In-House Reviews #113: The First Omen, Sasquatch Sunset, We Grown Now & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for The First Omen, Sasquatch Sunset, We Grown Now, LaRoy, Texas, Damaged, and Música.

While Civil War is breaking out in wide release this week, Bigfoot is on the prowl in smaller cinemas. This set of write-ups includes a horror prequel, a wilderness adventure about a pack of Bigfeet, an urban drama, a dark crime comedy, a detective thriller, and a music-infused romantic comedy. The following features reviews for The First Omen, Sasquatch Sunset, We Grown Now, LaRoy, Texas, Damaged, and Música.

The First Omen: 8 out of 10

The Setup: When a young American woman (Nell Tiger Free) is sent to Rome to begin a life of service to the church, she encounters a darkness that causes her to question her own faith and uncovers a terrifying conspiracy that hopes to bring about the birth of evil incarnate.

Review: So this was a pleasant surprise. Okay, “pleasant” is not exactly the right word, as The First Omen delivers a hard-R horror film meant to rival the extremes of the previous 5 films (the original, two theatrical sequels, a TV spin-off film, and a 2006 remake). Still, it’s better than anyone seems to have expected, all the same. Director Arkasha Stevenson leaves an impression with her debut here, combining an aesthetic and sensibilities that capture the atmosphere and satanic panic of the 70s with some modern touches, which, yes, includes the trappings of being a prequel to an established IP. What it does with that, however, is build a story around certain inevitabilities that speak to what’s possible when genuinely good ideas are being thrown into the mix and having filmmakers willing to explore them.

Nell Tiger Free (Apple TV’s Servant) gives a strong lead performance here, the kind of horror performance that deserves high recognition, but because it’s a horror feature, it won’t go much further than maybe a Saturn Award. Similar praise goes to Ralph Ineson, serving as one of the main connections to the original feature, and the always welcome Bill Nighy, doing his best to harness “Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man” energy. Having these performances works well for the film. It speaks to its use of a proper budget, as the use of locations and actual horrific imagery goes a long way in the movie getting at more than just simple cash-in thrills. Being as impressive as it is, I’m now curious about the potential for The Second Omen.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

Sasquatch Sunset: 6 out of 10

The Setup: In the misty forests of North America, a family of Sasquatches (Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Christophe Zajac-Denek, and co-director Nathan Zellner)— possibly the last of their enigmatic kind— embark on an eventful journey spanning over a year. These shaggy and noble giants fight for survival as they find themselves on a collision course with the ever-changing world around them.

Review: In the realm of experimental indie cinema, I’m not going to say there’s nothing like Sasquatch Sunset, but it operates on a level unlike anything currently making its way toward theaters. Completely covered in hairy bodysuits and makeup and speaking no lines at all, directors Nathan and David Zellner have essentially put together a nature documentary. Now, there are too many shots applying a perspective for what’s taking place for this to actually look like a documentary (perhaps that could have been an approach), but as it is essentially plotless, the idea really does seem to be selling an audience on being a fly-on-the-wall when it comes to this group of Sasquatches. The results are fascinating.

At times, there’s humor that comes from the animalistic behavior these actors are leaning into. More surprisingly, however, is the sense of danger that comes from these creatures living in the wild, creating a sense of poignancy in the process. I got some laughs here and there out of the comedic conceit when I remembered to step back and understand this was still a set of actors putting on a show. That said, I was never more engaged than when I realized I was caught up in the actual drama of what was on display. Well shot and fitted with a fine score by the Octopus Project, this was quite the adventure.

Where To Watch: Opening in select theaters on April 12, 2024. Expands nationwide April 19.

We Grown Now: 7 out of 10

The Setup: In 1992 Chicago, as wide-eyed and imaginative best friends Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Glan Knight Ramirez) traverse the city, looking to escape the mundaneness of school and the hardships of growing up in public housing, their unbreakable bond is challenged when tragedy shakes their community just as they are learning to fly.

Review: Okay, yes, when hearing I was going to watch a story about a young boy dealing with the trials and tribulations of living in 1992 Cabrini-Green, I was worried for his life because of the Candyman of it all. However, writer/director Minhal Baig did not have this in mind (not even Tony Todd as a janitor). Instead, we are treated to a coming-of-age drama that still features scary moments. Scary and real, as these come in the form of random police searches in the homes of Malik and his family. Yes, for a variety of reasons stemming from the U.S.’s issues with public housing projects, let alone systemic racism, Cabrini-Green was known for its poor conditions and association with crime. However, when we are not focused on Malik and Eric just trying to be kids, we see terrifying scenes of a mother (Jurnee Smollett) desperately trying to stop the police from ransacking her house for no real reason other than random whispers of drugs being somewhere, in one of these apartment buildings.

