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Film

Halloween Kills: Spoiler-Free Review

Halloween Kills, the latest in the reboot series from Blumhouse, has the feeling of a bunch of puzzle pieces not placed properly together, forming an image that isn’t entirely clear. It eschews traditional slasher conventions, with some of its new ideas working out better than others. It ups the ante in terms of viciousness, carrying a mean streak with it that few horror films rarely carry, yet never fully commits to that aspect, diffusing it with some abysmal comedic elements and some downright silly moments that rip the tension away full stop.

It would like to tell you about how stories and legacies can negatively impact a community just as much as it can heal a community, but it never feels impactful nor meaningful enough to stick with you once the credits roll. It’s not a bad film by any stretch. In fact, I found this one to be a better offering to the Michael mythos than the previous film which felt overwhelmingly inert,  but its many shortcomings rob it from being a better horror film than one would hope.

(from left) Karen (Judy Greer), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Allyson (Andi Matichak) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

It’s not for a lack of trying though. After twelve films in the series, it was only natural for Blumhouse and co. to attempt to bend and twist the slasher canon in favor of a bolder approach which should be commended more than derided. The film picks up directly after the events of the previous film, with Laurie bedridden in a hospital after being severely wounded after her last run in with Michael, and her daughter (a woefully underused Judy Greer) and grand-daughter (Andi Matichak) attempting to reorient themselves after seemingly killing Michael in the house fire that ended the previous film.

Elsewhere in Haddonfield, a bar holding an open mic introduces us to many of the survivors of Michael’s rampage years ago, many of them kids when they encountered him. When word gets out that Michael isn’t dead, the townspeople led by Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), a young boy when Michael first appeared now grown up, decide enough is enough and go hunting him, with their chant “Evil dies tonight” echoing throughout the streets and throughout the film.

(from left) Cameron Elam (Dylan Arnold), Marion (Nancy Stephens, background), Allyson (Andi Matichak) and Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

If 2018’s Halloween felt like a linear video game with the promise of an open world, then Halloween Kills is that promise delivered. It’s the best comparison I can give to the film, as we open up the narrative to focus in on how the town itself responds and reacts to Michael, as we follow groups of people—improbable heroes—throughout town, armed to the teeth to take out an unstoppable force of nature by any means necessary. This element is by far the most interesting thing Halloween Kills has to offer, throwing out altogether the final girl showdown slow creep of series past. Cops and authority have always been useless within slasher stories, and this film shows what happens when a town is dissatisfied with that useless authority.

This isn’t a story about Laurie vs. Michael anymore, but instead about Michael vs. Haddonfield itself. It’s an interesting gambit; Laurie has for decades been the face of this series and while 2018’s offering had the viewer reintroduced to her as a survivalist grandmother, it’s interesting just as it is puzzling to see her character completely deemphasized here and removed of power. It’s even a note that Jamie Lee Curtis herself mentioned in a press interview for the film, finding the role challenging all things considered. It feels like a subversion tactic in the same way Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi sought to subvert the concept of legacies and fan expectation. The only difference is The Last Jedi pulls that particular aspect off far better by embedding it directly into the framework of the film beginning through end, while Halloween Kills only seems concerned with it to a certain point before being bored with it altogether.

Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

The hospital is an interesting location to feature as a central location in this film, not only because of its connection to 1981’s Halloween II but to the world of Haddonfield in general, as we see bodies swarming in as a result of Michael’s carnage. There’s a fear growing within the town, which only morphs into panic and soon chaos when the element of misinformation gets played into it. Some may loathe the vaguely political aspects of the film,  I found it to be one of the few compelling elements of this film, one that works for the most part before buckling under its own weight.

