Pearl Review

Every place other than home is where our demented dreamer wants to be in Pearl, Ti West’s prequel to X. Whereas the predecessor was set in 1979 and paid loving homage to the grime of 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this basks in the glow of The Wizard of Oz and other Golden Age works. Shot in New Zealand back to back, X and Pearl are vastly different experiences. They do share a setting where unspeakable gore occurs.

They also share Mia Goth. Unlike in X, she inhabits the screen from open to close. You will recall her from X as the elderly tormentor of a porn flick crew shooting on her property (Goth also played a drug addled starlet from the one day shoot that ends prematurely). As just Pearl here, we see her in 1918. The Great War is raging and that’s where her husband Howard is. She’s young, vibrant, and fantasizes of being a starlet herself. Pearl resides at the farm with her no nonsense German speaking mom (Tandi Wright) and sickly father (Matthew Sunderland). Her dreams of becoming a chorus girl are played out in the barn in front of the animals and their little bleating hearts.

We know from X that Pearl’s psychological issues are likely to kick into high gear. West and Goth (who cowrote the screenplay) still manage to take us in unexpected and stimulating directions. When Pearl meets a bohemian projectionist (David Corenswet) working at the local cinema, it arouses her desire to not be in Kansas anymore. **Side note: I don’t believe this is actually set in Kansas, but it could be with all those cornrows.

While Mom vehemently disapproves, Pearl hears of an audition opportunity to join a traveling troupe. We arrive there following family squabbles that lead our title character to see her dance tryout as her only means of escape. X was an ensemble piece. Pearl is a Goth show and she wows. From that aforementioned audition to a dinner table confession with her sister-in-law (Emma Jenkins-Purro, looking as petrified as the audience), this is perhaps the trippiest lead horror performance since Toni Collette’s in fellow A24 fright fest Hereditary. You don’t wanna take your eyes off her, including during the closing credits.

While X and Pearl do indeed share that farmland, I found the latter to be more rewarding overall. The director and lead are having a ball as they inject some darkness into the Technicolor brightness. It usually feels like they are giving the best of what they have.

***1/2 (out of four)

Bodies Bodies Bodies Review

The rich, entitled, and woke characters in Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies don’t need to be likable and they certainly aren’t. They do need interesting dialogue and a compelling or frightening storyline to work with. That happens too rarely in this monotonous satiric slasher with its takedown of the elite class.

Drinking, pills, and hard drugs are on the menu at the mansion of David (Pete Davidson) as a hurricane is about to supply its own blow. Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) is a childhood friend with a similar silver spoon upbringing. She brings her Eastern European partner Bee (Maria Bakalova, recently an Oscar nominee for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) to the rainy day soiree. Others RSVP’d are David’s actress girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) and her older beau Greg who’s also a vet (Lee Pace), and Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), who may share a romantic past with Sophie.

Previous substance abuse keeps Sophie from partaking in the fun but the others get their buzzkills when murders dampen the festivities. The first body pops up during the title game and more follow. As the count increases, we discover what the screenplay from Sarah DeLappe is really getting at. Even as lives are brutally lost, the partygoers manage to make the bloodshed somehow about them. You suspect that the suspects are mentally taking notes on how they’ll Instagram or Tik Tok the trauma. Let’s call it Keeping Up with the Carnage to bring in a reference to Mr. Davidson’s ex.

Unfortunately the screenplay strains mightily to make them anything more than blank caricatures. Not enough witty lines make the cut. Sennott’s Alice has the most potential. Maybe she should’ve been granted more material. Bakalova, so winning alongside Sacha Baron Cohen, is lost in a bore of a part. There’s a clever if familiar tale trying to break out in Bodies Bodies Bodies. My post mortem concludes that it mostly fails.

** (out of four)

Prey for the Devil Box Office Prediction

Director Daniel Stamm is no stranger to the demonic possession genre as he made The Last Exorcism in 2010. It made just beyond $20 million over a decade ago for its start and spawned a sequel. Lionsgate would thank the heavens for that kind of dough on October 28th with Prey for the Devil, Stamm’s latest. The PG-13 exorcism tale stars Jacqueline Byers as a nun investigating an evil influence. The supporting cast includes Colin Salmon, Christian Navarro, Lisa Palfrey, Virginia Madsen, and the late Ben Cross.

The Halloween weekend is actually not a fertile ground to open new product – scary or otherwise. There have only been three movies that debuted to $20 million or more in the spooky frame: Saw 3D in 2010 ($24 million), Michael Jackson’s This Is It in 2009 ($23 million), and 2004’s Ray ($20 million). In fact, just seven features have topped $10 million.

Another factor not in Devil‘s favor is the abundance of horror offerings in recent weeks such as Barbarian, Smile, and Halloween Kills. The last two could still be doing decent business as October closes.

Add that up and I’m not sure this manages to top double digits. Mid single digits might be more likely.

