10. THE PREDATOR- Directed by Shane Black
With a script co-written and directed by Shane Black (who of course played Hawkins in the original Predator), The Predator turned out to be one of the most disappointing film experiences of 2018. It was plain and simply a mess in every sense of the word. The Predator stars Boyd Holbrook (Logan), as Quinn McKenna, a soldier whose young son accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters’ return to Earth. It’s up to a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled scientist to prevent the end of the human race. It also stars Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, and Alfie Allen. Larry Fong’s cinematography looks mostly bland, Henry Jackman’s music feels as though it’s just trailing in the distance, and most of the new additions are just poor ones (yes I’m looking at the ridiculously big Predator and its stupid dogs). Holbrook’s protagonist offers up very little of interest and it’s not a great performance from him either. The regular predators look decent enough and there is one suspenseful scene where Munn’s Casey hides from a predator in a decontamination unit. Some of the lighter comedic moments work, especially those from Key and Jane, but unfortunately, just as many of the jokes fall flat as land. Characters often make stupid decisions and some like Brown’s Traeger don’t appear to even have a backstory, motivation or an arc – or at least none of which are clear. One minute he’s an SOB and the next he’s on Quinn’s side, sort of – little of it makes any sense. Some of the action isn’t bad and the main highlight comes during the end of an action sequence in a luscious forest with a small creek and rocky surroundings. In the end, the combination of some really patchy visual fx work (despite the almost hundred million dollar price tag) and a weak script, should rightfully put to bed any ideas of another film in this franchise. John McTiernan’s 87′ film will forever be one of the greatest Action/Sci-Fi films and it’s safe to say that if Black can’t get it right (with his personal association to the franchise) than no one ever will – except maybe Neil Blomkamp (but I won’t hold my breath for that).
9. TRUTH OR DARE- Directed by Jeff Wadlow
Next is the Blumhouse produced Horror/Thriller “Truth Or Dare”, Directed by Jeff Wadlow (Kickass 2 and Never Back Down). I saw the trailer and went into this one with reasonably high expectations, after all, Blumhouse has been behind some of the most impressive films in recent times e.g Happy Death Day, Get Out, and Upgrade (just to name a few). I quickly realized that Truth Or Dare was going to be a by the numbers thriller with uneven performances, predictable scares, and a sloppy screenplay. A harmless game of Truth or Dare among friends turns deadly when someone or something begins to punish those who tell a lie or refuse the dare. It sounds like a potentially eerie premise, right? Well, it was, but the problem is that it’s juvenile in its particulars and there’s no real follow-through from Wadlow and Co. The film’s setup is alright and the pacing isn’t bad but then it all becomes about the usual high school drama, or to be more accurate, college drama. Conflict arises when best friends Olivia (Lucy Hale) and Markie (Violett Beane) go at it over the latter’s boyfriend, and of course, you know it’s going to be a catalyst in the group game – and it is. Characters are vanilla, performances are average, and scares are virtually non-existent. Hale and Beane are serviceable and cute, while Sam Lerner as Ronnie, provides the comedic relief and does it pretty well. Furthermore, his character is at the center of a couple of the more unnerving moments in the film. I had no idea who Penelope (played by Sophia Ali) was so she might as well not have existed, and Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) seemed to care more about his chances of a law degree than actually surviving the game. I don’t know what the thought process was behind casting Tyler Posey (other than looks) because the guy just doesn’t command your attention. The cinematography is average, Matthew Margeson’s score is forgettable, and the end is typical in its half-baked and unresolved reveal. I wanted so badly to like Truth Or Dare after seeing months of promotion for it but it’s just a messy film with nothing distinguishing about it.
8. THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT- Directed by Johannes Roberts
Bryan Bertino’s 08′ home invasion masterpiece The Strangers, shocked audiences with its slow burn approach to the horror genre, doing so via full-blown white-knuckle tension rather than violence. It was an experience more than just a film, and it’s long since been one of my favorites. The Strangers: Prey At Night centers around a family of four staying at a secluded mobile home park for the night. Parents Cindy, and Mike (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson), and their two teenage kids Kinsey and Luke (Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman) are stalked and then hunted by our three masked psychopaths. So you can imagine my delight at the news of the sequel finally getting the green light, hell, it’s been ten years in the making. With Johannes Roberts at the helm of it (47 Metres Down) and working from a script co-written by Bertino and Ben Ketai, how could you possibly go wrong? Well, I’ll tell you how. You take everything that was fresh, relatable, and frightening about the original and you do a complete 180, subsequently turning it into a nostalgic 80’s slasher by systematically undoing everything that was previously established with its foundations and villains. You could liken it to disregarding say the connection between Halloween characters, Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. Prey At Night isn’t all bad though. Some of the fog-laced 80’s style cinematography looks sharp, even if the slow zoom is often overused. Adrian Johnston’s synth score is pretty solid too – though songs like “Kids In America” and “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” are used for no other reason than to blatantly work as a juxtaposition to the violence – it wreaks of desperation. Madison’s performance is the most consistent of the bunch, but the highlight comes in the form of a neon-lit, poolside attack sequence at the mobile home park between The Man In The Mask (Damian Maffei) and Luke. Everything else about this film is undoubtedly sub-par. The family has to be one of the dumbest ever put on-screen. They make countless mistakes at crucial times and constantly doing things that you just simply wouldn’t do. There are a number of continuity issues, Henderson’s performance during the truck scene is cringe-worthy and prolonged, and the violence is routine in every sense of the word – leaving absolutely no impact on the audience. The worst facet of Prey At Night is the idea that Roberts and Co thought they could undo the core basis of The Man In The Mask, Dollface, and Pinup. They’re human beings, choosing to treat them as supernatural beings who can never die (think Jason and Freddy) is just incomprehensible – Driving a truck while on fire, okay then. The Strangers: Prey At Night has cookie cutter dumb-ass characters, little atmosphere, zero tension, and no idea. We seriously waited a decade for this?
7. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE- Directed by Lynne Ramsay
I didn’t know beforehand that Ramsay had directed the uninspired “We Need To Talk About Kevin”, which was a laborious chore to sit through and covered many of the same themes that have been better explored in other films. Her latest film You Were Never Really Here is a Crime/Drama that feels a hell of a lot like a Tony Scott film (Man On Fire) joined forces with Scorcese’s “Taxi Driver”, or Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive”, to form a mostly inferior film. You Were Never Really Here follows a supposedly traumatized veteran (played by Joaquin Phoenix), not that you get much insight into that. Anywho, he tracks down missing girls for a living – his latest mark Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the 13-year-old daughter of a New York senator. When things on the job become more complicated, Joe spirals into a psychological nightmare that threatens to shatter his very existence… or something like that. Much like this film, it sounded a lot better in my head. I wanted to love this but my god, Ramsay appears to have no understanding of pacing at all. At just 90 minutes, You Were Never Really Here wastes a chunk of its runtime before anything even starts to come together to resemble a narrative. How could this film have been so lifeless and dull? Much like Travis Bickle (De Niro’s protagonist in Taxi Driver), Phoenix’s Joe has that fractured psyche working for him (or not working as is the case here) but I guess the difference is that he’s already seen the worst of humanity – though it’d be nice if we had of got to see some of it ourselves. The first half of this aimlessly philosophical mess shows glimpses of Joe’s lonely existence, caring for his frail and elderly mother, and experiencing the vaguest of his interactions with those at the forefront of his gun for hire work. Perhaps instead of the hallucinogenic symbolism, we could’ve witnessed first hand some of what Joe had endured, something, anything so as to draw the viewer in. I was bored out of my mind. Phoenix’s physical performance is a good one but he’s got the thinnest of material to work with and the result is a completely one-dimensional arc. On the plus side, his look really works and he’s got a pulse on the emotional beats. Tom Towend’s cinematography is quite moody and there’s a fantastic long take tracking shot, as a hammer-wielding Joe slowly and methodically makes his way through a rather large house. The film isn’t without some suspense and Jonny Greenwood’s haunting score might just be the best part of it. You Were Never Really Here has a couple of violent moments, although once again it borrows from other things like ”Oldboy” and “Only God Forgives”. I understand the action really isn’t the selling point though, hell, maybe it should’ve been. If you’ve got the choice of any of the aforementioned films, I’d suggest one of those before this one.
6. PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING- Directed by Steven S. DeKnight
Coming in at number six on this years list is Pacific Rim: Uprising, the underwhelming sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 film. The first Pacific Rim wasn’t necessarily anything special, but at the very least it was a big, dumb fun popcorn flick. Much like most of Guillermo’s work, an indisputable level of creativity went into it and the idea behind human operated Jaeger’s (mech warriors for lack of a better word) and Kaiju’s (aliens) fighting each other at least made it entertaining in the same sort of way that the much less supported “Skyline” did. Uprising is set in 2035, ten years after the Battle of the Breach, in which the inter-dimensional portal was ultimately closed. The film picks up with former Jaeger pilot Jake Pentecost (played by John Boyega), son of the now deceased Stacker Pentecost. Jakes makes a living by stealing and selling Jaeger parts on the black market. Eventually captured by the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps, he’s put in command of training a new group of recruits that include a tag-along named Amara (Cailee Spaeny), and a hotheaded Nate (Scott Eastwood) as the team prepare for an impending threat. Uprising is a prime example of a sequel that just didn’t need to exist. Everything about it screams trite and bland. The cinematography is average, the score has no flare, and most, if not all of the characters are either unlikable or uninteresting. There’s a little fun to be had in some of the action sequences but even those pale in comparison to del Toro’s film. The performances are average, with Boyega failing to offer up much and seemingly only landing the lead because of his connection to the Star Wars franchise. Charlie Day’s character makes an entertaining return but the direction his arc takes makes very little sense. It’s as if DeKnight thought the film just needed a human antagonist so why not him. I feel the same way about Pacific Rim: Uprising as I do the Creed films, when you’re down to structuring your story layers around remaining family members of previous characters you’ve killed off, maybe it’s just time to stop – or better yet not start at all.
5. MOM AND DAD- Directed by Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor’s do I dare say it, Horror/Comedy film Mom and Dad have him continue a trend of rather poor releases – having previously made “Gamer” and “Jonah Hex”. Mom and Dad focuses primarily on a teenage girl and her younger brother (Anne Winters and Zackary Artur) during a 24-hour fight for survival when all the parents of the world are suddenly hit with mass hysteria of an unknown origin. Mom and Dad feels like the second cousin of something like “Cooties” and “The People Under The Stairs”, if it were laughably stupid. The plot of crazy parents attacking their children sounds like it would suit now b-movie regular, Nicolas Cage, right? Throw once-popular 90’s actress Selma Blair in the mix and you’ve at least got the potential for something cult-like. Unfortunately, none of it amounts to much of anything. Daniel Pearl’s quick cut cinematography is excessively jerky, the editing techniques only make matters worse, and the fact that no one is officially credited for music should tell you everything you need to know. Blair’s okay as the repressed mother but Cage has plenty of those lack-luster moments we’ve come to know and… well just know. Lowlights are him attempting to get angry and cursing out the kids while banging on the basement door. The house does get appropriately trashed but the on-screen violence is lacking for a film with a hard R rating. I didn’t care about the directionless story, and if memory serves me correct, I don’t recall any real reasoning behind the epidemic of violence. I remember something about a static TV – that’s it. On a positive note, at least most of Cage’s work in Mom and Dad looks Oscar-worthy compared to the horrendously acted bathroom scene in his recent film “Mandy”.
