Sinkhole de mayo! Slaughterhouse Rulez (2019), The Hole in the Ground (2019)

Note: I wanted to post a couple shorter reviews today (well, the review of “The Hole in the Ground” is the usual length but “Slaughterhouse Rulez” is much shorter) because both of these horror films have sinkholes in them. So, there’s that!

Slaughterhouse Rulez. Released: May 17, 2019. Directed by: Crispian Mills. Starring: Finn Cole, Asa Butterfield, Simon Pegg. Runtime: 1h 44 min.

Note about this post. My reviews usually always have me talking a bit about the plot, so there are some (minor) spoilers, so you’ve been warned. 

This is one helluva forgettable horror comedy mashup. Honestly, I watched this in April so that’s a reason, but I’m convinced I forgot everything about this within a week.

Basically, there’s a guy named Don Wallace (Finn Cole) who’s accepted to a prestigious British boarding school called Slaughterhouse School. That’s the first red flag. A headmaster named The Bat (Michael Sheen) instructs that the forest near the school is a restricted area. If you needed a reason to make this feel like “Harry Potter,warning students not to go into a restricted forest is one of them.

It’s restricted because of the fracking going back on there. A fracking company has created a giant sinkhole. When they dig too deep, they release some horrors onto the academy. The big problem of “Slaughterhouse Rulez” is that it doesn’t get into any horror until an hour in besides foreshadowing like school rumours. The horror is mediocre at best when it arrives, but this holds little entertainment value.

It wastes a lot of time on a weird academy hierarchy that Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield) aptly explains to Wallace. The popular Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield) is the apple of Don’s eye, but a popular guy named Clegg (Tom Rhys Harries), who I think is dating Clemsie, won’t allow that. Again, if there’s anything you need to compare this to Harry Potter, it’s this Clegg jackass who is basically a more irritating version of Draco Malfoy.

The film also wastes a lot of time on professor Meredith Houseman (Simon Pegg). There’s nothing wrong, usually, with dedicating a lot of time to Simon Pegg, but when his character is mostly just trying to keep his relationship afloat with Audrey (Margot Robbie with little screen time), it just gets pointless. The film just wastes Pegg. Nick Frost has a couple of laughs in a bit role, but he’s still wasted. And wasting those talents is what is most unforgivable here.

Score: 40/100

The Hole in the Ground. Released: March 1, 2019. Directed by: Lee Cronin. Starring: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen. Runtime: 1h 30 min.

“The Hole in the Ground” follows Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) who is just moving to the Irish countryside with her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). Deep in the woods behind their home, they find a gigantic sinkhole with no real reason of being there.

Soon after finding it, Chris starts displaying bizarre behaviour and she thinks it has something to do with the sinkhole. Some of Chris’ bizarre behaviour, as seen in the trailer, is him crawling around on all fours and eating a spider. Bizarre, sure, but even more-so when you consider he’s terrified of spiders at the beginning of the film. You never know, he could just be getting over his fear in a unique way. Or something’s wrong with him.

It’s a Creepy Kid horror film, so it’s surely the latter. Even at 90 minutes, the film is very slow burn. I think that’s a given nowadays for the studio A24. Though, this was an A24 acquisition after production, but it just happens to suit its usual pacing for horror films well. It puts emphasis on a creepy atmosphere. This is one of the creepiest atmospheres for a Creepy Kid movie I’ve seen since “Home Alone.” I’m joking, Macaulay, though you’re hella creepy in “The Good Son.” Writer-director Lee Cronin, and co-writer Stephen Shields, do an admirable job with the atmosphere.

The Creepy Kid tropes are all here, but there aren’t a lot of friends for Sarah to confide in that this might not be Christopher. However, there’s an old kook in the woods the townsfolk have nicknamed Walkie Talkie, birthname Noreen Brady (Kati Outinen) who claims her late son James just changed and was convinced he was an imposter. Her husband Des (James Cosmo, “Game of Thrones”) has some great lines when he tells Sarah that it was something only a mother would notice. Her describes her noticing things as “pebbles until it becomes a landslide.”

