Dear Darth Maul

Dear Darth Maul,

I’ve missed you horribly.

It’s been over a decade now since I last saw you falling into oblivion and out of my life. Who was I kidding? I knew I wouldn’t see you again. The guy from Moulin Rouge! Big Fish cut you in two. There’s no coming back from that.

Life went on, as it does. I bought new toys made new friends. Got and got over the clap girlfriends. Some were even Star Wars fans. But not one of them understood my sense of loss.

Flash forward to the other night. I’d heard a lot of buzz for this movie Insidious. You know, the latest horror offering from James Wan, the guy responsible for giving us films like the original Saw and Dead Silence. Did you see those, Darth Maul? Call me and we can duel with our lightsabers discuss their artistic merit. But really what got me in the theater was—I heard you were in it. Everyone’s been saying so.

They were wrong.

The messy tousles of hair, those teeth, those beady eyes…that’s not you.

So you passed on the role. Hey, I get it. Obviously you saw the flaws in the second act, most notably the part where the story shudders to a complete halt in order to sell the audience on a pretty far-fetched if not completely laughable concept in order to “explain” the paranormal happenings. Maybe you just didn’t like the way it ended, which I hear a lot of people didn’t. I see how it can be divisive, and to be honest, that’s why I LIKED it.

James Wan definitely took risks with the direction the film plays out. He tried some things where other filmmakers would have opted to play it safe, and you have to respect that whether you agree with the results or not.

The biggest risk was the way he handled the role you let go to a muppet.

It felt the whole time that Wan was winking at the audience, deliberately tipping his hand, saturating us with visuals of the terrible denizens from “The Further,” and, in the current world of the whole “less is more” philosophy when it comes to movie monsters, it was refreshing to get a good look at what lays in wait amid the shadows.

There was a lot of stuff to like in this movie, Darth Maul, and I bet you’re kicking yourself right about now. You didn’t count on Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne delivering actual emotion and weight as the distraught parents of a comatose child who seems to have become a ghost magnet. You didn’t count on the scares being genuine. And most of all, you didn’t figure in how the guys from the Paranormal Activity franchise would influence the feel of the film.

That’s the best part.

See, that’s the thing about Insidious. It’s not a gotcha! kind of scary movie. The scary stuff is already in the shot, and you just haven’t noticed yet. Long shots just seem to wander—from the living room, down the hallway—wait, what was that in the corner just standing there, is that AHH IT IS!!!

And that’s scary. These monsters don’t have to find you. They wait like a hellish nightmare version of Where’s Waldo? for you to find them. Terrifying.

Darth Maul, I still miss you, and I hope next time James Wan calls, you’ll at least consider picking up the phone.

And fire your agent. (I’ll be your agent. Call me.)

Love,

Ryan Bridger

XOXO
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Red Riding Hood

No, it’s not blindingly original, but it is an interesting premise. What if we retold the story of Little Red Riding Hood and attached a werewolf mythos to it? And let’s suppose we got a solid cast in on the deal, featuring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Lukas Haas? Surely that would yield a good result, wouldn’t it?

Actually, no, it wouldn’t.

While Red Riding Hood might sound interesting, it’s dragged down in virtually every aspect, leaving little to praise. The setting is supposed to be a medieval village, but from beginning to end all it looks like is just what it is: A bunch of cardboard actors roaming around a modern set. Even the forest is goofy, featuring trees with unnaturally sharpened stakes glued on them. I expected someone to get impaled on one of them, if for no other reason than to give them a reason for being there, but even that never happened. They are just there to look fake and silly.

The writing is bland and overly modern, the acting is wooden, and the CGI werewolf manages to look a whole lot like an actor in a shaggy suit. The romantic subplot is rather obvious and uninteresting and the fight scenes are dull. I will give the actors a slight bit of a break, because with writing this horrible, it would take a monumental thespian talent to pull off the lines. Even Gary Oldman is made to look like Keanu Reeves here.

The only thing the movie does effectively is keep you guessing about the identity of the werewolf, but that is not enough to overcome it’s other failings. This movie is so unrelentingly bad that by the end of it I was squirming in my seat, ready to leave the theater. Don’t I have some laundry to do?

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Let Me In

I have to say at the start of this review that I never 1) read the book this film is based on, nor 2) saw the original Swedish version, either. In other words, I went into this as a virgin, someone who was excited to see it based solely on trailers and the word-of-mouth of a very good friend.

And I was so not disappointed.

Let Me In, directed by Matt Reeves, is the story of Owen, a lonely twelve-year-old growing up in New Mexico in the early 1980s. He lives with his divorced mother in a run-down apartment complex and is a learned, if youthful, voyeur, using his telescope to spy on their neighbors whenever possible. He is constantly picked on at school and is all in all a rather depressed and possibly psychologically damaged child. He has no real relationship with his mother (as shown in the film by the fact we never get a clear shot of her face), and his father is distant, in both geography and emotion.

Owen’s mood brightens, however, when Abby, a mysterious girl around his own age, moves into the apartment next door with her “father.” She is a peculiar girl, seemingly opposed to the concept of footwear, and her late-night rendezvous with Owen in the complex playground serve to pique our young, despondent hero’s interest. The two youngsters begin a relationship of sorts, delving steadily deeper into the secrets each of them keep hidden, until we start to realize that this adorable and strange little girl is most certainly not what she seems to be.

I said before that I was excited to see this movie, but I’ve found in the past that my excitement level is rarely met by the actual execution of said film. This one, however, is a welcomed exception.

There is nothing in this film I didn’t love. From the dank and dreary atmosphere to the heightened sense of mystery and inner turmoil every major character feels, the emotions of all are on display. Kodi Smit-McPhee is wonderfully somber as Owen, and Chloe Moretz absolutely shines as the more-than-she-seems Abby. In fact, this young actress completely steals the show. She is grave, reflective, and much more mature than her age suggests, which fits perfectly, especially when her true nature is revealed.

There is a good amount of blood and violence in this movie, but it’s used expertly so that it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer or become campy. When there is violence, it means something. The plot has something to say about lost innocence, as well. As we watch Abby’s past unravel, we grow to sympathize with her, even though she’s an entirely less-than-savory character. And that’s where the brilliance of the storytelling shines greater than ever. We see how this girl manipulates the situation, manipulates every relationship in her life, and by the end I found myself hoping Owen would just open his eyes, dammit! For as wonderfully innocent and sexually pure as their bond is, there’s a level of malevolence lurking right beneath the surface that, although we never really see it play out on screen, is still horrible.

In short, this is a fantastic film, possibly the best horror movie I’ve seen since The Descent. Moody and atmospheric, it captures your attention on the slow ride, watching as this unfortunate child confronts one fear and becomes the embodiment of another. It’s full of tremendous performances (and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Richard Jenkins, who has a small role as Abby’s “father,” a man who might know a thing or two of what Owen’s future holds.) and the special effects, though weak in spots, do their best to forward the plot, not overshadow it. I had a great time watching this, and actually sat around and discussed the movie with my wife for an hour or so afterward, which is usually only reserved for the best-of-the-best films.

I think you can see where I place this one, then.

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