• Maxwell J.

July 2020 Review: The Best and Worst Movies I Saw Last Month

July was the beginning of a really rough stretch of time for me. This is evident by me finishing this write up at the end of August. All was not terrible. I ended up averaging a 5.5/10 rating on the 49 films I did watch this month. It was nice to see that quality has not been going down the further I plunge into my watch list, which now stands at a little over 1,000 films. I had put a pause on a few projects I had going on to tend to work, so I am excited to restart them once I have overcorrected for the last few weeks. Without further ado, here are the best movies I saw last month!

WORST #3) The Open House (2018); Director: Matt Angel, Suzanne Coote; Canada/United States

After the death of his father, a teenager, played by Dylan Minnette, and his mother, played by Piercey Dalton, temporarily relocate to his aunt’s house in the mountains, which she is trying to sell, while Dalton’s character gets their life back in order. Isolated, snowy, and stuck, tension rises between the pair as they navigate the loss of a loved one. Their housing situation is further complicated by hordes of strangers viewing the place every Sunday while the mother-son duo meander around town. The Open House is a rather uneventful and suspenseless flick. What had the potential to be a mildly enjoyable home invasion thriller was muddled by lifeless characters, bland “scares”, and downright strange writing choices. Both Minnette and Dalton muster what they can in attempts to save the frustratingly below average film but are unsuccessful in evoking much sympathy. While I am personally a fan of slow-burn horror, The Open House lacks any sort of tension for what felt like the first hour and fifteen minutes. By the time things finally picked up, I was uninvested and uninterested in whatever conclusion that was thrown together. There is much better horror real estate on Netflix than this garbage original film. Check them out next time you see it recommended in your feed.

Overall Score? 3.5/10

BEST #3) Maniac Cop (1988); Director: William Lustig; United States

Someone dressed as a police officer is terrorizing New York City by murdering innocent civilians (not too far off from reality if we’re being honest) in this late 80s’ slasher flick. After being framed for the murder of his wife, a young police officer, Bruce Campbell, must get to the bottom of the killer cop’s reign of terror before it’s too late. Maniac Cop is slasher shlock done right. With incredibly tense action sequences, solid performances, and a splash of comedy, it’s easy to get hooked. The mystery behind Maniac Cop leads to some genuinely interesting commentary about police violence and corruption. Director William Lustig doesn’t go there enough for a modern-day audience, but I am sure that what was presented in 1988 was controversial in its own right. As much as I loved this movie, I would absolutely endorse any remake helmed by a Black director should any want to tweak the concept to tell the story to a more aware modern audience. While Maniac Cop doesn’t really try to say anything too clever about police brutality, it does have plenty of moments where brilliance shines through, both in story and direction. Fast-paced with charismatic leads and a villain that provokes legitimate scares, Maniac Cop is an excellent popcorn film that will entertain the hell out of you.

Overall Score? 8/10

WORST #2) Cruel Peter (2020); Director: Christian Bisceglia, Ascanio Malgarini; Italy

Peter is a young, rich tyrant who enjoys manipulating and abusing his servants, animals, and even other children. One day he pushes another boy too far and he finds himself paying the price with his life. Years later, an archaeologist and his daughter move into the mansion where Peter once lived. While attempting to contact the spirit of her dead mother, the daughter accidentally resurrects the child bully who quickly continues his reign of terror. Cruel Peter is a tepid, gothic chiller that lacks the creativity and execution to be truly frightening. My main complaint stems from the storyline. As an antagonist, the idea of Peter’s character sounds pretty interesting. The problem is that this miserable ghost of a dead kid who wreaked havoc in his parent’s estate does not conjure up the appropriate level of mischief to satisfy the concept of the film. His attacks are pretty mellow and often leave the viewer wondering what could have been. I also wasn’t a big fan of the characterization of the daughter. She is Deaf, but the film goes to great lengths to keep her from signing, and having her father regularly explain to other characters what she is communicating, robbing her of both her voice and agency. This just doesn’t sit right with me for a film made and set in present times. Cruel Peter’s failure to capitalize on its interesting source material wrecks any chance that this film will satisfy your demands of supernatural horror.

