X Review

We’re used to the virgin in slasher movies. It’s typically a she and she’s usually the one that survives. Ti West’s homage  to that genre and other ones has a little demented fun with that character. There’s not a virgin to be found in X, but there’s one who loses her porn flick virginity.

A prologue clues us in that we’ll see a significant body count in what follows. Set in rural Texas circa 1979, a troupe of six travels to a farmhouse to shoot an adult film. The director RJ (Owen Campbell) fancies it to be a cut above the rest of them (they always do in these pics). His girlfriend Lorraine  (Jenna Ortega) is part of the skeleton crew who isn’t thrilled to be on the shoot. On the flip side, Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and her bf Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi) are proud to be starring in the feature titled The Farmer’s Daughters. Mia Goth is Maxine, coke addled and desperate to be a star. She’s dating Wayne (Martin Henderson), executive producer of the big show.

The aforementioned farmhouse is owned by elderly couple Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (played by Goth in heavy old age makeup). With a revivalist evangelical TV program playing on their set, we rightly assume they aren’t fully aware of what kind of shenanigans their guests are filming.  A slow build leads us to discover plenty of secrets about the couple.

is most obviously  a sadistic love letter to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre though it telegraphs other influences. It even mentions 1960’s Psycho and how it became a different picture at midpoint. The same can be said here as the one day shoot is completed before a violent night rolls along. Halloween and The Shining get their due as do the cheapie grindhouse and skin flicks of the era it’s set in.

Where deviates a little from the formula is its occasional rumination on aging. Pearl, in particular, is reminded of what she’s lost in her elder state by the youngsters on her property. Her reaction won’t win her (or the script) any acclaim from the AARP. It does, however, give this a slightly unexpected and intriguing dimension.

My reaction was mixed overall. I found the lighting to be almost too dark at times. That said, there’s one scene in particular (you’ll know) where you’ll be glad it is. While is well-made and sometimes clever, its biggest fault is a common one for more high minded horror titles. I didn’t find it overly frightening. Furthermore, for a sendup of a brand where the killings are often violently creative – that’s in surprisingly short supply. The most passionate genre disciples will surely sing X‘s praises. I found myself somewhat less devoted.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: The Black Phone

After helming critically appreciated genre titles The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister (as well as the first Doctor Strange), Scott Derrickson is back in the horror lane this weekend with The Black Phone. Based on a short story by Joe Hill, the supernatural tale began garnering solid buzz when it premiered at Fantastic Fest last fall. Ethan Hawke is the most recognizable name in a cast that includes Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.

Scary movies always face an uphill battle for awards attention. Despite its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, I don’t foresee Phone dialing up a Best Picture nod. On the other hand, particular acclaim has been afforded to its young costars Thames and McGraw. In order for them to grab any buzz in the supporting fields, the film’s box office reception would need to be fantastic. While I’ve got it performing well, I am not envisioning it reaching that kind of level. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

The Black Phone Box Office Prediction

After ringing up lots of positive reception last fall at Fantastic Fest, the supernatural horror pic The Black Phone arrives in theaters June 24th. Based on a short story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), Scott Derrickson directs. His biggest blockbuster is 2016’s Doctor Strange, but he’s a veteran of the genre including helming The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. His lead from the latter – Ethan Hawke – stars as a serial killer. Costars include Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.

In September 2021, Phone garnered serious buzz at the Austin fest. While some reviewers nitpicked pacing issues, the Rotten Tomatoes score is 100% with particular praise for its young performers Thames and McGraw. With a reported budget of under $20 million, this should be another profitable venture for Blumhouse. That production company is used to turning a tidy profit for many of their titles.

During the COVID era, frightening tales were generally immune from negative box office effects. I would look for Phone to earn its price tag back during the first weekend.

The Black Phone opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million

For my Elvis prediction, click here:

Elvis Box Office Prediction

Men Box Office Prediction

Men is a later than usual addition to my box office predictions as it opens in just two days. This is Alex Garland’s latest feature after his acclaimed sci-fi pics Ex Machina (2015) and Annihilation (2018). More of a horror experience than his usual fare, the A24 distributed tale currently holds an 82% Rotten Tomatoes score. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear star.

