Thursday, October 8, 2020

Capsule Reviews - 2020 Horror Movies

This week, I review five movies that went into wide release in the U.S. in 2020

1. Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest (2020)

The story that drives this Russian horror film is similar to that of another 2020 release, The Wretched. Egor (Oleg Chugonov) and his family: father Alexsy (Aleksey Rozin), stepmother Yullya (Maryana Spivak) and baby sister Varya, have just moved to a new neighborhood. To help his wife adapt to the unfamiliar surroundings, Alexsy hires Tatyana (Svetlana Ustinova), a nanny, to watch over Varya. But there’s something unusual about this nanny, and when Varya disappears without a trace, Egor is shocked to discover his parents no longer remember his baby sister! With the help of new friends Dasha (Giafira Golubeva) and Anton (Artyom Zhigulin), Egor attempts to find Varya, who, it turns out, has been abducted by an ancient witch that goes by the name… Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest features some effective early scares (the best of which involves a nanny cam), and the young performers, led by Chugonov, do a fine job handling the bulk of the workload. That said, the movie does occasionally give off an It: Chapter One vibe (especially when Egor and his pals descend into an alternate reality to battle Baba Yaga), and like many low-budget films, the computer imagery is its weakest aspect (it’s especially distracting in the final scenes). Fortunately, the strengths of Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest outweigh its weaknesses, and more often than not this one delivers the goods.
Rating: 7 out of 10

2. The Deeper You Dig (2019)

There was so much about The Deeper You Dig that impressed me, so much of it that worked, that it made those portions that didn’t work all the more frustrating. A tragic accident involving a 14-year-old girl (Zelda Adams) blurs the line between life and death for both the girl’s mother (Toby Poser) and a lonely stranger (John Adams).Written and directed by stars Poser and John Adams, The Deeper You Dig gets off to a great start; the introduction of its characters, the wintry setting, the event that sets the story in motion, all handled perfectly. I also loved how the movie utilized sound (even in those scenes where it was a bit of a distraction), and the main cast (including young Zelda Adams) delivers strong performances. Where the movie started to lose me was the way it approached its supernatural elements, some of which were occasionally intriguing (the mother’s journey into the seven circles resulted in a few cool scenes, but not enough to justify the subplot entirely) and others that were downright disappointing (especially the spectral visitations). Still, I would not discourage anyone from watching The Deeper You Dig; there’s a lot going on here, and even those moments that fell short for me were, at the very least, unique. And if you do check this movie out, be sure to let me know what you think of it; whether you love it or hate it, The Deeper You Dig is one you’re going to want to talk about!
Rating: 6 out of 10

3. The Dinner Party (2020)

How do you take a nearly two hour, dialogue heavy horror film and keep an audience’s interest throughout? You cast it well, which is exactly what director Miles Doleac has done with The Dinner Party. Jeff (Mike Mayhall), a playwright, and his wife Haley (Alli Hart) are the guests of honor at a dinner party thrown by several influential socialites, including Doctor Carmine (Bill Sage); opera aficionado Sebastian (Sawandi Wilson); best-selling author Agatha (Kamille McCuin); and investment banker Vincent (played by director Doleac). It’s Jeff’s hope that, by evening’s end, his hosts will have agreed to bankroll his newest play, but as he and his wife will soon discover, there’s more on the menu at this particular party than just wine and caviar. The Dinner Party is smartly written (the work of Doleac and his co-writer Michael Donovan Horn), but it’s the performances that really blew me away. Along with those mentioned above, Lindsey Anne Williams plays Sadie, a spiritualist, and Ritchie Montgomery has a brief but memorable role as a police deputy. In their more than capable hands, these performers deliver extended monologues about art, classical music, and opera in such a way that we’re hanging on their every word. The story itself is also good (though we realize before they do that Jeff and Haley are more than just dinner guests), but it’s the cast that makes this one memorable.
Rating: 8 out of 10

4. The Other Lamb (2019)

A cult-themed horror / drama directed by Malgorzata Szumowska, The Other Lamb tells the story of Selah (Raffey Cassidy), a teenage girl who has spent her entire life following the Shepherd (Michael Huisman), the only man in a commune of women and the self-appointed leader of his “flock”. Fast approaching the age of adulthood, at which point she will become one of the Shepherd’s wives, Selah finds her “faith” in the Shepherd waning, and feels more like a prisoner than one of his beloved followers. Cassidy, who also appeared in 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer and 2018’s Vox Lux, delivers a magnificent performance as the confused young girl on the verge of becoming a woman. In addition, The Other Lamb is beautifully shot; cinematographer Michal Englert did a masterful job behind the camera (one scene in particular, where Selah is resting on top of a hill, took my breath away). Alas, The Other Lamb is a movie that approaches very dark subject matter, including male dominance and sexual abuse, yet spends most of its runtime dancing around them, rarely tackling these themes head-on. Though gorgeous, The Other Lamb is a slow burn-style horror film that never drives its point home as strongly as it should.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

5. The Soul Collector (2019)

A horror film steeped in folklore, The Soul Collector (Originally titled 8) takes a fresh approach to the subject of grief, and how the loss of a loved one can drive a man to do the unthinkable. The year is 1977. Her parents deceased, Mary (Keita Luna) now lives with her Uncle William (Garth Breytenbach) and Aunt Sarah (Inge Beckmann), who recently moved into a farmhouse that William inherited from his father. While exploring the nearby woods, Mary meets Lazarus (Thsamano Sebe), a wanderer who volunteers to help William work the farm. But Lazarus is hiding a terrible secret, one that might ultimately put young Mary in the greatest of danger. Shot on-location in South Africa and inspired by a Zulu legend, The Soul Collector tells a harrowing tale of demons, death, and the eternal soul, weaving all of these elements together in a way that is entirely satisfying. As played by Sebe, Lazarus is both hero and villain, a generally decent man who has made a pact with an entity that demands fresh souls, and it’s the battle between good and evil inside of him that gives the movie its energy. If you’re in the mood for a unique spin on horror, look no further than The Soul Collector.
Rating: 8 out of 10

1 comment:

PooBahSpiel said...

Please keep these reviews coming.