The film’s unique for a Creepy Kid horror film and the atmosphere is strong, but it’s rather boring throughout because not a lot happens. A highlight during the first hour is an unsettling talent show. You have to get through about an hour of often boring creepiness for 20 minutes of action. The finale is unique and is the first time the film promises to be really scary because of a fear of the unknown. Some of the lore here is also rather interesting.

The last 20-plus minutes, atmosphere and the acting are really the only strong aspects here, and that’s not enough for me to ever re-visit this. One good thing can be said about the atmosphere, because if it were not so strong, I probably would have fell asleep halfway through. As for the acting, Seána Kerslake is good as Sarah who’s just really curious to know what the heck’s happened to her son. Her anxiety is strong and she holds a strong head through it all.

James Quinn Markey does a great job of being convincing enough that he could be Christopher. And I almost felt bad for him when Sarah literally runs away from him, even though he’s getting up to creepy shit the entire time. One plus for the acting is that I didn’t find him irritating, which is a big plus in my book for these films. Kudos, kid, you’re not annoying.

Score: 60/100

Crawl (2019)

Released: July 12, 2019. Directed by: Alexandre Aja. Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson. Runtime: 1h 27 min.

In Florida, a Category 5 hurricane has just hit. Haley (Kaya Scodelario) goes to check on the well-being of her estranged father, Dave (Barry Pepper). She finds him unconscious in the crawlspace of their childhood home but cannot get him out because she realizes they’re trapped in there with alligators, and the crawlspace is going to flood… Cue the thrills.

Tornadoes and sharks (“Sharknado”). Hurricanes and heists (“The Hurricane Heist”). Even clowns and tornadoes (“Clownado,” yes, it’s a real movie). It’s all the rage these days to mesh these things together in campy B-movies. “Crawl” is already one step ahead of the rest by not naming itself “Gatorcane.”

“Crawl” is a smarter title because I love dual meanings. I’d assumed it was called Crawl because gators crawl around. But when watching this, I realized it’s also called that because a lot of it takes place in a crawlspace. I smiled because dumb stuff like that makes me happy.

This film is unique is in the way that it doesn’t want to be a B-movie like “Sharknado.”. The film takes its stakes seriously, but it finds a way to be very fun. The premise also feels fresh. I wasn’t expecting a one-location thrill ride for most of the film. The threat of flooding adds stakes and claustrophobia, too.

Writing duo and brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen utilize the sets well for the characters. They know when to have some great, tense set pieces inside the house, and when to take scenes onto the streets, where we catch up with some looters. Alexandre Aja brings great direction to these scenes and the film in general.

The combination of a hurricane and alligators is plausible here. There’s a believable reason as to why the gators are in the crawlspace. The house has been left alone for awhile as it’s been in escrow and the gators found their way in from the swamp. When Dave comes back to the house, the gators are already there. This just happens to be during a hurricane.

Haley passes an alligator farm on the way to the house so if you would have told me the hurricane destroyed a gate and they escaped, I would have believed that, too. I’m pretty sure these gators join the party later, anyway. The gators themselves look very fine, by the way. They definitely look believable enough on the $13 million budget.

The film does a great job of balancing thrills of a disaster movie for fans of those films and it will also satisfy the fans looking for a fun summer season creature feature. I know you’re here for the gators or the hurricane, but we should talk about the humans. Scodelario and Pepper play their roles well and the estranged father/daughter dynamic is strong. Their chemistry also strengthens as the film moves along. There’s also a coach dynamic which offers standoffish tension in the relationship.

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Kaya Scodelario in “Crawl.” (IMDb)

Haley is a competitive swimmer and Dave’s coached her throughout her career. Her being a swimmer also gives her a very particular set of skills for this situation (skills that make her a nightmare for gators like them), and that’s the most convenient thing about the film. The idea of her out-swimming the gators isn’t super plausible, but it’s interesting. I mean if Michael Phelps, the fastest man in a pool, can almost beat a great white shark, surely this unknown competitive swimmer has a fighting chance at outrunning Florida’s meanest gator community, right? Right? Tune in Sunday at 8 p.m. on Gator Week to find out!