4. EXTREMITY- Directed by Anthony DiBlasi
I usually make it a rule not to pick on independent films much around this time of the year because they’re quite often the most limited when it comes to time, budget, and experience. That said, Anthony DiBlasi’s psychological Horror/Thriller Extremity is just about the most convoluted and pointless horror film of the year. So as far as I could tell, Extremity is about Allison, (played by Dana Christina) a young woman that’s obsessed with horror. In an attempt to confront the tragic past that haunts her, she voluntarily subjects herself to an authentic extreme haunt run by the veiled Red Skull (Chad Rook). The lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur as dark secrets start to emerge. Well as you can probably predict, Extremity is full of the same old tired horror movie themes. Whilst relatable for some, sexual assault and domestic violence are predictable returning threads in a poorly conceived film set in a house of scares. Your characters need more backbone than just tragedy, otherwise, why are we watching? I sure as hell didn’t know why I was. Inconsistent framing, aggravating lighting, and sporadic imagery might be a catalyst in getting Allison into the right state of mind but it’s going to drive viewers crazy. Horror haunts have quickly become a tired concept before they ever really even got started. With a slew of mediocre indie ventures out there like “The House October Built”, “Scarehouse”, “Escape Room” and “Fear, Inc” it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this avenue isn’t conducive to good genre filmmaking. The performances are okay but Allison isn’t a particularly strong protagonist, and visually, the film is quite nondescript. The fifty-something minutes I did watch was as confusing as they come, and with a runtime of 105 minutes, Extremity is long-winded and sluggishly paced.
3. SHOW DOGS- Directed by Raja Gosnell
I’ve seen my fair share of talking animal movies over the years, some delivering on an element of guilty pleasure better than others. Hotel For Dogs and Good Boy! have been a couple of the better ones. The latest live-action animal film comes in the form of Show Dogs, which for the life of me I can’t work out how it gained a wider theatrical release. Show Dogs is a Family/Adventure film, though I suggest you don’t take your family unless you hate them, and as for the adventure portion, that comes in the form of seeing how long you can actually sit through this train wreck. Max, the rottweiler police dog (voiced by Ludacris) is ordered to go undercover with an agent named Frank (Will Arnett) in a prestigious doggy talent show. Yes, you heard it correctly. That is the entire plot. To be fair, Show Dogs isn’t the type of film you watch for a plot. Most people just want to watch the cute animals do funny things, but in order for that to happen, you’ve got to have some cute animals and some funny things. Do you know how hard it is to render talking animals unwatchable? Actually really quite hard. Kids will watch just about anything, but somehow Gosnell and the studio behind Show Dogs weren’t even capable of mustering up anything resembling entertainment. The animation in this film is absolutely dreadful and the humor is so juvenile that even youngsters are thinking “Nup, this is too stupid for me”. The shift between practical content on-set and CG is beyond jarring, and you can physically see Arnett spending the entire 90 minutes waiting for a grand canyon sized hole to open up and swallow him. Then there’s the harebrained idea that the writers had to imply genital groping and the notion of how a dog can best keep its cool while being fondled – ah excuse me… what the? Okay, so you have to be willing to acknowledge that we live in a pc world and that perhaps if the film was aimed at adults instead of children than that type of content wouldn’t be so heavily scrutinized. Problem is, this is a kid’s film and they’re impressionable young minds so that type of message comes across as widely inappropriate. Show Dogs is an embarrassment to animals everywhere.
