Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Happy Death Day 2U, Cube, and Mayhem

Okay, I know. Halloween is over. Guess what? Horror Bingo continues until there’s a winner, and so far, it’s still neck and neck. The stakes are high! (There are literally no stakes of any kind.)

Happy November. Let’s twist this.

Happy Death Day 2U

Hdd2U GIF by Happy Death Day 2U - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2019
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Happy Death Day 2U is an interesting sequel in that it slightly genre hops from “horror comedy with an SFF plot device” to “SFF comedy with vague slasher leanings.” I don’t know that it totally works for me, though. I really enjoy the embrace of parallel dimensions–it’s always fun to see what’s the same and what’s different in any given universe–but I’m also a tiny bit bummed by just how much of a backseat the whole slasher part takes. I was also a little disappointed when I realized that only Tree would get caught in the parallel dimension time loop. That’s what I’d been initially expecting, mind you, but then we began the movie with Ryan caught in his own time loop, and I had just long enough to think, Oh, that’s so INTERESTING, before we essentially just restarted Happy Death Day in Earth 2.

That being said, Tree’s reaction to realizing she’s back in the loop? Priceless. I still like Jessica Rothe as Tree, and a lot of the humor still works for me. (Some, admittedly, is a bit goofy for my tastes.) The emotional beats work too, mostly: I like that Tree is tempted to stay, though sometimes the swelling background music is trying way too hard; also, I definitely don’t care enough about Tree/Carter to make the World Where Mom is Alive vs. World Where Carter is My Boyfriend even remotely a debate. I also enjoyed getting to see the nicer, less homicidal Lori, though I do wish we had more time to spend on Comic Relief Scientist Friends.

I’m also still a little unsure about, well, most of the time/dimension mechanics, honestly. Why, exactly, was Ryan in a time loop again? Tree got stuck in hers when the quantum machine went off, but I don’t think it went off again, so . . . not sure? Also, while Alternate Ryan is interesting, I don’t know if he makes much sense, especially considering we get 2 Ryans in Earth 1, but only 1 Tree in Earth 2. I’m curious, too, about Alternate Tree, like, I get that her mind went traveling when our Tree came into the picture, but did she actually come back? Does she remember what happened to her? Would she have been stuck forever if our Tree decided to steal her life? It’s possible I missed some of these explanations, and even if I didn’t, I’m sure many would consider them nitpicks. But IDK. In some ways, Happy Death 2U is kinda intriguing; in other ways, I feel like there’s just so much more it could’ve played with and explored.

Cube

Year: 1997
Director: Vincenzo Natali
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, in this paragraph and in the trailer above
Grade: Vanilla

Cube came out when I was about 12, and I haven’t seen it since I was, IDK. 13? 15? It’s the first horror film I can think of, offhand, that uses an escape-the-booby-trapped-room set up; it’s also the oldest film I can remember that uses the Razor Floss death trope, which became popular a few years later. (Though if you can think of older films, please do let me know in the comments.) It’s definitely influential, and I can see why it’s gained something of a cult following. (Plus two sequels, neither of which I’ve watched.)

Some parts of this movie hold up better than others. I won’t pretend I can speak expertly about good autistic rep, but everything I’ve ever read suggests that the autistic savant character is a frustrating stereotype, one that’s become dominant in film and television since Rain Man. Some of the scene transitions are kinda laughable. Also, some of the actors are notably better than their costars, though I did have fun playing spot the actor. When I first watched Cube, the only person I knew was Nicole de Boer, who was on DS9. Now, I also recognize Nicky Guadagni from Ready or Not, David Hewlitt from Stargate: Atlantis, and Julian Richings, That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada. (You may also remember him from Urban Legend, which I just reviewed a few weeks ago.)

Still, it’s a fun concept and easily watchable, if you don’t mind how awful some of these characters are. Leaven, in particular, is so much worse than I remember, both incredibly whiny and also just a total jackass to Kazan. I enjoy how Quentin, a cop, is initially presented as the calm Good Guy, only for him to slowly reveal his true nature: namely, Sexist Murderous Dick. After all, the traps only kill 2 people; Quentin, himself, kills 3. I also like the twist that the rooms themselves are moving around. (Which, uh, the trailer just straight up spoils? Way to go, trailer.)

Cube is never gonna hit my personal Top Ten, but its influence cannot be denied, and it’s worth a watch if you also enjoy this type of horror. (Also, there’s apparently a new Japanese remake? Ooh, I hope it becomes available in the US. I want to check it out!)

