Tag Archives: Mary Stuart Masterson

Poor Career Choice

Five Nights at Freddy’s

by Hope Madden

Two years ago, director Kevin Lewis essentially made the live action horror film based on the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. He did not have a license, but he did have Nicolas Cage. Lewis’s 2021 flick Willy’s Wonderland is an eccentric lock-in with one silent janitor (Cage), and a bunch of Chuck E. Cheese style animatronics out for blood.

It’s not very good. But Cage is very Cage in it – kicking animatronic ass, taking regular breaks to rest up and play some pinball, and uttering not a single word.

Director Emma Tammi (The Wind) does have the rights to the video game IP. But she does not have Cage.

What Five Nights at Freddy’s misses more than anything is the sense of macabre humor that seems a requirement for a film about, essentially, a blood thirsty Country Bears Jamboree.

Josh Hutcherson is a down-on-his-luck big brother. He needs a job, or his wicked aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson) is going to take custody of his little sister, Abby (Piper Rubio). So, he’s desperate. Just desperate enough to take an offer from a sketchy career counselor (Matthew Lillard) for security detail at the long-shuttered kids’ entertainment pizzeria.

Though Masterson’s storyline is predicably moustache-twirling evil, she’s fun. Lillard is reliably, weirdly creepy and his every moment onscreen is a twisted delight.

I like Hutcherson. He was a hoot in Tyler McIntyre’s 2017 gem Tragedy Girls. He has no opportunity to do anything with Mike the Forlorn. Hutcherson grimaces and looks pained for 90 minutes.

Tammi – who’s horror Western The Wind delivered a spare, spooky descent into madness – cannot land on a tone for this one. The script she co-wrote with Seth Cuddeback is a plodding predictable dirge. Game writer Scott Cawthon gets a credit as well, but it’s unclear how much he might have contributed to the screenplay.

The film builds no momentum, most scenes cut short in favor of an emotional flashback, a contrived family moment, or a dream sequence that can’t conjure the eeriness needed to push the film into horror territory.

There’s meanness in the kills, but certainly no blood, and no macabre delight, either.

Willy’s Wonderland was a weak, predictable, dumb film but at least it had Nicolas Cage.

I Am Luke’s Broken Heart

Daniel Isn’t Real

by Hope Madden

Director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s stylish image of mental illness takes a kind of demonic Fight Club angle, hits some mildly homoerotic notes (like Fight Club didn’t?), and offers a quick and absorbing- if hardly new- horror show.

Co-writing with Brian DeLeeuw an adaptation of DeLeeuw’s novel In This Way I Was Saved, Mortimer drops us mid-mom scream into an average afternoon in the life of poor little Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner, painfully adorable).

As Luke wanders away from home to avoid his mother’s psychotic episode, he witnesses the aftermath of a gruesome murder, but finds a new friend: Daniel.

Quickly enough, Daniel is helping Luke cope with his personal trauma, taking his mind off his problems, and maybe encouraging some truly evil behavior.

From here Mortimer directs us to an effectively creepy doll house (such a great prop in nearly any terrifying film or terrifying child’s bedroom), which will become (as it does in Hereditary and The Lodge) a fine symbol for the madness of the mind.

Mortimer’s film looks great and benefits from a trio of strong performances.

Mary Stuart Masterson, playing Luke’s paranoid schizophrenic mother, gives a brave and believable performance in a role that can easily be overdone.

More importantly, Mortimer’s besties/worsties Luke and Daniel (Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger, respectively) create complete characters and offer an uneasy chemistry that keeps the film intriguing.

As Luke’s life spins inevitably out of control, Daniel’s clothing takes on a more and more Tyler Durden style, and I can get behind that. And a certain point near Act 3, Daniel Isn’t Real takes a weird and welcome Clive Barker turn, which is when elements stop being so stylishly predictable and become sloppily fascinating.

The unfortunate Magical Negro trope that will not die surfaces here. It doesn’t entirely sink the film, but it does its damndest to do just that.

Even so, Daniel Isn’t Real is an Olympic-sized leap forward from Mortimer’s previous feature, Some Kind of Hate, the director here showcasing an unpredicted visual flair and storytelling finesse. Though his film treads some well-worn ground, the way Mortimer and team balance the supernatural and psychological push and pull creates an unnerving atmosphere.