The Predator spends too much of its time hunting for ways to bring several uninteresting plot strings together and not nearly enough indulging in its throwback action swagger. Director Shane Black, who co-starred in the original Predator, and his co-writer Fred Dekker occasionally flash that renegade ‘80s attitude found in their beloved projects of yore – Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Monster Squad – but much of the pep is swallowed up by plot-heavy modern blockbuster sensibilities that dull the experience.
The pitch for Peppermint is a simple one: a gender-swapped Death Wish from the director of Taken. While that’s pretty straightforward and there’s another layer of intrigue and potential with Jennifer Garner making her return to the action genre, Peppermint is loaded with problems conceptually, thematically, and in execution.
Pierre Morel exports the pacing and ease of the hero’s journey from Taken, but that becomes problematic when dealing with the question of what happens when a hardworking white mother has her daughter “permanently taken” (to use a disgusting parlance of our time) by a group of brown immigrant thugs.
The portrait of the fiendish nun in The Conjuring 2 was scary because of its simplicity. The cold stare through blacked-out eyes is chilling; the minimalism of the two-toned demonic face matches the habit that frames it, allowing us to easily project our fears.
Now, just like the creepy doll in Annabelle, the infernal character gets its own spinoff in the expanding Conjuring cinematic universe (CCU?) in The Nun. And, just like Annabelle (but unlike Annabelle: Creation which works pretty well), The Nun has difficulty fleshing out a standalone story or generating serious shocks. The generic, longwinded backstory ascribed to the monster diminishes its power, and the imposing figure barely feels like a threat as it remains largely sidelined in its own story, only appearing for some CGI-aided face contortions and repetitive jump scares. The effective steely gaze of Bonnie Aarons, who plays the demon Valek in its nun form, gets wiped away by unnaturally large, pointed-tooth roars.
The laptop-screen thriller achieved proof of concept in the two recent Unfriended films, solid horror flicks that capitalized on the atmosphere and aesthetics of familiar online activity turned chaotic. Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching expands on that conceit, using only the screens of tech devices to weave an absorbing mystery.
Its construction is novel, keeping us hooked on every mouse click, photo gallery and FaceTime call as the narrative twists and tightens the screws. There’s also unmistakable heart at its center, with a terrific performance from John Cho that transcends the gadgetry.
Writer-director Colin Minihan played with formula in the slasher-sci-fi mashup Extraterrestrial and the atypical zombie film It Stains the Sands Red, and his latest is the most successful genre shakeup yet. What Keeps You Alive weaves intrigue into the isolation thriller via a central relationship that takes the idea of the never fully knowing your romantic partner to harrowing extremes.
Slender Man is exceedingly thin in plot, character, craft, expansion of its viral internet roots, and is most lightweight where it matters most. There’s no fun in this dour exercise and scares are non-existent as the film haphazardly assembles various tropes and repetitive nightmare imagery into 90 minutes of weariness.