The Lodge (2019)

Hey, THE LODGE is a horror film with a chilly snowbound setting so how can it not be fun? I’ll tell you how; it also happens to be one of those new-fangled emotionally torturous artsy flicks that make you feel like you’re losing your mind. You know the drill, fifty percent of the audience is going to find it brilliant, the other half will claim it’s boring and I’m going to end up hiding under a blanket tormented by suicidal thoughts and a feeling of incompleteness because I do not maintain an exact replica of my home in dollhouse form. Honestly, I don’t need this bad mojo right now, mid-to-late February is not the time to be playing around with crazy-making, mind-fuck flicks concerning isolation, damnation, purgatory and pet death, especially when said movie’s runtime is approximately forever-ish.

Don’t get me wrong, THE LODGE is basically a masterpiece when it comes to delivering waves and waves of impenetrable unease but so is every social media site I’m actively trying to avoid. I get it, you win, THE LODGE! You successfully made me feel like garbage for three days and counting- are ya happy now? Maybe you should just change your name to “HEREDITARY, HOLD MY BEER…” Folks, I can’t tell you how many nineties-era sitcoms with jaunty theme songs I had to watch just to regain a thimble full of equilibrium.

THE LODGE concerns a family who (for reasons I’ll never understand) celebrate Thanksgiving by hanging plastic roasted turkey ornaments outside and donning plastic roasted turkey hats. In other words, they are insane and are born to be insanity magnets and attract insanity wherever they go. Perhaps the only rational person presented is the mother played by the never lovelier, ALICIA SILVERSTONE who taps out of the nightmare universe this movie conjures as quickly as possible (via blowing her brains out). The empathy-free father decides a good way to celebrate Christmas with his two grief-stricken children is to force them into spending the holiday with his fiancé/mistress who just happens to be the emotionally fragile, lone surviving member of a death cult- and her dog Grady who is clearly named after the psycho caretaker in THE SHINING. After a near-death experience on a frozen lake, pop gets a call from work and supposes it’s totally cool to leave his children with someone they barely know and hold directly responsible for their mother’s early departure from this mortal coil. One evening, the trio makes the questionable decision to watch THE THING (1982) and JACK FROST (1998) back to back and for their folly wake up trapped in a purgatory chuck full of eerie occurrences that may or may not be hallucinations and a nonstop parade of ominous omens.

There are a couple of images in THE LODGE that I will likely drag with me to the grave and I don’t appreciate that. When it comes to choosing sides on the verdict of “boring” or “brilliant”, I’m going to have to begrudgingly lean toward “brilliant” simply because there were times during this movie in which I feared I myself might be dead and I had to resist the urge to stand up and scream until I was assisted out of the building. That said, I can’t imagine a scenario where I would ever subject myself to watching this movie again. It may have to be filed in the cursed movie file in my head along with DER TODESKING (‘90) and V.I. WARSHAWSKI (‘91). Then again, maybe I could watch this movie in the summer during a completely different mental state and find joy in its fragrant symbolism and wrecking ball pessimism. It should be said that that the performances in this movie are all top-notch. RILEY KEOUGH, as tortured Grace, compellingly rides a razor blade between sympathetic and off-putting and LIA McCUGH, as Mia, is heartbreaking and should be a shoo-in to play a young FLORENCE PUGH if there’s ever a MIDSOMMAR prequel.

I ultimately give this movie props for mercilessly ruffling my psychological feathers just as it intended to but can’t argue with anyone who finds it manipulative and heavy-handed as well. Love it or lump it, I think everyone can agree it’s a painful watch and a kick in the shins reminder that perhaps the only order to this world is the order you construct yourself. Now I’m off to punish myself further by watching the hell that is JACK FROST. It’s what I deserve. I must repent!

