Infinity War

AvengersInfinityWar

Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War

Directed By: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johanssen, Chadwick Bozeman, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elisabeth Olsen, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klemintiff, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Chris Pratt, Josh Brolin, et. al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A+

Thanos, an evil genius, is bent on collecting the six Infinity Stones so that he can enact a plan to wipe out half the universe’s population with the snap of his fingers. Using a select group of his “children,” what he calls the young orphans he’s taken off of the planets he’s conquered over the years, he attempts to recover the remaining stones needed to finish his gauntlet and enact his plan. The only ones standing in his way are the Avengers, or what’s left of them anyway, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the few heroes the two groups have managed to find along the way. As the groups cross paths on their missions to stop Thanos, they learn they must all band together to defeat him as he razes a path of death and destruction across the galaxy from Knowhere to Earth in order to complete his mission.

As I’ve stated before, Marvel has used the last ten years or so to perfect the fine art of a fleshed-out, fully populated comic book universe. Avengers: Infinity War, the 19th movie in the MCU, or Marvel Cinematic Universe, brings together nearly every hero introduced up to this point in a massively ambitious crossover event that is unlike pretty much anything seen before it. Due credit should be given to the casting directors, as they’ve managed to assemble (pardon the unavoidable pun) a group of actors that all work amazingly well together, even though many of the groupings include characters that are meeting for the first time. Since about 90% of the characters have been previously introduced over the last decade of movies, and Thanos has more of his back story filled in, only his Children are left a mystery, since we don’t learn much about them in their limited screen time.

The special effects are top notch, which is to be expected. With everything from ships traveling through space and alien planets, to the slightly futuristic technology of Wakanda, it all blends well and has a realistic quality. There are also several fully CGI characters and creatures, which also have a realistic quality. The background filler is unnoticeable.

Despite the fact that several of the characters from the comic book story line don’t appear in the movie because of licensing issues, the movie is still really good. Viewers may need to watch the previous 18 films in order to know what’s going on, but it’s worth the time spent since much of the series is above-par, with only one or two missteps. And, as long as you don’t let the cliffhanger ending get to you, it’s one that can be watched more than once without getting too old.

Avengers: Infinity War isn’t available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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The Darkest Minds

DarkestMinds

The Darkest Minds

Written By: Alexandra Bracken
Published: December 2012
Grade: B+

In the near future, children between the ages of 10 and 18 are afflicted with a disease called Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration, which is referred to simply as IAAN by most characters, which kills most of those who contract it, and gives the ones lucky enough to survive super powers. On her 10th birthday, Ruby Daley wakes up to find that her parents no longer recognize her, and she is sent to the brutal Camp Thurmond along with several other children from her area. While there, Ruby learns that the children are being separated into groups by color: Greens, who are highly intelligent and are good at solving puzzles and breaking codes; Blues, who are telekinetic; Yellows, who are electrokinetic; Reds, who are pyrokinetic; and Oranges, who have telepathic abilities. She manages to convince the doctor doing her intake exam that she’s a harmless Green, and for six years she tries to keep her head down and hopes that no one notices that she’s actually an Orange. One day, after a test of the facility’s suppression system, Ruby is informed by a doctor that they know she’s really an Orange, and that she has a limited amount of time before they come to eliminate her. After escaping with the doctor and another inmate, Ruby learns that the people who rescued her, the Children’s League, aren’t what they seem, and she runs from them as well. In her escape, she teams up with a small group of other kids who have run away from a different camp, consisting of Liam, the group’s leader, who is a Blue; Chubs, who’s a Green, and Zu, a young Yellow. Afraid that her new friends will cast her out if they learn she’s an Orange, she keeps up the ruse that she’s a Green for as long as she can as she and her new friends seek out a safe haven for kids like them. On their way, they meet some familiar faces, as well as discovering new threats that they must face.

The Darkest Minds is the first book in this series, so not all of the characters are well developed. You learn the most about Ruby, who is the main character and narrator, and most of the more minor characters don’t get much more than a name and a color, if they even get that much. With Liam and Chubs we learn that their parents attempted to hide them from the government before they were eventually caught, and we also learn about Liam’s brother and his history with the Children’s League. Zu is the one we learn the least about since her character is voluntarily mute for the time being, due to the torture and experimentation she received at the camp she, Liam, and Chubs were at before they escaped.