Overall Score? 3/10

BEST #2) Impetigore (2019); Director: Joko Anwar; Indonseia/South Korea

After surviving a terrifying encounter with a man who tried to murder her, a young woman tracks down the town where she was born and discovers an inheritance that could solve all of her monetary woes. In tow with her best friend, she visits the town in secret to learn more about her history and hatch a scheme to retrieve her family’s estate safely but soon learn that there’s more to her family's history than meets the eye. Impetigore is an incredibly energizing film. Director Joko Anwar knows how to squeeze the tension and suspense out of every scene. Beautifully shot and featuring some truly frightening and bizarre imagery, Imetigore is a visual delight. The cast elevates the film even further. Truly standout performances are given by Marissa Anita, who plays the delightful yet dopey Dini, Asmara Abigail, who plays the affable moral center Ratih, and Tara Basro, who plays leading woman Maya. I appreciated that their characters were engaging yet grounded in reality. There were great performances all around, but these women truly delivered. Impetigore is also simply scary. I found myself recoiling in fear or paralyzed in suspense at multiple points. Anwar pulls no punches and consistently showcases his skill as a horror director. Aside from one flashback scene that went on a little bit too long, Impetigore is a nearly perfect slice of supernatural mayhem. Don’t miss out on one of last year’s most terrifying films and check out Impetigore now.

Overall Score? 8/10

WORST #1) She Rises (2017); Director: Larry Wade Carrell; United States

A director/actor duo head out into the woods to film a movie when they get into car trouble. They are taken in by a seemingly kind woman who brings them to her cabin in the woods. As the night progresses, the unexplainable is explained when the protagonists find out they have entered the lair of a succubus. She Rises is an insufferably pompous waste of 90 minutes. What it lacks in narrative sense is accentuated by truly cringeworthy and repetitive dialogue. I’m sure Director Larry Wade Carrell was trying to say something about the filmmaking process and how it seduces its victims into madness. Or something. I truly don’t know or care really. Any thoughts beyond those reeling through my mind during its runtime are simply too many to waste on this inane trashcan fire of a film. What I found most irritating is Angus Macfayden’s character Conor, who is truly the most grating character I have been subjected to this year. His character is mostly reduced to reciting lines from much better films and works of theater. Even a capable actor like Macfayden cannot elevate the script beyond the chaos of its own failure. A muddled and mundane affair, She Rises is an indefensible and pretentious piece of masturbatory cinema that lacks thrills, suspense, entertainment, resolution, or coherence.

Overall Score? 2.5/10

BEST #1) The Devil’s Advocate (1997); Director: Taylor Hackford; United States/Germany

A hotshot, small-town lawyer is recruited by a renowned law firm in New York City and slowly spirals into a baser and more unethical version of himself. Overall, The Devil’s Advocate is a great experience. The horror of human nature regarding ethics and decision-making is one that fascinates me and this slow-burn exercise in paranoia and dread delivers. I found myself drawing parallels to Rosemary’s Baby, a personal favorite of mine, especially with the claustrophobia and isolation of the couple’s apartment, regardless of the physical space it actually holds. I love that the film doesn’t make any of the answers easy, particularly with its ending. Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, and Charlize Theron give excellent performances, with Reeve’s syrupy southern gentleman especially winning me over. While the character arc of Reeve’s Kevin might have the more memorable character arc, I found myself drawn to Theron’s Mary Ann, who slowly spirals throughout the film, struggling to deal with the overwhelming nature of her life in near-constant isolation and comparison. An engrossing and dark psychological morality tale, The Devil’s Advocate may not shock or scare you like most horror films, but it will certainly inject some serious thought-provoking conversation, either with others or in reflection by yourself.

Overall Score? 8/10

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