Gretel and Hansel (2020)

Any time ALICE KRIGE appears in a horror movie it is an occasion for rejoicing. She’s one of the greatest character actresses who ever lived plus she’s got a near LON CHANEY-esque talent for meshing with monstrous roles. The KRIGE was all kinds of mesmerizing in GHOST STORY (‘81), seriously sinister in SLEEPWALKERS (‘92), ten tons of threatening in STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT (‘96) and magnificently mortifying in SILENT HILL (‘06). In GRETEL AND HANSEL, she takes on the role of Holda, a haggy archetypal fairy tale witch with cannibalistic tendencies and it’s her most gleefully despicable creation yet (if you don’t count Tully, the literary agent she portrayed in BARFLY (‘86)). Director OSGOOD PERKINS appears to fully appreciate winning the lottery in the casting department and wisely allows KRIGE to fully KRIGE and the uncanny end result is like an inevitable monument foretold in the stars. The fact that KRIDGE spends most of her time here psychologically sparring with the formidable aptness of SOPHIA LILLIS (IT: CHAPTERS 1 &2) as the titular Gretel is even more to be thankful for. GRETEL AND HANSEL is a smidge tottery at times and I can’t help craving it had a more robust right hook but I sense it accomplishes everything it sets out to do refreshingly unconcerned with audience expectations.

GRETEL AND HANSEL is much more like a trip to the art gallery than the amusement park (I might even say it’s more of a spell/hex than a film/movie) so if you prefer the latter you may want to skip it altogether. I found myself in a kind of hog heaven of sorts but must admit that the candle-lit cabin coziness of everything made me momentarily drowsy at times (that’s less of a complaint than it sounds). This movie is undeniably stunning on a visual level, absolutely gorgeous; a shoebox diorama filled with perfectly lit construction paper silhouettes. It’s like GUY MADDIN (CAREFUL (‘92)) playing WIN LOSE OR DRAW with ALEXANDRO JODOROWSKY (HOLY MOUNTAIN (‘73)) and the answer he’s trying to illustrate is ROB ZOMBIE’s LORDS OF SALEM. It’s as if THE WITCH (2015) and EYES OF FIRE (‘83) played hooky from school and did mushrooms while swinging in hammocks listening to THE COCTEAU TWINS. I can’t say no to this sort of thing! The soundtrack is by ROB, the same dude who did MANIAC (2012) for crying out loud! I’m starting to believe watching a movie is a lot like being hypnotized and we’re all susceptible to wildly different triggers and cues. This jaunt tugged all the correct occult harp strings in my spine and I tip my triangular Aleister Crowley cap to it. Maybe for its own sake, it should have thrown the audience a bone in the form of a more explosive climax but I guess that would have been against its very nature. As it stands, it’s a singular dark visual poem that sure to become a totem among the esoteric. Sure the story is sort of like a trail of breadcrumbs left for the birds but this crazy catalog of cursed eye-candy left me convinced that one truly arresting image may be worth more than some entire franchises.

Edge of the Axe (1988)

If my faithful TV was a fancy nightclub and I was its bouncer, I swear I’d never card an eighties slasher movie. I’d let them ALL in with a wink and a nod even if they were visibly drunk and not wearing shoes. EDGE OF THE AXE (1988) is just such a hard to reject eighties slasher movie (although I hesitate to call it a slasher movie due to the fact that nobody gets slashed- they’re too busy getting chopped and hacked — and rather viciously I might add– to pieces). This flick is indeed partially goofy but that doesn’t curb its potent violent streak one iota. Directed by our old pal JOSE RAMON LARRAZ (he who gifted us with THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED, VAMPYRES and DEADLY MANOR among others), EDGE OF THE AXE relays the standard tale of two computer obsessed nerds who fall in love investigating a barrage of axe murders mostly aimed at the psychiatric community. There are oddball characters falling out of the woodwork and every single one of them seems like a viable suspect. I don’t suggest trying to decipher any possible clues in this random mystery, just sit back and enjoy the woodsy scenery, the instantly outdated technology, and the eerie omnipresence of orange SUNKIST soda cans.

EDGE OF THE AXE acts a lot like fellow Spanish-American co-production PIECES (1982). Maybe something was lost in the translation while these films were being made but they both end up being lovably quirky, oddly histrionic, and ultimately effectively brutal. EDGE’s white-faced killer is pretty darn scary at times and I’ll also say alarmingly enthusiastic. Not only does this flick not shy away from gory kills it also doesn’t flinch when revealing the aftermath (there’s at least one applause-worthy severed head found floating in the lake). As creepy as the white-masked murderer may be, he’s got nothing on the free-floating computer voice that allows the two main characters to communicate with each other. It’s the strangest thing; every time something is typed onto a computer screen, it is read aloud by a voiceover that I’m guessing is supposed to sound robotic but sounds bored instead. It’s off-putting and clumsily done but of course, endearing as well. I’m unsure but it’s possible that this movie invented texting.