There are some strong character beats and dialogue about her being an apex predator and needing to have a better mentality to win is fascinating. This aspect brings out some solid one-liners and the coach pep talks made me feel amped up. I really wanted to punch some gators. In one scene they talk about their relationship. It’s a surprisingly lovely character moment. Before it gets too sappy, Dave says, “We’re gonna beat these lizard-brained shits.”

I think that’s the right mentality for the film: Have enough character development that we care about these people and give us some nice moments, but then straighten out the priorities and get right back into kick-ass gator action. It’s in the character building that the film threatens to be boring when it gets too dialogue heavy. There aren’t many scenes like that, and the horror set pieces are diverse enough and the obstacles introduced entertaining enough to make up for it.

It’s also important that we don’t care too much about the stars because we want to see them get munched on. It wouldn’t be fun if they got out of this without looking like they just survived Hell in a Cell (Brawl-space in a Crawlspace?) with a bunch of gators. Don’t fret, though, because any audience appetites for bloody action will be satisfied with the poor expendable characters. More importantly, the gator’s appetites are satisfied, too. And that’s really what makes the world go ‘round.

Score: 75/100

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The Dead Don’t Die. Directed by: Jim Jarmusch. Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny. Runtime: 1h 44 min. Released: June 14, 2019.

My reviews usually contain spoilers so you’ve been warned about that. However, here, I don’t really talk about a lot of the major plot points because nothing really happens. 

This is the first Jim Jarmusch film that I’ve seen and man, I should not have started with this one.

In Centreville, seemingly the only crime reports are Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) causing trouble. But more trouble comes for the town, especially for Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) when the dead start raising from their graves.

Usually there’s no reason given for why the dead come back to life, and that probably would have worked better for this. Jarmusch uses it as a commentary on the environment, as there’s polar fracking that’s affecting the daylight and everyone comments on it and keeps commenting on it.

It’s a strange set-up, but what’s stranger is that the reason for the dead coming back to life is the polar fracking and because it’s throwing the Earth off its axis. This becomes such a big thing that we get about five or six hints about this before someone literally says the zombies are here because of the polar fracking.

That doesn’t make much sense to me, and just explaining it as they’re zombies, it’s what they do, come back to life is a more believable explanation. One unique thing it brings to zombies is that, since they’re coming back to life because the Earth axis being affected, when they’re killed, blood doesn’t come out. Dirt flows out.

That’s a bit of the on-the-nose commentary you can expect here, but in dialogue it’s usually brought up by Hermit Bob (“the ant colonies are all jacked up like it’s the end of the world.”) By the end of the film, Jarmusch also shoehorns commentary on capitalism as well, the usual staple of George A. Romero’s zombie films.

In this, it’s not subtle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as pretentious as Hermit Bob watching the carnage of the zombie horde from the woods and monologuing about the zombies just being hungry for more stuff and basically recapping the film (“remnants of the materialist people, zombies all along.”)

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Adam Driver in “The Dead Don’t Die.” (IMDb)

I don’t know enough about Jarmusch to know if this is always his level of subtlety, but it’s bizarre. His dry sense of humour is unique but I’m not a fan of it. I like dry humour just fine, but it should be funny. For the most part, the film isn’t funny for me. There are a couple of visual things I liked, like when Ronnie pulls up in a smart car. But there aren’t many laughs at all. The humour is more-so just annoying because it repeats so many jokes.

There’s a recurring thing when the film’s original song “The Dead Don’t Die” by Sturgill Simpson plays. It’s a great song and I thought the film was named after it, because it sounds like an old song, but it’s an original song. Everyone always comments “oh, I love this song.” It’s funny the first time it’s used but when the bit is used about six times, it gets old. Same with when Ronnie says “This isn’t going to end well.” He literally says it seven times by the end of it. It’s played for a pay-off joke near the end which might be amusing to people who like the film.

But it didn’t pay off for me because by that point, I was so bored by the film I didn’t care about anything happening on-screen. It’s just one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen. Nothing really happens. The comedy never worked for me and it’s the least scary zombie film I’ve seen. It’s an honest shame, too, because the cast is filled with a lot of funny people.

