I implore you not to read any plot summaries or spoilers for Waves; going in blind is the best experience. I really want to say as little as possible about the story, because it is such an emotional experience. The acting is perfect (except for Lucas Hedges who is just a black hole) and I can relate to every character in a way. This is really like a short and it's sequel, with each one being completely unique in how it i presented. The cinematography, soundtrack, and tone in each part are perfect, but totally different. I like the first half more, but that's mainly because of how well Trey Edward Shults has the score, cinematography, and color palette play with each other. It feels like nothing I've ever seen before. We are constantly getting this amazing shots that almost feel musical with how quick and fast we cut from scene to scene and angle. I wish the pacing was quicker in the last half and Hedges's character really doesn't bring anything worthwhile to the story, but beyond that, Waves is close to perfect. It's certainly not a movie for everyone, but that is mostly because of the near constant gut punches and not the film making.
We open with a menagerie of review clips of the first movie. They are real life reviews (I only know because Shawn C. Phillips is one of them and I'd watched the review), some positive, but mostly negative ones pointing out how bad the effects were. Grave Encounters 2 is one film student's quest to prove that Grave Encounters wasn't just a movie, but was a real set of events. The movie is only about an hour and a half and it takes half an hour to actually get to the hospital from the first movie. I can appreciate that they put the effort in to create a more compelling story for a sequel than just throwing essentially the same movie at us again, but it takes up far too much time. Pairing with that, the fact that most of those first thirty minutes is just character establishment for characters that are all unlikable. I don't give half a crap about any of these people; they are all annoying jerks and the actors aren't particularly great either. Am I really supposed to care about Dylan Playfair? Am I supposed to care about the love angle between two of our leads? No one is likable and the only person who did an acceptable acting job was Richard Harmon. I'm not sure why they thought bringing up how bad the effects were in the first movie was a good idea if they weren't going to make them any better in t his film. They are smart enough to only show the worst effects through the night vision camera, but even then it's still pretty awful. The plot for the first movie was pretty messy, but this sequel is a disaster. Without spoiling anything, they make some real leaps in logic and try some outrageous ideas. There are many, many movies that are much worse than this one, but Grave Encounters 2 didn't learn anything from the mistakes of the first film and actually makes the same mistakes at a worse level in addition to making new ones.
Fantastic Planet is incredibly ambitious in many ways, but is surprisingly half-hearted in others. Right out of the gate, the visuals are divisive, as individual stills look beautiful, but the actual animation is very choppy and unnatural. If you pause the movie at any time, you'll get see an incredibly alien landscape populated with a litany of grotesque and confusing creatures and plants, that are all strangely compelling. However, as soon as you press Play, the woefully under-animated movements create a big scar over those beautiful stills. Even for 1973, the actual animation is poorly done and it feels like they need three times as many frames as they have in order to fix it. There are even scenes where they don't even bother making character's legs move and instead they just float along the ground. The story of Fantastic Planet is purposefully confusing, but I feel like it takes it a step too far. We experience the film from two different lenses, that of the Draags (the giant blue creatures) and that of the Oms (their name for the humans). Our narrator, Terr, is an Om so we see most things from his point-of-view which leaves us as clueless about the Draags as he is. It's a novel concept, but when reached the ending, I felt like I was missing an entire layer of knowledge that was necessary to understand what was going on. Hearing the Draags teach their children about their planet using alien terms that we have no concept or understanding of was kind of cool, but that's on a micro scale and the ending is very macro. I watched Fantastic Planet with the original French audio and English subtitles and the voice acting is easily the worst part of this film. No one seems to understand what their role as a voice actor is, as no one is putting emotion into their lines and everyone sounds nearly identical. I love the world building that we get (especially considering how short the film is), but nothing feel fully realized; the entire film feels like a rough draft. Everything about this movie needed a more experienced person with an attention to detail working on it. I hate remakes, but Fantastic Planet could be a great candidate for a remaster. Touch up the animation and rerecord the audio with trained, professional voice actors and Fantastic Planet could be a classic. As it is, this film is unique and strangely compelling, but it's missing a real hook and how sloppily it was made leaves a lot to be desired.