EDGE OF THE AXE is available thanks to the fine folks at ARROW who consistently knock it out of the park in regards to releasing idiosyncratic obscurities ripe for wider notoriety. The Blu-Ray’s got some lovely new cover art by Justin Osbourne, liner notes by our beloved chum Amanda Reyes and a commentary by the always brilliant, Hysteria Continues. As someone who has only seen the movie on VHS, I gotta say the 2k restoration looks amazing. It’s such a handsome, generous package overall that I’m going to overlook the fact that this movie shamelessly kills a doggie and an innocent pig for no reason. For all its sloppy faults it can’t help being a delicious horror hoagie stuffed with a to-die-for synth score, old school gore, a masked killer, buckets of red herrings, romantic meet-cutes that involve changing light bulbs, dead bodies crammed in attics, ancient computer espionage, weird dubbing, and random Dudley Do-Right sightings. It takes a long route to get nowhere but its vivid murders scenes are worth the ride alone and really, you should have vowed to buy this movie at any cost as soon as I compared it to PIECES.

The Prodigy (2019)

Dear THE PRODIGY, this hurts me more than it hurts you. I hate writing negative reviews. I feel guilty afterward. Creating anything is admirable and dismissing someone’s hard work is not cool. On the other hand, I’d hate for people to think I’m a chump who falls for anything. Plus, maybe disliking some movies helps to accentuate the love you have for other movies? Hmm, maybe. I didn’t dig THE PRODIGY. It wasn’t my cup of tea. O.K., I hated it. Which is kinda crazy because I basically love all killer kid movies, even lesser ones like DADDY’S GIRL (‘96), THE PAPERBOY (‘94) and MILO (‘98). I should have been such easy pickins’! PRODIGAL SON couldn’t even sell me on the idea of reincarnation when I already pretty much believe in it. They actually changed my mind in the reverse direction. Now the idea just seems silly. I do now believe in emotional vampires though because THE PRODIGY left me feeling zapped out, tired and vaguely depressed. It’s a borderline distasteful joyless dirge. There’s no fun to be had here. It’s funless. My favorite thing about THE PRODIGY is that it makes me appreciate THE ORPHAN (2009) even more. THE ORPHAN is brilliant. Love that movie.

There’s gotta be something more positive I can say. I guess the cinematography is pretty slick and…consistent. JACKSON ROBERT SCOTT (who played Georgie in IT) is a decent actor, can’t blame him. The guy who played the hand-stealing killer (PAUL FAUTEUX) that the kid is possessed by was suitably creepy. TAYLOR SHILLING of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK plays the mom. I usually like her and know she can act but I don’t think the director (NICHOLAS McCARTHY who did THE PACT (2012)- which is great) did her many favors here; she mostly just makes distorted faces and strained grimaces. I’ll just point an accusatory finger at the writer (JEFF BUHLER, the same chap who wrote the PET SEMATARY remake that was only so-so) because there seems to be something wrong with this house on a structural level. For example, this movie gives away a juicy plot point that could have been saved for a later shocking revelation in its opening scene. It’s annoying. THE PRODIGY only has so much Halloween candy to give out and it’s like it gives half of the bowl to the first trick-or-treater that knocks on its door. Then it’s like out of candy before the night is over and soon all it can do is hand out pennies and coupons and gross Mary Janes. Maybe I watched this movie too soon after I viewed the wonderful UNDERWATER and it just paled by comparison? Would I like it better with a re-watch? Nah, I’m going to give THE PRODIGY my worst possible verdict by saying I’m never going to watch it again and I have no desire to buy a used copy of it from Redbox for $3.99.

