Tag Archives: Tyler Gillett

Dancing in the Dark


by Hope Madden

Back in 2019, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett had a blast locking a group of evildoers and one innocent inside a luxurious mansion for about 90 minutes of head exploding, weapon wielding, visceral mayhem.

The fun they had with Ready or Not was contagious. So catchy that you can certainly feel its influence in the filmmakers’ latest, the ballerina vampire tale Abigail.

The first big difference is that in this mansion, no one is innocent.

A team has been assembled for a kidnapping: grab a wealthy guy’s kid and hole up in some out-of-the-way safe house until the ransom comes. They nab little Abigail as she’s coming home from ballet lessons, easy enough, and now all they have to do is wait out the night until the cash comes through.

It’s an airtight movie set up, even if it leaves little breathing space for twists or surprises—assuming you’ve seen the trailer, or at least the poster, and are not shocked to learn that Abigail is a vampire.

Alisha Weir (Matilda: The Musical, Wicked Little Letters) strikes a fine balance as the centuries-old bloodsucker who suckers victims by playing a helpless preteen. She certainly makes ballet look sinister.

Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin surround their wee star with a solid ensemble. This ragtag group of bloodbags (or criminals, as they’d probably prefer to be known) delivers some fun chemistry.

Dan Stevens (having a banner year!) is delightfully unpleasant as group leader Frank, while Melissa Barrera (Scream) carves out a compelling lead turn. Meanwhile, Kathryn Newton (Lisa Frankenstein, Freaky) and longtime “that guy” Kevin Durand deliver the comic notes.

Abigail offers quickly paced, sharply edited gore with enough banter to keep the characters interesting. It’s tough to know who to root for—these people did willingly kidnap a child, after all. The overall moral ambiguity of the film makes it less satisfying than Ready or Not and the lockstep plotting keeps it from sticking with you long after the credits roll.

It’s fun, though. And when it decides to finally get bloody, it may not leave a lasting impression, but it definitely makes a mess.

And Scream Again


by Hope Madden

A quarter-century ago, horror master Wes Craven reinvented his genre of choice—again—with a savvy, funny, scary murder mystery. Scream was an inside-out spoof of the genre, a clever dissection of the tropes and cliches wrapped up in a celebration of those same elements.

It was not our first meta-movie, but it was the first movie to refer to itself as such.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) return to Woodsboro for the franchise’s fifth installment. This go-round comments blisteringly (and entertainingly) not just on horror, but on the post-internet realities of cinema in general.

They really have a good time with that.

Tara Carpenter (the first of maybe 300 horror name drops), played by a remarkable Jenna Ortega, is home alone when she receives a threatening phone call. She doesn’t want to talk about slashers, though. She’d rather discuss “elevated horror.”

That’s an in-joke, one of dozens, each landing but none taking away from the larger story. In that one, Tara’s older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) returns to Woodsboro upon hearing of Tara’s attack. She follows advice from someone who would know and assembles Tara’s close-knit ring of friends to suss out suspects.

But to really anchor these newfangled reboot/sequels (or, in the parlance of another inside gag, “requels”), Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin will need some familiar faces. Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette are three excellent reasons to see the new Scream, a film that is both a fan of the franchise and a cynic of fandom.

The young cast excels as well—Dylan Minnette and Jasmin Savoy Brown, in particular. In fact, Barrera in the central role is the only real weak spot. As was the case in In the Heights, she poses more than acts, a flaw that’s never more obvious than when she shares the screen with the noticeably more talented Ortega.

The filmmakers, along with writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, fill scenes with nostalgia too cheeky to be simple fan service. Their clear affection for the franchise (a surprisingly strong set of films, as horror series go) is evident and infectious.

You do not have to know the 1996 original or any of its sequels to enjoy Scream. It’s a standalone blast. But if you grew up on these movies, this film is like a bloody message of love for you.

I Do or Die

Ready or Not

by Hope Madden

Fucking rich people.

I don’t know about you, but this is a sentiment I can get behind.

