Tag Archives: David F. Sandberg

Word Up or Nerd Up

Shazam!

by George Wolf

To paraphrase a classic segment from the old Letterman show: Can a guy in a supersuit get into a strip club?

Easily, which is pretty exciting for the teenage boy inside the super man inside the suit. And it’s just one example of the irreverent vibe Shazam! rides to bring home one of the most fun origin stories in recent memory.

The teenage boy is Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who’s just been placed in the latest of a string of foster homes. Just as he’s getting to know his foster family, including the superhero-crazed Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer from IT, impressive again), Billy is chosen to replace the aging Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) as protector of the Realms, bringing a youthful energy that will ensure the Seven Deadly Sin-Monsters cannot assume Earthly forms.

The super-villainous Dr. Thaddeus Silva (Mark Strong, gloriously slimy) does not approve, and vows to defeat the new Shazam (Zachary Levi) and assume all his powers.

So it’s on!

But first, Billy and Freddy have to find out just what superpowers are brought on by saying that magic word, which sets up a series of amusing tests and is the springboard for getting to know this grown up superboy while he mulls over possible super names.

“Thundercrack?” “No! That sounds like a butt thing.”

If you’re thinking Big (and the film acknowledges that you are with a cute homage), you’re right on. Writer Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) fills the script with action, humor, heart and spunk, while director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) keeps things lively and engaging with plenty of impressive visual pop.

The entire cast is wonderfully diverse and consistently winning, and a few corny moments aside, makes the feels on friendship, family and responsibility land nearly as flush as the winking riffs on superhero tropes.

There really isn’t much Shazam! doesn’t deliver (okay, maybe it delivers a slightly bloated running time that includes two post-credits stingers), and as fast as you can say the magic word, DC has the best film in its universe since Bale was the Bat.

 

Hello, Dolly

Annabelle: Creation

by Hope Madden

There are a lot of things James Wan’s 2013 hit The Conjuring got right. Leaning toward practical effects over CGI, casting high-quality talent, and digging into an allegedly true story – all good choices that, matched with his eye for framing and skill with mounting dread, led to a chilling and memorable flick.

There’s also a creepy doll, the element that seems to be driving this unexpected franchise and the only item from the original film that made the leap to Annabelle: Creation.

You remember her – she terrorized a young family, and later a pair of nursing students before being locked in a glass case in that creepy room at Ed and Lorraine Warren’s house.

But did you ever wonder what kind of demonic hijinks created her in the first place? Or do you just find yourself in the mood to watch orphans being persecuted? Either way, may I introduce you to Annabelle: Creation?

Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) does what he does best, relying on good, old-fashioned jump scares. If that’s your bag – and you don’t get side tracked with nit-picky things like how utterly ignorant writer Gary Dauberman is of actual Catholicism (so maybe he shouldn’t have chosen a Catholic orphanage!) – then this film may be for you.

Years after a doll maker and his wife lose their precious daughter, they accidentally conjure up a demon to live in the single ugliest doll any toy maker has ever seen fit to make.

Bad choice.

Worse choice? Inviting those orphans to move in.

Welp, empty-headed horror it is. And there is something to be said for that in a mid-August slump. This is the sequel to a weak film, itself a sequel of sorts to the kind of movie that felt like a one-off.

It seems unlikely a franchise was the expectation back when Conjuring hit screens in ’13. Since then, filmmakers have scrambled to cobble together a universe of supernatural spookiness to spin off and connect. (Look closely at the picture from Sister Charlotte’s convent – any of those nuns look familiar?)

Sandberg offers little in the way of originality. (He’s clearly a pretty big fan of Wan’s Insidious.) But there are jumps aplenty and a couple of very freaky images in the third act.

Because if you can’t have a creepy nun, may as well make due with a disfigured mother and a scarecrow.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

Circuit Breaker

Lights Out

by George Wolf

While fright fans continue to argue about the merits of art house horror vs. torture porn, there is another option in 2016. Make America grab their dates again! And just like a convention speech that sounds awfully familiar, Lights Out limps off as a promising platform derailed by borrowed ideas and intermittent ridiculousness.

There aren’t many phobias more basic than a fear of the dark, and Director David F. Sandberg had nifty fun with it in his Lights Out short film from 2013. He gets a producer assist from James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious) for his big screen debut, and though the opening segment does offer the same spark as that original short, expanding the premise to a mere 81 minutes brings more filler, less killer.

Young Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is increasingly scared to stay in his own house, since his mother (Maria Bello) talks to unseen beings and strange things happen whenever the lights go out. Martin’s older sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is contacted by social services, and she’s instantly reminded of similar trauma from her own childhood. Rebecca sets out on a determined quest to finally uncover the truth about what’s hiding in the dark….which ends after opening the first storage box she sees.

Thanks for neatly organizing all this evidence, Mom! Now how do I get rid of it?

For those tired of all the love art house horror has been getting, Lights Out is your anti-Witch. It’s all about the jump scares, in a universe where major plot turns are explained by “something went wrong” and no one seems to have a job. Don’t think about it, just…boo!

It’s all obvious and mildly jolting, with none of the creepy polish evident in Wan’s own catalog. Sandberg does find some authenticity, though, in his cast. The reliable Bello is effectively sympathetic and Palmer, despite a string of lackluster performances, finally shows the promise of a genuine actor.

Though the bloodletting is always minimal in PG-13 horror, these films can still be effective. The Ring showed they can even be great, and screenwriter Eric Heisserer clearly agrees, which becomes increasingly evident as the structure of his backstory is revealed.

The finale is as abrupt as it is unsatisfying, and though Sandberg flashes chops worthy of a better script (he is directing Wan’s Annabelle 2 next year) Lights Out merely flickers.

Verdict-2-5-Stars