The House That Jack Built “The Director’s Cut” (2018) Review

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The House That Jack Built (The Director’s Cut)

Directed by Lars Von Trier

www.ifcfilms.com/films/the-house-that-jack-built

When the first reviews out of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival are “audiences walked out in disgust,” that’s usually the cue to head on in. The committee already imposed a ban on director Lars Von Trier for questionable comments in 2011 and his films have been described as “daring,” “intelligent” and “a triumph” while reviews for his latest “The House That Jack Built” have included “an ordeal of gruesomeness and tiresomeness that was every bit as exasperating as I had feared” per Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian or take Jessica Kiang of The Playlists advice and “kiss your children. Go for a walk in the park. Eat a tomato like it’s an apple. Attach a love letter to your payment for the gas bill. Throw some pebbles into a fountain. Learn a few phrases in Xhosa. Defrost the freezer. Do anything — it really doesn’t matter what — rather than go and see Lars Von Trier‘s The House That Jack Built.”

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While no urge ever overcame to exit the theatre during the director’s cut of “The House That Jack Built” extended running time of 152 minutes (the MPAA approved R classified theatrical version shaves off about 20 minutes) it’s understandably not rated E for Everyone. There’s copious amounts of art house aesthetic, stark samples of stock footage, William Blake/Friedrich Nietzche philosophical musings and many of the trappings Von Trier viewers have come to expect but at it’s dark, cold heart “The House That Jack Built” is a sort of “Fight Club” meets “American Psycho” where the violence is localized, drawn out and savage. And everyone knows as Jack is more than open in discussing his perverse proclivities with girlfriends, shop keeps and even law enforcement – there are no rules, you can talk all you want and no one will believe, no challenge will be made, the hunt must continue. Some have taken it as nothing more than a spectator sport of patriarchal, Patrick Bateman approved glee, others as a mission ordained from an unseen force and a drawling, disembodied narrator Verge (who eventually does appear in the films end) or even as simply a force of nature who is an integral part of the vicious but vital cycle where evil is indiscriminate and uncaring.

In the five distinct incidents (labeled in numerical order) Jack and Virgil invite us into, we get to know Jack through roughly a decade plus in 1970s/80s Washington state as he kills a bevy of victims including Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabol and finally Riley Keough who could be viewed the centerpiece of the slaughter, though the onslaught does not end there. There is no doubt that Jack is a serial killer, a predator stalking not only in the shadows but in broad daylight. In the beginning, we are witnesses to the fact that he is not a suave, efficient murderer but a bumbling, shortsighted shell of a man who makes endless mistakes riddled by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that give the first half of “The House That Jack Built” a Christopher Guest like mockumentary feel. Those hoping for “American Psycho” may be surprised and amused to see that Jack is not exactly the “Best In Show” when it comes to a killing spree.

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The second section descends like Dante into the circles of the Hell that Jack is both living in and that which he has created. His murders are more refined but also increasingly brazen, a craft perfected but purpose diminished; metaphorically and literally Jack is building a house, the physical one subject to scenes that beckoned for a Randy Newman song while the other is a grotesque garland befitting sonic contributions by Aphex Twin.  We do get to see the frustrations and fruits of Jack’s labor but it’s not a particularly satisfying or filling meal; the appetizer and main course are nourishing if undercooked but the bloated dessert service is anything but a treat. Some may be sickened by the violence and inhumane but devoted gorehounds are going to find this one a chore and not from boredom but because like this year’s other overdrawn entries, “Mandy” and “Suspiria” there is an appetite for more content and quality, not length and pomp.

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As a fair warning to those with sensitive palates, and is often the case for most the harm done to a baby animal by an elementary age Jack elicited the largest & loudest pangs of disgust from the audience; a revolting display to be sure but sadly ironic when the film feast on screen was paired with the side dish in the seats dining upon animals slaughtered in horrific fashion to satiate a much more real bloodlust than the gallons of Karo syrup dripping in each scene. Save for the finale, all the victims are women and children which has caused much fervor in traditional circles as well as enormous anger in the perpetually pissed SJW mob online and off but Jack’s statement is not political or socially motivated; it’s difficult to find any real meaning in his actions and that best describes most real-life monsters. The whole experience is par for the course in the end and it makes it no more outrage worthy or outrageous; this was done nearly 40 years ago with “Maniac.”

Matt Dillon plays his best Frank Zito, albeit more refined and successful but certainly not better than the late, great Joe Spinell. Dillon has always been an immensely talented actor and his work here doesn’t slouch but also feels more imitation than innovation. The remaining cast is rather stock and we rarely feel for most of them, likely Tier’s (and Jack’s) desired paradigm but even some of the most flimsy characters of the 80s slasher heyday were more likeable and memorable than those here.