Underwater (2020)

Once upon a time when I was a little kid living in sunny California, an older neighbor dude kindly offered to teach my two older brothers and me how to use a scuba tank in our pool! Obviously it was the most exciting proposition human ears had ever heard. Firstly though, the neighbor insisted on giving us a few safety tips. He then went on to explain that if a person were to come out of the water too quickly an air bubble would get in their brain and they’d die instantly. Say what now? My two older brothers were unmoved by this information and gamely tried the scuba tank out but when it came to my turn I was way too terrified to proceed. If mistakes were possible then I would certainly be the one to make them and I didn’t want to die in my own pool. In retrospect, I doubt I could have met my demise under so much supervision in the great depths of a merely six-foot deep pool but the guy had freaked me out so badly that there was no way I was going to take any chances. All this to say that UNDERWATER sorta hit me where I live from the get-go. I felt like I was holding my breath for two hours and I even worried that I am now at the age when a heart attack is a very real possibility.

UNDERWATER is a legitimately awesome mash-up of horror, sci-fi and disaster flick that really deserves a better title (I’ve come up with PRESSURE, BREATHE and THE DEPTHS OF HELL). It has already been completely dismissed by critics and audiences alike but that only puts it in the same company as THE THING, BLADE RUNNER and (yay) DEEP RISING (to name but a few). I guess I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of the nation because I absolutely dug it from ocean floor to ceiling. Besides being a non-stop thrill ride, it played me like a fiddle when it came to addressing issues like getting over a loved one’s death and the simple human art of always moving forward no matter how bleak things appear. There were also some nice nods to ALICE IN WONDERLAND (drowning in tears, “we’re all mad here” graffiti and a plush white toy rabbit) that I greatly approved of. Plus it’s got a sense of wonder and it’s often difficult to determine whether what you are beholding is hideous or beautiful. That’s a space I can’t resist.

UNDERWATER is the type of movie that had me physically straining my eyes to SEE more. There are all these murky depths and grainy textures and things flow in and out of frame in a magical way. The brightest bursts of fluorescent color occur in fields of gray-grunge and I thought it was all very painterly for an action dispenser. Without ruining anything, I simply was not prepared for the colossal scope the movie is ultimately capable of delivering. I found the climax to be pretty much breathtaking. The cast is uniformly excellent too with KRISTEN STEWART delivering a strangely calming resolve, the great VINCENT CASSEL as a deeper than you’d think captain and T.J. MILLER as the requisite sarcastic comic relief (props to JESSICA HENWICK, JOHN GALLAGHER JR. and poor, poor MAMOUDOU ATHIE as well). Don’t listen to anybody who carps about the characters being slight. I think if you actually listen to them and hear their backstories and motivations, they’re built about as well as they can be considering the time restraints. I’m sure they’ll only strengthen and gel further with multiple viewings.

UNDERWATER is way more original than it will ever be given credit for. Sure, it’s impossible to ignore its debt to ALIEN but geez, I’m fine with that. ALIEN owes IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) several beers and we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Bring on a dozen more movies with such noble aspirations! I’m all on board. I proudly go on record saying that I adored UNDERWATER not as “schlocky fun” or a “guilty pleasure” but as a well-made survival adventure film (and perhaps the very first undersea creature feature that’s not stingy with its monster(s)). It’s a heart-pounding dive that doesn’t mind contemplating humanity’s arrogant need to elbow its way into spaces that we don’t belong and it doesn’t shirk away from the emotional ramifications of death. This is colossal, Lovecraftian-sized spellbinding horror. Trust me, you’re going to be sorry if you miss it while it’s playing on the big screen.

Black Christmas (2019)

I was excited when I heard Blumhouse was going to remake BLACK CHRISTMAS considering the respectful way they were able to help the HALLOWEEN franchise up on its feet and send it in a well-received and fruitful direction. Then the trailer popped up online and my faith buckled a bit because it looked sorta drab and it couldn’t stop telling on itself. I refused to give up the ghost entirely though because I recalled how I judged the 2006 remake too harshly at first and then went on to learn to love its various charms and ignore its bizarre missteps. Well, it turns out the ill feelings the trailer left me with were sort of prophetic. After an enjoyably retro campus-slasher opening, it manages to be sufficiently entertaining for some time only to careen full force into a stupendously silly conclusion. I wish I could say its fearlessly off the wall wind-up rendered it goofy fun but since it spends much time gnawing serious issues early on, it feels more like self-sabotage.