After a while, the film begins to feel more and more padded out for time, this becomes more exemplified than ever when the film returns to an opening flashback three times. More than its repetition, the opening flashback to the night of Michael’s original rampage feels more like an unnecessary world-building exercise, a way to fit in more details that the series never really needed. There’s a lot of unfunny comedic relief bits that never hit in the way I think the writers envisioned, instead giving more credence to that belief. There’s also something to be said about the way this film portrays its black characters especially in 2021, but why should I bring race into it when the creators clearly never thought about it either.

Michael Myers (aka The Shape, left) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

Still, if you’re looking for a slasher film where Michael absolutely demolishes everyone and everything in his path, then you’re in for a really good time. Never has Michael felt more dangerous and a threat than he does here, far removed from the slow walk we’ve come to expect from masked killers. His power directly contrasts with the community’s lack of strength against him; he is just too powerful and watching people get caught in his line of sight is terrifying, even if the film never conveys a sense of geography all that well.

A lot of talk out of festivals has focused on how Halloween Kills is one of the most brutal horror films around, and to that I say, I guess. The kills in this film are vicious and there’s a particularly mean streak when it comes to Michael this go around which is fun to watch, but with the exception of maybe one scene, none of the kills ever feel all that brutal or memorable for that matter, not like how a nurse gets drowned and severely burned in Halloween 2 or the entirety of Rob Zombie’s run at the series for that matter.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

Halloween Kills isn’t terrible, far from it, but it exists in this weird fugue state that Blumhouse I’m sure will reel back in with its third film. The film doesn’t so much end as it speedily wraps up and sets into motion what will eventually become Halloween Ends. It’s messy and feels incredibly random that when the credits rolled I genuinely couldn’t believe that was the ending they decided on.

Despite all its best efforts to subvert and inject the slasher canon with some political undertones, it never hits in a way I think everyone involved intended. If we’re to talk about this film in strict slasher terms, it’s a bloody mess that gorehounds and series diehards will come away satisfied with. For everyone else looking for this new trilogy reboot to deliver something more, you’ll probably have to wait for Halloween Ends

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Film

Mosquito State: Horror within Wall Street

Mosquito State is a film of many spinning plates. Not many of them will be left upright by the end, but the ones that director Filip Jan Rymsza keeps spinning prove to be engaging and unique, albeit a bit inert. It’s a horror film that isn’t particularly interested in scaring you, an allegory that can’t be bothered to keep a straight face, and a dark comedy that skews more dark than comedy. Mosquito State fits many genres, but the genre this reviewer found himself reaching for was tragedy; a creature feature set against the backdrop of financial and moral decay.

It’s trite and unfair at this point to compare the film to its obvious influences because while it may share space with The Fly or even Cosmopolis to some degree, Rymsza imbues the film with his own personal flourishes that give distance. It never settles on just being a mere copy, instead forging its own path on a subject that’s been dissected and torn apart in many films already. For instance, the opening sequence showing the life cycle of a mosquito is wonderful to look at and with Cezary Skubiszewski’s foreboding score gives a feeling for what’s to come, and there’s almost a fantastical element to all of this, as a follow a (rather goofy) CGI mosquito navigating through sewers and streets and eventually into our protagonist.

Oliver Martinez in Mosquito State / Source: Shudder

We meet Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) at a party filled with Wall Street suits and jock yuppie types. From the jump Richard stands out; a quiet and socially awkward man who slinks around by comparison to his boyish yuppie co-workers, even more so compared to his boss Edward Werner (played with immaculate charisma by Olivier Martinez). It is also here where Richard meets the object of his desire in Lena (Charlotte Vega), a woman who understands Richard in a way that not many at his workplace do. They head home together to Richard’s massive brutalist penthouse where the cold detachment becomes even more prevalent, almost a quasi-futuristic look. The penthouse will also be where a large majority of the film will take place, giving a sense of urban isolation, where we finally get into Richard’s head, and where the mosquito infestation begins.

