“The Boy”

I rarely see January-horror flicks because well… January flicks are usually terrible. “The Boy” is that kind of terrible that’s almost worth recommending.

In a formulaic intro, we meet Greta (Lauren Cohan), who’s hiding in London from an abusive ex-boyfriend; she takes a nanny gig at a creepy old mansion reminiscent of the one in “Crimson Peak”. It gets better – she’s babysitting a doll named Brahms! Greta ignores the basic rules she’s supposed to follow with Brahms and soon learns the hard way that Brahms might be alive.

Cool horror premise, right? Sure. The premise in “The Boy” is like something you’d read in a gothic mystery novel, but it’s executed like a teen soap opera. It’s still entertaining nonetheless.

Director William Brent Bell (2012’s god-awful “The Devil Inside”) has an eye for suspense. Horror movies are craftiest with editing and “The Boy” is a fine example here. Cuts between characters walking in creepy hallways to close-ups of the terrifying Brahms doll sent shivers down my spine at times.

The first act is a cliched horror movie opening with us meeting the quirky protagonist, tense parents, characters breaking rules we know they shouldn’t, and a couple of nightmare sequences, but the second act is the strongest segment in the movie.

SPOILER ALERT (Eh, sort of)

When Greta grows attached to Brahms and pays more attention to him for personal reasons than the handsome grocery boy (Rupert Evans) adds a mild psychological-driven tone to “The Boy”, but this is sadly a bit short lived.

The final act is ridiculous with confrontations between the protagonists, the ex, and BRAHMS! There are also twists and revelations that are compelling upon first viewing, but don’t make a whole lot of sense after digesting the movie.

“The Boy” is a better January-horror movie than “The Devil Inside”, “My Bloody Valentine 3D” (2009), “Daybreakers” (2010), and many more titles I forgot, but the third act could have been as fleshed out and compelling as the second act.

Grade: C+

“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”

With a title like “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”, you ought to know better than to take a movie like that seriously! It’s ridiculous and fun, but sometimes that’s all that matters.

A zombie plague has taken over 19th century England and Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) and her sisters are all trained for zombie slaying by their no nonsense father (Charles Dance). Elizabeth forms an unlikely romance with fellow zombie hunter Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) and the two discover a plot that can trigger the apocalypse. While the fight their feelings for each other, they fight the zombies invading England more-so.

“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” embraces genre cliches, iconic moments from Jane Austen’s novel “Pride & Prejudice”, and its numerous adaptations, including parodying Colin Firth’s white shirt-swimming scene from the BBC mini series. This isn’t just a spoof, but it also has a surprising amount of panache.

Between innovative POV zombie shots, a pop-up image-illustrated opening credits sequence, and some effective uses of shadows and fog, “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” can almost pass as a serious period horror film. It’s evenly balanced with ridiculous moments including a sensual martial arts fight, subplots involving a clumsy and antagonistic love interest (Matt Smith), and the Four Horsemen.

The cast all does fine work and both James and Riley have great chemistry, managing to balance out even levels of absurdity and drama in their performances. The real stand out though is Smith. He’s a naturally clumsy person off camera and this makes his performance as Mr. Collins more enjoyable.

How can you criticize a movie that’s already this ridiculous? Well, there are a few subplots that aren’t well developed and slow the movie down at times. There are also a few too many characters that come and go throughout the movie, making us wonder their purpose. But once we get to the zombie battles, it’s back in full form.

I saw “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” at a sneak preview, and I’d suggest checking it out at a five-dollar Tuesday theater when it’s released.

Grade: B-

“The Revenant”

I’m disappointed that Alejandro Inarritu’s (“Birdman”) “The Revenant” wasn’t released before 2015 ended. Why? Because this would have easily made my top 10 list of the year!

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as legendary frontier man, Hugh Glass. Glass was the survivor of a vicious bear attack and left for dead by his men, but he survived and tracked his former comrades down for revenge. The frontier member he wanted the most retribution against was the scarred John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a self-aware psychopath who murdered Glass’s son in cold blood.

SPOILER ALERT

This is more of a fictionalized take on the events and we watch Glass suffer through grisly wounds, ride a horse off a cliff, slide uncontrollably down a stream, evade a vengeful Arikara tribe, and eventually engage in a gory knife fight with Fitzgerald.

“The Revenant” is an epic, beautiful, and overwhelmingly intense adventure that contains elements of some of the best blockbuster movies like “Gladiator” and some more artistic period films like “There Will Be Blood”. Every shot in this movie is filled with great attention to detail.

DiCaprio gives his most expressive and quiet performance to date, acting with painful expressions. There were reports of him suffering through this shoot and we can almost see his pain in his performance. Tom Hardy is just as good, sometimes stealing Leo’s thunder as the philosophical villain.

“The Revenant” is quite different from “Birdman”, due to the lack of dialogue, the setting, and dark tone, but it’s still just as energetic and as much of a great experience. It’s loaded with long takes that occur during a harrowing battle sequence and an unforgettably violent bear attack.

The violence and heavy handed dream sequences might turn some viewers off, but this is a movie I’d strongly suggest all film lovers to give a shot.

Grade: A