Cruel Will has an interesting premise that it thoroughly butchers in execution. The acting is absolutely terrible (except Harry Lennix) almost to the point where is it comically bad. The story is very repetitive, which makes the 85 minute run time feel like ages, and the ending is incredibly anticlimactic and confusing. There aren't many effects, but they clearly have no idea how blood spatter works. What bothers me the most are how careless they are with the many stupid little mistakes. A character is cutting vegetables with a chef's knife on a cutting board and somehow cuts her palm, when the knife was no where near her palm and the cutting motion she was doing would only risk chopping off her finger tips, not gashing open her palm. Another character drops a glass of cola, but when he goes to pick up the broken glass, there is a clear liquid on the floor, even though we watched him poor brown cola. There are tons of little mistakes that show how little attention was paid to any of the details in this film. Again, the general plot description of the film has potential, but clearly no one knew what they were doing.
There are definitely things to appreciate here, but they are far outweighed by the negatives. The cinematography offers some really cool shots and the tent pole scenes are packed with the raw, animalistic energy that the book captures so well. Much more important though is how hard it is to look past the terrible acting from the entire cast. The chemistry was there between the kids, but they just have zero acting ability. Even the rhythm of the conversations is stilted and unnatural; most of the time there is like a couple of seconds delay before the kid remembers that it's their turn to say their line. 100% the issue is the casting, which seems to have been "Congratulations on coming to your audition. You're hired!". Even the best baker can't make a wedding cake out of clam juice and magnets.
The Midnight Gospel is literally just re-spliced podcasts with a few lines of newly recorded dialog that play while an entirely unrelated lazy animation plays. They tell you the premise is something similar to the Interdementional Cable episodes of Rick & Morty, where our main character picks a different world simulation to join. I love the idea, but as soon as we join the new world, they start a "data-cast" and start talking about pseudo-intellectual crap that has absolutely nothing to do with what we are seeing going on. The first episode has the main character talking to Dr. Drew about drugs and meditation while fighting of a zombie apocalypse. You almost have to review the visual and audio elements separately. The audio is taken from Duncan Trussell's podcast and the add in a few lines to mention what is happening in the episode, but 98% is the most pretentious and inane conversations I've ever heard. It's two people who know nothing stroking each other's egos about stuff they heard in a Psych 101 class and didn't entirely understand. Do you want to listen to potheads talk about how cool drugs are, magic, Buddhism, and transcendentalism? I sure don't. The actual visuals often look like beautiful black light posters you'd find in the back of a Spencer's store, but they aren't animated properly. The animation is so rough and jumpy that it feels like they need three or four times as many frames to smooth it out. The Midnight Gospels thinks that it is a super deep philosophy discussion, but it's really just a #Deep rant between two stoned High School Freshmen in their mom's basement. I wanted Interdemensional Cable animated by the Adventure Time guy and this is none of those things.
The Haunting of Hill House is hard for me to rate. On one hand, we have really great performances from almost the entire cast; even the kids did very well and I was never reminded that these are all actors ad none of this is real. The sets were really good too, whether it was the funeral home, the rehab center, or the titular Hill House, everything has well designed and as realistically creepy and unsettling. On the other hand I essentially finished only because of the whole sunk cost fallacy and the blind hope that maybe they can right the ship. Every paranormal movie essentially gets to create its own rules for how ghosts and such work, so I can't really complain about the realism of how they chose to write their rules. I will say, however, that their rule book is bullshit and the stupidest fucking mess I've ever read. I won't spoil anything, because the incredibly slow and arduous unrevealing of the mystery is really the only the story has going for it, but I found it to be purposefully obtuse and cheap. They are trying so hard to create a mind-fuck story with the constant flashbacks and (maybe) dream sequences and we never really know if people are really seeing things, if it's just stories they are replaying in their head, if it's hallucinations or if it is just that the writers are trying to give us a visual while someone is being told a story. 85% of the story is just a family drama. It's a compelling drama and the characters are great, but we were pitched and promised a horror and we barely get that. the other 15% is easily the worst part. They do a fair job creating a sense of unease, but literally every unveiling garnered a response of "Really? Fucking really? That's their explanation?" One of the last one makes sense, but one particular one really made me physically angry; it's just so nonsensical, stupid, and unrealistic even for a movie about ghosts. This did not need to be a 10+ hour series and they certainly didn't deliver on the impression of horror. If we cut out all the bullshit, we could have a solid four episode mini-series about a family dealing with loss. I really wanted to love Hill House and they have all of the pieces to make a great show, but they fucked it all up. The cast was outstanding and aside from child actor with a very minor role, everyone gave Oscar worthy performances. The ghosts and ghouls or whatever they actually were looked pretty bad, but the Hill House set looked great. If they gave the pieces to a different writer and director, Hill House could be a classic, but I hate what Mike Flanagan did with them.