Despite the penthouse giving a sense of a distant future, Rymsza makes sure the audience is aware through the use of news and sports clips that this is the past. When Richard’s algorithm detects a warning of the market crash only for it to be ignored and exploited, he takes matters into his own hands, enacting his own form of justice leading him on a surreal path towards redemption. While his character may lack a bit as a character, only a vessel to transport ideas, Knapp more than makes up for it with his transformative performance, selling the idea wonderfully of a man wanting to be heard and understood. When a coworker asks “Do you really think anything we do can affect the overall market?” Knapps exasperation at his disregard is palpable. “Do you think we’re too small,” he cries out, with a sense of anger and desperation.

A later scene between Richard and his secretary Sally (Audrey Wasilewski) highlights the immediate changes the mosquitos have taken on his psyche with him ranting and raving about mosquitos communicating with him, hunched over as if he were a mad scientist In this moment he is both Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster; a man created by emotionless Wall Street bankers, yet rebelling against his creator. Knapp understands the nuance and utilizes perfect body language to convey all of these emotions in such a short span of time. Truly compelling stuff.

Beau Knapp in Mosquito State / Source: Shudder

The analogy of mosquitos and Wall Street however is a bit on the nose but more than that a lot of Mosquito State just feels… ridiculous? An office party with coworkers dancing in crowns and playing the Trump board game, dream sequences involving his boss in full matador gear, and some music choices that feel more at home within Mr. Robot than they do here all serve to make Mosquito State stand out, but feel too far out and weird for it to really have any real substance outside of its style. It never takes itself too seriously which is a good thing, but as a result a lot of the films lighter moments, like the aforementioned office party, feel ripped from another film entirely.

It was previously mentioned that it was hard to look away from this film and while a lot of that has to do with Knapp’s performance, special mention has to be thrown towards Eric Koretz’s absolutely stunning cinematography, where Richard’s penthouse view of Central Park glows with various shades and hues of reds, purples, and greens. Even exterior scenes within limos, office spaces, and parks render a feeling of a different world entirely, inviting you in, like a fly to sunlight. The comparison to Cronenberg is still unfair and one that I’m hesitant to make, but for these moments, they bring to mind Brandon Cronenberg more so than his father. The films slick presentation within Richard’s apartment and work place feels far more comfortable sharing space with sibling Possessor, another film that focuses on the metamorphosis of the body and psyche during a time of global transition (Possessor‘s focus on technology versus Mosquito States‘s focus on finance).

Mosquito State isn’t a bad film, but it never reaches the heights it aims for. While there are far better films that examine the effects the financial crisis has caused, they never go full tilt in the way this film does which is a credit to Rymsza’s creative vision and directing. While it may be on the nose to a somewhat annoying degree and far sillier than one would hope, the film still provides a lot of great imagery thanks to its cinematography and production design, not to mention its unnerving atmosphere. There’s a lot to like about Mosquito State, it’s just a shame that in spite of all of these qualities the film fumbles towards the finish line, unable to maintain the same energy that propelled us towards it.

Categories
Video Games

A Toast, to the Movie Tie-In Video Game

            Do you like movie tie-in video games? Don’t think too deeply about the question, it’s not something I expect many to have a quick answer to. Unless of course you’re one of those gamers steeled by floppy disc handovers, an affinity for shooting monsters on Mars, and knowing what makes you hardcore, which if you are, good for you, I’ll be sure to mark you down as no.

The phrase movie tie-in video game is enough to draw a wide array of emotions from outright disgust, fond nostalgia, and massive indifference. They’re the bargain bin schlock you wouldn’t waste your money on, they’re the infamous Christmas gift that no child ever asked for. In general, their existence could be considered a step up from movie novelizations, but that of course depends on whether or not you enjoy movie novelizations. And yet despite the rather negative connotation that the subgenre can bring upon itself, one can’t deny the enjoyment found within The Lion King or Aladdin, the couch split-screen insanity in GoldenEye 007, or co-op adventures fighting Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings video game series. There are gems to be found for those willing to brave the search; some of these games manage to carve their own path making them entirely unique experiences, like Scarface: The World is Yours, a game that allows you to play a version of the story where Tony Montana escapes death to build a drug empire. The beauty of these games lies in the fact they aren’t limited to the stories their movie counterparts are stuck to and can provide a charming aside for fans. 