This modern take got a lot of grief online for daring to be clear about its feminist viewpoint. As someone who grew up thinking the Bionic Woman was way cooler than the Six Million Dollar Man, I don’t really understand how female empowerment ruffles fan-boy feathers. I don’t believe BLACK CHRISTMAS does itself any harm by simply laying its ideas/ammo on the table, I just wish it was a surer shot when it came to taking down its adversaries. I very much enjoyed seeing professional contrarian Camille Paglia taken to task (she was a customer at my video store and truly the most atrocious individual I’ve ever encountered of any gender) but I felt some cringe when it came to the handling of the main character’s past rape. Riley (IMOGENE POOTS) is fortunate to have a championing support group but I have to question the thoughtlessness of her gal pals badgering her to preform a parody of “Up on the House Top” with jokey lyrics addressing date rape in front of her very rapist. One of her chums even tells her “you won” afterwards which I found even more bothersome (though that may have been the intention). Later when we find out what’s actually causing the rash of murders, it renders the culprits somewhat inculpable and I’m not sure how I felt about that either. I guess that I dug that it talked the talk but felt that it walked the walk rather clumsily (plus I feel like I’ve seen the rallying finale done way better in countless episodes of BUFFY.)

On the plus side, POOTS is impeccable. She somehow breathes pure life into uneven material and it’s easy to find yourself caring about her fate. There’s also more than a few moments that successfully conjure up the atmosphere of a classic eighties slasher and it’s clear director SOPHIA TAKAL and co-writer APRIL WOLFE have genuine affection for such films. It’s almost sad to think how much better the movie could have been if it just spoke its mind and drove straight ahead rather than making a u-turn into the supernatural zone. I suppose we’d still have to deal with its glaring seams. As nicely orchestrated as much is, there are large ragged chunks crammed with awkward voiceovers and an over reliance on flashbacks to clarify important plot-points. I don’t mind the PG- 13 rating (I’ll always be grateful for my G-rated teen experience with ‘82s ONE DARK NIGHT) but this film’s editing almost physically hurts as it strains to show just enough and has to snap away just when you’re getting a splinter of visual information.

Gripes aside, there’s no way around the fact that I have a serious soft spot for Christmas set horror films and BLACK CHRISTMAS (‘19) was at least kind enough to toss me plenty of snow, twinkling lights and even a crystal unicorn cameo. Could I grow to enjoy it like the last redo simply for being its own faulty, semi-original self (not sure how “original” a movie can claim to be when it involves that evil catch-all, black goo)? It’s possible, I guess (especially if an R-rated version materializes). I did dig a fair share of the ride and even when it’s tripping over its own feet, it’s at least thought provoking. As for now, I’ve got to call out its wobbly nature. I certainly didn’t hate it as much as the audience member who stood up at the end and declared that it was the “worst movie ever.” I thought that particular naysayer was a bit over the top but I do applaud her for voicing her opinion.

Knives Out (2019)

Murder mysteries are the kissing cousins of horror flicks. KNIVES OUT is particularly horror adjacent thanks to the presence of eternal horror queen JAMIE LEE CURTIS and the always game for terror dipping TONI COLETTE. If that’s not enough to pique your interest, this baby delivers a majestic mansion, autumnal atmosphere, a couple of corpses and even a random spider crawling on someone’s face. Whoever thought of releasing this splendid whodunit right in time for the Thanksgiving holiday is my new best friend. I’m currently planning on watching it every year on Turkey Day because even though it offers zero in the cranberry sauce department, it features family members squabbling, dead leaves cascading about and the warmest looking sweaters. Better still for my holiday needs is its presentation of Linus Van Pelt-level sincerity ultimately foiling unfettered greed and privilege.