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If “The House That Jack Built” foundation followed the first half throughout the entirety of the film going into further manic and absurdist territory, a greatest investment could have been garnered. The cast, cinematography, script all had  As it stands, this is one that would best remain a rental; purchase the recently released 40th Anniversary of “Maniac” and take solace in much better bloody sleaze…

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The Possession of Hannah Grace (2018) Review

The Possession of Hannah Grace

Directed by Diederik Van Rooijen

www.possessionofhannahgrace.movie/

“The Exorcist” is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year bearing the honorary title of “the scariest film ever made” and without a doubt could also be considered the most imitated. If not for the slasher boom born of the late 70s/early 80s hopes to duplicate the runaway success of “Halloween,” the glut of green pea spewing demonic darlings dotting the cinematic landscape of the first half of the “Me Decade” would probably hold the copycat crown. The latter half of the 1980s and pretty much all the 1990s abandoned the subgenre until the “The Exorcist” itself spilled into theaters to shock the next generation at the start of the new millennium with “The Version You’ve Never Seen” and a few years later with a prequel that failed not once but twice to put a spell on audiences. Then a curious casting occurred as films like “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “Paranormal Activity,” “The Possession,” “The Devil Inside,” “The Last Exorcism” and “Deliver Us from Evil” filled studio collection plates, even if not all offerings overflowed with critical praise. The films are usually cheap (“Paranormal Activity” allegedly cost $15k or possible less,) have small to medium casts, often only a few locations and usually don’t require any marquee names to deliver an ROI that would seem to be indicative a deal with the proverbial devil. “The Possession of Hannah Grace” fits all these categories and more; made for about $10 million ($20 million plus if you factor in advertising), has a principal cast of 8 largely unknown actors (the three leads are all TV series mainstays) and almost all locations are interior. While no major risk was taken here in any sense, it also leads to no spectacular payoff.

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“The Possession of Hannah Grace” does start with a promising premise and a bit of a ballsy move with the titular characters exorcism’s end lasting the whole of a five-minute prologue with Hannah dead by her father’s (genetic not Catholic) own hand. Three months later and we meet Megan (Shay Mitchell) who has begun a graveyard shift at a Boston hospital morgue, a role where she will be alone battling her own demons, many of which are from her previous position as a cop on the beat. She adjusts well to the new position until she encounters a stranger attempting to break into the sealed sanctity of the morgue and its further violation with the arrival of the bruised, bloody and battered body of Hannah Grace (well played by Kirby Johnson), her icy blue eye agape, fiery, penetrating. Every goes awry; the photographic equipment malfunctions, the lights flicker, the threat grows…

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Megan, her friend Lisa (who is also a nurse at the hospital, played by Stana Katic) and Andrew (Grey Damon who is a former fellow officer and Megan’s one-time boyfriend) all realize the impending doom far too late with the other denizens of the zero hour evening (an EMT named Randy played by Nick Thule, a pair of security guards Ernie and Dave portrayed by Jacob Ming-Trent and Max McNamara respectively) while Hannah stalks the night. While a few of the characters fates are well done (including the introduction), most are very repetitive. A couple scenes elicit some genuine unease but many are environmental and involve Hannah minimally, if at all. Her makeup and the SFX are creepy but with a lean 90-minute running time, the slow burn is minor – enough to singe but never engulf. Everyone turns in a decent performance but there’s neither an abundance or even quality of scares to make “The Possession of Hannah Grace” memorable. Those hopeful for the excellent “Autopsy of Jane Doe” (whose premise this film apes more than a little) are likely to leave thinking of “The Lazarus Effect.”

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“The Possession of Hannah Grace” is a popcorn possession film in the vein of “The Devil Inside” or “The Possession” – it won’t revive your faith in the subgenre but it’s a fun little service, an apt enough exercise in exorcism.  If the script (originally titled “Cadaver”) had been more willing to do something even half as bold and cerebral as “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” this could have harbored real substance. Instead the line was towed (or is that toetagged?) that though “The Possession of Hannah Grace” isn’t dead on arrival, its debut box office performance, critical thrashing and this viewing don’t have much hope for a second coming of “The Exorcist” – all one can do now is pray for Hannah Grace…

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Overlord (2018) Review

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Overlord

Directed by Julius Avery

https://www.paramount.com/movies/overlord

The horrors of war are well known; they’ve been disseminated through top of the day news, harrowing firsthand accounts, battlefield reenactments and demonstrating the immense power of the medium, in the moving pictures and soaring scores of films.  Most maintain, or at least attempt to preserve historical accuracy in the bravery & brutality of conflict though as is common in the movie business these are scrapped in lieu of dramatic narratives, romantic plot points and modern social & political influence often resulting in rampant revisionism.  When it comes fantasy, science fiction and especially horror, most of these are tossed out the proverbial window or work to find a balancing act between fact & fiction; Julius Avery’s “Overlord” falls somewhere in between; it’s harrowing, intense and completely over the top action-packed fun.

