The Babysitter, Review by Case Wright


The Babysitter, directed by McG- Lethal Weapon, Supernatural, Aim High, and Citizen Cane.  Ok fine, the last one was a bit of a fib, but he’s had an amazing career known for shows that are action heavy, pop, and have a lot of humor.  I did watch this one on the elliptical as a to refresh my memory, but I first watched it on a date night for a Netflix and Chill session.  The Babysitter was so fun; it doesn’t take itself seriously, until it has to.  Like Supernatural, the movie balances the horror with the character arcs to pull you into the story.  By the end, you genuinely care about how these characters end up.

Horror is often treated as the stepchild of film because people are attracted by the low budget/high profit payoff potential and think anyone can do it: so wrong.  In fact, there are times you have an immensely talented director, but he or she is not meant for this genre – see-

Also, writing horror can create masterpieces like 28 Days Later- .  Horror screenwriters can also create misery-inducing steaming piles of terribleness for me or for whomever will have the excruciating experience of having to review it- see- In The Babysitter, Brian Duffield (Quarantine and soon to be released Vivian Hasn’t Been Herself Lately) delivers a fun popping script with fast moving acts, clear arcs, humor, gore, and clever buildups and payoffs.  I am looking forward to seeing the rest of his art and you should too!  The Babysitter is not in the Oscar worthy category of The Shining, but it is still brilliant because it succeeds in doing what is most important – it entertains.  You care about the protagonist and where he’s going and amazingly sometimes root a little for the villain because she is acted by the uber-talented Samara Weaving.

The film is basically Satanic Home Alone; in fact, they reference Home Alone in the film.  Cole, the protagonist, is a bullied awkward 12 year old with a heart of gold and no self-confidence.  Yes, I know that reads like a fairly common protagonist, but his nerdiness is so authentic and the dialogue is so real that you buy it.  Trust me, I’ve never led you wrong before.  Cole has a quasi-friend in the Girl Next Door- Melanie, but Cole’s true friend (seemingly) is Bee (Samara Weaving) his babysitter.  She genuinely likes movies and nerdy things just like Cole and we learn she was also an awkward teen herself prior to meeting Cole.

Bee seems to be perfect, but she is a satanic worshipper who wants to sacrifice one nerd, harvest some of Cole’s blood, and read from I guess the Necronomicon to be granted a wish of her choosing from Satan.  Then again, we all have our faults.  We get to see and not be told how close Bee and Cole have become over the years.  They love film and goofy dancing.  Cole stays up past his bedtime to spy on his beloved Bee to see what she is up to after he purportedly asleep.  Sadly, he watches Bee commit an over the top murder of a seduced nerd.  The deaths in this film are Final Destination awesomepants!  Watch The Babysitter just for the deaths alone! Bee has cohorts: Robbie Amell who is very good in this.  He plays the murderous jock expertly and if you’re so inclined he’s shirtless A LOT with aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabs.  There’s also a lot of great humor with the somewhat bumbling satanic worshippers that are also out to get Cole and his sweet sweet AB Negative.

They need to harvest Cole’s blood to finish the evil wishing spell because he’s an obvious virgin, but he fights back.  It’s not corny like Home Alone; he mostly gets lucky or barely survives by finding weapons along the way- No booby traps.  The lack of traps and gags during the fight scenes keeps the story in the horror realm with the comedy sprinkled like a Mrs. Dash that doesn’t make you want to vomit.

There is a eventually a final battle between Bee and Cole.  She offers to make him part of the wish and live with him forever.  Now, I’m not saying he should’ve immediately taken her up on this offer. Maybe some negotiating would’ve been worthwhile, but really Cole…not even taking one beat to consider this pretty awesome offer.  I think that would’ve been fun as an alternate ending, but without fighting the final battle, Cole would not have realized his story arc as a true hero.  I have to admit if I were the 12 year old nerdy boy and Bee had made the same offer to me, I would have just been trying to figure out how many sock pairs I needed for our evil journey!

I want to make a special note here for the amazing performance of Samara Weaving.  She played the heck out of this role.  She could believably turn from evil to seductress to friend to good on a dime.  With the right opportunities, Samara Weaving will be the next Nicole Kidman!  Really!

Happy Horrorthon! Please check out my other stuff and tell your friends to read it as well!

The Things You Find On Netflix: To The Bone (dir by Marti Noxon)

Way back in January, when I first heard about To The Bone, I had high hopes for it.

After all, To The Bone was the directorial debut of Marti Noxon, who is well-known both for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for co-creating Unreal.  To The Bone was reportedly based on Noxon’s own struggle with an eating disorder and it was said to feature an outstanding lead performance from Lily Collins as an artist struggling with anorexia.  Even the casting of Keanu Reeves as a doctor sounded intriguing.