Unfortunately for this post though, this is the type of movie I think you should see knowing as little as possible about. I guess the basic set up is fair game so here it is: A wealthy mystery writer is found dead after a birthday party attended by his family. At first it looks like a suicide but of course, it isn’t and everyone who attended said party becomes a suspect. There. That’s all I’m going to say except (no spoilers); KNIVES OUT cuts with perfect precision and it’s one of those rare movies that keeps getting better and better as you watch it, every single turn of the screw makes the overall puzzle richer and more satisfying. I have my fingers crossed that DANIEL CRAIG’s southern sleuthing character Benoit Blanc appears in more movies than James Bond. Actually, the entire cast is stellar from the impressive newbies to the long-familiar folks showing off sides you’ve rarely seen.

I really don’t have much more to add than do yourself a favor and go see KNIVES OUT. Perhaps the strangest aspect of my experience with this movie is that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it in a packed movie theater. This is very unusual for me! I usually like to see movies as alone as I can possibly be but for some reason this movie made me feel a communal connection toward my fellow audience members who seemed to be having as much fun with it as myself. It actually cured me of my ever-expanding misanthropy for at least its full runtime! Nope, I wouldn’t change a hair on its lovely head. It’s wickedly clever, truly suspenseful at times and it says so much without loudly grinding an axe. KNIVES OUT is so satisfying it left me feeling like I’d just finished a masterful meal (and I’m looking forward to the day when I can watch it back-to-back with 2019’s other CLUE-esque twisted family gathering READY OR NOT).

Witchcraft (1964)

I always have time for a movie concerning witches and if it’s casting its spell in gorgeous black and white that’s even better in my book. Directed by Don Sharp (who helmed the equally atmospheric KISS OF THE VAMPIRE a year earlier), WITCHCRAFT is a surprisingly dark and moody tale with a superbly gloomy ending. I’m a little shocked that it has evaded me for so many years because it seems like it should be mentioned alongside some of my favorite titles like BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962), HORROR HOTEL (1960) and THE WOMAN WHO CAME BACK (1945). Truth is, I found it streaming free on TubiTV and liked it so much that I went online to buy a copy only to recognize it as something I already owned and hadn’t viewed yet (it’s in one of those “Midnight Movie” double feature sets from MGM with DEVIL’S OF DARKNESS (1965)). I know that’s not a very interesting story but I want to publically yell at myself for purchasing movies and not watching them. Plus, I’d like to alert the world that my brain has seen better days.

WITCHCRAFT opens with gravestones being crushed by a bulldozer. Because this film takes place decades before POLTERGEIST (1982), it’s not yet public knowledge that putting a land development on top of a graveyard is a rotten idea. The legendary Lon Chaney, Jr. as Morgan Whitlock is seeing red about the desecration (as well he should) because the very same family disturbing the graves (the Laniers) buried his relative Vanessa Whitlock (Diane Clare) alive under (accurate) accusations of witchcraft there. It’s sort of a Hatfields vs. McCoys situation except one family are greedy jerks who steal land and the other family are cool witches who can make you think you’re driving your car on Main Street when you’re really driving off of a cliff. Making things even stickier is the canoodling of two young lovers (David Weston as Todd Lanier and Diane Clare as Amy Whitlock) from each clan who hope to bypass all this ancient history and start anew. Peace and tranquility are hardly in the cards though because Vanessa Whitlock has risen from the grave and she looks fierce, awesomely creepy and totally pissed.

This toasty flick is tailor-made for watching from under a blanket with a reliable cat at your side. There’s a big old dark house full of menacing shadows and dizzying wallpaper, foggy walks to a torch-lit crypt, a bed-ridden old lady cackling out warnings, and a funeral for nearly every character who doesn’t abide. Plus, you get chanting Satanic cults, voodoo dolls and the kind of lovable score that doesn’t mind beating revelations into your head with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Some of it may be a bit tame and hokey by today’s standards (at one point we’re meant to be alarmed by a toad) but underneath its reserved veneer, it couldn’t be more dark and pessimistic (one character, who seems primed for redemption actually ends up with a wicked demise). The resurrected witch Vanessa Whitlock is pretty charming and alarming to behold and in a world starved for female ghoul representation, I think she deserves much more notoriety. Like all great monsters, she’s as sympathetic as she is frightening and I’m a little sad she didn’t leave a deep enough impression to warrant a sequel. #justiceforvanessawhitlock

Doctor Sleep (2019)

