New Movies for Halloween Weekend
It is Halloween weekend, ghouls and boils! And it’s entirely unsafe to party! So don’t. Just stay in and watch some scary movies. There’s a ton, and even some new ones, fresh-roasted for this weekend. Here are some thoughts.
The True Adventures of Wolfboy
Available on VOD.
by George Wolf (no relation)
Have many Young Adult films carried a theme of self-acceptance? Plenty, but that’s not a problem.
It’s delivering that message via the same tired playbook that gets old, which is just one of the reasons The True Adventures of Wolfboy lands as a charming and completely captivating tale of a truly special teen.
And director Martin Krejci makes sure it feels like a tale in so many magical ways, starting with the beautifully ornate title cards separating each chapter in the journey of a lonely and self-loathing boy on his 13th birthday.
Paul (Jaeden Martell) suffers from hypertrichosis – an extremely rare affliction causing abnormal hair growth all over his face and body. He covers his face with a ski mask most of the time, but his father (Chris Messina) gently urges him to put the mask aside and accept the taunts of “dogboy!” with dignity.
Paul’s mother has been gone since he was born, but when a strange birthday gift delivers a map and a promise of explanations, Paul runs away to answer the invitation and get some answers from Mom (Chloë Sevigny).
Krejci crafts Paul’s journey from dog to wolf as an epic odyssey of self-discovery. From Pinnochio-like exploitation in a sideshow run by Mr. Silk (John Turturro, also a producer), to joining the eyepatch-wearing Rose (Eve Hewson) for a string of petty holdups, Paul’s world – and his world view – expands quickly.
But it is the effervescent teen Aristiana (transgender actress Sophie Giannamore) that most triggers Paul’s awakening. She hates the short “boy” haircut her mother insists on, while Paul is ashamed of how much hair he has. Her mother calls her Kevin, his mother doesn’t call at all.
Similarly, Martell delivers true tenderness and longing behind Mark Garbarino’s impressive makeup, while Giannamore is a heartwarming example of defiant positivity. Both actors and their characters bond quickly, and screenwriter Olivia Dufault (also transgender) finds a power that eludes so many YA dramas via the subtle genius of writing Aristiana as a secondary catalyst.
We already feel for Paul, so Aristiana’s effect on his self image is something we feel without being told. The point is made organically, with wit and wisdom, and much more resonance. What Paul finds at the end of his journey is sweet, but just gravy.
Wolfboy is the rare teen drama that speaks without condescension, and entertains without calculation.
That’s welcome, special even.
by Hope Madden
Spell is here to let you know that fear of backwoods folk is not for white people only.
Omari Hardwick is Marquis, an enormously successful corporate lawyer who is not above defending clients against class action lawsuits that would primarily benefit people of color like himself. Why does he do it? Because that’s his job, he’s good at his job, he makes a lot of money, and he worked very hard to get where he is.
How do we know that last bit? Well, nightmares about abuse wake him in the morning, plus he knows how to pick a lock when his wife somehow locks herself in her own bedroom. Marquis came from somewhere he’s not proud of, and now he has to pilot his own airplane with his wife and two teens back to Appalachia to go to his father’s funeral.
Spell is a by-the-numbers backwoods thriller. Our hero has forgotten where he comes from. This film plans to scare him into remembering.
Marquis wakes up all James Caan style in the bedroom of some helpful but controlling woman who wants him just to rest. He does not not want to rest, though. Quite reasonably, he wants to know where his family is, what happened to him, and why Miss Eloise (Loretta Devine) keeps the door to his room locked.
Deep in Appalachia, it seems, you will always find a creepy granny type who conjures a bit, an amiable grandpa type who’s not as nice as he seems, and an extra-large, extra quiet Jethro kind of guy in bib overalls.
Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer doesn’t drum up too many surprises there. His screenplay borrows heavily from about a dozen films from Misery to The Skeleton Key to Green Inferno, not to mention every flick where a group stops off at a creepy gas station only to realize they’ve gone too far off the map for their own safety.
Wimmer is white, though, which makes this particular story an unusual one for him. Director Mark Tonderai does not get a screenwriting credit, so I guess we assume that this vernacular sprung from the head of Wimmer. I really hope not. It would be problematic enough coming from a Black writer.
Marquis’ foot, though. For gore hounds and the squeamish looking for a nasty thrill, that foot alone is almost worth it.
Until the third act. I am not one to suggest that ambiguity equals plot holes. I like movies that leave questions unanswered. Unless those questions are: Where did the entire cast of villains go off to, leaving the hero all the time in the world to travel wherever he needs to go in these woods? And why isn’t he even limping?
The Craft: Legacy
Available on VOD.
by Hope Madden
Does The Craft: Legacy miss the Goth Goddess vibe that only Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk) can bring to a teen horror about high school witchcraft?
Of course it does. All movies do. I can name very few films that would not benefit from at least a touch of Nancy Downs’s magic, although this one does seem to ache for it. Still, writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones does an admirable job of updating the angst, limiting the cattiness, and creating a coven worthy of the best weirdos.
The sequel of the 1996 cult classic drops into modern day suburbia with adorable little outcast Lily (Cailee Spaeny) and her mom (Michelle Monaghan). Mom is moving in with beau Adam (David Duchovny) and his three teenage sons, so Lily is trying to be supportive.
