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Millennials Talk Cinema: ‘Scary Stories’ scores, ‘Kitchen’ sinks

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Fear, dread, anxiety and tension come in packages of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes those packages are fantastical and supernatural, as in the new book-to-film adaptation “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” directed by André Øvredal from the popular 1990’s kid lit series by author Alvin Schwartz and illustrator Stephen Gammell. Sometimes those packages are of the violence-and-crime variety, as in writer-director Andrea Berloff’s “The Kitchen,” adapted from the popular graphic-novel comic book series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. The former is set in a small town in 1968, and follows a group of teenagers who discover a cursed book of scary stories that begin to come to life in horrifying ways. The latter is set in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen of 1978, following a group of women, all the wives of imprisoned high-level criminals, who team up take over their husband’s underworld activities.

Here’s what a pair of movie reviewers from our pool of local critics have to say about these two new films.

‘SCARY STORIES TO TELL

IN THE DARK’ (PG-13)

Amber-Rose Reed

When I was eight, you could hardly tear me away from my copy of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” I’m still not sure why the stories are so scary, but at that age, I definitely didn’t care. They just were, and that was enough.

I’m really impressed with how much of that feeling — being a kid, curled up with a book, worrying that maybe actually you would be the next to die — came across in the new movie. Part of that is definitely the cast. The four main actors have an easy camaraderie that makes their friendship compelling and believable. Michael Garza in particular shined as outsider Ramon, and Zoe Colletti and Dean Norris were both heartbreaking as emotionally estranged daughter and father.

Visually, it’s amazing.

So. Creepy.

Some of the creatures looked lifted from the pages of the books, dropped in their grayscale weirdness onto the screen. The nightmarish figures feel out of place in the autumnal small town of Mill Valley, P.A., but part of what makes this movie so compelling is its interrogation of the typical nostalgia-fest cinematic period piece. Instead of showing an idyllic location where monsters come to shake up the status quo, “Scary Stories” gives us the perfect-looking countryside town, complete with bike-riding kids, drive ins, and 60s hairstyles, and then does not let us forget that monsters have never been foreign to such places. The dismembered limbs and walking scarecrows might not be a daily occurrence there, but casual racism, war, broken homes and deadly lies all are.

‘THE KITCHEN’

Katie Wigglesworth

Wow — this is a weird, hard movie to review. “The Kitchen: is a curious mix of hyper-violence, solid performances and good chemistry that suffers from how incredibly rushed and stagnant the pacing and character-development feels.

Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy deliver solid, engaging performances despite their characters not really having much time to grow. Elizabeth Moss is a bright spark, and both she and Domhnal Gleason are incandescent, instilling an inner life to their roles that shines despite how undercooked they are. They have the weirdest, most delightfully disturbing chemistry since Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham.

There is so much movie jam packed into “The Kitchen’s” 90-minute run time, and it has a really hard time keeping up with itself. But more frustrating than that is how the script won’t commit to the dark trajectory of its main trio. This is writer-director Andrea Berloff’s first feature-length foray, and as our mob wives dig in to the violence, and the body count rises, Berloff pulls back too much, opting for a few aspirational monologues about female empowerment when she should be nose-diving into the bloodshed and corrosive nature of organized crime with them.

That said, “The Kitchen” is still a dark, dark movie. This is a film about extortion and control, butchery and brutality, power plays and revenge. Sure, there are blood splotches of humor dotted amongst haphazardly stylized editing, but this isn’t a comedy or even a dramedy. It feels like it’s burning to go deeper, but Berloff shies away from really sinking her teeth in to what these characters and this story could be.

I hope Berloff’s next endeavor has more finesse and flavor to it, but while “The Kitchen” is flawed and fairly mediocre, it’s no more so than other crime wish fulfillment flicks I’ve seen this year. It’s better than Netflix’s “Triple Frontier,” that’s for sure. I was definitely entertained, and many of the right elements are present — but that assembly alchemy doesn’t quite happen.

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