Tag Archives: Blumhouse


Soft & Quiet

by Rachel Willis

The idea that the kindergarten teacher at your child’s school might be a member of an Aryan group is terrifying enough, but writer/director Beth de Araújo takes that idea even further in her first full-length feature, Soft & Quiet.

The kindergarten teacher, Emily (Stefanie Estes), is our focus as we watch her leave school one afternoon to attend a meeting of like-minded women. Right from the beginning, it’s clear Stefanie is unlikeable. She coerces a young boy into confronting a janitor over mopping the floor, painting it to the child’s mom as teaching him to be empowered.

From this uncomfortable moment, the movie takes us further into discomfort as we follow Emily in real time as her evening progresses. Giving away anything more would remove the tension that is slowly built as the movie moves from unsettling to disturbing to terrifying.

Telling a story in real time takes a truly talented editor, and Lindsay Armstrong nails it. Her cut is seamless, and it helps deepen the tension. The editing work keeps you in the moment, showing how quickly mob mentality can take over – especially if the group in question feels threatened (even when the threat actually comes from the group in question).

Most of the time, the cinematography complements the writing and editing. But on occasion, it feels like we’re watching a found footage film, which detracts slightly from the tension. While there are many moments filmed to unsettle, at other times it removes us from the moment. However, these minor faults are easily overlooked.

The acting throughout is perfect. Every woman feels like someone you might know. From the pregnant Stormfront member to the woman living paycheck-to-paycheck, each actor brings a realism that lends to the dread we feel as we follow the group.

Though we follow Emily, it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for her. She is at times coerced into action and other times the leader of the pack. What she chooses to do is horrifying, and her responses to the events don’t evoke understanding.

There are several themes running in the film, but all of them work together to paint a picture that isn’t hard to envision.   It’s easy to imagine women like these among us. That’s the scariest part of all.

Mother Knows Best

Evil Eye

by George Wolf

Though they live in different countries, Usha (Sarita Choudhury) and her daughter Pallavi (Sunita Mani) talk often, and Mom always seems to have two main things on her mind.

Does Pallavi have a boyfriend yet? And is she remembering to wear her “evil eye” bracelet?

It’s been years since Usha and her husband left the U.S. for their native India, as Pallavi stayed behind with aspirations of writing a novel. Now, as her very American daughter nears thirty, the traditional Usha is getting impatient for a wedding, and trusts in the bracelet to protect Pallavi against any evil spirits preventing her from marriage.

So, when Pallavi begins a serious relationship with the dashing Sandeep (Omar Maskati), she is shocked when Mom objects, and strenuously.

You’d object, too, if you believed your daughter was dating a reincarnation of the abusive boyfriend who tried to kill you three decades before.

Originally a best-selling Audible original, Evil Eye is directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani’s contribution to Amazon’s Welcome to the Blumhouse series. With an adapted script from source author Madhuri Shekar, the film lands as a delightfully cultured mystery. As narrative layers develop, the atmosphere is more supernatural thriller than outright horror show.

Plot turns tend to rely on convenience and in the absence of any sustained tension or outright fear, the real draw becomes the mother/daughter dynamic propelled by the two lead performances.

The veteran Choudhury makes Usha a fascinating conundrum, haunted by her past, fearing for her daughter’s future and forced to question some beliefs she’s long held dear. When the script wavers, Choudhury elevates it, selling every moment with conviction.

Mani, an up-and-comer seen in Glow and the current Save Yourselves!, provides the effective contrast. Pallavi’s modern path is, at first, only mildly affected by her mother’s traditional sensibilities. But when Usha comes west to present her concerns in person, Pallavi must confront her own inner turmoil.

By the time the final twist is revealed, you’ll most likely have already guessed it. But what you’ll remember about Evil Eye has little to do with the mysterious occurrences surrounding this mother and daughter. It’s the humanity flowing between them that sticks.

Liar, Liar

The Lie

by Hope Madden

Kids are stupid.

There may be no more universally accurate sentence. But parents? Dumb and dumber.

Writer/director Veena Sud retools the 2015 German film Wir Monster with a great cast, compelling complications, and that same awful truth.

Kayla (Joey King) is not very popular, not very happy about her parents’ separation, and not at all excited for this weekend-long ballet retreat. When she sees her bestie Brittany (Devery Jacobs) at the bus stop and convinces Dad (Peter Sarsgaard) to pick her up, things turn ugly.

There are any number of “how far would you go to protect your potentially evil kid?” movies—some great (Luce), some less so (Prodigy). What sets this one apart is mainly the cast, plus a somewhat sly delivery.

Sarsgaard is wonderful, as always. He’s one of the most reliable actors working today, and he finds a way to humanize every character, add a bit of depth and some curious moral complexity. He certainly does that here, and with Mireille Enos (playing Kayla’s mom) as sparring partner, a great deal of backstory is communicated without being overtly detailed.

King, a veteran weepy horror protagonist, delivers a clever performance as someone you’re honestly never certain about. Unlike trainwrecks such as Brahms: The Boy II, The Lie knows why the character should be so hard to pin down, and that reason is not a gimmick. It’s integral to the story.

That story is sharply told, even if there are moments that leave you scratching your head. The police presence is something out of a TV drama, and not a very good one. But when all eyes are on this family dynamic, The Lie is often riveting stuff.

The film is far more family drama/thriller than horror, but Blumhouse could do worse than introduce its Welcome to Blumhouse program on Amazon with this solidly crafted, impressively acted film.

Webcam Confessional

Unfriended: Dark Web

by George Wolf

The good news: this Dark Web isn’t searching for your credit card info.

That would be playing nice compared to what the sequel to the surprisingly effective Unfriended has in store. More good news: it’s mean is pretty damn lean, clever and creepy.

Like its predecessor, Dark Web does a great job upholding the integrity of the “real time computer screen” gimmick. But from the opening setup, this one carries more eerie authenticity.

First-time director Stephen Susco, a veteran writer with plenty of horror titles in his resume, knows the genre has always reflected the anxieties of the day, and his screenplay here feels as in-the-moment as a brand new laptop with all the latest add-ons.

And that’s just what Matias (Colin Woodell) needs for his new programming project, but funds are tight. He finds a used one on Craigslist that might do, but when he hooks it up for a Skype game night with his friends, the previous owner “slides into his DMs.”

That’s what the kids, say, right?

There’s some bad, bad, stuff on that hard drive, and Matias has to strike bargains with the bad guy if he wants his friends to survive the night.

Sure there are some preposterous turns, but as the upper hand shifts (and shifts again), Susco and his winning cast (including Blumhouse favorite Betty Gabriel) make it a suspenseful ride. We’re making these discoveries right along with them, and while true scares might be in short supply, there’s is no shortage of nasty and unpleasant.

As online cautionary films go, Dark Web gets it better than most. The original Unfriended debuted four years ago, or in tech/social media terms, the Stone Age. Susco finds a wry, self-aware groove to drive home just where we’re at today: manufactured reality, “swatting,” and even, yes, internet currency.

Word is, there will be two theatrical prints, each with different endings. I can think of one that would pretty well spoil all that Dark Web executes so well.

I didn’t see an ending like that.

I hope you don’t either.