After receiving mixed reviews during its appearance at a few festivals in Canada and United States in the last 11 months, Nightmare Cinema has finally been granted a limited theatrical release (click here to see if the movie will play near you) and a much wider release on Shudder, from June 21st!
Mixed reviews are to be expected when you’re dealing with a horror anthology, a “sub-genre” that allows for various degrees of quality within the same picture. However, the names of the directors of the five segments Nightmare Cinema is made of should be enough for every horror fan to check this one out. In fact, that’s why I was excited to watch this anthology as soon as it came out.
The five stories are directed by well-known protagonists of the horror scene: Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), Joe Dante (Gremlins), David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch… but also Twilight: Eclipse), Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus, The Midnight Meat Train) and Mick Garris, creator of The Masters of Horror series, who also directed the wrap-around story. Aside from Garris, who I never considered to be a good filmmaker, everyone else involved in this project is insanely talented and capable of doing great things even within a limited runtime and with a low budget.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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And, overall, the collaboration between such talented artists did manage to make a quite solid horror anthology that most of you will probably enjoy.
The linking sequences are set in a cinema theatre where Mickey Rourke is the projectionist and viewers are lured in to watch films which feature each audience member as the main character of their own horror story/film. The first one (The Thing in the Woods) is a slasher-esque satire directed by Alejandro Brugués; the second one, Mirare by Joe Dante, follows a woman with a facial mark undergoing cosmetic surgery; the third story, titled Mashit and directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, follows a priest and a nun fighting an evil demon; the fourth segment (This Way to Egress directed by David Slade) is about a mother going to therapy and losing touch with reality; the final one, Dead directed by Mick Garris, follows a kid who sees dead people in a hospital (sounds familiar, right?).
The reason why this is, indeed, a solid film overall depends on the fact that two segments are really great, two quite serviceable and only one is really disappointing and poorly made.
Obviously, I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you, in case you haven’t seen Nightmare Cinema yet, therefore I will only assess directly the segments that I consider to be the best and worst.
The best segment – This Way to Egress by David Slade. First and foremost, this short movie stands out because it’s the one that most captures the essence of a nightmare. Filmed in dark monochrome and enriched by fantastic cinematography, This Way to Egress manages to combine the psychological fragility of the protagonist (played by Elizabeth Reaser, The Haunting of Hill House) and the sci-fi concept of a parallel universe where everyone looks deformed and weird. Though not as gory as the other segments, the one directed by David Slade is extremely creepy and atmospheric throughout, it benefits from great set design and marvellous makeup, it’s meaningful and dreamlike at the same time. The acting is fantastic and the viewer understands what the main character is going through purely based on the visual storytelling. This Way to Egress is, however, very artsy and quite obscure, so some of you might find it pointless by the end. Rest assured: if you dig deep enough, this one is everything but pointless!
The worst segment – Mashit by Ryûhei Kitamura. Surprisingly enough, this great Japanese filmmaker disappoints with a movie that is only able to combine story-related clichés (exorcism and possession as we’ve seen them tons of times before) with messy and nonsensical execution. There’s plenty of gore here, but it’s ruined by the jarring editing (some of the worst I’ve seen in a while), awful choreography and poor production values. The sound design is particularly amateur, making every scene laughable; the acting is atrocious; the story itself makes no sense, as characters do things that seem to not have any logical explanation, such as stabbing possessed kids with a sword or having hard-core sex right after one other character committed suicide.
I also loved the segment directed by Joe Dante, the one about cosmetic surgery, which is very well-directed, extremely gory and creepy, but sometimes goofy in the veins of some late 80s body-horror flicks. The Thing in the Woods is a quite enjoyable satirical representation of dumb characters in horror movies, with awesome practical effects and a good amount of references. However, it falls into a trap: by poking fun at horror tropes, it becomes too tropey and, therefore, annoying at points. Dead by Mick Garris is as you’d expect it to be based on the plot description: dull, derivative, unoriginal. Nonetheless, the acting is surprisingly good, especially from the main kid, and one or two sequences manage to be genuinely scary.
Overall, Nightmare Cinema manages to be entertaining for the most part. Aside from Mashit, all the segments have good production values, performances that range from passible to great, great gore and violence. One aspect that consistently sucked was the audio-mixing, though: even the best segments relied on background music too much and had sounds so loud that covered what the characters were saying.
Honestly, I’m pleasantly surprised by horror anthologies in 2019: even without considering Love, Death + Robots, which is apparently labelled as a TV show, we got one that I truly love (The Field Guide to Evil) and now Nightmare Cinema, which is solid, and I would recommend any fan of violent, gory horror to watch it!
Nightmare Cinema 6.5/10
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