Tag Archives: Adam Wingard

The Sexual Tension Is Palpable

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

by Hope Madden

Remember how good Godzilla Minus One was? Did you see the black and white version? Glorious!

It’s almost too bad that Adam Wingard’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is really competing with the memory of that 2023 Oscar winner rather than his own moderately entertaining 2021 hit Godzilla vs. Kong. Because as a straight up sequel, G x K feels a little streamlined, a bit punchy. Dumb but moderately fun.

Writer Terry Rossio returns, teaming with longtime Wingard collaborator Simon Barrett, as well as Jeremy Slater. They prune most of the Godzilla storyline to focus on Kong and his search for family. That brings Dr. Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and young Jia (Kaylee Hottle) back into focus.

When the Doc needs help understanding Jia’s connection to energy spikes in Hollow Earth (Kong lives there now, remember?), she turns to podcast conspiracy spewster/world saver Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry). Together with a veterinarian who’s in touch with his emotions and really bad early 80s rock (Dan Stevens), Dr. Andrews, Jia and Bernie head to Hollow Earth to lend Kong a hand.

There’s a lot of Planet of the Apes going on in this movie. Kaiju action takes a back seat and, though brightly colored and relatively fun, it’s never central to the film.  But Wingard can create a fake looking but fun creature fight and Hall gets to explain what’s going on frequently to her dumb company, which makes it easy for every the most sugar-hyped family members to follow the story.

What she’s doing in this franchise continues to be a head scratcher, but she can certainly act, which never hurt a movie. Henry and Stevens bring levity—or try. Both are also inarguable talents and they share a sweetly enjoyable onscreen chemistry, but nothing happening in G x K is as much fun as Wingard thinks it is.

Kong: Skull Island was fun. That was a popcorn muncher for the ages: the soundtrack, the shot choices, the monster carnage, the humor and pathos. And don’t even compare it to Minus One, that just wouldn’t be fair. But for a greenscreenapalooza of dumb monster action, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is adequate.

Place Your Bets

Godzilla vs. Kong

by George Wolf & Hope Madden

Here’s a sampling of the things we yelled at the screen during Godzilla vs. Kong:

“Boom! In the face!”

“Kyle Chandler is a terrible father.”

“Skull f**k him!”

“It’s just a flesh wound, get up!”

So you could say we were engaged in this battle, the one that’s been brewing since the end credits stinger from the excellent Kong: Skull Island four years ago. GvK can’t quite match that film’s tonal bullseye, but it easily lands as second best in the “Titan” Monsterverse that was reborn with 2014’s Godzilla.

Picking up three years after the tedious Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the film finds Kong contained on Skull Island under the respectful eye of Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall).

Meanwhile, Godzilla attacks APEX’s Florida headquarters – seemingly unprovoked. Mansplaining Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) says Godzilla’s changed his hero stripes, but his daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and “Titan Truth” podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, committing grand theft scenery) think there’s got to be more to the story.

There’s plenty more, and Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) believes Kong could be the key to proving his Hollow Earth theory about the Titans. Ilene agrees to allow the heavily sedated Kong to be transported by sea, but far from Godzilla’s favorite swimming holes, of course.


Director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, Blair Witch) clearly realizes that monster mashes aren’t compelling if you can’t tell who’s fighting, and the technical aspects of GvK bring the Titan battles to vibrant life. Pristine cinematography, detailed CGI effects and a wonderfully layered sound design elevate the thrills early and often.

And that is what we’re here for, isn’t it?

That’s a familiar refrain when the human arcs in these films are so woeful, but screenwriters Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein toss the overwrought melodrama of King of the Monsters and add a frisky sense of welcome fun.

Yes, there’s another cute kid (Kaylee Hottle) with negligent guardians, and more than enough characters, locations and theories to keep up with. But even if you fall behind, you’ll catch up when these two Titans throw hands and tails, because they mean business.

They’re timing ain’t bad, either, as this is the kind of cinematic spectacle that could mean very good business for newly reopened theaters that badly need it. It’s a PG-13 return to form for a legendary franchise, with plenty to reward your popcorn munching and ringside commentary (keep it clean at the multiplex, please).

Just pick your screen size, and get ready to rumble.

Amy and the Apocalypse

She Dies Tomorrow

by Hope Madden

I smell an intriguing trend in indie horror: embracing the apocalypse.

She Dies Tomorrow is a horror film that’s one part Coherence, one part The Beach House, one part The Signal (2007, not 2014) and yet somehow entirely its own. It helps that so few people have seen any of those other movies, but the truth is that writer/director Amy Seimetz (creator of The Girlfriend Experience) is simply braiding together themes that have quietly influenced SciFi horror hybrids of late. What she does with these themes is pretty remarkable.

Her film weaves in and out of the current moment, delivering a dreamlike structure that suits its trippy premise. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) believes she is going to die tomorrow. She knows it. She’s sure.

She calls her friend Jane (the always amazing Jane Adams), who senses that Amy is not OK but has this obligation to go to her sister-in-law’s party…whatever, she’ll stop over on her way.

By the time Jane gets to the party, she’s also quite certain she will die tomorrow. It isn’t long before the partygoers sense their own imminent deaths; meanwhile, Amy is spreading her perception contagion elsewhere.

