The Jigsaw Files: Saw (2004)

Perhaps I’m feeling like a glutton for punishment, but the upcoming release of Spiral: From the Book of Saw got me in a bloody nostalgic mood as we anticipate its premiere. Nearly 17 years after the low-budget original became one of the most profitable horror pics ever and spawned now eight sequels/reboots, I felt it was time to revisit the franchise.

Hence The Jigsaw Files where I will recap the series movie by movie. It naturally begins with the original Saw. Shot for a reported teensy budget of $1.2 million, it came out of nowhere in October 2004 to become a genre classic. So is it?

This marks the directorial debut of James Wan and he went on to be involved in numerous franchises. Some were of his own making (Insidious, The Conjuring). Others brought on his talents like in Furious 7 and Aquaman. Wan came up with the story along with Leigh Whannell, who has since helmed Upgrade and The Invisible Man (both critically acclaimed scare fests).

Most of you are familiar with the story. Whannell costars as Adam, a photographer who awakens in a dingy and feces covered washroom with Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). The duo soon discover that they are part of an elaborate game orchestrated by a serial killer who concocts these elaborate schemes. They have to figure out why they have been placed in such a foul setting and they only have hours to do so before their time expires.

The screenplay intersects their countdown with Detectives Tapp (Danny Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung) trying to figure out who this monster is. Saw is told in a non-linear fashion that isn’t totally clear until the climax. I had forgotten about the Lost TV series connection until my rewatch. Leung was the quirky medium Miles. Michael Emerson, who is involved in the mayhem happening here, is an Emmy winner for his brilliant portrayal of Ben Linus.

What’s striking about Saw upon another visit is that its meager budget limits some of the gore we became accustomed to in the sequels. Don’t get me wrong… it’s there, but not quite as prevalent. Elwes and Whannell get the most screen time (Glover apparently only shot for two days). Both actors have their moments of extreme overacting and I’m pretty sure that’s on purpose. Some may find this exercise humorless, but there’s some winking and nodding occurring in my estimation.

The other plot point that audiences might forget is that Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw (who becomes this franchise’s Freddy, Jason, Michael… take your pick) plays a minimal role… kind of like Jason in the first Friday the 13th. This is, of course, until the surprise ending. And that ending is still one of the better twists in modern horror history. If you’re a stickler about it making sense… well, you might hurt your head deciding if it holds up to scrutiny. Yet it was effective when I first watched it and it still is today.

Saw is certainly not perfect. Its price tag limitations show, but even that adds to the B movie vibe. Wan shows right away why he’s become the in demand filmmaker he is now. And this Saw remains a cut above most of what followed and rightfully has the reputation that precedes it.

The Jigsaw Files will continue with Saw II (2005)…

The Nun Movie Review

We aren’t exactly blessed with a new horror classic in The Nun, the latest entry in the seemingly endless possibilities for spinoffs in the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. It does, however, manage to rise above the Annabelle creations before it with some style points and an occasional identity of its own. While both Annabelle and its sequel often felt like unnecessary cash grabs, I’ll give director Corin Hardy a bit of credit for creating something a little different. Let’s call it maybe a B- for trying.

The title character here first appeared in The Conjuring 2. She’s a demonic nun possessed by evil spirit Valak. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) had to put up with her sister acts of violence in that picture. This prequel and spin-off (preoff?… spinquel??) takes it back two decades earlier to the 1950s in Romania. A nun has committed suicide in a monastery after making the acquaintance of Valak and the Vatican enlists Father Burke (Demian Bechir) to look into it. He’s paired up with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who’s still in the novitiate (or training) stage before taking her vows.

Once they reach the scene of the death, Father and Sister are subject to lots of shadowy lurking, visions of terror, and charming local Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who provides a couple moments of genuine comic relief. That’s not something often found in this particular Universe and it’s welcome because these pics aren’t worth taking seriously.

2013’s The Conjuring was a very entertaining and scary genre exercise. The direct sequel and the offshoots haven’t come close to its power. And The Nun is nowhere near as entertaining or scary. Yet I wouldn’t classify this one as lazy. The monastery setting creates a sometimes effective claustrophobic feel. We know this franchise is all about jump scares and they’re in bountiful supply. I’ll give Taissa Farmiga props for her ability to act as terrified as her big sister Vera in the main series flicks. Calling this the best spin-off thus far isn’t praise of the highest power, but I’ll confess to it holding my interest better than the doll.