Grace (Samara Weaving, Mayhem) doesn’t know whether her soon-to-be in-laws are eccentric or they just plain hate her. Or maybe they are as evil as her groom Alex (Mark O’Brien) and his drunk-but-amiable brother Daniel (Adam Brody) say they are.

The brothers are just kidding, right?

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due—meh) invite you to join the happy couple as they plunge into a world where the wealthiest among us would rather commit murder than do without what none of them worked very hard to earn.

At midnight on Grace and Alex’s wedding night, everyone assembles in the Le Domas family game room: Mom and Dad (Andie MacDowell and Henry Czerny), Aunt Helene (Nicky Guardagni), other siblings and in-laws. It’s a ritual. Just one quick game of hide and seek. What could go wrong?

The inky black comedy plays like a game of Clue gone mad with arterial spray, the film’s comic moments coinciding most often with the accidental slaughter of servants.

The filmmakers take advantage of Weaving’s grit and comic timing, skipping from one bloody comic set up to the next. The plot and the chase move quickly enough to keep you from dwelling on the shorthand character development, the errant plot hole and the occasional convenience. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s a bloody mess.

And yet, the film feels safe, as if it is loath to truly represent the wealthy as people who’d leech the life from those beneath them (a la Get Out). Although, like Jordan Peele’s horror classic, Ready or Not introduces a deeply disturbing song almost as chilling as Get Out’s “Run Rabbit, Run.”

Weaving is proving herself to be reliably badass in the genre, her central performance elevated by the sometimes inspired work of the ensemble. MacDowell, in particular, seems to be enjoying herself immensely.

Even with the clever turns and cheeky performances, the film lacks substance. I mean, yes, I can indulge my secret belief that the rich are evil all day long. So, thank you Ready or Not for playing that card. In the end, though, the film’s just a slight and entertaining (and gory) way to waste your time.

Weren’t We Due a Little Something?

Devil’s Due

by Hope Madden

For the last few years, the first weeks of January have been littered with horror films. Last year it was Texas Chainsaw and Mama; in 2012, Devil Inside; in 2011, Season of the Witch (remember that piece of shit?!) and The Rite. What the correlation is between the bleak and miserable post-holiday winter and bleak and miserable films is hard to say, but 2014 continues the tradition with Devil’s Due, the second mediocre-to-poor horror flick of 2014.

It’s one of those found footage style films that follows newlyweds Sam and Zach through their first, unexpected pregnancy.

There are only so many ways a horror film can go with an unexpected pregnancy, the most common of which, like Devil’s Due, travels down Rosemary’s Baby Lane. So, you know in advance what terror lies ahead. At that point it’s up to the filmmakers to find new and interesting ways to generate those scares.

Unfortunately writer Lindsay Devlin and co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have zero surprises up their collective sleeve.

Ideas stolen from Rosemary, a smattering of Paranormal Activity films and scores of other, better movies are pasted blandly and unconvincingly together, with nary a jump, flinch or shudder to be found.

And do we seriously need two directors for this? Was there that much to do?

Devil’s Due is just another bad horror film, which means there’s little reason to explore cinematic integrity. And yet, here I go. The “found footage” approach in horror films is so, so tired that an actual artistic purpose for it rarely enters the picture anymore. In Blair Witch, someone discovered tins of film, and when those reels are watched, the mystery of three disappearances is revealed. In Quarantine, a newsman’s footage uncovers the terror of a hideous outbreak. In TrollHunter (if you haven’t seen it, you must), a TV news team receives and broadcasts footage shot of, well, trolls.

You see? If you have a found footage film, the footage has to be found at some point, explaining why we, the audience, are seeing it. Otherwise, the use of this technique is simply to avoid having to write a coherent story, provide character development or backstory, or learn the art of cinematography.

Far superior to the film itself, and much cheaper than a movie ticket, is the viral marketing video attached to it. Do yourself a favor and watch this (or watch it again) and skip the movie altogether.