Mayhem

Year: 2017
Director: Joe Lynch
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mildly
Grade: Vanilla

I mean, look. I could watch Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving running around being chaotic neutral all day. They’re pretty delightful here, talking metal bands and Dave Matthews Band in between murdering people with power saws. This premise promises, well, mayhem, and it certainly delivers on that front. There were definitely moments I laughed out loud, although annoyingly, I’m having trouble remembering specific ones right now. I did love the moment when Derek confronts The Reaper in his office. Also, Ewan asking, “Do you think I like the taste of kale?” Heh.

As an actual satire, I do feel like it’s missing something. Maybe it’s because I feel like there’s something of a missed opportunity with all the other mistreated coworkers, who are by and large just around for background gags or to act as no-name henchmen. Maybe it’s because almost everyone on the board of directors acts normal, despite the fact that they’ve also been infected. The only person really acting any different is our chief villain, John (AKA, The Boss), and even then he’s mostly just yelling more and doing a lot of cocaine. The film would be stronger, I think, if none of the bosses were infected, especially if they proved to be just as violent without the excuse of an infectious, inhibition-removing disease. I also can’t help but feel like Derek Cho is resting a lot on the legal precedent of one case, as if America’s justice system is just gonna automatically treat a person of color the same as some white guy.

So, yeah, I do think the satirical aspects of this script could be stronger. (Also, the accents, which is totally not a big deal, but like. Couldn’t this just have been an international company?) OTOH, if you’re mostly watching to see Steven Yeun absolutely flip his shit or Samara Weaving add another notch to her Fun Violent Ladies On Screen belt–and let’s be real, that’s absolutely why I watched it–I mean, yeah, it’s totally a decent movie to check out.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Sinister, Ready or Not, and Happy Death Day

My friends! Finally, we are at the end! Of course, Marisa is the real winner of Horror Bingo, but the St. George household required its own champion before the game could be properly concluded. There could be only One–

–and it was ME! Two years running, I AM THE WINNER.

We’ll get to the official Horror Bingo 2020 Wrap-Up at the very end, but first, our last three movies.

Sinister

Year: 2012
Director: Scott Derrickson
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Amazon
Spoilers: YEP
Grade: Strawberry

You know when something is relatively well-crafted but just isn’t your thing? Yeah, that’s Sinister, for me.

Some stuff is genuinely creepy. Like, a few of those snuff films are pretty disturbing, and I fucking adore all the Netherworld Children and their perfect little outfits and their dead little faces. Is it wrong that I kinda want kids just so I can dress them up like this for Halloween? Probably. Anyway, the all-around acting is fine, although my favorite is James Ransone as Deputy So-and-So. (I love that this is his official name in the sequel, even when he’s apparently the main character.) That bit where So-and-So’s like “You kidding me, I believe in all that stuff. I wouldn’t spend one night in this place, are you nuts?” HA. I also like the ending quite a bit–except the last minute jump scare, which is cheap and worthless. Admittedly, it is pretty obvious what fate awaits Ethan Hawke and his fam, like, once you discover that the Hanged Family moved from one murder house to the next, it’s not exactly a big leap to realize that all the families did the same. Still, I enjoy a story where leaving the cursed house is actually what kills you.

The thing is, though . . . I’m just not very invested in anyone’s survival. Ellison is kind of a schmuck, and schmuck protagonists, by and large, just aren’t my thing. I really feel sorry for his wife because moving into the Murder House without telling her? I mean, wow. Wow. That being said, I don’t actually like this woman. It’s a lot of little things, like how she keeps referring to their kids as his kids whenever they do something wrong, which yeah, I do that with my cats all the time, but I don’t actually mean it, and also they’re cats and don’t give a shit? But Tracy, she seems to mean it. She feels like that Stereotypical Uptight Wife that you kinda know a dude wrote: even when we’re meant to sympathize with her, she still manages to come off as slightly nagging? It’s not so much acting as script; in fact, I quite like Juliet Rylance’s performance when Tracy finally discovers Ellison’s lie. But Tracy still has virtually nothing in the way of interiority or plot-relevance, and she and her son feel less like full characters than thinly drawn victims waiting around to die. None of it’s terrible; it’s just that this is exactly the kind of family dynamic I’m not interested in seeing, especially in horror.