Adam Driver and Bill Murray play off each other well enough for what the dialogue allows them to do. Tilda Swinton’s a highlight as a samurai-wielding coroner who is just weird and gets weirder as the film progresses. Chloë Sevigny is totally fine for the first half but the character is just dull. Near the end, she’s whining so much and complaining at everything that happens that I honestly couldn’t wait for her to get eaten by the zombies. Am I a bad person? Probably, but if you’ve seen this, you’ll know what I mean.

Donald Glover and Caleb Landry Jones are fine as their characters who hole up in a hardware store when the zombies descend. The criminally underused include Steve Buscemi and especially Selena Gomez. Her arc isn’t even concluded well. There’s also an arc with three kids at a detention centre that you won’t give two shits about. That’s what “The Dead Don’t Die” is for me, a boring film that I didn’t give two shits about.

Score: 38/100

Tone-Deaf (2019)

Directed by: Richard Bates Jr. Starring: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Kim Delaney. Runtime: 1h 27 min. Released: August 23, 2019.

It feels like in every neighborhood there’s a curmudgeonly old fart sitting in a rocking chair on his porch ranting about something. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” had the Grinch up on Mount Crumpit, shouting down at the Who’s. “Gran Torino” had Clint Eastwood, telling everyone to get off his lawn. “Tone-Deaf” has Harvey (Robert Patrick) who constantly breaks the fourth wall to monologue about how terrible millennials are. Sorry, Mr. T-1000, we don’t mean to be terrible.

Olive (Amanda Crew), a millennial has just broken up with her boyfriend and has just lost her job – she just got fired on a Thursday, before free lunch Friday (!) – so rents a house for a weekend getaway away from the city. The renter is crazy baby-boomer widow Harvey. It sets up an intergenerational clash because Harvey may be a curmudgeonly old asshole and widow, but he’s also a long john wearin’, millennial swearin’ psychopath. He seems like he’s been nutty for awhile but his reason for now wanting to be a psychopath, you ask?

He looks at the screen and says that he’s done everything “but I haven’t killed a person. That’s one itch I haven’t got around to scratching.” I’ve never been on a roller coaster but you don’t see me lining up to go on one. But I also don’t want to, so to each their own, I guess. His motives to kill aren’t strong. The only reasons given are his hate for millennials and the fact that dementia is settling in, but the dementia part is dangerous to use as a motive.

The only thing “Tone-Deaf” has to offer is its generational commentary, as it elevates it above a plain horror film. Even that isn’t very good, though. It’s mostly just hateful monologues from Robert Patrick. He’s introduced poorly to us by asking the screen, “Want to be a conduit of change? Go drink a gallon of bleach… As long as you millennials leave the hard work to my generation, the least you can do is sacrifice yourselves.” His rants and a brief political observation service as the commentary but it’s mean-spirited and not clever. But am I, as a millennial, proving the film’s point for thinking it’s mean-spirited when it’s just tongue-in-cheek commentary?

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Robert Patrick in “Tone-Deaf.” (IMDb)

I’m not sure, I just know I didn’t like this. His rants just feel try-hardy and like he’s listing pet peeves of the writer/director Richard Bates Jr., though “sunglasses are for the outside” is an amusing observation. At one point, Olive the millennial gives us a fourth-wall breaking rant about baby boomers. The film doesn’t work when it’s just shoving its ideas down our throats.

It doesn’t work when it’s being subtle, either, but it feels smarter. The best aspect is a major quirk of Olive’s character and the reasoning for the title. She loves playing the piano but the catch is, she’s terrible. Just tone-deaf (like most of the film). However, she’s a millennial so no one’s ever told her that she’s bad because they don’t want to ruin any of her dreams.

It’s the only interesting thing about her character, or any character, as she’s just a basic, bratty millennial who wants to get away for a weekend. Crew plays it fine, and I’ve liked her since “Sex Drive” but she can’t do much with the dialogue, that’s either just bad or awkward.