While that’s certainly solid, some critics have predicted that this won’t be an audience favorite. The best hope might be for a decent start as a hefty sophomore weekend drop is likely coming. It sounds as if it’s going quite wide at an estimated 2500 screens (something I wasn’t aware of until this late date). I could see Men debuting in the same range as from the same studio. It grossed just over $4 million and that sounds about right here.

Men opening weekend prediction: $4.1 million

For my Downton Abbey: A New Era prediction, click here:

Downton Abbey: A New Era Box Office Prediction

 

Oscar Predictions: Men

In 2015, Alex Garland nabbed an Original Screenplay Oscar nod for his directorial debut Ex Machina. That acclaimed sci-fi tale also surprisingly took the gold in Visual Effects over heavy hitters like Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

His 2018 follow-up Annihilation didn’t fare as well at multiplexes or with awards voters. Despite an 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating (Machina got a 92%), it failed to generate any nominations.

On February 20th comes Garland’s third behind the camera effort Men. Featuring Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, the A24 release sounds like it’s right up the distributor’s dark alley. That means it may score better with critics than crowds. The RT is currently the filmmaker’s lowest at 83% (still pretty darn solid). Like Annihilation, don’t expect it to be in the Academy mix. My Oscar prediction posts will continue…

Firestarter Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Update (05/12): Revising my prediction down to $6.5 million

Based on Stephen King’s 1980 novel and a reworking of the 1984 film adaptation starring a young Drew Barrymore, Firestarter hopes to heat up multiplexes on Friday the 13th. Ryan Kiera Armstrong fills Barrymore’s original role as a pyrokinetic kid with Zac Efron, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, and Gloria Reuben among the cast. Keith Thomas directs.

Coming from the Blumhouse label which has produced plenty of horror hits, this will be released simultaneously in theaters and on Peacock, which is still finding its way in the streaming universe. The first Firestarter 38 years ago was not a hot property at the box office as it grossed $17 million. It’s also fair to say that it isn’t considered a genre classic like other King penned cinematic properties.

Horror pics are dangerous to underestimate, but my hunch is that Firestarter may not reach $13 million. The worst case scenario could be a start in the high double digits, but I’ll say it gets a bit beyond that.

Firestarter opening weekend prediction: $6.5 million

For my Downton Abbey: A New Era prediction, click here:

Downton Abbey: A New Era Box Office Prediction

X Box Office Prediction

Set in 1979 and melding the genres of horror with adult filmmaking, Ti West’s is slated for spots in over 2000 theaters this weekend. The slasher pic (which premiered at South by Southwest days ago) stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega (just coming off Scream), Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi).

Reviews are sharp with a current 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. That said, I do believe its box office potential is limited. Unlike most recent horror titles, it’s not a sequel/remake/prequel/requel. While A24 materials often receives acclaim, they can struggle at multiplexes.

Despite the hefty screen count, I’ll project this struggles to reach $3 million.

opening weekend prediction: $2.9 million

For my Jujutsu Kaisen 0 prediction, click here:

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 Box Office Prediction

For my The Outfit prediction, click here:

The Outfit Box Office Prediction

Scream (2022) Review

Landline phones are looked upon by the new kids of Scream like they’re phonographs, but some things never change with this fourth sequel to the 1996 original. Unlike other horror franchises, I would say there hasn’t been a bad Scream follow-up nor has one come close to approaching the quality of the first. My reception for parts II-IV are fairly similar – passably entertaining and ultimately forgettable. Part V – call it Scream if you want but it’s Scream 5 – is no different and a tad more underwhelming since its new characters add little.

When the ’96 version of Scream came out, Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson deftly satirized the slasher genre while also making a scary movie. It’s why Scary Movie four years later didn’t work for me – it was trying to parody something that had already cleverly done it. The rest of the Scream efforts have struggled with the mix as it continually invents new family connections to reveal new Ghostface killers.