Ready or Not

Year: 2019
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

Yep, I still love this movie. I really enjoyed Ready or Not when it first came out last year, and I love it even more now. The concept is just fun: Murder Hide-N-Seek, plus Homicidal In-Laws, Eat The Motherfucking Rich, etc. The script is witty and entertaining, and the whole cast is phenomenal, like, I adore so, so many of them. Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell. Melanie Scrofano and Kristian Bruun. Nicky Guadagni, thank you; thank you for giving me so much joy with this perfect face. Obviously, obviously, Adam Brody. He really is such a perfect fit as Daniel. And then, of course, Samara Weaving, who is the true star of the show; she goddamn shines in this film: the big laughs, the small emotional beats, the badass action scenes–she owns them all. Plus, she just has some of the best reactions. I could watch this scene all day.

Honestly, I don’t have a lot of quibbles here; I vaguely remember having a few, the first time around, but they seem to have faded on a second watch. (Wishing that Daniel would live just because I like him so much is less of a quibble and more of a “thank God for fanfic” moment.) Thus, I’ll just give you a short list of some of my favorite things: the glorious cosplay potential, pretty much all of Daniel’s lines, Emilie’s continuous fuckups, Fitch trying to learn crossbow via Youtube, Grace punching one of the kids in the face, OnStar Employee Justin, Tony’s exquisite meltdowns, the Good Brother/Evil Brother reversal, this song, and of course, the literally explosive climax. It is the best.

The only thing I really wish we got from this movie? A montage of deleted scenes where we saw the people who married into the family playing, like, Midnight Checkers and Old Maid and shit. That would be the absolute best.

Technically, I won Horror Bingo when I drew Ready or Not, but we decided to watch one last horror movie, anyway, mostly because of my frankly ridiculous reviewing system. Which brings us to . . .

Happy Death Day

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Mildly? Nothing that should ruin the movie for anyone.
Grade: Vanilla

It’s ridiculous I waited so long to see this movie. I’m obsessed with both slashers and time loop stories, and I’d planned to see this one in theater, you know, back when going to the movies was a thing you could do. Maybe I was worried I’d be letdown and thus sought to avoid the inevitable disappointment? If so, my procrastination was unnecessary, because I thought Happy Death Day was cute and probably one of the more successful PG-13 horror films, in that I didn’t find myself constantly thinking about how hard they were working to avoid that R rating.

I will say the movie isn’t . . . hm, I’m not sure how to say this without sounding like a total snot. Happy Death Day has an incredibly fun concept, but it doesn’t really do anything terribly ambitious with it. It doesn’t need to, necessarily; I meant it when I said I enjoyed the movie. I liked searching for all the clues and little details. There are tons of suspects because everyone hates our protagonist, and this is one of the rare films where a thoroughly unlikable MC (at least, initially) actually works for me. It’s also just funny. I laughed several times, and I’m sure I’ll watch the sequel at some point.

But when I talk about ambition . . . look, the time loop is a time-honored trope in SF/F TV, and I’ve seen shows do some really exciting things with it in terms of meaningful plot development, character development, etc. The Librarians, Agents of SHIELD, Person of Interest, Dark Matter, Supernatural, Legends of Tomorrow, the entire series of Russian Doll, etc. These shows have both delighted and surprised me with how they’ve played with time loops; Happy Death Day is absolutely enjoyable, but I don’t know if it did anything to surprise me, that’s all. The most original element, I think, is that Tree can’t continue endlessly through these loops without suffering eventual physical consequences, which is genuinely interesting; unfortunately, that’s mostly dropped in the final loop or two, and as such, doesn’t do a particularly good job adding a plot clock or raising the stakes. It’s not a huge problem, though.

I’ll tell you what is a huge problem: my brain, all twitching around inside my skull, trying to force me into beginning a new story when I have 87 other projects to finish. There’s just so many ways you can go, exploring time loops in horror. Ugh. STOP IT, BRAIN.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO 2020 WRAP UP

Of the films I’d never seen before, my favorites were probably Hausu, Becky, Deep Red, Midsommar, and Tragedy Girls.

My least favorites, on the other hand, were easily Mandy and Dream Home.

Movies I’m most disappointed we didn’t get to: One Cut of the Dead, A Bay of Blood (Twitch of the Death Nerve), and Lake Mungo.

Movies I’m most likely to add to next year’s Horror Bingo list, assuming I don’t watch them before then: Mayhem, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hereditary, and maybe a rewatch of Cube. (It’s been a long, long time.)