2. SLENDER MAN- Directed by Sylvain White
Director, Sylvain White (Stomp The Yard) doesn’t exactly have the best track record in film, only tackling horror one other time with was the third entry in the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” franchise. The saving grace here is that White’s not really the reason Slender Man goes down as one of the worst films of the year. Ever since those first unnerving images of the faceless figure known as Slender Man appeared on horror website CreepyPasta, he’s been begging for cinematic analysis. A handful of low-budget and sub-par ventures later, and even a documentary called “Beware The Slenderman” what we end up with on-screen is David Birke’s sloppy, formulaic and dull screenplay. The problem with Slender Man is that those who knew about the internet phenomenon prior were excited to see what the film bought to the table. Here we have the most unnerving look of just about any demonic shadow out there, and yet somehow White and his team fails to generate even a modicum of tension, instead, committing the cardinal sin of being boring. The synopsis is as follows: In a small town in Massachusetts, a group of friends, fascinated by the internet lore of the Slender Man, attempt to prove that he doesn’t actually exist – until one of them mysteriously goes missing. That sounds like a story doesn’t it? Well yeah, there isn’t one. A bunch of stereotypical teenage girls dealing with boy drama proceeds to regurgitate tired horror movie dialogue that you’ve heard a hundred times before. Thankfully the 90 minute run time isn’t painstakingly slow and performances from leads Julia Telles and Joey King are actually decent ones. A few moments of the sound design are solid, and Luca Del Puppo’s moody cinematography through the foggy suburbia of a Nightmare On Elm St inspired Massachusetts is probably the highlight of the film. Slender Man never actually makes an appearance until the final act though, and when it does it’s in the form of some woefully composited CG – making him appear opaque and gimmicky. The fact that this is the end result of a ten million dollar budget is just further proof that without a good script you’ve got nothing, nada, zero.
1. THE LAST SHARKNADO: IT’S ABOUT TIME- Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante
I have no doubt there were worse films in 2018 than It’s About Time, the sixth, and I pray to a god I don’t believe in, final film in Anthony Ferrante’s B-movie creature/feature franchise “Sharknado”, but this was the shortest length of time I spent on a film all year – 12 minutes to be exact. It’s probably a pun that’s been said a thousand times but “It’s about time” Ferrante just stopped. Look, some of you are probably thinking “Yeah but what did you expect with a title and a premise like that?” And yeah, you’d probably be right but here’s the thing. I’ve had some fun with Sharknado over the years and I give Ferrante, who had done nothing remotely memorable prior, so much credit for conceiving this batshit crazy franchise and getting it off the ground. More importantly, he got the SyFy network on-board and created massive amounts of buzz through a conduit of people on social media, so much so they were playing drinking games for every flying shark they saw. I don’t care who you are, that’s some very smart marketing. The problem is that promotion only gets you so far, and here we are – the end of the line. I’ll admit I had a lot of fun with the original Sharknado. Sure, the CG was pretty bad and the acting was over the top but that was to be expected, wasn’t it? The second film improved upon the first, changing the location from LA to New York, upping the ante with crazier deaths and some really fun cameos from a bunch of different celebrity personalities. “Oh Hell No!” and its inclusion of a president character, plus the likes of Frankie Muniz and David Hasselhoff was where the franchise really started going south. From there, we had to endure two more terribly lazy films both of which descended into absolute lunacy – and yes, there’s such a thing as too stupid when it comes to a film about flying sharks. If somewhere along the line Ferrante actually took some of the profits that the first films made (and there were plenty) and actually put them back into the franchise you wouldn’t have such inferior Z grade products. The budget for the original Sharknado was estimated to be a million dollars and in 2018 for the sixth entry, it only rose to two million. The film opens with our hero Fin (Ian Ziering) atop a CG mountain in a CG truck having now gone back in time to reunite with his friends to stop the first-ever Sharknado. Poor CG is something I’ve come to expect from the franchise, but nothing is as bad as whats committed to screen here. Not an ounce of effort went into that opening sequence – everything looks truly horrible and not even in that so bad it’s good kind of way – I just had to stop. A barely recognizable and ill-looking Tara Reid returns as April, Fin’s wife, despite having been killed more times than anyone in the franchise. The technical facets are the worst they’ve ever been and I simply didn’t care about any of it and I don’t care. I’m not even mad, I’m just hoping like hell Ferrante doesn’t do a “Jigsaw” and come back with another entry in five years time. It was a fun ride while it lasted but it’s so over. Boy oh boy is it over.