**1/2 (out of four)

Annabelle Comes Home Box Office Prediction

2019 has seen a number of franchises stumble hard with their sequels and reboots. Yet Warner Bros has one of the sturdiest series in recent memory with the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. Next week brings the third edition of the Annabelle entries and I don’t see fatigue among horror fans happening here.

Annabelle Comes Home marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who penned both predecessors and last fall’s spin-off The Nun. Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman star and this time Conjuring leads Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga join the doll party.

As mentioned, this has been a mighty profitable franchise for its studio. After five pictures, the lowest opening belongs to Annabelle: Creation at $35 million two summers ago. However, it legged out better than 2014’s Annabelle ($102 million vs. $84 million). Any thought of the series dwindling was dispelled last fall when The Nun took in $53 million for the best premiere of all.

What might give this Annabelle the lowest debut yet is a matter of logistics. This one opens on Wednesday and that will certainly eat into its traditional weekend haul. I still foresee a high 20s Friday to Sunday gross and high 40s when factoring in the extra two days.

Annabelle Comes Home opening weekend prediction: $27.4 million (Friday to Sunday); $38 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Yesterday prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/21/yesterday-box-office-prediction/

The Curse of La Llorona Box Office Prediction

Next weekend could provide an interesting answer to a question not posed before – how much can a Conjuring series picture gross if a lot of moviegoers may not be aware it’s actually part of the franchise? I give you The Curse of La Llorona, the sixth entry in this scary supernatural cinematic universe. The 1970s set ghost tale is directed by Michael Chaves in his feature-length debut (he’s slated to be behind the camera for the third official Conjuring flick next year). Linda Cardellini headlines a cast that includes Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velásquez, Tony Amendola (reprising his Annabelle role), and Sean Patrick Thomas.

Llorona premiered last month at the South by Southwest Festival. Early reviews are mixed to negative with a current 44% Rotten Tomatoes score. At the time of its unveiling, it was a bit of a surprise that this even existed in the billion dollar worldwide franchise. It’s a legitimate question as to whether the marketing campaign has had enough time to establish that fact.

In my view, that almost certainly means this will experience the lowest debut of the series so far. Horror fans have certainly had options lately with Us and Pet Sematary. That said, it’s a risky group of films to bet against. Just last fall, The Nun unexpectedly set the franchise opening weekend high mark at $53 million. The lowest start belongs to Annabelle: Creation at a still impressive $35 million. That creepy doll, by the way, is back this June with Annabelle Comes Home.

Tracking currently has this at $20 million and that sounds about right.

The Curse of La Llorona opening weekend prediction: $20.1 million

For my Breakthrough prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/09/breakthrough-box-office-prediction/

For my Penguins prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/10/penguins-box-office-prediction/

Aquaman Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/18/18): Update here as I’m increasing my $74.3 million estimate up to $77.3 million.

We don’t have Vincent Chase from TV’s “Entourage” starring in it as portrayed on that show years ago with James Cameron directing. Yet DC Comics hero Aquaman finally gets his stand-alone experience next weekend. Instead it’s Jason Momoa reprising his role as the waterlogged warrior after first seeing him in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. James Wan, who made the Conjuring entries and Furious 7, directs. The supporting cast includes Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, and Nicole Kidman. In a bit of irony, Julie Andrews has a voice-over while Mary Poppins Returns serves as competition over the pre-Christmas frame.

Aquaman marks the sixth DC Extended Universe feature that began in 2013 with Man of Steel. The lowest grossing opener of the series was Justice League in November of last year with $93 million. All others (Steel, BvS, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman) took in over $100 million. Forecasts and expectations aren’t as high here, but Warner Bros is certainly hoping for a sizable hit. The film opened in China last weekend to robust results. Reviews are fairly solid with a current Tomato rating of 78%.

No previous DC Universe production has premiered in the crowded holiday month of December. Direct competition comes from both Poppins (family crowd) and Bumblebee (action crowd). With Disney’s famous nanny getting a two-day jump on Wednesday, Aquaman appears in good position to grab the #1 spot.

My feeling is that it will do so with a gross in the mid 70s.