If that doesn’t convince you, and I’d be disappointed if it didn’t, then we can look at the sales. Information found within NPD annual report shows that Enter The Matrix, despite releasing to lukewarm reviews, was the 9th highest selling game in 2003. Spiderman 2 in 2004 became the 8th highest selling game. 2005? Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith at 8th as well. 2007 would see Spiderman 3 reaching 6th in Playstation 2 sales, High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut! at 7th in Nintendo DS sales, and Transformers: The Game coming in 4th in Playstation Portable sales. With games linked to some of the biggest films coming out at the time, and with holiday seasons always being a major draw for many video game publishers, it was only natural for these games to find success in one way or another. Sure, maybe it was the brand recognition, maybe it was the thrill of playing as our favorite characters, maybe a parent didn’t want to live with the judgment egged on by other parents for buying their kid Grand Theft Auto, whatever the case may be movie tie-in games held staying power, and were a considerable force with regards to sales.  

Like any subgenre –if we’re to be generous and consider it a subgenre (I happen to be very generous in this regard) – there are merits and shining examples of developers looking to craft enjoyable, immersive experiences not unlike that of their bigger-budgeted contemporaries, even if their purpose was meant more as a side dish than an entrée. This raises a far more interesting question; is it the talent and work of the developers that propels a movie tie-in game to major success, or is it simply a byproduct of a brand name with mass appeal? It would be pure naivety to assume the former in a capitalist world, but it would be too cynical to believe the latter, dismissing the work of a development team. In Gamesrader’s article “How nine people at Rare created a seminal classic with GoldenEye,” lead artist on the game Karl Hilton said, “I hope it would have done well anyway, but I doubt it would have had the penetration into popular culture that the James Bond link gave it.” It’s possible for some games, the relationship is symbiotic, but for others, a brand name can do the major heavy lifting. 

But for every Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, a game unique in having the director being a direct collaborator with the project, resulting in its iconic no HUD display, there are practically dozens of duds to choose from. Perhaps you’d be interested in dead on arrival platformer Jumper: Griffin’s Story, dismal beat-em-up Catwoman, hokey 3D fighter Fight Club, abysmal shoot ‘em up Bad Boys: Miami Takedown, or perhaps the nostalgia of Atari graphics will have you gravitating towards E.T., an overwrought series of bad decisions and industry crashing aftereffects mythologized in the form of a piece of plastic, stealing the superlative from then sitting president Ronald Reagan before he stole the title back.

This is to say the history of movie tie-in video games is paved with good intentions and questionable business practices. Most of the aforementioned games were set to be released in time with their movie counterparts forcing developers into a release date they had to meet, which could result in dire and short development cycles. On top of that, if these games don’t do well commercially, it could very well mean the livelihood of the employees working there. In the case of Catwoman developers Argonaut Games, that game would be their last, as they shuttered their studio in October, two months after the release of the game, with no publishing deals coming through to keep them afloat.  It’s a situation no one would ever want to face, and in the case of Argonaut Games, it comes with a bit of a bittersweet tinge; they were also developers of Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, a game that despite its barely passing reviews coming in at 64% on Metacritic, sold 8 million copies placing it sixth on the list of best-selling Playstation video games. Within history, the game sold more than iconic legacy characters in Sony’s library like Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, and Metal Gear Solid. This before we knew how awful J.K. Rowling could truly be. What a time.

