Army of the Dead

In the midst of breaking open a sophisticated vault beneath a Las Vegas casino swarming with zombies, a character hits you with an unexpected hypothesis: according to him, the people in the film are reliving a time loop.

This kooky idea in Zack Snyders Army of the Dead springs up when the crew finds decimated bodies of the people who had previously tried to crack the safe. I mean, look at them. Its us. It could be us in another timeline, he says, trying to spook his companion. To his credit, the skull and bones and the tattered clothes do have a vague, passing, resemblanceif youre willing to turn your head a little and squint a lot.

But, let me get my facts straight a littlein the middle of a bank heist zombie survival film, we somehow have a timeline that shows both dead and alive versions of the characters in the same film, without explanation. Clearly Snyder who does everything from cinematography to writing to directing in this worthless sequel to his near-classic, career starting original Dawn of the Dead (2004) needs to have someone talk him out of his whims.

Not only is the hypothesis a slap-on amendment to an otherwise lacklustre zombie movie it doesnt play out in the context of the overall story it only proves the point I made in a recent Icon article on time-loops and time travel: the fad is popping up in places where you least expect it to.

Zack Snyders Army of the Dead is a worthless sequel to his near-classic, career-starting original Dawn of the Dead while theres a lot to discover in The Woman in the Window. Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a continuation of one of the most effective horror franchises in cinema right now

But what am I saying? There are many reasons why Army of the Dead feels like a daft, one-draft screenplay, written by a director who just wants his vision to come out unadulterated.

Shooting in extreme shallow focus again: an indulgent whim; a centimetre here or there, and the characters step in and out of focus the film is a flat-footed, overlong jaunt, where an ex-Marine-turned-cook (Dave Bautista) is hired by a casino owner (Hiroyuki Sanada) to assemble a rag-tag team of specialists to raid millions from a vault in the zombie-infested Vegas, before the city gets nuked by the government in 36 hours.

Running at nearly two-and-a-half hours, there is a good twist half way about a slowly developing, intelligent zombie culture. Alas, the idea gets shot down by brainless, lifeless filmmaking or in other words zombie filmmaking.

Advice: stop watching after the extensive six minute-long opening credits that qualify as a much better short film, because it goes downhill from that moment onwards.

Streaming on Netflix, Army of the Dead is rated R for violence, nudity, sex and language ie. everything children should be kept away from anyways

The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window may seem as if its bursting at the seams from the directors weighty vision but, I assure you, look beyond its deliberate, in-your-face, visual theatrics and theres a lot to discover.

The premise is a simple one: a psychiatrist (Amy Adams) with an agoraphobic disorder (ie. fear of open or public spaces) gets mixed up in a case of murder and mistaken identities as she spies on a family from the seclusion of her apartment.

Based on the novel of the same name by A.J. Finn, if the concept and the trailer harks of Alfred Hitchcock and Rear Window (itself an adaptation of Cornell Woolrichs 1942 short story It Had To Be Murder), then youre not far off in your assumption.

I wouldnt know of Finns novel, but the film has a ton of homages: from the seeming familiarity of Rear Window (1954) or a staircase shot reminiscent of Vertigo (1958; again, Hitchcock), to scenes from noir classics playing on television like the Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence from Hitchcocks Spellbound (1945), a scene from Laura (1944) and the beauty shot of Lauren Bacall from Dark Passage (1947) the film is a tribute to the classics.

Like the best of cinemas golden age thrillers, the climax isnt a mind-boggling revelation; actually, it may appear to be a bit trite by todays standards. Still, director Joe Wright (Darkest Hour, Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) and lead actress Adams get fine support from Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore; in fact, the two actresses share a brief, subtle but masterclass-level scene by bouncing performances off each other.

The execution may be a bit heavy-handed for casual viewers but, if youre into classic films, this is a good way to spend an hour and 40 minutes.

Streaming on Netflix, The Woman in the Window is rated 16+ for scenes of violence and some language

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Director Michael Chavez, in his second film after The Curse of La Llorona, improves quite a bit. However, I have a sneaky suspicion theres an insane level of quality control overseeing the storytelling process. After all, Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Conjuring 3) is a continuation of one of the most effective horror franchises in cinema right now.

Counting Annabelle and The Nun spin-offs, thats eight films and $1.9 billion at the box-office, making the Conjuring Universe the highest grossing franchise of all time.

Thats a lot of pressure.

It would have been cool to see Conjuring 3 in cinemas; the scares wouldve been more effective. Thankfully, the focus is on characters and long-term story arcs, so the smaller screen makes do.

Based on another true case from Ed and Lorraines (Patrick Wilson, Vera Fermiga) casebook, the husband and wife paranormal investigators hit a roadblock trying to help a possessed boy, when none of the usual exorcisms seem to have any effect. In a desperate bid, the boyfriend of the boys elder sister gives himself to the demon and, sure enough, finds himself being used as a tool for something far sinister.

For the first time, Ed and Lorraine seem to have a bona fide villain pulling the strings, with Ed himself ending up being possessed. The plot-heavy screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (based on his and former franchise director James Wans story), plays like a procedural thriller and sets up a long-term story arc.

Heres my concern though: the filmmakers have to step up their game a little, because the franchise could very well lose its footing from this point onwards. If the scares disappear, not even Ed and Lorraine (and their very fine actors, Fermiga and Wilson) or the effective production design may be able to save the franchise from the next film onwards.

Streaming on HBO Max, Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is rated R for gore-less, scare-less horror

Published in Dawn, ICON, June 13th, 2021

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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero
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