Prey for the Devil opening weekend prediction: $5.9 million

For my Till prediction, click here:

For my Tár prediction, click here:

Halloween Ends Review

One of the most violent moments in Halloween Ends involves an actual record (as in the vinyl variety) skipping and it’s one of the cooler parts of this trilogy ender. There’s also many instances where a record skipping sound effect would’ve been appropriate. As in – what in the world is this movie doing?!?! 

Our final pairing of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers after almost four and a half decades features some bewilderingly bad decisions. The odd choices that don’t work stack up higher than the body count. On the plus side, I at least found its unpredictable nature to be more intriguing than most of what occurred in predecessor Halloween Kills. Does that make it better? Probably not. It means neither were of much quality and 2018’s starter was just OK too. That could be the legacy of the 11th, 12th, and 13th overall franchise entries.

In Haddonfield, Illinois in 2019, there were tragedies on the spooky holiday not related to Mr. Myers. Corey (Rohan Campbell) is babysitting a young boy when their game of hide and seek takes an unplanned head banging turn. Though accidental in nature, Corey is looked upon as a pariah by the townspeople four years later. He does find a sympathetic figure in Allyson (Andi Matichak), granddaughter of Laurie who is accustomed to grief. Their blossoming romance concerns Grandma, who notices something is off with Corey in a way that reminds her of her tormentor (who’s been AWOL).

This previous paragraph could beg your question: why is a dude who accidentally offed a kid and his strange relationship with Allyson getting so much attention? Well, it’s what Halloween Ends is about for quite a while. On that level, there are problems. First and foremost, any character development of Allyson from the first two features is slashed as she inexplicably falls for Corey in about five minutes. I’m not asking for realism in this genre, but this romance is a badly developed one.

Myers is often a supporting player in Ends along with Laurie (though she has more to do than her bedridden hospital appearance in Kills). Instead we have the potential Natural Born Killers like union of Corey/Allyson and the former dealing with boring high school bullies and his domineering mother. What we expect from a Halloween flick, eh??

Truth be told, my interest piqued a little when I realized David Gordon Green and his three cowriters (including Danny McBride) were going off the rails. The diversionary tactics mostly stall. By the time we get to the showdown between Laurie and Myers, it seems almost anticlimactic. Even though this trilogy ignores everything after 1978’s brilliant original, we’ve kinda been there and done that with 1998’s Halloween: H2O. 

Curtis brings the tough survivor attitude that we’ve witnessed before and it helps in the final act. Campbell truly is the lead character and his performance is shaky at best. I’m not sure I buy the “ends” part of the title though Laurie and Michael’s saga does appear to have reached its conclusion. Maybe The Shape will take another form someday in the reboot/requel/prequel or whatever term comes next. The mediocrity of this three-arch journey dies here.

** (out of four)

The Invitation Review

Jessica M. Thompson’s The Invitation sure isn’t pro DNA test considering what our heroine goes through after she takes one. The DNA of the film can be found in countless bloodsucker tales. It fails its own test of living up to most of them.

NYC resident Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) is just a poor girl with a potter’s wheel, deceased parents, and past due notices in the mail. Her catering job presents an opportunity when she works a soiree for a company called Find Yourself and the swag bag affords her a free sampling of the product. The ancestry revelation service takes her across the pond to England where she has wealthy relatives. It turns out her great grandmother had an affair with a black worker at her posh estate and Evie stems from that bloodline.

Going from zero family to this brood is at first thrilling and her cousin Oliver (Hugh Skinner) seems nice enough. The possibilities elevate when she’s invited to a mysterious wedding at the grounds of the dreamy Walt de Ville (Thomas Doherty). A budding romance ensues.

The gothic horror overtones indicate there’s twists ahead… and also maids keep getting attacked in shadowy corners of the cruel de Ville manor. Part of the problem is it takes an hour for these “secrets” to come out. One view of the trailer basically tells us everything and that is 100 minutes less time wasted.

The Invitation‘s PG-13 scares are practically non-existent. Blair Butler’s screenplay haphazardly tries to inject commentary about sexism, racism, and classism. The occasional saving graces are Emmanuel and Doherty. They have another “ism”  – charisma but their chemistry veers off track when Evie’s real reason for the trip is told. The script’s most significant issue is that we never believe for a second that the plan hatched by these aristocrats could’ve worked. I suppose saying more would be spoiler heavy as long as you avoided a commercial for this. The two leads keep it from completely sucking but you can safely keep away.

** (out of four)

Halloween Ends Box Office Prediction

The culmination of this iteration of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) battling  Michael Myers arrives on October 14th with Halloween Ends. Said to be Curtis’s final appearance in the 44-year-old franchise (though I’m sure Myers will manage to return in some form), David Gordon Green is back directing along with cowriter Danny McBride. It comes a year after Halloween Kills and four years behind Halloween which began the trilogy. It’s the 13th overall entry in the series overall. Costars include James Jude Courtney and OG Nick Castle doubling up again as the iconic slasher, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, and Kyle Richards.

2018’s Halloween was a juggernaut with a $76 million opening and $159 million eventual domestic haul. Kills still killed, but to a lesser degree with a $49 million start and $92 million overall take. Like its predecessor, Ends will be simultaneously available on Peacock.