Aquaman opening weekend prediction: $77.3 million

For my Mary Poppins Returns prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/10/mary-poppins-returns-box-office-prediction/

For my Bumblebee prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/11/bumblebee-box-office-prediction/

For my Second Act prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/14/second-act-box-office-prediction/

For my Welcome to Marwen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/15/welcome-to-marwen-box-office-prediction/

Hereditary Movie Review

**It is difficult to write a proper review of Hereditary without some light spoilers, so proceed with caution if you have yet to see it.

The real unsettling nature of Ari Aster’s debut feature Hereditary comes after the credits roll and not necessarily from heads rolling off bodies (though that happens too). The film is about grieving and the realization of not being able to control fate. Not until fade to black does it set in how truly powerless the people here are.

We begin with the text of an obituary. Ellen is the just deceased mother of Annie Graham (Toni Collette), an artist who specializes in miniature designs for doll houses. She’s married to a kindly therapist (Gabriel Byrne) with high school aged son Peter (Alex Wolff) and middle school aged daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie doesn’t seem too distraught over her loss and her eulogy for mom hints at a secretive existence before dementia took over her final years. Only Charlie seemed to have a real connection with the late matriarch and we sense something is a bit off with her.

A second tragedy breaks the Graham unit apart. The history of Annie’s upbringing that she wants to ignore at first becomes inescapable. Every family has its demons. In Hereditary, we witness the literal meaning behind that phrase. The supernatural happenings that follow manifest themselves on Annie and Peter primarily. Collette and Wolff both are convincing at being scared out of their wits most of the time. For Collette especially (who has a bit of experience in the genre with The Sixth Sense), her performance is a terrified tour de force. The Graham clan are typically the only humans on-screen. Ann Dowd appears as a woman also grieving a recent loss who convinces Annie to engage in seance.

Hereditary has a conjuring, but it’s not as preoccupied with jump scares and sound effects wizardry for its frights like the successful franchise (not that they’re totally absent). Comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby are far more appropriate. Much of the movie leaves you in a state of confusion and you might need to do a Google or Wiki search after to digest what happened. Writer/director Aster announces himself as an exciting voice in the horror game and one who seems most influenced by genre tales of the late 60s and 70s. While this doesn’t rise to the level of the Roman Polanski classic from a half century ago, I found myself feeling rewarded after everything was over. The Graham family, on the other hand, doesn’t get that lucky.

***1/2 (out of four)

The Nun Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (09/05/18): I am revising my estimate up from $38.4 million to $45.4 million

The Conjuring Cinematic Universe rolls along when The Nun debuts next weekend. The fifth entry in the highly successful Warner Bros horror franchise is a prequel to all four previous pictures. Our title character was first glimpsed at in 2016’s The Conjuring 2. Corin Hardy directs a cast that includes Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga (sister of Conjuring star Vera), Jonas Bloquet, and Bonnie Aarons.

Just a couple of weeks back, The Nun received some unexpected publicity when YouTube pulled one of its trailers off the site due to its frightening jump scares. If anything, that notoriety could help peak the curiosity of moviegoers. Not that it necessarily needs it. The opening weekend grosses of this series have been remarkably consistent. Here’s the rundown:

The Conjuring – $41.8 million

Annabelle – $37.1 million

The Conjuring 2 – $40.4 million

Annabelle: Creation – $35 million

I don’t see any compelling reason why The Nun would change that range. You could say it seems pretty (ahem) black and white to me. I’ll predict this scary sister act hits high 30s.

The Nun opening weekend prediction: $45.4 million

For my Peppermint prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/28/peppermint-box-office-prediction/

For my God Bless the Broken Road prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/02/god-bless-the-broken-road-box-office-prediction/

Annabelle: Creation Movie Review

The 2014 Conjuring spin-off Annabelle didn’t exactly leave me clamoring for an origin story of the motionless demonic doll, but here we are with Annabelle: Creation. Set 12 years before the events of its predecessor, this prequel manages to be a slight improvement. Unfortunately that isn’t saying much.

A prologue documents toy maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) tragically losing their young daughter. Dad’s profession reveals that he’s the creator of the doll that first appeared in 2013’s The Conjuring. We suspect his child’s demise will later tie into Annabelle’s evil ways.

