Oh my goodness! What a bonkers movie! This movie is absolutely bananas. It is absolutely nuts, and I kind of love it for all its absurdities.
It was impossible to miss the ubiquitous trailers for this movie touting, “a new vision of terror from James Wan.” I wasn’t super excited to check this one out. I love horror, and I’m a fan of Wan’s work, but the trailers did nothing for me.
I checked out the first ten minutes on my laptop on HBO Max, and I was deeply disappointed. I thought it was terrible. So with trepidation I walked into the theater last night to watch it for real. I credit the theater experience with vastly improving those first ten minutes. What seemed hammy and overblown felt right at home in the theater.
So what is this movie? Well according to the trailers it is about a woman named Maddie who is haunted by a malevolent force from her past named Gabriel. She thinks he’s the devil. In the past he whispered evil things to her. As an adult he shows her the murders he commits. It’s directed by James Wan. The trailers want to make sure you know that he is behind it.
That’s everything I knew about the movie before I saw it. As such I was delightfully surprised by every twist and turn the movie unfolded. It was so much fun as the movie got steadily weirder and more off the wall or really off the ceiling. I struggle with movies like this. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I want to talk about how crazy it is. I’m going to include a spoiler section after the review proper to lay out just how wild this movie gets.
The movie is directed by James Wan. He directed the first two Conjuring and Insidious films. He’s pretty much responsible for the horror renaissance we’re seeing in my opinion. He’s a master at building tension and setting up a scare. He has a great eye for fear. He uses every tool in the box for this movie. Unsettling backstories, atmospheric lighting, a great setting, and a sudden jolting camera move to really drive the jump home.
He goes over board here. He is really playing with his tools here and seeing how far he can push things. There are more obvious jump scare setups here than in his previous work, but when they’re this well done it’s hard to begrudge a good jump.
The tone however feels very weird at times. The movie has an offbeat sense of humor that is employed at odd moments. I’m not always sure if what I’m laughing at is supposed to be funny. A great example of this is a scene with a very minor revelation that builds like a massive soap opera reveal moment then we cut away and never really address the fallout from that revelation. Is it supposed to be funny? Why the melodramatic buildup if it’s not big news to anybody?
The dialogue is terrible. It’s screenwriter 101 terrible. There’s clumsy exposition, big declarations, and just plain awkward character work. At one point a scientist shouts to another “it’s like he’s drinking electricity!” Like I just said, is it supposed to be funny? I don’t know, but it is.
What saved this movie is the strength of the direction and how wild and crazy the story gets. The plot really goes to some unbelievable places, and I was delighted. It was so much fun to see something so bonkers. I had a lot of fun with it in spite of its glaring flaws. And even now as I think about it’s flaws I find them charming rather than grating.
So is this my cup of tea? Yes! Will it be yours? That’s tough to say. Know that it’s ridiculous. See it in a theater. Watch it with friends. These will give you the best chance to enjoy this movie. B+
Okay, spoilers!!! If you’re going to watch this movie turn back now!
If you have seen it or don’t care to check it out, read on…
So the movie follows Maddie a woman whose life is haunted by a dark evil presence called Gabriel. After her husband bashes her head against a wall he’s killed by Gabriel. Maddie starts seeing Gabriel kill the doctors who tortured him years ago. Maddie reaches out to the police to report the murders. They uncover the truth Maddie has been haunted by Gabriel her whole life, but she blocked the memories.
Just then, one of Gabriel’s victims breaks free and falls through the ceiling if Maddie’s house right on top of the cops. what?! They arrest Maddie. Meanwhile Maddie’s sister finds the medical facility where Maddie was kept as a child. She finds the old vhs tapes of her treatment. Maddie had a twin brother who was a parasitic teratoma. They were essentially Siamese twins who shared one brain. Gabriel was a parasite who would whisper evil thoughts to her. They surgically removed most of Gabriel, but left a chunk of him in Maddie’s head. After her husband bashed her head against a wall he unleashed Gabriel.
So Gabriel literally breaks open her skull, pushes his own gross face out enough to see and controls her body in order to kill his victims. This means that for the rest of the movie Maddie runs around backwards killing people in reverse. It’s so freaking bizarre!!! I’ve never seen anything like this movie before! It’s so strange and amazing! I had an absolute hoot with this absurd premise. I loved it.