Triple Scoop Reviews: The Witch: Part I – The Subversion, Death Bell, and Guns Akimbo

The Witch: Part I – The Subversion

Year: 2018
Director: Park Hoon Jung
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I really enjoyed this Korean SF/F action-horror movie. I confess to not totally getting the title (something lost in translation, perhaps), but the movie itself is a pretty good time. Kim Da Mi is excellent here as Goo Ja Yun, an amnesiac who ran away ten years ago from one of those evil government facilities that likes to experiment on children. (A very specific sub-genre I’m apparently a sucker for, considering Dark Angel, Stranger Things, The Pretender, etc.) I also like Go Min Shi, who plays Ja Yun’s excitable best friend, and Choi Woo Shik, who plays, well, Chaotic Evil. I very much enjoyed the latter’s work in Train to Busan and Parasite, but it wasn’t until I saw this movie that I realized, oh, he’s not just talented; he’s hot. Lots of people try for smirky evil hot but only manage smirky obnoxious. Choi Woo Shik is not one of those people.

The Witch: Subversion – Part I has a slow, steady build with an explosive third act, and I’m looking forward to seeing a sequel. (I believe a trilogy is planned?) There are other things to talk about; unfortunately, they all include spoilers, and I’d prefer not to get into those now. But the movie is an awful lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who also enjoys a) this very specific sub-genre, and b) violence. Because there is most certainly violence. Obviously, I approve of this.

Death Bell

Year: 2008
Director: Chang
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Some. Mind the tags, in particular
Grade: Strawberry

This is apparently a hugely popular horror film in South Korea and was fun enough to watch, but ultimately, I’m pretty meh on the actual execution. I’m all about the basic setup, of course: a group of kids (and teachers) are trapped at a high school and forced to successfully solve a series of test questions, or else their classmates will be violently murdered. I like the idea of the bad guys here and their respective motives. I’d genuinely like to see this film remade by a different director with a better script.

But as is, I have several problems, like, almost none of the death traps work for me, not just because they’re such obvious Saw knock-offs, but because they’re way too elaborate and ridiculous to fit the actual scenario. (Some people are quick to accuse a horror movie of being a Saw knock-off just because its exceptionally violent and/or includes death traps, but these ones really do lack originality.) There is both a human and supernatural angle to this story; unfortunately, the supernatural stuff mostly feels mishandled. The last minute twist seems particularly cheap because it doesn’t feel supported by the actor’s performance at all–though it does, I suppose, at least make another character’s whole storyline less random in retrospect. (Still not terribly fond of it, TBH.)

Additionally, two quick notes: one, I’m all about horror movies acknowledging that girls have periods–seriously, I am all for it–but this mostly felt like an excuse for a weird upper thigh shot, so, eh? And two, any sympathy I might have had for one character completely goes out the window the second she realizes that everyone around her has mysteriously passed out and decides that this is a great time to put on her headphones, alone, in the middle of a school where multiple people have been murdered. I. You. What. WHY?!?!?!

Guns Akimbo

Year: 2020
Director: Jason Lei Howden
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Vanilla

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re into over-the-top, gonzo action flicks like me, but there are also things that don’t quite land. For one, I’m not sure I’m totally buying our Big Bad; Ned Dennehy is okay in the role, but I feel like other actors could’ve done more with it. Neal McDonough, for instance, was made for this kind of villain. Also might’ve enjoyed Clancy Brown, who Mek suggested for some punk Highlander vibes. More importantly, though, Guns Akimbo has this weird tendency to throw in a moral now and then that just doesn’t work. Like when Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) wonders how long it’s been since he went outside without staring at his phone, and I’m like, bitch, that’s some weak tea satire; are you actually mistaking that for an original perspective, and anyway, who the hell is thinking “gosh, I wish I’d stopped to smell the roses” when they’re stumbling around after waking up with gun hands? I feel, too, that there’s a small but annoying thread of “anti PC culture” running throughout the film, an impression that only seems validated after remembering the controversy around director Jason Lei Howden. Yikes.

All that being said, I could watch Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving in this all day. They’re both great here: Radcliffe has some absolutely phenomenal reactions–I am so down for all his absolutely bizarre post-HP projects–whereas Weaving is just as iconic here as she was in Ready or Not. She’s pretty fantastic in this, IMO. Not every bit of humor lands right (Rhys Darby’s character, sadly, feels like a series of punch down jokes, much as my Voltron geek girl heart hates to admit it), but a lot of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious; for example, I about died when Miles tried to cut off this cop’s tragic backstory. I like Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), too; she doesn’t get much to do, unfortunately, but I did find her interesting. Also, Nerf Guy!

If you like the concept of Guns Akimbo, there’s a decent chance you’ll like the movie: there are some really fun fight scenes, amusing bits of meta humor, one or two solid surprise moments, and just a very enjoyable soundtrack. I’m actually glad I watched it; I just really wish I could tweak it some, too. And yeah, it’d also be nice if the writer/director didn’t entirely suck as a person.