We skip ahead to a dozen years later in the mid 1950s as six orphans and their nun caretaker (Stephanie Sigman) are looking for a home. They are taken in by the Mullins family on their sprawling country property. Janice (Talitha Bateman) is crippled by polio and quickly stricken by a feeling that something isn’t right with the creepy doll she finds at the house.

Those familiar with the franchise know the technicians involved in the film’s making pretty much take it from there. Creation wishes to generate its suspense through sounds and lighting reveals. David F. Sandberg, who last directed Lights Out, is behind the camera.

The original Annabelle felt like what it was – a quick cash grab to build on the success of The Conjuring. It also looked a little cheap. This doesn’t. It’s just not very scary. If you add up all the time throughout several pictures where the camera lingers on its title character, you might have enough screen time for a fifth entry in the series.

The makers of Creation succeed occasionally at putting together a fast scare, but it’s nearly two-hour runtime seems drawn out and routine. All the camera tricks and sound works cannot ultimately make Annabelle seem more than a mostly dull ploy to keep the franchise rolling.

** (out of four)

The Commuter Movie Review

Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his aging action star Liam Neeson collaborate for the fourth time with The Commuter. If you remember their 2014 effort NonStop quite vividly, good for you because I had forgotten much of it. That pic put Mr. Neeson in a precarious position on a long flight in which he was forced to commit potential crimes commanded by shadowy villains. Four years later, this one puts Mr. Neeson in a precarious position on a long train ride in which he is forced to commit potential crimes commanded by shadowy villains. If that makes you think The Commuter doesn’t exactly aim high, you’d be correct.

The trick with these movies is whether we can successfully put our brains aside and just enjoy the junk food genre offerings. This time around, the director and star don’t make it very easy for us. Neeson is Michael, an ex NYC cop turned life insurance agent for the last decade. He’s 60 (as he reminds us a few times) with a wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and son about to enter college. It’s tough for the family man to make ends meet and that’s thrown into chaos when he’s unceremoniously fired. Each day he makes a long commute home and on the day of his unexpected dismissal, more surprises follow. He’s approached on the train by Joanna (Vera Farmiga) and she offers an opportunity. There’s $100,000 for Michael if he can identify and place a GPS tracker on a passenger who goes by Prynne. Farmiga’s Conjuring hubby Patrick Wilson turns up as Michael’s old partner.

This is all tied to a murder investigation and Prynne is a witness. Joanna’s benefactors want Prynne eliminated and Michael is their ticket to make that happen. All this leads to Michael having to make a series of moral decisions while intermittently kicking an appropriate amount of baddie butt. We also are introduced to the train’s other passengers – some of whom are given perfunctory subplots while we await Prynne’s grand reveal.

The Commuter, quite frankly, is totally ludicrous and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The same could certainly be said of Unknown (the first Collet-Serra/Neeson joint) or NonStop. Yet I found both to be slightly more entertaining than this. The screenplay (which somehow took three people to write it) does too little to engage us with its silly plot and a couple of decently choreographed action sequences aren’t enough to save it. Neeson gives it his earnest and occasionally intense all. Bless his heart for not coasting as the story does.

** (out of four)

The Commuter Box Office Prediction

It’s been nine years since Liam Neeson reinvented himself as everyone’s go to elder action star with Taken. The last couple of years have seen him focusing on other genres,  but he’s back in kick ass mode next weekend with The Commuter. This marks his fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra after Unknown, NonStop, and Run All Night. Costars include Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga (presumably doing no conjuring work), as well as Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, and Elizabeth McGovern.

Mr. Neeson’s first two pictures with this director came while he was still packing in audiences with the Taken franchise. That helped propel Unknown and NonStop to openings above $20 million. Run All Night (and another more recent Neeson action flick A Walk Among the Tombstones) both failed to reach the teens in their debuts.

The Commuter has received decent reviews so far and sits at 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, recent evidence has shown the star’s box office potency in the genre has waned. I’ll predict this reaches low to possibly higher teens for its four-day MLK weekend debut.

The Commuter opening weekend prediction: $14.6 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

For my The Post prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/01/04/the-post-box-office-prediction/

For my Paddington 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/01/03/paddington-2-box-office-prediction/

For my Proud Mary prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/01/03/proud-mary-box-office-prediction/