This weekend at the movies, we have a cloistered demon (The Nun, starring Taissa Farmiga and Demian Bechir), one super ticked off widow (Peppermint, starring Jennifer Garner), and a country song come to life (God Bless the Broken Road, starring Lindsay Pulsipher and Makenzie Moss). What are the critics saying?
Taking something ostensibly safe, trustworthy, or benign and turning it sinister is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in the horror movie playbook. The suburbs, babies, grandparents — they’ve all been twisted in genre cinema’s chilly grasp, and given the deep-seated emotions many people have regarding religion, it’s no surprise that its tenets and imagery have long ranked among filmmakers’ favorite nightmare fuel. With this weekend’s The Nun, producer James Wan expands his burgeoning Conjuring cinematic universe by giving the demon Valak, one of The Conjuring 2‘s scarier creatures, her own standalone feature — and explaining the backstory of the wimpled menace along the way. Of course, as horror fans are all too aware, it’s often what we can’t see, don’t know, and don’t understand that proves scariest; go back to one boogeyman too often, and its effectiveness can rapidly diminish. According to the critics, that’s exactly what’s happened with The Nun, which hurls a series of jump scares at the audience in order to try and cover up for a slow and familiar story. We’ve seen Conjuring spinoff franchises struggle out of the gate before, so here’s hoping if there’s a follow-up, the reviews are kinder; overall, this is still one of the better mainstream horror series going, and it’d be a real shame if it made a (cough) habit of earning disappointing Tomatometers.
As the star of the long-running hit series Alias, Jennifer Garner proved herself more than capable of playing a believable action hero — but when she started cracking skulls on the big screen in Daredevil and its spinoff Elektra, the results were less than spectacular. More than a decade after the latter film crashed and burned in theaters, Garner’s got a shot at genre redemption with Peppermint, in which she plays a woman who nearly dies in an attack that kills her husband and daughter — and after emerging from a yearlong coma, dedicates herself to exacting revenge on the people responsible. Sadly, critics say she needn’t have bothered; while Garner remains a charismatic screen presence, and more than a few reviews have given her credit for her clear commitment to the role, it still doesn’t add up to much besides reheated Death Wish, with all the borderline irresponsible fearmongering that goes with the territory. If you’re seriously in the mood to watch some bad guys get thunked this weekend, Peppermint might do the trick — but then again, you could also just watch a better-made vigilante thriller instead.
While one wide release uses religious iconography to give filmgoers the willies this weekend, God Bless the Broken Road takes an altogether different faith-based direction. Helmed by God’s Not Dead director Harold Cronk, this drama — which takes its title from Marcus Hummon’s oft-covered country single — adapts the Jennifer Dornbush novel of the same name to tell the story of a single mom (Lindsay Pulsipher) struggling to put her life back together after her husband is killed in action during a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. When her nine-year-old daughter (Makenzie Moss) befriends a racecar driver (Andrew Walker), love starts to bloom… only to be threatened by our grieving protagonist’s fear of losing another beau to a dangerous vocation. You pretty much know where this is all heading, which is a big part of why the target demographic responds to it — and why critics tend to turn up their noses at it. We’ve still only seen a handful of reviews for Broken Road, but early returns suggest this will be yet another earnest, religion-tinged drama that hits a hard dead end with the pundits. If it’s in your wheelhouse, odds are that won’t make much of a difference.
Mayans M.C. is a thrilling drama with compelling characters, but it struggles to find its pace and the Tellers are hard to forget.
Bloated and boring, The Purge kills its own fleetingly fun premise and proves that not all stories work better on the small screen.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release