Mike Flanagan is an incredibly talented filmmaker with singular talents and a sincere love of the genre that consistently flows through his work. He also doesn’t mind driving me insane by wearing his heart on his sleeve, underlining things that don’t require it and hitting sour notes at the worst possible time. Is it just me? I think it’s just me and I have to accept that. I loved THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE but felt kicked in the shins by its neatly tied in a bow closure. I think he achieved the impossible adapting GERALD’S GAME but felt yanked out of the drama by the overstated villain. Now, I absolutely loved about eighty percent of DOCTOR SLEEP only to find portions of its climax practically cringe-worthy. But look, eighty percent is a great grade. It’s basically a “B” right? I just feel like a real stick in the mud about this because I see so many with nothing but hearts in their eyes concerning this film. It is unquestionably quite an achievement, with inevitable classic status performances; it flies admirably high but to me, its landing is kinda janky.

Ewan McGregor is Danny Torrance (now Dan) all grown up and slipping into self-destroying, memory-buffering alcoholism. Luckily fate does him a solid and pushes the nicest guy on Earth, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) into his path and soon he’s collecting AA coins and helping the elderly through the doorway of death with the help of a psychic cat (all cats are psychic and this is the part of the movie where I wish it was a mini-series so that we could spend more time in this cozy zone). He also discovers another person with his “shining” abilities, a staunch young girl named Abra (Kyleigh Curran) who he messages with frequency via his groovy chalkboard wall (he has the coolest apartment since MORK & MINDY). Trouble arises when a vampire-like group of psychic energy-sucking miscreants led by “Rose The Hat” (Rebecca Ferguson) get a whiff of Abra’s whammy fuel and decide it will be really awesome to smoke her like a doobie (these rats are so unscrupulous that they chomped on a little boy after a baseball game in the movie’s most disturbing scene). To be clear: acting and casting-wise, everybody in this movie is uniformly excellent. McGregor is deep as a well, Curtis is rock solid, Curran is steadfast, Ferguson delivers something for the ages and her right-hand henchman Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon) and new recruit “Snakebite Andi” (Emily Alyan Lind) are as compelling as they are threatening. Even more incredibly, Carl Lubly as Hallorann and Alex Essoe as Wendy Torrence (!) occupy their legendary roles effortlessly.

I’m all in and things keep getting better and better and its all beautifully winding its way to the inevitable confrontation at the ground zero of Dan’s distress. I’m floating on a cloud. I love these people, good and bad (though we needed more cat), I feel like I’ve rarely seen a movie so respectful of its character’s motivations. What a beautiful examination of trauma, recovery and the value of self-forgiveness and friendship. In fact, I like this “Rose The Hat” much better than the Janis Joplin creep I pictured in my head when I read the book! And now THE SHINING music starts! I can hardly take it! It’s all so exquisite and then we get to the piece de resistance… the Overlook Hotel! This is it; this is what I’ve waited decades for… I’m with Dan, I am Dan at this point…

The wheels of the cart don’t fall off at the Overlook hotel but they sure did screech and wobble for me. I held on as long as I could, I clutched with all my might but something about the climax chaffed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s a weakness in me but it starts to feel like a cross between visual karaoke and a theme park maze. It’s like they’re strolling through a wax museum. At one point Rose The Hat looks down the hall, sees the elevator pouring blood and sort of does a knowing smile/wink that is so on the nose I thought she might start singing, “I think I’m going to like it here” from ANNIE. I dunno, in THE SHINING (both the King book and Kubrick flick) it felt like the spirits involved were infinite and unknowable, here they feel like a limited “Legion of Doom” rogues gallery. It’s me. It’s my fault. I’m a curmudgeon. I can’t think of any way Flanagan could have handled the material better (hmmm, maybe go all in and throw me the bear/dog man bone and lay off the bathroom lady a tad?). Don’t worry, I’m not going to throw out the old hag out with the bathwater. I’m sure I’ll watch this movie again and I’ll soften to seeing haunting horror iconography scrolled through like a family vacation slideshow. My niece texted me after the movie and asked me how it was. I texted back, “I have mixed feelings but it’s definitely worth seeing”. At the risk of sounding like the type of person who would call Picasso’s Guernica “busy”, that’s pretty much my review in a nutshell.