And, to me, it didn’t matter that To The Bone got mixed reviews at Sundance.  Who would seriously expect critics, especially male critics, to understand a movie about body issues and eating disorders?  When I heard that To The Bone had been purchased by Netflix, I did sigh a little.  Far too often, Netflix is where good films end up getting lost in a sea of mediocre offering.  But then again, perhaps To The Bone was exactly the type of intimate character study that would actually benefit from being viewed on a small screen.  After all, it’s not a film about a bunch of space lizard attacking the great wall of China.  It’s a film about a young woman struggling with an eating disorder.

When Netflix finally released To The Bone back in July, I was excited.

Then I actually watched the movie.

To The Bone actually gets off to a pretty good start.  The first 20 minutes or so are dedicated to establishing who Ellie (Lily Collins) is.  She’s 20 years old.  She’s smart.  She’s sarcastic.  She’s an artist.  She’s a college dropout who apparently used to have a very popular tumblr that dealt with being thin.  She’s also anorexic and, from the first minute that we see her, Ellie looks like she’s on the verge of death.  (To the film’s credit, it makes clear that there is a huge difference between being naturally thin and being anorexic.  That’s a distinction that is far too often overlooked.)  We meet Ellie’s dysfunctional family: her frustrated stepmother (Carrie Preston), the father who often can’t be bothered, and the half-sister (Liana Liberato) who both loves and resents her.  The relationship between the two sisters is especially well-handled.  Even if it takes a while to get used to Keanu Reeves playing a compassionate but tough-talking doctor, the film still works during his first few scenes.

Then, Ellie joins Reeves’s inpatient program and moved into a house with six other patients and this is where the film started to annoy me.  Ellie is such a well-drawn and well-acted character that it makes it all the more obvious that the rest of the patients are not.  Instead, the rest of the patients are all easily identifiable types.  As soon as they show up on screen, you know everything about them and you know exactly what is going to happen to each and every one of them.  From the minute that Ellie reluctantly steps into that house, To The Bone starts to feel less like an honest look at anorexia and more like a well-meaning and predictable PSA.  One of the patients is pregnant and always talk about how worried she is that her eating disorder is going to lead to her losing the baby.  Can you guess what happens?

And then there’s Luke (Alex Sharp).  Luke is the ballet dancer who is recovering from a knee injury.  As soon as I saw that Luke was the only male in the house, I knew that he was destined to eventually declare his love for Ellie.  But my problem with Luke has less to do with his predictable character arc and more to do with just how annoying a character he is.  Luke is relentlessly upbeat.  Luke constantly tells corny jokes.  Luke just will not stop talking!  When Luke leaves a room, he starts singing a song called Sugar Blues.  When Luke reenters a room, he is still singing Sugar Blues.  SHUT UP, LUKE!

(Whenever Ellie would visit Luke in his room, I would find myself distracted by the posters on his wall.  The majority of them said “Jazz Festival” and featured some saxophone clipart.  As strange as it may sound, it really started to annoy me that there was no date or location listed.  Why would you go through all the trouble of making — or buying, for that matter — a poster for a jazz festival and then not bother to include a date or a location?  That may sound like a minor thing but, as I watched the film, that inauthentic poster came to represent everything that felt inauthentic about Luke as a character.)

I guess the main problem with To The Bone is that it never succeeds in convincing us that the inpatient program is actually going to do any good for Ellie.  It’s not for lack of trying.  However, the scenes in the house are too overwrought and predictably scripted.  There’s a scene where Reeves takes the patients on a field trip and it’s supposed to be inspiring but it doesn’t work because, as a first-time director, Noxon doesn’t trust her material enough to allow us to draw our own conclusions.  Instead, she beats us over the head with her message.  For To The Bone to work, it needed a director like Andrea Arnold, someone who specializes in a naturalistic performances and who is willing to embrace ambiguity and take the time to let a scene play out.  Noxon makes the mistake of not trusting her audience to draw the right conclusion and, as a result, To The Bone goes from being an intriguing character study to being the cinematic equivalent of the last 15 minutes of an episode of Intervention.

Though it all, Lily Collins continues to give a good performance.  Even when she’s forced to deliver some unfortunate dialogue, she’s the best thing about To The Bone.  Unfortunately, the rest of this movie just collapses around her.

Jazz Festival


Embracing The Melodrama Part II #121: No Good Deed (dir by Sam Miller)

No_Good_Deed_2014_movie_posterSo, this weekend, my BFF Evelyn and I were watching the critically reviled 2014 film No Good Deed.  As we watched Idris Elba (playing the role of Colin) viciously and violently choke to death a character played by Kate del Castillo, Evelyn said, “He can strangle me any time that he wants.”  My first instinct was to reprimand my friend and remind her that it’s not empowering to allow a man to murder you, regardless of how unbelievably sexy that man may be.  But then, by the time that Idris was murdering Leslie Bibb, I found myself agreeing.  Seriously, Idris Elba can do anything he wants to me….

