We’re in between blockbusters this week, but February has still decided to leave a lot of thrillers and horror flicks on the table for audiences to dig into. This set of reviews includes the Foo Fighters’ horror debut, a snowy mystery, a disaster film, a witch tale, and werewolf flick, and a biopic about The Unabomber. The following features reviews for Studio 666, No Exit, The Burning Sea, Hellbender, The Cursed, and Ted K.
Studio 666: 6 out of 10
The Setup: Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the Foo Fighters move into a mansion to record their 10th album. Once in the house, singer Dave Grohl finds himself grappling with supernatural forces that threaten the album’s completion and the band members’ lives.
Review: I may not be from Generation X, but I grew up with the Foo Fighters when they rose to fame during the 90s. Along with many of their albums and most notable tracks, I’ve always enjoyed the rock group’s sense of humor. There’s a real joy that comes out in their various music videos, let alone real-life antics as a group, so the idea of them wanting to put on a show in the form of a horror-comedy was a welcome one.
Fortunately, it worked out for the better. Working as a fun homage to the works of Carpenter, Romero, and Raimi, Studio 666 may as well be called “Scooby Foo,” as it puts the band in a haunted house to let them enjoy playing movie versions of themselves for 90 minutes while dealing with spooky things. Some of the Fighters are more adept at “acting” than others, with Grohl having built up the strongest persona as a screen presence over the years.
As it stands, there is a healthy amount of gore on display, so even those who may not like the Foo Fighters can at least see many of the band members get dismembered in wacky ways if that’s what they are into. Clearly filmed on a low budget, Studio 666 makes its best use of the Encino mansion location. A handful of fun cameos from Will Forte, Whitney Cummings, and even the one and only John Carpenter (who also developed the main theme for the film), only add to the film’s playfulness.
Sure, this is not a wildly scary film. A few too many dad jokes also pop in to hold it back from being more of a consistently hilarious showcase. Still, it’s pretty endearing to hang out with these guys who clearly enjoy putting this kind of silly stuff together. Not a bad way to kick out the gory jams.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting February 25, 2022.
No Exit: 6 out of 10
The Setup: A young woman (Havana Rose Liu) becomes stranded in a motorway rest stop during a blizzard and discovers a kidnapped girl in a van. Determined to find out the identity of the kidnapper, she investigates the group of strangers trapped inside with her.
Review: I’m a big fan of James Mangold’s 2003 thriller Identity. While that film is not the first to contain an assortment of characters in a single location, while a few try to determine the nefarious threat lurking within, it is one I like to think back to when seeing similar features. Perhaps it’s the B-movie nature of the premise, combined with the modern aesthetic (cell phones, guns, etc.). Whatever the case, No Exit functions on that level, and it’s because of the way it slowly gets into what’s really going on that I appreciated it.
Havana Rose Liu delivers a strong enough lead performance. The film provides a lengthy setup involving her status as a troubled woman with a difficult past. That level of drama becomes useful knowledge in various ways, helping her fit in with the rest of the cast. Fortunately, the film doesn’t overcrowd itself with too many people/suspects.
The most notable names are character actors Dale Dickey and Denis Haysbert, but Danny Ramirez and David Rysdahl (all D names?!) round out this crew. Given how the tension kicks in, I was quite pleased with director Damien Power finding ways to reveal what’s necessary at certain times throughout the film. Sure, the third act finds ways to become a bit more outlandish, but it’s appropriate for the style of film presented here.
As it stands, I enjoyed the mystery presented. I was intrigued by learning how Liu’s Darby would deal with a situation where only she knows someone else is not on the level. Having No Exit find a variety of ways to twist the scenario even further was appropriate, and even if it’s not entirely reinventing how we think of mysteries, there’s enough here to make for a worthwhile thriller.
Where To Watch: Available to stream on Hulu starting February 25.
The Burning Sea: 7 out of 10
The Setup: When a crack has opened on the ocean floor, causing an oil rig to collapse, a team of researchers, including submarine operator Sofia (Kristine Kujath Thorp), rush to search for the missing workers and assess the cause of the damage. Soon enough, they discover this is just the start of a possible catastrophe.
Review: Norway has been putting in some solid disaster films this past decade. I enjoyed 2015’s The Wave. 2018’s The Quake was a sequel I have not seen yet but heard good enough things. The Burning Sea comes from much of the same production team. If anyone needed a cinematic universe based around various disasters striking Norway, well, this movie aims to please.
Fortunately, it also happens to be quite good. While the nature of the film suggests it could want to tackle the issues that come from harvesting fossil fuels, director John Andreas Anderson is more concerned with placing a set of characters in an unfortunate situation they have to think their way out of. As a result, while the story follows a more predictable path, the use of spectacle and an appropriate level of melodrama delivers in the ways one would hope for a film like this.
Holding back from going over the top with cheesiness, there’s a good handle on the level of tension and the stakes our heroes face. The human drama works as needed, with the film finding a good balance between delivering crazy ocean-related disasters and reasons for the audience to stay invested.
