May 24, 2021

A Return To The Regal

The Unholy and Spiral: From The Book Of Saw
Regal Cinema - Hazleton, PA
This past Friday, the movie theater in town reopened for the first time in over seven months.  It closed on October 8th due to the Covid pandemic, and I was a little worried that the financial hit the chain took over the past year might cause them to close it completely.  I'm very happy to say that they're back in operation, and as of yesterday, so is my Unlimited Movie Pass.

The first movie we saw was The Unholy, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Cricket Brown and Cary Elwes.  I went into this with no expectations.  In fact, I never even saw the poster until I found a picture to use for this post.  The only previous exposure I had to it at all was about a minute of the preview that I watched on the Regal app yesterday morning.  I just watched enough to get an idea of what kind of movie it was.

This was a very pleasant surprise.  I thought it was an interesting horror twist on the phenomenon of Virgin Mary appearances that have been claimed over the years.  I was raised Catholic, and Mary sightings was a topic that my grandmother was obsessed with - especially Medjugorje.  One of the funniest memories I have of my grandmother has to do with this.  When I was a teenager, she hounded me for weeks to watch The Song Of Bernadette with her.  It's an old black and white movie from the 40's about a girl from Lourdes who claimed to have spoken to the Virgin Mary and received predictions from her about the future.  I finally agreed, but only on the condition that she watch episodes of Beavis & Butthead with me for the same length of time as it took for us to watch The Song of Bernadette.  Let me tell you, it was a boring movie, and it was pure torture to sit there and watch it with my extremely Catholic grandmother trying to sell it to me as evidence that I should be going to church, but seeing the look on her face while she suffered through two and a half hours worth of Beavis and Butthead episodes made it all worthwhile.

The Unholy played into the story of the Virgin Mary sightings in a very creative way.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan knocked it out of the park in his role as the disgraced reporter who stumbles upon a miracle that isn't what it seems.  It's not an especially gory horror flick, but it definitely has an element of real-world terror, it's paced well, and it tells a compelling story that I enjoyed very much.

Spiral is the latest installment in the Saw franchise.  I was excited to see what direction they would be taking in this sequel / spinoff film, and I even re-watched the first five Saw movies recently to refresh my memory on the series.  Unfortunately, it ended up being a bit of a disappointment.

Don't get me wrong - Spiral isn't a bad movie, but it's just kind of meh, and it definitely fell short of its namesake.  The overall story wasn't bad, and the acting was good - particularly Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson who play father and son in the film.  However the structure strayed pretty far from the Saw franchise, and not in a good way.  It was light on suspense, and the majority of the victims weren't very sympathetic characters.  Also, with the exception of the first one, the traps were pretty underwhelming compared to what we've already seen in the franchise.  The end result was that I wasn't emotionally invested in their fates at all, whether they played the game and got away or gotten killed by the trap.

I'm not a movie expert by any means, but I figured out who the killer was 15 minutes after they were introduced, and I came pretty close to knowing their motives before the movie was half over.  Also, there are plot holes that you could drive a truck through, particularly in a few of the trap locations.  Two of them are especially ridiculous.  I don't want to get into any specifics to avoid spoiling the movie, but both of these trap locations left me saying "Come on, how the hell could the killer have set this up here!"

The worst part of Spiral was the voice that they used for the recordings that the killer sent to the police.  I didn't expect that they'd use the same Jigsaw voice, but they could have at least used something creepy.  The voice used in the Spiral recordings wasn't scary in the slightest - it sounded pretty silly.  In fact, it sounded like Tor Eckman in Seinfeld.
"I would like to play a game.  It involves cramp bark, cleavers and couch grass."

Seriously, if you're seen Season 2, Episode 8 of Seinfeld, I'd be shocked if you didn't picture the holistic healer every time you hear one of the killers' recordings.  Between that and the natural comedic delivery of Chris Rock, Spiral had more laughs than scares, which is the last thing I expected.  I was hoping for an homage to John Kramer, not Cosmo Kramer.  Again, it's not a bad movie, but if I had to sum it up in one sentence, I'd say that it's an average detective film disguised as a horror flick.