Idris is pretty much the only reason to see No Good Deed.  No Good Deed is one of those crappy suspense films where every plot point hinges on someone acting like a total idiot.  Colin escapes from prison.  Colin murders his ex-fiancee after he discovers that she’s been cheating on him.  Later, Colin crashes his truck outside of the house of Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson).  Terri’s husband is out-of-town and when Colin shows up at her doorstop and asks to use the phone to call for a tow truck, Terri invites him inside.  Terri’s friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) shows up.  Mayhem follows.  Of course, there’s a big twist at the end.

This is where I’d usually say something like, “DON’T REVEAL THE SURPRISE ENDING OF NO GOOD DEED!” but, honestly, you’ll figure it out within the first few minutes of the film.  It’s pretty obvious and it’s pretty stupid.  I won’t reveal it but if you see the film, feel free to tell all your friends about the big twist.  Some films were meant to be spoiled.

As I watched No Good Deed and found myself hissing at the terrible dialogue and the total stupidity of all of the characters and wondering if any of the filmmakers had ever actually met any real human beings, I found myself wondering how this film could be so incredibly bad.  I hopped onto the imdb and discovered that the film was written by Aimee Lagos.

If you don’t recognize that name, Lagos also wrote and directed the absolutely terrible movie, 96 Minutes.  And I will say this: No Good Deed is slightly better than 96 Minutes.

That’s the power of Idris Elba.

(Incidentally, it bothers me that nobody in this film is actually named Deed.  If Colin’s full name had been Colin Deed … well, that would have been pretty stupid but it would have at least been kinda fun and entertaining.)

(Also, for those keeping track, that’s 121 reviews down and 5 to go.)

Shattered Politics #68: The Skulls (dir by Rob Cohen)


What do George W. Bush, John Kerry, and Paul Giamatti all have in common?

They were all members of the Skull and Bones, which may be an organization that secretly controls the world.  Then again, it might also just be an organization for male students at Yale, a place for the sons of the rich and famous to get together, drink, and do whatever else rich kids do when they go to an Ivy League college.

One thing’s for sure — when you’re a member of the Skulls and Bones, you’re a Bonesman for life.  If you have any doubt about that, go ahead and watch the 2000 film The Skulls.  In The Skulls, Martin Lombard (Christopher McDonald) is such a loyal member of the Skulls that, even though he’s currently a provost at Yale, he’s still willing to break a student’s neck in order to keep him from revealing the society’s secrets.

Seriously, do all Ivy League administrators know how to break necks or just ones that were former members of the Skulls?  It just makes me glad that I went to UNT, a good school with absolutely no ivy on the walls.  A degree from UNT might not translate into membership into America’s elite but at least you don’t have to worry about being targeted by any dangerous secret societies.

(Unless, of course, you’re a TAM.  But that’s another story…)

Anyway, the dead student’s best friend is Luke McNamara (Joshua Jackson).  We know Luke’s the hero because he doesn’t come from a rich family and he’s attending Yale on a rowing scholarship.  Shortly before Will’s death, Luke is invited to join the Skulls and does so because he thinks it will help him court rich art major Chloe (Leslie Bibb).  However, after Will death, Luke decides that he has to join so that he can find out the identity of the murderer.

Luke wrongly suspects that the murderer was his new friend and fellow Skull, Caleb Mandrake (Paul Walker).  What Luke doesn’t know is that the murder was actually ordered by Caleb’s father, Supreme Court candidate Litten Mandrake (Craig T. Nelson).  (As a sidenote, has anyone named Litten Mandrake ever not turned out to be evil?)  However, as Luke gets closer to the truth, the Skulls arrange for him to be arrested and put into a mental asylum.

Oh, and Martin Lombard starts chasing after him with a gun.

Remember, this is the same Martin Lombard who is a provost at Yale.  Now, I’m not saying that it’s out of the question that a Yale provost could chase after a student with a gun.  But, at the very least, it seems like a conspiracy as wealthy and powerful as the Skulls could afford to hire less recognizable henchmen.

In fact, watching The Skulls, you can’t help but suspect that this secret conspiracy is not exactly the smartest conspiracy in the word.  Not only do they do a terrible job of hiding their existence but they are continually outsmarted by a bunch of undergrads.

Anyway, eventually, it all leads to Luke challenging Caleb to a duel.  A mysterious Senator (William Petersen) shows up and says, “Well done, son, well done.”

