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2021 in review

Posted: Fri Jan 14, 2022 11:59 am
by Remo D
I've put this off long enough, and if I don't dive in right now I'll never get it done.

2021 was insane between 2020 leftovers that I didn't get to see on the big screen, theatres re-opening and major studios sending new releases straight to streaming, I saw many things I otherwise might not have. And I saw a hell of a lot more NON-horror films than I did horror films. Nevertheless...

HONORABLE MENTIONS FROM 2020

COME PLAY threatened to turn into an uncredited remake of THE BABADOOK but ultimately held its own with its tale of a worried mother, a 'special' child and his nasty virtual friend.

FREAKY should have netted Vince Vaughn an Oscar nomination for his turn as a high-school girl inhabiting the body of a serial killer... and the film itself scored high marks by taking the horror elements seriously while still providing raucous comedy. Not unlike ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (the standard-bearer to this day).

And THE EMPTY MAN was one of the biggest surprises of the year--is it a 'cursed item' movie? A possession thriller? A murder-spree saga? All of the above and a lot more that I wasn't expecting. I believe this played a drive-in out of my reach, more's the pity, but the direct-to-Redbox dump off was shameful.

Now for 2021 releases:

THE GOOD

ST. MAUD was another exceptionally uncomfortable slow-burn thriller from A24, which failed to hit the big screen near me, alas.

On the other hand, IN THE EARTH was just the sort of film A24 should have released: between the body horror and the light-and-noise assault on the senses, this was right at home in theatres.

A couple of wacky "puppet" splatter shows hit the mark, as I enjoyed WILLY'S WONDERLAND and BENNY LOVES YOU equally.

Okay, I guessed who did it too easily in SPIRAL, but Chris Rock was excellent and the movie was far better than JIGSAW.

A QUIET PLACE 2 ratcheted up the tension as efficiently as the first one. Okay, but NOW what?

The FEAR STREET trilogy was probably the best thing to go direct-to-streaming all year, although A CLASSIC HORROR STORY came close with its own retro-shocks.

I thought the trailers gave too much of OLD away, but there was plenty of cringe-inducing material I wasn't expecting... definitely one of the better Shyamalan efforts.

I'm in the minority, but I thought DON'T BREATHE 2 was even more intense than the first one.

THE NIGHT HOUSE proved one of the best (and most original) buried treasures of the year, so of course nobody saw it.

Put me in the 50 percent that found HALLOWEEN KILLS an exceptional follow-up... I, for one, can't wait to see how they wrap this "only true sequel" trilogy up.

We got more berserko "arthouse" horror in the forms of TITANE, LAMB and the "not quite horror" WOLF, all of which held my attention even as I wondered what on earth I was watching.

ANTLERS was slightly more down to earth but even more grim and depressing, despite featuring perhaps the best jump scare of the year. Unfortunately, Guillermo del Toro struck out twice with this production and with his excellent remake of NIGHTMARE ALLEY (a non-supernatural noir, of course, but certainly embracing enough elements to demand the attention of horror fans).

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE should also belong in the "one true sequel" category and ranks as one of the best surprises of the year in comedy AND horror.

And once again, I'm forced to split top honors between best adaptation and best original. For the former, I give it up for the new CANDYMAN, which maintained palpable terror throughout without ever yelling "boo!" And for the latter? I enjoyed every moment of Edgar Wright's signature, soundtrack-driven fever dream LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, and I'm sorry that I was one of about a dozen people who actually ventured out to see it.

THE MIDDLE GROUND

THE UNHOLY was the first horror film I saw on the big screen in 2021, and it turned out to be an adaptation of James Herbert's SHRINE. Well acted, but neither this nor the post-trauma haunting thriller SEPARATION quite managed to stick the landing.

I thought ARMY OF THE DEAD was one third of a terrific zombie/heist movie buried in two-thirds of a truly awful zombie/heist movie.

THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR (officially known as MEET THE BLACKS 2) abandoned the PURGE scenario for more traditional vampire/voodoo tropes but proved reasonably amusing.

Speaking of THE PURGE? The latest installment had its moments (don't they all?), but I could live FOREVER without another one by now.

ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS, as with the original, proved perfectly watchable and utterly preposterous.

And RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY managed to reboot the franchise without Milla Jovovich successfully, but I lost interest in its goings on at about the same time that the movie lost interest in its own characters...