They try to add depth to her – but her dad (Ray Wise) killing himself isn’t interesting, nor is Olive’s acid trip talking to him. Sub-plot scenes featuring her mother, Crystal (Kim Delaney), living at a commune and hanging out with a fling (Johnny Pemberton) is more useless than anything.

This doesn’t work as a horror comedy, either. Some of the horror’s more visual and surreal than I’d expect for the simple horror premise and there are some seriously strange scenes, mostly in Harvey’s imagination. The kills aren’t memorable for a slasher film, and a lot of the scares are lazy. There is one scene that builds decent tension, though. There are more laughs than scares, but they’re merely chuckles and the film usually tries way too hard to be funny or the setups are bad. The finale setup is fine and feels like it could be good but then Harvey just goes back to millennial shaming.

Patrick’s performance doesn’t work because the character’s so bad, but he embodies manic and hateful here. But there’s a reason why no one likes that curmudgeonly old guy in the neighborhood. He’s just an asshole and so is Harvey. But unlike the Grinch or Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino,there’s no redemption story here.

Score: 38/100

Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo: Last Blood. Directed by: Adrian Grunberg. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Yvette Monreal, Paz Vega. Runtime: 1h 29 min. Released: September 20, 2019.

Spoiler warning! If you want to know as little as possible about the movie, come read this after you watch it. You’ve been politely warned.

“Rambo: Last Blood” is one heck of a mixed bag. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now living on a horse ranch in Arizona, dealing with old age and PTSD and living with his adopted family; his old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter, Gabriella (Yvette Monreal). Rambo’s like a father figure to her.

The first 20 minutes of the film feels like dull melodrama. Rambo shows off the underground tunnels (truly built for an action-packed finale) on his ranch and bonds while horseback riding with Gabriela. Then, Gabriela says she knows her father is living in Mexico and wants to go see him. Rambo and Maria basically say he’s a schmuck, but she goes anyway.

What happens next is basically the plot of Taken but with Rambo. Rambo immediately goes over the border and learns Gabriela has been kidnapped by a Mexican cartel involved in human trafficking led by the Martinez brothers, Victor (Óscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who are just awfully stereotypical characters.

The scenes in Mexico feel more like melodrama, especially when Gabriela tries to reconnect with her Dad and he says he never cared about her. It’s an odd scene. A journalist in Mexico, Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega) is an ally to Rambo and adds exposition for the cartel. She’s not an interesting character – but besides Rambo, none of the characters are great.

It’s also a shallow story you could tell someone about beat-for-beat in less than two minutes. To make matters worse, the first hour is just entirely boring with only a couple of scenes of brutal violence to keep Rambo fans interested.

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Sylvester Stallone in “Rambo: Last Blood.” (IMDb)

I’ve only seen “First Blood” and the 2008 “Rambo,” but the story is so generic it only feels like a Rambo film in name, not in spirit. Any character could lead this film, but Sylvester Stallone is kick-ass in action scenes and mediocre in dramatic scenes. There’s one decent scene that’s believable in terms of emotion, but most of the other emotional aspects of the film don’t ring true.

Even at a compact 89 minutes, “Last Blood” is slow to get going. It feels slower still because I didn’t care about Gabriela’s arc, and she’s the core drive for Rambo. Their chemistry is okay, but the dialogue trying to get her to stay isn’t very strong. A lot of the dialogue feels awkward overall.

The non-stop action of the story doesn’t come until 70 minutes into the film, when Rambo sets up traps in his tunnels before luring the cartel back to his home in Arizona. The last 20 minutes plays out like an R-rated version of “Home Alone” and it’s bloody awesome. It’s gory and brutal and fun in its cartoonish way. It’s like Looney Tunes, but I love Looney Tunes and “Home Alone.Keep in mind, these scenes are a hard so there are no Macaulay Culkin cameos, here.

The shame about this film is that it’s all build-up to an action-packed finale that only lasts 20 minutes. If I could look at movies just for their finales, this would get a recommendation from me because it’s a decent time if you just like brutal action. There’s just too much crap to get through to honestly make it worth it.

Score: 50/100