In this Scream, Sam (Melissa Barrera) fled the town of Woodsboro five years ago. She makes a hasty return when her high school age sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked by the now iconic villain. With Sam’s boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) and Tara’s student clique as potential suspects, we soon see familiar faces besides Ghostface. Dewey (David Arquette) is divorced from Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and no longer the sheriff in town. He reluctantly accepts Sam’s offer to get involved. Sidney (Neve Campbell) has no desire for a hometown return but we know that won’t last.

Sam’s genealogy allows for some slightly more surprising cameos as we try to deduce who the killer(s) are this time around. Some of Tara’s schoolmates fill the Scream bingo card. There’s the Jock, the Movie Buff, and the Virgin. Some of the roles are given a modern update (one of the guys is given the potentially fatal shower scene).

Of course, these characters talk endlessly about sequels and reboots and “requels”. This was a pretty fresh concept a quarter century ago (even if Craven had mined similar territory in New Nightmare). Now there’s precious little more meta to mine. Like the sequels, there’s also the fact that this Scream just isn’t a very scary movie.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett take over the reigns as Craven passed in 2015. They clearly have reverence for the series and especially part one. That’s understandable. So did the other ones. Some of them landed their plot points with more precision (Scream 4 managed to have a decent killer reveal and fun third act). All of them were duller cuts and this one strains to properly explain its reason for being despite endless attempts.

** (out of four)

Studio 666 Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Update (02/23): A higher than expected theater count of just over 2300 screens has been announced. However, I’m not upping my estimate by too much – $1.4 million to $2.1 million.

Dave Grohl and his bandmates take a break from fighting foo to battle evil spirits in Studio 666 this Friday. The comedic horror tale comes from an idea hatched by the Foo Fighters frontman (its existence wasn’t even known until November of last year). B.J. McDonnell directs and the supporting cast (apart from the recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers) includes Whitney Cummings, Leslie Grossman, Will Forte, Jenna Ortega, and Jeff Garlin.

Distributed by Open Road, I’ve yet to see a reliable theater count for 666 (my forecast could change when I do). While the film’s leads are certainly popular onstage, I question how many of their fans will rush to see them in this. Early reviews are solid with an 83% Rotten Tomatoes score.

This might be the type of project that gets noticed when it’s available for streaming. As far as multiplex business, I’ll project it scares up less than $2 million.

Studio 666 opening weekend prediction: $2.1 million

For my Cyrano prediction, click here:

Cyrano Box Office Prediction

Lamb Review

In cartoons and comedies, we’ve grown accustomed to watching animals with human qualities and it doesn’t phase us one bit. Same goes for horror movies and it’s usually played for laughs or with cartoonish violence. That is surely not the vibe of Valdamir Johannson’s fable Lamb, which treats its baby sheep and real baby hybrid with total tonal sincerity. It’s not the first movie to do it (though not with that combo). It’s jarring nonetheless.

Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guonason) are remote farmers who tend to their flock amidst the scenic mountains of Iceland. Their rather mundane days are given a jolt when the couple deliver a creature with anthropoid qualities.

The blended family scenario provides immediate joy to the parents who suffered a previous tragedy in their conception attempts. A disconcerting aspect of the screenplay is how normally their situation is treated. That’s until Ingvar’s deadbeat brother Pétur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) drops in and his reaction mirrors the WTFery of the viewer.

While Maria and Ingvar stubbornly adhere to maintaining the new routine, Ada (and the dog) sense an outside presence lurking. Mom and Dad aren’t questioning how this mythical being came to be. The animal instincts of others are on alert.

A24 specializes in artsy horror flicks though I struggle to say Lamb is of that genre. It’s not scary. Eerie, including its picturesque though foreboding atmosphere, is a better word for it. This is prime example of either buying the concept or wanting to run for the hills. For a while, I was intrigued by its bizarre nature. Rapace’s committed performance (I’m tempted to say she really has the chops) helps.

When some of the mysteries are clarified in the third act, it felt a bit sudden and anticlimactic. The presentation is certainly unique but the overriding theme of grief is recognizable. That’s not to say there aren’t genuine surprises that occur. The shock value seems a little diluted after watching this sweater clad wooly oddity assisting with breakfast.

**1/2 (out of four)