Even though many choose not to look back fondly on this particular subgenre, their absence is deeply felt, with the last movie tie-in game seeming to be Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier released back in 2017 for the Playstation 4 (with ports to Xbox One and Windows releasing in 2018.) The game didn’t favor too well critically, pulling in a 59 on Metacritic, and with no information on its sales, it’s safe to assume that it didn’t inspire too much confidence for other publishers. There’d be no joy in Mudville tonight, for the movie-tie in games have struck out. But if the aforementioned Aladdin and Lion King games were able to find themselves ported to 8th generation consoles (very close to saying current generation before I remembered that, haha, that’s not true anymore) and if ten years of fan clamoring for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game resulted in the game making a grand reappearance at last year’s E3, then clearly someone somewhere has an interest in the subgenre. Who can say?

However, if we’re to progress forward with this idea of reviving movie tie-in games, that is if we want them back, then perhaps it should be done with a better understanding, and hope that the working men and women will be given the proper resources to create not just a good product, but a memorable experience. It would be a future where publishers aren’t in such a rush to meet deadlines to receive that windfall from a blockbuster film’s release. Maybe even promote finding new and innovative ways to tap into the mobile and indie gaming market, engaging with players directly, and allowing them to experience their favorite stories in exciting new ways. Take for instance 2017’s The Mummy Demastered, developed by WayForward studios. Instead of releasing in time with 2017’s The Mummy (which may have been a good thing all things considered), or featuring cliché uninspired gameplay beats, the game is a retro throwback to Metroidvania style gameplay (a word that somehow both gains and loses the more it’s said) and was released quietly in October. What’s more, the game reviewed well, receiving a 78%, 75%, and 73% score for PC, Playstation 4/Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One respectfully, with Thomas McDermott of DarkZero saying, “It may have been spawned solely as a means to promote a movie, but it overcomes those unassuming origins and rises to become a tremendous addition to the Metroidvania genre.”

Is there hope that in the future children will be able to play Pixar’s Soul as a so-so adventure platformer for the Nintendo Switch, or perhaps Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) in the vein of old school beat ‘em ups. I personally would love to experience a survival horror game in the Event Horizon universe. But would they even want it now? While Gen Z is notorious for being better crate diggers than most 90s DJs, it’s a completely different realm attempting to tap into that subgenre for reappraisal. The fact of the matter is, unless a movie tie-in game happens to sell well while also transcending the label, it’s very likely no one outside of that specific window of time will ever have the opportunity to discover it. It’s simply out of our hands, and in the hands of those who have yet to see a purpose for these games. They’re the holder of the keys and for some unfortunate games, they’ve permanently locked the door. To me, that’s a tragedy and serious oversight and speaks volumes in the ways we treat the idea of video game preservation and the work of thousands.  

There’s so much to consider with regards to this particular issue; if a Spiderman fan in 2021 happens to get an interest in playing Treyarch’s Spiderman 2, a game that any fan of Insomniac’s seminal 2018 hit will feel at home with, a game which Andrew Reiner of GameInformer considered, “one of those games that you will continually go back to and have the time of your life in,”… well they can’t. The game currently isn’t listed on any digital platforms, nor are there any remasters of it. Should you happen to have the consoles and simply opt-in buying a physical copy, Amazon has a copy of the Xbox version for $72.87. Prefer your games on Playstation 2? You’re in luck because that version is listed at $72.69. There are local video game stores that surely may have it, but it’s a game of chance and is never a certainty. While emulating may be the common sense go-to choice for any form of retro gaming, it is still considered illegal and goes unspoken for the most part. Even so, emulating just isn’t a practical solution for the average everyday consumer to access these games in the same way the average everyday consumer may want to access older movies, music, books, or any art form. 

I digress. Maybe the time has come and gone for this particular sub-genre. Maybe we’re better off not having to deal with the scourge of cash grab shovelware designed for everyone and no one. But to write them off as such would be gravely undermining their placement in the history of it all, and for many, proved to be their entryway into being gamers before anyone of us had any concept of what hardcore gamer really meant. Think it’d only be fair if we offer similar opportunities for future generations moving forward, no?