It’s all kind of stupid.

Review: The Midnight Meat Train (dir. by Kitamura Ryuhei)

There’s a certain number of books when I was much younger that I thought would’ve made for some great horror films. They were the early works by Clive Barker. Short stories collected into several volumes aptly dubbed his Books of Blood. While several short stories from these volumes were adapted to film in the intervening years most were not worth the time to watch them. So, lo and behold that when I finally saw the latest short story adapted from these collections I was genuinely surprised at how well-made and entertaining it turned out to be. The Midnight Meat Train by Japanese filmmaker Kitamura Ryuhei was a fine piece of horror filmmaking that dripped in atmosphere and a growing sense of existential dread right up to it’s very surprising end.

The Midnight Meat Train is quite a simple story when one really breaks it down to it’s component parts. It’s a crime thriller wrapped in the bloody layers of an extreme horror film. There’s a certain noirish quality to it’s storytelling as we see the film’s protagonist in Leon (Bradley Cooper). He’s a photographer struggling to find the inspiration for his next set of photographs and decides to wander the train stations at midnight to find that inspiration. It’s during one visit at night that he begins to suspect that he might’ve come across one of the latest missing persons who might’ve become a victim of the so-called “Subway Butcher”. The film shows his growing obsession in finding out if the urban legend of this so-called serial killer is actually true.

His mental state only deteriorates as the reality about the “Subway Butcher” (Vinnie Jones in one of his best roles to date) catches up to the truth on one midnight ride on the subway train. His witnessing of the killer at work brings him into a hidden world the rest of the city seems unaware or incapable of acknowledging despite the hundreds of people who go missing year in and year out for almost a hundred years. His girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) and best friend Jurgis (Roger Bart) soon become drawn into Leon’s nightmarish situation and must confront the very boogeyman who has begun to haunt Leon’s waking life.

The film is Kitamura Ryuhei’s first Hollywood film and it doesn’t diminish the talent for some creative visuals he earned while directing horror and genre films in his native Japan. He makes great use of the nighttime setting and the stark environs of the subway trains at midnight to give The Midnight Meat Train an almost black and white look punctuated by vivid splashes of visceral red during the many inventive killings by Vinnie Jones’ mute Mahogany character. Kitamura showed that he was able to squeeze as much as was possible from a script that was average at best. Especially considering that the script had to adapt one of Barker’s shorter tales.

The performances by the ensemble group led by Bradley Cooper ranged from good to excellent with the aforementioned Vinnie Jones leading the pack. Even Bradley Cooper as the tormented protagonist Leon handled the role well. I’ve never warmed to Cooper as an actor as he always came across as a smirking douchebag in almost every role he played prior to this one. He quickly shed some of that reputation for me with his performance in this film and continues to do so with every one since this film. The smirk is still there but he has managed to drop the douchebag aspect of it. I also must point out a nice turn by veteran genre actor Tony Curran as the train conductor who exuded a sense of the otherworldly and a character who held the answers to the questions brought up by the film.

Since this is a horror film one must mention it’s horrofic aspects and this film fills it’s quota of horror. The scenes where Jones’ Mahogany dispatches the unwary last riders of the train at midnight were shot extremely well and with some visual flairs Kitamura has gained a reputation for. There’s nothing cartoony about these kills unlike other slasher films of it’s type. The kills are done in a brutal fashion as meat tenderizers smash into skulls and backs. Then there are the dressing of the kills which gives meaning to the film’s title. The only part of this film which seemed so out of place, but was necessary in the film’s overall narrative was the make-up effects in the end of the dead-end tunnel where Leon finally sees the truth of why Mahogany has been killing passengers on the subway train. It’s here that the film’s budget shows. At least Kitamura was smart enough to film these scenes in very low light to hide some of the zippers and laces on the costuming.

Overall, The Midnight Meat Train was one horror film in 2008 that deserved to have been seen by more people. It’s a shame that the handling of this film’s distribution by Lionsgate bordered on the criminal as it failed to be screened  by many theaters which led to it’s failure in the box-office. This was a horror film that delivered on the goods without pandering to the torture porn crowd who had begun to dominate the scene due to the popularity of the Saw franchise. Kitamura’s first work in America showed that he brings a fresh new voice to Western horror. The film also ends up becoming the best of all the Books of Blood short story adaptations and shows that Barker’s earlier grand guignol writing phase could be adapted well to the bigscreen.

Here’s to hoping that the failure of this film in the box-office (Again, I say fuck you Lionsgate) doesn’t keep other up-and-coming horror filmmakers from tapping into Barker’s volumes of short stories for their projects. There’s horror gold to be found there and Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train was one gleaming example of it.