When movie-watching is in Blum

MARCH 7 ― In the world of modern horror cinema, no scratch that, make it modern cinema itself, there are very few success stories that can match that of Blumhouse Productions, a humble production outfit that started to make its name when the US$15,000 (RM62,580) budgeted Paranormal Activity ended up grossing close to US$200 million worldwide, and has since then more or less stuck to its business model of producing films on a small budget in exchange for creative freedom for the directors, mostly within the horror genre.

Paranormal Activity was only the first of numerous other low budget success stories like Insidious (a US$1.5 million budget with a US$97 million worldwide box-ofice), Sinister (a US$3 million budget with a US$87.7 million worldwide box-office), The Purge (a US$3 million budget with a US$89.3 million worldwide box-office), and most spectacularly Split (a US$9 million budget that yielded US$278.5 million at the worldwide box-office) and Get Out (a $4.5 millon budget that yielded US$255.4 million at the worldwide box-office).

It's a track record that can make any other Hollywood production executive turn green with envy, especially with all the stories floating around from directors who've made movies for Jason Blum singing praises on how wonderful it is to be given complete creative freedom to do what they want.

And I haven't even mentioned other hits like the Happy Death Day films and even Oscar contenders like BlacKkKlansman and Whiplash that also carry the Blumhouse logo.

In short, it's a brand that's by now pretty reliable to at least deliver a competent mainstream horror film (even if it's made on a low budget) with all the expected thrills and jump scares, with extra sets of expectations when it's made by an established horror director like Mike Flanagan, M. Night Shyamalan and Christopher Landon.

So to have two new Blumhouse films opening within just a couple of weeks from each other in Malaysian cinemas is simply something that I can't resist, no matter how bad the reviews have been for one of them.

Will they be worth your time and money? Read on and find out!

The Invisible Man

Leigh Whannell, the writer, may have made his name writing and co-writing the first three instalments of the Saw franchise, but Whannell the director has definitely made his name with Blumhouse, debuting with Insidious: Chapter 3 and following that up with the excellent but overlooked Upgrade.

With the critical and box-office success of his third film, The Invisible Man, a new adaptation of the classic novel of the same name by HG Wells and a reboot of the beloved The Invisible Man films from the 1930s to the 1950s, it's quite surprising how damn good this reboot is, even to fans of Upgrade.

In fact, I'll just go ahead and say it now, The Invisible Man will most definitely end as one of the best horror films of 2019, and maybe even one of the best films of 2019, period.

One of its many great decisions is to align itself with the spied-upon instead of the invisible one doing the spying, which has been the normal route for these films.

And with that one simple decision, terror and suspense comes naturally and easily to the whole film (aided by Whannell's effortlessly elegant directing skills), resulting in a relentless thrill machine that would've made Hitchcock proud.

Like the much misunderstood Black Christmas remake, also a Blumhouse production, The Invisible Man sets its sights on the same target ― toxic masculinity ― but is deservingly receiving all of its plaudits because it does so in a much subtler way, without having the need to shout or even spell out its message to the audience.

The story is about Cecilia (an absolutely stupendous Elisabeth Moss, who'll totally deserve her Oscar nomination next year, ha!), a woman who has fled an abusive and controlling boyfriend and lives in fear that he'll eventually find her, only to find out that even in death, that boyfriend's spectre continues to haunt her.

Of course the trailer (and the title) has hinted that the boyfriend's supposed death is fake, and he's actually alive, well, and invisible!

And Whannell uses this opportunity to stage some truly breathtaking, scary and brutal set-pieces, even repurposing some of the fresh tricks he first exhibited in Upgrade.

A mainstream psychological horror-thriller of the best kind; do yourself a favour, go watch this one in the cinema and you can thank me later.

Fantasy Island

I'm old enough to remember watching the Fantasy Island series on TV when I was a kid back home in Ipoh.

Memories of Tattoo shouting,”The Plane! The Plane!” followed by shots of a small plane circling a tropical island are the first things that come to mind whenever I hear someone mention the TV show.

So when I first saw the trailer for Blumhouse's version of Fantasy Island a few months back, understandably now a horror movie (since it IS the bread and butter of the company), I really didn't know how to react.

On the one hand, I'm pretty sure that my memories didn't fail me for not recalling the series to have ever been anywhere close to horror, but once I really thought about it, a horror adaptation does make some sense, because despite the cheesy nature of the TV show, it is indeed a morality play about how our fantasies are not always the best things to wish for or, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Having seen this through to the end, while I do find some of the film annoying, especially the whole finale in a dark cave, with an absolutely unnecessary last minute twist that will make your eyes roll, this is far from the incompetent garbage that a lot of people are making it out to be, with some even hyperbolically going as far as comparing this to The Room.

That kind of knee-jerk reaction is just a sign of the times I guess, with everyone competing with each other to have the most attention-grabbing reaction online to, of course, attract more eyeballs and followers.

As for the actual merits of Blumhouse's Fantasy Island, I'd say it's a reasonably entertaining horror picture, with a scrambled plot that eventually makes sense (at least before the awful decision to tack on one more last minute twist), and a good enough time at the movies for most casual horror fans, which explains its more than honourable US$41.2 million global box-office on the strength of a US$7 million budget.

Of course if you can only see one Blumhouse movie this week, give this one a pass and catch The Invisible Man instead.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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