War horror is nothing new with its own small but dedicated subgenre (“Deathwatch,” “Outpost,” “Frankenstein’s Army” – hell, even “Dog Soldiers” counts among the comrades) or the shellshock exemplified by classics like “Deathdream,” “The Keep,” “Ravenous” and “Jacob’s Ladder” but “Overlord” may be the biggest, boldest blockbuster attempt at bringing the demonic frontlines to the big screen.

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It is the eve of D-Day and a ragtag group of young paratroopers is preparing to descend upon a radio tower they’ve been tasked to destroy but are shot down and must scale across enemy territory under cover of night with a skeleton crew led by Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) and encompassing the stoic Boyce (Jovan Adepo), loudmouth sniper Tibbett (John Magaro) and combat photographer Chase (Ian De Casestecker.)  They soon encounter a local young woman Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who takes them to their crumbling chateau home to her young brother Paul (Gianny Taufer) and an unnamed aunt (played by a disfigured and completely unrecognizable Meg Foster.) As they attempt to complete their mission with limited infantry, artillery and hope, their hand is forced by SS Capt. Wafner (Palou Asbaek) who attempts to rape Chloe and due to Boyce’s armed intervention shows that there is more than one face of hell in times of war…

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To say more is a spoil is due only the viewer/victor and while it’s obvious something inhuman is occurring inside the church the Nazi radio tower is housed in to match the evil outside, it’s origin as scientific, supernatural or a blend of both is better left unsaid and the bulk of the fun. While “Overlord” is not connected to the “Cloverfield” universe as many of producer JJ Abrams’ acolytes had hopes for, “Overlord” has more than enough sci-fi horror sparks to satiate any of that franchises diehards and then some. Hell, there’s so much balls out insanity here, I can see fans of properties diverse as “Hellboy,” The Punisher,” and “Wolfenstein” having lots of fun. Screenwriter Billy Ray (whose penned less than stellar features like “Volcano” and “Color of Night” and could-have-been-great titles like “Flightplan” and “Secret In The Eyes”) delivers a serviceable script that’s punched up immensely by the trio of powerhouse performances by the heroic Joyan Adepo, the intense Wyatt Russel with a Busey like tinge of rubber faced madness and the classic villain Palou Asbaek who chews dialogue with a serial flare. A salute to the great Bokeem Woodbine is in order who much like his turn in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a standout here despite being so limited; he makes every moment on screen count and deserves more big budget vehicles to showcase his prowess.

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For those who have an appetite for gore, wartime or otherwise “Overlord” may be the bloodliest studio film of the year, save for possibly the incredible “Upgrade.” Not only are there ample amounts of blood, guts and assorted human chum, there are more than a few on screen moments that have a Cronenberg like level of body horror that caused many audience members to recoil in disgust which should be the only endorsement needed…so if the opportunity for an IMAX screening arises, it is your duty to pay the surcharge. There’s an “Inglorious Bastards” level of Nazi killing which is always a plus but truly the legacy of “Overlord” may be that it’s the closest to a cinematic adaptation of the landmark “Wolfenstein” one is likely to see.

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“Overlord” is war horror for both the mainstream that can stomach it enough to celebrate it and the diehard fans in the foxhole that have been championing this niche genre for many on screen engagements. It is unlikely to have the tickertape heavy box office homecoming the studio desires but it’s ability to act adeptly as a live-action precode comic, revisionist war drama and big budget B movie speaks volume of its talent and valor that hopefully will have many others ready to re-enlist….

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Halloween Horror Movie Binge, Dismember the Alamo & Halloween (2018) – Cult Following #91

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In this episode of Cult Following, the gang discusses the remake of Halloween (2018), plus Victor discusses programming the Dismember the Alamo horror marathons for the Alamo Drafthouse Phoenix locations. The gang also discusses more underseen Halloween horror such as Jennifer’s Body, The Old Dark House, and Tales from the Hood 1 and 2.

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Venom, Bad Times at the El Royale & Underrated Halloween Horror – Cult Following #90

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In this episode, the gang picks some underrated and underseen horror movies you should watch this holiday season. Plus, reviews of Bad Times at the El Royale, Venom, a breakdown of what to expect at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Dismember the Alamo screenings this October and much, much more!

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