Often, a movie like this can crumble under the weight of stretching what viewers are willing to tolerate. The Burning Sea may not have many deep layers in terms of overall messaging, but it knows how to play up the genre’s tropes to an effective degree. For a film featuring multiple giant explosions and underwater collapses, the movie manages to stay afloat
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and on VOD starting February 25.
Hellbender: 7 out of 10
The Setup: A teenager, Izzy, and her mother live simply in a home in the woods, spending their time making metal music. A chance encounter with a fellow teen causes Izzy to uncover a connection between her family and witchcraft, which causes a rift with her mother.
Review: The DIY nature of this film is a key thing to note, as Hellbender truly is an Adams family production. They know it’s a cute reference, and that’s the sort of attitude that informs this film. No, the film is never winking at the audience or presenting itself as a parody in any way. It does, however, have a sort of rock & roll energy combined with the serious nature of combing an innocent coming of age story with occult-style horror. This makes the film unique, to say the least.
Mother and daughter Zelda Adams and Toby Poser co-directed, produced, and wrote this film, along with John Adams. It’s interesting to see the kind of effort taking place. Mainly set in a wilderness environment, some striking visuals make good use of the film’s basic setup.
At the same time, Izzy is trying to make new friends, while her mother is in a mode of understanding her daughter is growing and will need to be shaped to keep in line with the desired upbringing. This means getting isolated shots of both characters at various times, with differing implications. When Hellbender found ways to match the levels of creepiness to each character, I realized what quality work was being done to make a compelling piece of work out of such a low-budget feature.
This is not new for horror, of course, but the combination of the occult-based spookiness, the punk rock attitude of both the characters and the production, and the general atmosphere of the film, made it all quite worthwhile. It may have some rough edges, but this is a pretty wicked family affair.
Where To Watch: Available to stream exclusively on Shudder starting February 24.
The Cursed: 6 out of 10
The Setup: In the late 1800s, a man arrives in a remote country village to investigate an attack by a wild animal. However, he soon discovers a much deeper and sinister force with the manor and the townspeople in its grip.
Review: Originally titled Eight For Silver, which I’m mainly pointing out because I much prefer that title, it’s a good thing this film has a lot on its mind in terms of proper period piece staging and a clever take on the mythology it’s dealing with. On the whole, The Cursed finds itself wandering about for a bit too long. Still, when it’s at its best, this film has bite.
As I said, the ideas on this film’s mind are interesting. Writer/director Sean Ellis sets up some interesting parameters for what makes these werewolf-type creatures different from others. I liked the gothic atmosphere and the self-seriousness of it all (including what it has to say about displaced people during that time period). Operating somewhere between The Brotherhood of the Wolf and The Wolfman, there’s a lot of good that can come out of a feature attempting to do something new with this basic concept.
Not hurting are some of these performances. Boyd Holbrook portrays a pathologist investigating the matter, with Kelly Reilly serving as the matriarch of one of the main manors involved in all that’s taking place. Even with all their very serious emoting, I appreciated how the film gave a certain kind of weight to what they were going through.
As for the beasts we get to see, well, they certainly don’t look like the average werewolf. However, for a film so steeped in atmosphere, adding a series of CG creatures bounding through the foggy nights only goes so far. Will all of that said, sporting a pair of silver teeth, this film has what it needs to deliver the horror.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
Ted K: 6 out of 10
The Setup: Ted Kaczynski (Sharlto Copley) lives a life of quiet seclusion in a wooden cabin in the mountains of Montana. His growing contempt for technology and modern society soon leads to local acts of sabotage and deadly bombing attacks.
Review: I’ve been quite the fan of Copley since his breakout debut in District 9. He brings a sort of big energy that I could almost equate to Nicolas Cage. No part of me feels like this man is ever phoning it in. He’s a force of talent who wants to just put it all out there when he can. Casting Copley as Ted Kaczynski is kind of brilliant, and I believe director Tony Stone knows this.
Not settling to function as a traditional biopic, things kick off with a creepy opening scroll to make it clear we’re watching a movie that’s been shot around the same area where Ted lived. What follows is a display of what’s going on in this man’s head. In some ways, I was reminded of films such as Spencer and Tesla. They were alternative ways to put someone’s famous life on display, relying on psychological horror as a backbone, or in the case of Tesla, a knowing sense of style to inform the filmmaking, and keeping the low budget in mind.
At the same time, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer also seems like a key influence, given the isolation we see Ted in, along with his desires and growing displeasures of the world around him (Henry was a bit different, way worse, but I could see them both as lost souls who did horrible things).
As the film carries on, its two-hour runtime only does so much for a story that wants to lean into the facts while still providing enough stylization of events taking place. Thankfully, the movie avoids feeling exploitative when delivering on the Unabomber’s actions. As a slow-burn, Ted K has a measured performance from Copley that serves this feature well.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters and available to rent or purchase on digital.