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Rating History

Wolves at the Door
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The vicious murder of actress Sharon Tate, her unborn son, and her friends at the hands of sociopath Charles Manson's "family" is one of the most notorious and disturbing crimes to occur in Hollywood. Because of this, it is ingrained in popular culture as much as it is in American criminal history. And herein lies the problem with John R. Leonetti's home invasion chiller.

There is no denying that "Wolves at the Door" is a well-produced film; Michael St. Hilaire's cinematography and Ken Blackwell's taut editing are the picture's strongest points. Also, Leonetti cleverly keeps the villains in shadows, heightening their menace; having spend most of his career as a cinematographer, he is quite competent as a horror director (his previous effort was 2014's "Annabelle"). But some of Leonetti's choices are cringeworthy -- Do we need yet another obvious "lambs to the slaughter" symbol in a horror movie?

The performances, at least, are pretty good, with Elizabeth Henstridge, Adam Campbell, and Miles Fisher particularly solid. Katie Cassidy is less consistent as Ms. Tate, though she does the best with what she has to work with. Where the film suffers most, though, is Gary Dauberman's script, which is more concerned with seat-jumpers than fleshed-out characters.

Because of this, the film feels nothing short of exploitative. Whether you know the story and its real-life principal players well or not, minimal time is given for the young inevitable victims to develop. And while a strong focus on characters are not often the priority for slasher filmmakers, there is an inherent and unavoidable duty of care when presenting a true story. However, the team not only disregards this but are so content to blatantly remove themselves from presenting an accurate recreation of events, that "Wolves at the Door" not only feels disrespectful but down-right disgusting.

The folks at New Line Cinema, whose success is very much owed to the horror genre, should have known better.

It
It (2017)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

The second adaptation of Stephen King's novel was heavily promoted in 2017. The marketing campaign received a mixed reaction from those who grew up terrified of the 1990 miniseries and those who would be exposed to the sadistic, child-devouring Pennywise for the first time. 'IT' had well and truly arrived.

Whether you are a fan of the novel or original adaptation, there is no denying that Andy Muschietti's vision has resulted in what has to be one of the most skillfully constructed, aesthetically stunning horror films produced in the twenty-first century. Chung-hoon Chung's exquisite cinematography gives the viewer a sense of place, from the darkened interiors to the bright small town landscapes; hillsides and rivers are a stark contrast to sewerage tunnels and dilapidated houses.

Furthermore, our Loser protagonists are perfectly cast. Some have extensive screen time and are fleshed out more so than others, but the young cast work well together with strong, natural rapport. Sophia Lillis possesses a gutsy spark as Bev, contrasted quite nicely by Jaeden Lieberher's subtle hero and love interest Bill. Jeremy Ray Taylor does a fine job as new kid Ben while Jack Dylan Grazer steals the show as hypochondriac Eddie. Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, and Chosen Jacobs round out the Losers competently, each with their own backstories and quirks. Nicholas Hamilton is ruthlessly on-point as lead town bully Henry, whose sociopathic intensity would have pushed believability in any other director's hands. Muschietti handles his cast well; most of the adults here are incredibly grotesque, heightening the pressure on the youngsters, who really only have one another. But every character archetype is essentially represented, so there is someone to relate to, cheer on, or boo.

The success of the 'IT', however, rests on the shoulders of the villain. As the malevolent force at the centre of the story, the perfectly cast Bill Skarsgård is flawlessly creepy. His portrayal of the barbarous Pennywise is literally the subject of nightmares, not allowing make-up, costuming, or special effects to do the work, Skarsgård cements himself as one of the greatest movie monsters of all time.

'IT' focuses on the first half of the narrative and this is the film's strength. The element of danger always feels higher when the heroes are innocents, so it remains to be seen if the second chapter in this creepy caper can be as involving. But in the meantime, immerse yourself in 'IT'... and don't float too far away.

Orca - The Killer Whale
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The first in a slew of major productions to rip off Steve Spielberg's 'Jaws' (1975), 'Orca' falls short in every department. As its own production and without comparison to history-making masterpieces, however, Michael Anderson's creature feature is a generally entertaining affair.

The film is quick to get straight into the action. And while the continuity of the footage used (natural stock versus artificial "movie magic") is questionable thanks to the differing colour of the water, some nifty camera work and editing make the opening sequences relatively compelling. The first act climaxes with our titular mammal's motivation; the unsettling miscarriage and disposal of his child, followed by the suicide of his mate.

In order to keep things as believable as possible, the story involves scientists and experts providing plenty of information relating to killer whales and therefore predicting and justifying the very concept of the film. However, it does not all quite come together. The main reason is that, even in creature features, it is the people that matter most. Richard Harris's Captain Nolan is too unlikeable to be accessible; his aggressiveness is too prominent, too early on in the piece that the eventual revelation of his empathy for the avenging orca is diluted. Additionally, 'Orca''s story structure may begin with an effective hook, but fails to maintain it with two-dimensional archetypes, an inconsistent pace, and Carol Connors's atrocious ballad 'My Love, We Are One' to round it all off.

But do not be overwhelmed by the film's shortcomings. Even though 'Orca' tries hard and fails to achieve what it sets out to, what it does offer still has some value. Taken in the right spirit, the film can be either fun or tragic. The action works incredibly well and the whale is believable enough to keep the audience invested in its plight. It is also the most likeable and fascinating character here.

Upon initial release, this cult classic was torn to pieces by the critics and saw modest box office returns. Admittedly, 'Orca' is perhaps best enjoyed with a cold beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other.

Creed
Creed (2015)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

The seventh film in the 'Rocky' franchise continues the welcome balance of interpersonal engagement amongst its characters and 'in the ring' action that was brought back to the series in 'Rocky Balboa' (2006). As the youngest son of the late heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers in 'Rocky I' - 'Rocky IV'), Michael B. Jordan is absolutely solid. Commanding attention whilst sharing the screen with Sylvester Stallone is no easy task, but Jordan's Adonis Johnson Creed is as the best protagonists are - both sensitive and masculine, charming and flawed. The film is by no means a stretch from the formula, despite the focus on a different character this time around, but it is intensely captivating and thoroughly entertaining. Lovely supporting turns from Tessa Thompson and an underused Phylicia Rashad add heart and reiteration that the beloved 'Rocky' franchise is not only maneuvering in the right direction, but has many rounds left to fight. Unsurprisingly, the fine score and nicely shot boxing sequences complete the package.

The Cat Returns
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

A beautifully made and consistently enchanting fable which sparkles with wonderful colour and whimsical characters. A delight for viewers of all ages.