That leaves us with a one-two from James Wan. MALIGNANT started off predictably and retained some howling plot shortcuts (yeah, the secret records are still in the abandoned hospital for anybody to waltz in and pick up?), but it went bat-nuts in the most delightful way all the same when all was said and done... I'll take that over the disappointing third CONJURING film, which was farmed off to the director of THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA. Now, THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT was slightly better than that one, but one wishes Wan had kept the "main" franchise entries for himself.

THE BAD?

I was tempted to dump the third CONJURING film here just to have something to write about, but it certainly wasn't as bad as all THAT. Now, maybe I was just happy to be back seeing movies in theatres again, but the truth of the matter is that I didn't see a single horror film that was as sloppy as MORTAL KOMBAT, as stupid as F9 or as hellishly boring as ETERNALS. As far as I'm concerned, THOSE are the worst movies of the year... except... except... over thirty-five years after the fact, somebody actually "completed" and released GRIZZLY II: REVENGE. And words utterly fail me.

The rest? I have to skim through these quickly or I'll be at my keyboard all day.

Science-fiction/monster movies:

Put me in the 50% that considered GODZILLA VS. KONG a top-drawer epic that gave me everything I could have asked for and then some. VOYAGERS was an ambitious LORD OF THE FLIES variant set in outer space. I'll need to watch the new DUNE again, but I was good and saw it on the big screen where it belonged. I can't say the same for THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS because I only liked the first one and had no desire to return to that universe--some of my friends loved it but I just couldn't get into it, sorry.

Crime/action movies:

THE LITTLE THINGS had a lot going for it until it blew it all with a terrible final act. NOBODY was the very first film I saw on the big screen in 2021 and I enjoyed every wacky moment of it. THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD was fine, save for Angelina Jolie's perfectly preserved hair and makeup after all that smoke jumping. WRATH OF MAN was a high point for both Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham. NO SUDDEN MOVE was a terrific and underplayed Soderbergh mini-epic. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE wasn't for me--glad for you if you enjoyed it. THE GREEN KNIGHT was splendidly handsome and bored me to near tears. THE CARD COUNTER proved that Paul Schrader still has it. THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK is a fine mob drama whether or not you recognize it as a prequel to THE SOPRANOS. RED NOTICE was utterly generic. THE KING'S MAN was a surprisingly serious AND seriously entertaining flashback that ranks as the best of the series to date. THE HARDER THEY FALL "stands" as an amazingly brutal and innovative revisionist Western. And last but by no means least? Yet another film that split fans down the middle... put me in the camp that ranks NO TIME TO DIE as one of the best Bonds ever (and an amazing tribute to the spirit of Ian Fleming).

Comedies:

TOM & JERRY was cute but of course it had to be all about the humans. COMING 2 AMERICA was amusing and disposable. The new SPACE JAM had plenty of laughs, but I was happy enough to watch it at home.

Superhero stuff:

BLACK WIDOW was decent but dated, SHANG-CHI was "meh" and ETERNALS, as mentioned, was sheer torture. VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE proved great fun, and we FINALLY got another truly excellent MCU entertainment with SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. Oh, and I got a huge kick out of THE SUICIDE SQUAD. "Monster num-num?"

Dramas:

KING RICHARD was well-made and acted and exactly the sort of inspirational sports drama I stay home to watch. HOUSE OF GUCCI, on the other hand, belonged on the big screen as Ridley Scott tried to put a Coppola spin on this "based on a true story" epic. BEING THE RICARDOS ultimately failed because I could never get past the fact that Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem were playing Lucy and Desi, but THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE scored hugely with Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield as Tammy and Jim Bakker.

Musicals (yes, musicals):

IN THE HEIGHTS provided plenty of energy and fun, but of course I saw it on HBO because I had other things to see on the big screen at that time. But I was the ONLY one in the theatre for Edgar Wright's sensational documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS (one of the best things I saw all year, seriously). Meanwhile, "Sparks" themselves created the WTF direct-to-Amazon musical tragedy ANNETTE, and I'm still not sure what I was watching (although everybody really ought to watch the opening overture). Steven Spielberg gave us a fine and honorable cinematic remake of WEST SIDE STORY (saying it shouldn't have been made is like saying the stage musical should never be restaged, no?) and I could say that shortly after I was treated to the original movie on the big screen, by the way. And SING 2 was terrific from beginning to end and this has become my favorite animated franchise.

WHEW! See you next year!

Remo D.