Seimetz’s horror is really only existential, although like The Signal (and The Crazies before it), She Dies Tomorrow is more than slightly interested in what individuals do with this disheartening information. What a superb way to cut directly to character development.

This gives the film an episodic quality, allowing even characters in minor roles to express their individuality. Adams is characteristically wonderful, both logical and a bit batty, lonely and strangely optimistic. Chris Messina and Katie Aselton impress with a lived-in couplehood, and both Josh Lucas and Adam Wingard are used deftly to bring an almost melancholy comic relief to a couple scenes.

Sheil anchors the film. With the most time to get comfortable with her lot, Amy drifts through the stages of grief and fear, ending on a resigned kind of anticipation that feels comfortable with the tone Seimetz creates.

From beginning to end, the film transmits a quiet, creeping dread. Seimetz can’t entirely capitalize on the intoxicating world she’s created, but hers is a unique voice and beguiling vision.

Go Stand In the Corner

Blair Witch

by George Wolf

Buried now under so many years of bad found footage movies and viral marketing gimmicks, it’s easy to forget that in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was a scary sensation for good reason: it was creepy and frightening on a brilliantly primal level. It may be impossible now to view that film without the baggage nearly twenty years have added, but the main complaint from the naysayers is usually “it’s not scary…nothing happens!”

Director Adam Wingard hears you, and he has something for you.

Wingard’s Blair Witch began last year with the unassuming title The Woods, before unveiling itself as a BWP sequel (Book of Shadows  is wisely ignored) a few months back. Repeating the genius of the original film’s “is it real?” firestorm wasn’t going to happen, but this rope-a-dope title switch was an early sign of Wingard’s solid instincts for both limitation and opportunity.

Remember poor Heather from BWP? Her brother James (James Allen McCune) thinks he glimpses her in a strange online video, so he tracks down the poster, Lane (Wes Robinson). Lane says he found the tape while hiking in the Black Hills Forest, the same area in Maryland where Heather, Mike and Josh went missing years before.

James’s friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is the budding documentarian this time, so along with friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott), they head into the forest, filming their search for the mysterious house deep inside it where, hopefully, Heather can still be found.

Wingard (You’re Next) and usual screenwriter Simon Barrett know we know some of what’s coming, so they serve it up. Strange noises at night, twigs, and piles of stones are all here (which, if this is the same witch at work, they should be) but we also get an eerie expansion of the ways time and space seem to break down inside the forest.

There are plenty more jump scares, too, and then a sly acknowledgement that this device can quickly grow tiresome, before it’s on to the main event. The tension, naturally, doesn’t feel as tight as when we first went into these woods, but Wingard, as he did with the film’s “fake” title, is confidently exploiting his chance to bring our guard down.

Once inside the house, things most definitely happen, and it’s a helluva fun ride.

The pace becomes almost breakneck, and as the point of view is mainly through a video camera, we’re scanning all corners of the screen for a light source, a way out, someone standing in the corner..or worse.

And if you have one certain phobia, expect to squirm plenty.

Blair Witch is Wingard and Barrett’s most complete film, because it understands why the original Project was scary, and how to honor that horror legacy while turning the action up a notch.

Or three.




You’re Next Did Nothing First


by Hope Madden


It looked like 2013 might be the year of the horror film. First came the visceral thrill of the Evil Dead reboot, then the spectral fun of The Conjuring. With the buzz surrounding the indie fright film You’re Next, it looked like we might be in store for the season’s third solid genre pic.


Adam Wingard’s film has been lauded as Scream meets The Cabin in the Woods, which isn’t entirely wrong. You’re Next is a derivative work that copies Scream’s wink-and-nod use of genre tropes and applies them to a home invasion storyline, this time set in an isolated, wooded area.

Pudgy, weak, whitebread Crispian (AJ Bowen) brings his girlfriend to his parents’ secluded anniversary celebration. Uninvited guests in animal masks pick off attendants, but they’ve underestimated one guest.

Wingard is part of a new generation of horror filmmakers, a fraternity style community with members who work together frequently. Indeed, Wingard worked with Ti West on the compilation VHS; Bowan co-starred in West’s House of the Devil; West handles a small role in You’re Next as a boyfriend/filmmaker/victim.

Unfortunately, none of them makes particularly good films.

Not that You’re Next is especially bad. It’s just that, aside from some relatively entertaining sibling bitchiness, most of the ideas are cribbed from better films. Masked home invaders is far scarier in The Strangers; the animal masks saw their debut in 1973’s The Wicker Man ; many of the home invasion defense moves come directly from Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. It’s a long list.

Yes there’s a twist and some humor, but folks calling this film “a cut above” have clearly not seen some of the competition. Hell, You’re Next is not even the best “cabin in the woods” film released this year. What it is, is safe.

You’re Next subverts tensions before they can generate real terror. Wingard either lets the audience in on the secret or injects a bit of humor every time the film gets honestly tense. He undercuts each scene’s opportunity to scare, falling back on humor or action movie one-upsmanship instead.

One of the many genius moves Wes Craven made with his genre-upending 1996 film Scream was to balance humor and scares, to mine that tension that either bursts with a scream or a laugh. That’s the work of a horror filmmaker who knows what he’s doing.

You’re Next is the work of Adam Wingard. It turns out, that’s not quite the same thing.