters have great chemistry and complement one another perfectly.

    Another strong point of this movie is its atmosphere. Right from the start, you realize that something is wrong with this family. There are numerous red flags throughout the film. The daughter plays with a dead bird and cuts its head off. The son comes home at night after shocking events but decides to go to bed instead of calling the police. The mother starts to believe she is a medium who can speak with the dead. Only the father's behaviour is rational and he is easily the character worth rooting for.

    The movie has a few minor downsides however. Even if this is a supernatural horror movie, some decisions of the characters are baffling. How can a mother send her antisocial daughter who suffers from severe allergies to a party with her older brother? How can the father quietly observe how the family members around him show more and more erratic behaviour instead of taking them to the hospital? Why does the mother not call the police after she discovered several more than disturbing elements in her house? Some of the actions, decisions and reactions of the characters make an otherwise solid plot slightly unconvincing.

    In the end, Hereditary is an atmospheric horror movie with psychological and supernatural elements. Instead of delivering predictable jump scares, the movie fleshes out its characters and plot and remains refreshingly unpredictable until the very end. Despite a slow pace and a few weird decisions made by the characters, Hereditary is one of the better horror movies of the past few years. If you like this film, watch the even better The Wailing and give the less supernatural but more psychological horror movie Burning a try.

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  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

    Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an entertaining but shallow horror movie aimed at teenage audiences in the key of It. Based upon the novels by Alvin Schwartz, the movie revolves around anthologic horror stories that make your worst nightmares come true. The teenagers who mistakenly kickstarted the curse by discovering an old book in an abandoned mansion must find out more about its writer in order to make the horrors stop.

    On the positive side, the different creatures seen throughout the film are intriguing, diversified and creative which makes for an entertaining experience. The back story around a psychologically and physically assaulted girl that keeps the whole movie together is actually interesting and even moving to a certain degree. The appropriate settings blend in very well and bring the late sixties in the United States of America to life in an authentic manner. The characters are easy to empathize with and especially lead actress Zoe Colletti underlines her reputation as one of the greatest young actresses to be around these days.

    On the negative side, the film isn't really scary as the atmosphere never goes beyond mildly gloomy. This might be appropriate for young teenagers but older teenagers or adults could quickly get bored. The style of this movie is closely inspired by It and fails to develop its own idnetity. The film's ending isn't satisfactory as several questions remain unanswered which could hint at a possible sequel. The movie however doesn't have the depth to become a franchise.

    In the end, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an entertaining horror movie to be watched at your local cinema with your friends if you like the genre and are between twelve and sixteen years old. The movie certainly doesn't reinvent the genre and fails to develop its own identity. The movie is good enough to be watched once but fails to leave a deeper impression.

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