Tag Archives: creature feature

Queen of Pain


by Hope Madden

Is there a more reliable source of terror than the spider?

Well, maybe clowns, but spiders are a close second. Australian filmmaker Kiah Roache-Turner is giddy to elicit shivers and gasps with his delightfully horrifying arachnid adventure, Sting.

Roache-Turner’s love for sci-fi horror bursts gleefully from the dollhouse-set opening credits, a scene that efficiently outlines our backstory. This snapshot playfully predicts the film, even as it homages genre classics.

The Wyrmwood director goes on to use the air ducts of an old Bronx apartment building to lay out the land, introduce us to tenants and their habits, and show our hero shimmying and crawling, all spider-like, through the building.

Who is our hero? Malcontent 12-year-old Charlotte (Alyla Browne). Her baby brother is loathsome, her parents are tedious, no one pays attention to her, her old witch of a great-aunt/land lady blames her for everything. Ugh!

But then Charlotte comes across a very cool little spider. And with so many cockroaches in Charlotte’s building, surely the newly monikered Sting will never need to look elsewhere for food!

Boy, that is lucky.

Browne channels Lulu Wilson’s Becky (maybe a little less angry). Her performance easily withstands the demands of a lead, but she does receive nice support from a variety of personalities living in the building: Nona Hazelhurt, Robyn Nevin, Danny Kim, Silvia Colloca and Jermaine Fowler.

Fiona Donovan’s production design stands out, emphasizing the film’s distinctly Joe Dante vibe. Although instead of perverting some idyllic burb, Sting ravages a storybook version of the Bronx.

But make no mistake, this movie gets nasty. The creature design and CGI are a bit campy, but the damage Sting does is convincing and pitiless. (Pet lovers be warned.)

If you missed Roache-Turner’s 2014 post-apocalyptic thrill ride Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, definitely check it out. With that film, his fondness for Mad Max flavored a delightful riff on the zombie movie. Here he channels affection for a wide range of creature features (he really loves Alien) but still manages to create something decidedly his own.

Cloudy with a Chance of Whoop Ass

Shadow in the Cloud

by Hope Madden

Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for a B movie, especially if it’s a creature feature.

Extra points if it’s a feminist take on a misogynist’s story.

Shadow in the Clouds co-writer Max Landis has been accused of sexual misconduct and/or outright assault by eight different women. And while it’s tough to stomach any ticket purchase benefitting him, the truth is that co-writer/director Roseanne Liang’s film has stylized fun in depantsing exactly the kind of weak, entitled, insecure crybaby that makes you think of Max Landis.

If you’ve seen the New Zealander’s 2017 horror short Do No Harm, you’ll recognize Liang’s writing here.

The film tags along on a non-combat WWII military flight out of New Zealand. With seconds to spare, an unexpected female flight officer named Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz) boards the flight carrying a duffel bag with confidential contents.

The rowdy, boorish, some would say violently sexist crew quickly stashes Maude – sans duffel – in the gun turret until take off.

This is a brilliant move, cinematically. It creates immediate, palpable tension because she is locked into a tiny cell dangling from a moving airplane and dependent upon the good nature of the mainly bad natured men above.

It also allows Moretz and Liang the opportunity to introduce any number of terrifying elements out there in the clouds.

But mainly, it gives Moretz the chance to own the film for a while, and she does. Together filmmaker and lead slyly reveal more about Maude, ratcheting tensions and thrills as they do. Liang leans into budgetary constraints, developing a cheesy retro vibe while finding appealing ways to introduce different characters.

In many respects, the writing is the weakness. Too often scenes devolve into obvious but inauthentic ways to further the plot. Still, a lot tends to be forgivable in an openly, charmingly B movie.

If the style doesn’t engage you immediately, abandon all hope. The film builds on style, repaying your attention with increasingly insane action ending in a climax where one fight, one monster stands in for every belittling, dangerous, violent, controlling obstacle Maude has ever faced.

You can picture Max Landis if you like.

Shadow in the Cloud is a ludicrous, over-the-top action horror. It knows what it is and it delivers on its promises.