And then, it’s the first day of high school in a brand new school, which is, itself, the worst day of anyone’s life, right? No. This really becomes the worst day—THE WORST—until Lily is rescued by three new friends.
They like her even before they realize that she’s the witch they’ve been waiting for to fill out their coven. Yay!
Lister-Jones creates an atmosphere far more fun and accepting than the one you’ll find in the ’96 original. Written and directed by men (Peter Filardi and Andrew Fleming), The Craft created a sisterhood only to have it destroy itself from within.
In the sequel, girls are told that their difference makes them powerful and only villains seek to control a girl’s power for her.
The result is a lot of fun, although it’s also a film that loses track of its purpose pretty quickly. The stakes never feel especially high, and most of the real drama and peril aren’t introduced until halfway through the film, giving them a tacked on quality. It’s as if Lister-Jones really loved hanging out with these kids and then realized at the last minute she was going to have to give them something to do.
So it’s uneven. Characters are fun and performances are strong. Nicholas Galitzine is especially delightful in what amounts to a dual role. He’s equally convincing in each. Lovie Simone, Zoey Luna and Gideon Adlon round out the coven, and they are as adorable as Lily.
They just really need more to do.
Train to Busan: Peninsula
Available on VOD.
by Hope Madden
Back in 2016, filmmaker Sang-ho Yeon made the most thrilling zombie film since 28 Days Later. Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, always exciting and at least once a heartbreaker, Train to Busan succeeded on every front.
You can’t chalk it up to newness, either. Busan was actually a sequel to Yeon’s fascinating animated take on Korea’s zombie infestation, Seoul Station. So the guy was two for two in gripping zombie thrills.
Can he make it a hat trick?
Train to Busan: Peninsula begins on that same fateful day that South Korea falls to the zombipocalypse. Those fleeing Korea by ship are turned around for fear of global contamination, so all survivors descend upon Hong Kong. Four years later, the city’s overrun, survivors are living in poverty, and a rag-tag bunch is so desperate, they’re willing to go back to the Korean peninsula to pull a job that will make them rich.
But if Hong Kong looks bad, wait til they see what’s happened since they left the peninsula.
Things feel much more borrowed this time around. Peninsula plays like a mash up of Friedkin’s 1977 adventure Sorcerer (or Clouzot’s 1953 Wages of Fear) and the fourth in George Romero’s line of zombie adventures, 2005’s Land of the Dead. There’s also a little Dawn of the Dead, plus one scene lifted wholesale from 28 Days Later. And you cannot miss a great deal of a great number of Mad Max flicks.
Both the claustrophobia and the relentless forward momentum of the 2016 film are gone, replaced with tactical maneuvering around a fairly stagey looking city scape and military compound. And while you have to believe Yeon had a bigger budget to work with based on the success of his previous effort, Peninsula’s zombie effects are weaker here.
That’s not to say the film is bad, just a letdown. Dong-Won Gang makes for a serviceable quietly haunted hero. Scrappy Re Lee and adorable Ye-Won Lee infuse the film with vibrance and fun, and both Gyo-hwan Koo and Min-Jae Kim create respectably reprehensible villains. (Although the high water mark in zombie villainy was reached with Train to Busan.)
The story is tight, if highly borrowed, and the action scenes are plentiful. Compare it with nearly every other zombie film to come out in the last two decades and it’s a creepy way to spend a couple of hours. Compare it to Yeon’s last two movies, though, and it comes up lacking.
May the Devil Take You Too
Streaming on Shudder.
by Hope Madden
Alfie (Chelsea Islan) is a badass survivor. You can tell because she’s really mean to everyone and she and others repeatedly mention the ordeal she’s already survived.
One problem: if you haven’t seen writer/director Timo Tjahjanto’s 2018 film May the Devil Take You—and you probably haven’t—you’ll need to take this film at its word. May the Devil Take You Too (also called May the Devil Take You: Chapter Two) revisits the hero of that little known Indonesian film two years after the incidents you likely don’t know about.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you totally know all about Alfie, young Nara (Hadijah Shahab) and some kind of demonic parenting issues. If you haven’t seen the original—and I haven’t, by the way—you should probably still be able to make heads or tails of this sequel’s story. More or less. Kind of.
So here’s the skinny. Meanie-pants Alfie, badass survivor, and young Nara find themselves the involuntary guests of seven foster siblings. Like Alfie, the group has some diabolical paternal concerns. It’s never at all clear why they think Alfie could help them, why Nara had to come, or why the whole thing is staged as a kidnapping.
The point is, best not to look closely at the details.
The filmmaker has his own take on religious ritual, possession and afterlife horror, although he is unafraid to wear his American influences on his sleeve. Evil Dead references are a lot less fun when delivered so humorlessly, though. (You may also detect several Nightmare on Elm Street references, and just a touch of Constantine.)
Chapter Two does a lot with a limited budget, relying mainly old fashioned practical effects and makeup for scares—with frequently decent outcomes. There is some grisly fun to be had in Tjahjanto’s nightmare funhouse.
The filmmaker’s strength is certainly more in staging and effects than it is in writing, however. Contrived and often counter intuitive, the plot is little more than an opportunity to string together kills and the dialog is weak. Not one character makes natural decisions— mainly they stand around in a group looking shocked and screaming each other’s names while something happens.
But once it gets going, Chapter Two is pretty relentless with the bloody action. That’s probably not reason enough to see it, unless you’re a huge fan of the original. Maybe that one was good.