Filmed with a lyrical quality that calls to mind Malick and other directors looking to deliver tone poems with their features, We Grown Now struggles a bit to balance its slice-of-life attributes with a more impactful storyline. However, it features a strong presentation of innocence in a difficult setting, with no mirrors or repeated names required to provoke danger.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago on April 19, 2024. Expanding nationwide on April 26, 2024.

LaRoy, Texas: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Broke and depressed, when Ray (John Magaro) discovers that his wife is cheating on him, he decides he’s going to kill himself. His plans change when he is mistaken for a dangerous hitman (Dylan Baker) and given an envelope of cash. Along with his P.I. friend Skip (Steve Zahn), Ray now must escape the actual hitman to make it out of LaRoy alive.

Review: Well, after a Coen original and a darker (and quite successful) Coen-inspired thriller, we now have a pretty Coen-inspired comedy. Writer/director Shane Atkinson isn’t really trying to hide this. You could even add Shane Black and perhaps Tarantino to the list of influences, but it’s no matter, as this is a fun result. LaRoy, Texas, gets plenty out of its “aww shucks” attitudes from both leads, Magaro and Zahn, but it’s never unclear that these guys are basically losers entering an extreme situation. That said, these performances are a lot of fun. They bounce off each other well and serve the story when tasked to engage with the other wacky characters littered throughout this seemingly convoluted tale.

I say seemingly, as the film is presented in a relatively straightforward way, despite trying to complicate itself with plot beats involving revenge, adultery, murder, and other sins that the movie has no time for exploring on any real meaningful level. Granted, seeing Magaro’s sullen face, even after more heightened events occur, sets this film up for the audience to know there’s a genuine attempt at creating pathos.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters and available on VOD, starting April 12, 2024.

Damaged: 4 out of 10

The Setup: How do you catch a brilliant monster? When a sadistic murderer surfaces in Scotland, terrified local authorities call on a Chicago police detective (Samuel L. Jackson) who investigated a killing spree with the same horrific pattern five years earlier.

Review: I suppose I can be surprised there are not more movies out there already titled “Damaged.” That said, it’s also easy to see why. It’s the kind of title that applies to any number of generic crime-mystery-thrillers that aren’t any cleverer than what the movie comes up with. That, unfortunately, applies here. While Jackson is present and delivering, along with Gianni Capaldi, the film’s other main lead, this story just has little to offer outside of the group who are in between watching serial killer documentary shows.

I suppose it was fun to see John Hannah show up to play against type (he’s more Spartacus than The Mummy here), but that’s still not enough to see much in the way of this film earning more credit. Director Terry McDonough uses his locations well enough to build some atmosphere, but by the time all the various twists and turns are revealed, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the movie’s very talky climax.

Where To Watch: Opening in select theaters and available on VOD and digital, starting April 12, 2024.

Música: 7 out of 10

The Setup: A coming-of-age love story that follows an aspiring creator (Rudy Mancuso) with synesthesia (a neurological condition that essentially creates musical rhythms everywhere he goes, based on anything he encounters), who must come to terms with an uncertain future while navigating the pressures of love, family, and his Brazilian culture in Newark, New Jersey.

Review: It wasn’t long ago that I was praising another romantic comedy released on Prime Video, which was doing more for the genre than various underwhelming theatrical releases. I hope the right lessons are learned (but who am I to complain when audiences like what they see on screen). Regardless, I liked this film quite a bit. I have no real awareness of Mancuso, who also wrote and directed this film, but the way he has chosen to let people in on how he sees life, which includes clever musical sequences (that don’t involve singing), along with his penchant for puppet theater (it works in this context!), is quite affecting.

Not hurting is how the film chooses to treat the female leads (Camila Mendes and Francesca Reale) playing the love interests in his life. There’s nothing necessarily new about this story, as it is focused on a guy who needs to figure his life out, move past an old relationship, and embrace what’s in front of him, whether that involves someone new or not. However, again, it plays fair with the characters, isn’t afraid to show Mancuso’s Rudy as the one in the wrong in several instances, and has a visual life to it all that helps the film stand out even further. Add a supporting part from J.B. Smoove, and you have a fun, light-hearted feature that moves to an enjoyable rhythm.

Where To Watch: Now streaming on Prime Video.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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