Ian Thomas Malone

horror Archive



March 2021



Dreamcatcher subverts slasher norms in an intriguing horror narrative

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Part of the charm of a film like Dreamcatcher comes through watching director Jacob Johnston wrestle with the conventions of the horror genre. Decades removed from the heyday of slasher flicks, Johnston remains hesitant to fully embrace that label, despite possessing a naturally memorable masked killer. While the film doesn’t hit every mark, there’s a certain joy to be had in watching the ways that the film tries to stand out in well-trodden territory.

The bulk of the narrative takes place at an EDM festival, centered around Pierce (Niki Koss), torn from her horror movie marathon with bestie, Jake (Zachary Gordon) at the behest of her semi-estranged sister, Ivy (Elizabeth Posey), who buys tickets to the show in an effort to make amends. The festival headliner Dylan (Travis Burns), aka DJ Dreamcatcher, a sort of Deadmau5 stand-in perpetually wrestling with the authority of his agent, Josephine (Adrienne Wilkinson).

Surprising to no one, an EDM festival is not exactly the greatest venue to explore interpersonal dynamics. With a masked killer on the loose and entertainment careers on the line, Dreamcatcher blends its horror intentions with a more intimate sense of drama, a hack-and-slash that sees its characters for more than their ability to deliver loud shrieks on the brink of death.

Johnston clearly wants his narrative to carry more weight than traditional genre entries. Much of the film’s focus lies with the hypocrisies of the entertainment industry and the challenges of fame. He plays with Faustian bargains, honing on in the ways in which people sacrifice themselves to get ahead in the world for fleeting moments of fame. He bites off a bit more than he can chew, with an 108-minute runtime that’s a solid twenty minutes too long.

While Dreamcatcher drags a bit in the second half, it’s interesting to watch a stylistically-talented director grapple with his film’s moral quandaries in real-time. The script suffers in the dialogue department, frequently relying on Koss, Burns, and Wilkinson to bail out scenes that would look far sillier on paper. As Josephine, Wilkinson brings plenty of delightfully over the top energy to the hungry agent, doing wonders to anchor the film’s more satirical intentions.

Johnston nails the slasher element, showing great promise as a horror director, a genre constantly in need of more innovation. He doesn’t always hit his mark and definitely needs help in the screenwriting department, but his feature debut shows a lot of promise. Horror doesn’t necessarily always need to rise above genre tendencies, but the worldbuilding here helps the film stand out from its countless competitors. DJ Dreamcatcher should certainly satisfy slasher fans looking for a breath of fresh air.



March 2019



Us Is a Terrifying Yet Thought-Provoking Horror Film

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Part of what made Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out such a treat was the way it defied typical genre expectations, throwing practically everything and the kitchen sink at its audience. As a more traditional horror film, Us feels practically tame by comparison, offering scares that wouldn’t seem out of place in an entry into the Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. For a director as innovative as Peele, the confines of staying within horror’s established norms might feel constraining, but the talented director has a way of captivating with whatever material he chooses to work with.

Peele takes something as benign as a carnival funhouse mirror and turns it into an object of apprehension. Adelaide is a girl haunted by her experience of walking into one late one night, discovering something that felt like more than a reflection. Years later, with a loving family, she finds herself continually reminded of the night, fearful of repeating the terrifying events.

Us is the kind of film that demands a lot from its actors, with each tasked with playing the doppelganger version of their characters. Lead actress Lupita Nyong’o handled this job exceptionally, carving out distinct identities that played well against each other. Nyong’o is a very expressive actress, often using gestures and expressions to convey emotion rather than simple words. The film’s child cast, including Madison Curry, Ashley McKoy, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex give strong performances that demonstrate a refreshing sense of comfort for young talent in a horror film.

While Peele is an Oscar-winning screenwriter, he uses dialogue sparingly throughout much of the film. The subtle score and expressive actors often carry the suspense, without a ton of screaming or verbal panic to convey the fear. The sets are crafted in a way that creates natural claustrophobia as the characters try to navigate the evil plaguing their home. It’s the kind of horror that creeps under your skin by disrupting one’s own notion of comfort.

As a genre, horror often has a tricky relationship with the concept of exposition. The mystery of the terror is often a big part of the scare appeal, especially since the audience can substitute their own worst fears in the void of the unknown. Efforts to explain figures like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees often fall flat as the characters are terrifying enough with only minimal backstory. Us manages to dive into the why without losing any thrills, highlighting Peele’s talent as a storyteller. He lets the audience behind the curtain long enough to get a feel for what’s happening, while preserving plenty of the intrigue.

Us is a terrifying sophomore effort from director Jordan Peele, offering a thought-provoking perspective on the horror genre. Slasher movies don’t necessarily need to provide much fodder for the mind, but Peele reminds us of the power that film possesses to re-evaluate the way we think about the world. Us is the kind of movie that will thoroughly frighten you while leaving plenty of substance to chew on when the thrills have worn off.