In addition to the streaming option that could siphon away viewers, horror fans have had plenty to enjoy lately (Barbarian and Smile for example). That said, there’s obviously a built-in base here.

I do expect diminishing returns though not close to the disparity between 2018 and 2021. Mid to high 40s is where I see it and considering the reported $20 million budget, that’s a profitable cut for Universal.

Halloween Ends opening weekend prediction: $47.6 million

Smile Review

Parker Finn’s Smile is essentially The Ring if that distorted VHS tape were replaced with a distorted facial expression. As these jump scare heavy horror pics go, this one usually hits the right notes (including with its sound design).

Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is a psychologist working at a busy mental ward. She makes the acquaintance of Laura (Caitlin Stasey), who witnessed her professor commit suicide. Ever since then, she’s been traumatized by an unseen being. Laura is a basket case until… she’s not and a creepy grin emerges. Those who’ve witnessed the trailer know that bloodshed follows.

What also follows (it follows… so to speak) is an evil spirit possibly latching onto the doctor and no one believing her. This includes her fiancee (Jessie T. Usher), an ex boyfriend who’s a cop (Kyle Gallner), and her sister (Gillian Zinser). Their skepticism is understandable as a family tragedy when Rose was 10 years old might explain her bizarre behavior.

Besides the mentions of It Follows and The Ring, Finn’s debut (he wrote it too) borrows plenty from earlier genre pieces. While originality isn’t its strong suit, there are a few legitimately hair raising instances. There’s one session with Rose’s therapist that’s far scarier than the bill.

Despite a few unnecessary shots that seem inspired by Inception, Finn seems like a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Bacon (daughter of Kevin and Kyra Sedgwick) is given a few good moments of genuinely convincing terror. This is genre work executed well as these characters smile though their arteries are bursting.

*** (out of four)

Barbarian Review

Zach Cregger’s Barbarian is really three movies in its 100 minutes and you won’t see two of them coming. You won’t find this Blu-Ray laying around at an Airbnb for your viewing enjoyment (I realize there’s probably not many Blu-Rays laying around anyway). Your viewing enjoyment may depend on your tolerance for gross out scares and if that’s up your alley, this offers some genuine surprises.

Tess (Georgina Campbell) pulls up to a bad Detroit neighborhood to stay at the aforementioned company’s property. She has a job interview the next morning and is shocked to find someone else trying to catch some shuteye. Keith (Bill Skarsgard) is just as confused until they discover the property has been double booked.

For a little while, we’re led to think this could be a meet cute heading down rom com territory. Not so much. It’s hard to forget that Mr. Skarsgard donned creepy makeup recently as Pennywise in the It parts. The couple is instead heading down to the basement where there’s plenty of dank discoveries to uncover.

This is about where spoilers come into play and I do suggest watching Barbarian cold. We do have Justin Long in the mix as a sitcom actor going through a Me Too moment and other cast members whose house appearances shall remain a secret.

I give credit to Cregger, a sitcom actor himself and comedian, for a screenplay that veers into unexpected places. It also tackles some dark subjects while keeping the primary objective in focus. That’s to provide a frightening stay at this setting that wouldn’t merit many stars. On that note, just how were the reviews from previous guests? This creation does merit a referral for horror fans.

Smile Box Office Prediction

Paramount Pictures is hoping that horror fans are ready to Smile on September 30th. The supernatural fright fest marks the directorial debut of Parker Finn with a cast including Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick), Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, and Rob Morgan.

This is a genre that’s been well served in September with Barbarian and Pearl (and The Invitation in late August). The trend will continue with Halloweens Ends in mid-October. There could be a bit of fatigue, but Smile may have a feather in its cap. The mysterious and creepy teaser spot played all summer long in front of a little film called Top Gun: Maverick… the one that’s made over $700 million domestically.

A premiere in the $20 million range is certainly possible. However, I’ll say high teens is where this lands.

Smile opening weekend prediction: $18.7 million

For my Bros prediction, click here:

Bros Box Office Prediction

Pearl Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (09/14): I’m revising my estimate up from $2.4 million to $3.4 million.

Shot in secret during the filming of this spring’s horror pic X, Ti West’s prequel Pearl is in theaters Friday. Mia Goth returns in the villainous title role with a supporting cast including David Corenswat, Tandi Wright, and Matthew Sunderland. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival days ago to pleasing reviews (87% on Rotten Tomatoes). That’s just slightly under the meter of its predecessor which nabbed 94%.

While had the critics on its side, its box office performance was so-so. The $4.3 million opening culminated in an overall domestic gross of just under $12 million. While that might seem low, it’s a tidy profit for A24 considering the reported $1 million budget.

I’m sure Pearl wasn’t pricey either, but I suspect this won’t even reach figures. I’ll say between $2-3 million sounds about right.

Pearl opening weekend prediction: $3.4 million

For my The Woman King prediction, click here:

The Woman King Box Office Prediction

For my See How They Run prediction, click here:

See How They Run Box Office Prediction