Released in the midst of the YA dystopian craze a few years ago, The Darkest Minds holds up okay. Most of these books have similar plots, which a small group of special-in-their-own-ways teens accidentally stumbling on a governmental conspiracy and then leading the charge to topple said corrupt government, and in the realm of these books, this looks to be one of the better ones. I haven’t read/started the remaining books in the series (there are two more in the series proper, with a collection of short stories and a post-series follow up novel as well). The biggest issue I had with the book was the was oversimplification of the powers the kids developed. It would have been interesting, at least in my opinion, to see slight variations on the categories, but it’s understandable that she would want to keep things easy to manage.

If you like dystopian YA, or just want an easy fantasy novel to read, then you’ll probably like this one. The characters are, for the most part, likeable, and the story is easy to follow without spoonfeeding information to you. Some bits of plot stumble on longer than they should, but that can be said about nearly every book written. It also seems like something that could possibly happen, given how little we actually know about how the brain works.

Check your local library or bookstore for availability, or purchase through any on-line book retailer.

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47 Meters Down

47MetersDown

47 Meters Down

Directed By: Johannes Roberts
Starring: Many Moore, Claire Holt, Chris Johnson, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura, Matthew Modine
Rated: PG-13
Grade: C+

While on vacation in Mexico, sisters Lisa and Kate decide to go cage diving with a pair of handsome strangers. After watching the guys dive go off without a hitch, the girls enter the cage and prepare to view sharks up close. As they watch the sharks, however, one of the sharks grabs the cage and snaps the cable tethering them to the boats. After they land on the ocean floor, they race against time to get rescued by the people in the boat before their air runs out, or they get eaten by one of the sharks that’s still circling the area.

As far as ticking-clock movies go, I’ve definitely seen better. Despite the fact that the main characters are literally stranded at the bottom of the ocean and surrounded by sharks, the sense of urgency needed for a film like this doesn’t really start until more than halfway through. And, although they give it their best efforts, Mandy Moore and Claire Holt don’t seem to quite give off a sisterly vibe, and seem come off more as somewhat close friends. There are also a few questionable character choices, but those are more forgivable as they tend to be typical of pretty much every movie ever made.

The special effects are okay. Much of the movie was filmed underwater, with depth added into the background. Despite advances in digital rendering, liquids and living beings remain a couple of the things that are notoriously difficult to render, and from what I can tell, the sharks were also digitally added in most scenes, though they’re rarely close enough for a long enough period of time to scrutinize every detail. There’s also a scene near the end where blood is shown to be floating off a character’s hand, which doesn’t look very real, but in that circumstance, it’s a bit forgivable, as that character isn’t in their right mind at the time.

This movie wobbled between being a theatrical release and going straight to video, but with the recent rise of popularity for shark-related movies, they decided to go with theatrical. Unfortunately, that wobble resulted in choppy dialogue and a slightly abrupt ending. While the movie itself is mildly entertaining, it’s probably not something that people would be itching to spend tones of money on. I would also definitely not recommend it to anyone who has fears of the ocean/drowning, sharks, or tight spaces, since that’s what most of the movie is comprised of.

47 Meters Down is available free to stream from Netflix, and it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Ready Player One

ReadyPlayerOne

Ready Player One

Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Hannah John-Kamen, Phillip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Ralph Ineson, Susan Lynch, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A

In 2045, after much of the economy has collapsed and overpopulation threatens to choke the planet, the one place people can find refuge is a massive, interactive on-line community called OASIS, where people can be or do anything they want. For Wade Watts, spending time in the OASIS is the only thing that gives his life meaning. It’s where his friends are, and it’s where he can escape his decidedly ordinary existence. Upon the death of the OASIS’ creator years earlier, a series of puzzles were activated that, upon completion and collection of three keys, would grant the winner total control over the game. After Wade figures out the first clue to the puzzle, he and his friends race against the players from a rival gaming company, IOI, to finish the game and take control of the OASIS, all while avoiding danger in both the real and virtual worlds.

I haven’t read the book that Ready Player One is based on, so I have no idea how many of the massive number of music, movie, television, and gaming references were or weren’t carried over into the film, and which ones are exclusive to the film itself. I can say that, as someone unfamiliar with the material, I enjoyed the movie. Tye Sheridan works well as an everyman, as he isn’t too fit or ridiculously attractive, and he has good chemistry with his fellow castmates. Getting Steven Spielberg as a director undoubtedly made it easier to obtain the rights to all of the materials, especially since many of references were of movies he either directed or produced.

The special effects are amazing. While the real world scenes mostly just have background filler and a few instances of slightly futuristic technology, the scenes inside the OASIS are fantastic. None of the characters, items, or locations in the game look real-world, with all of it being animated, aside from old video files in the game’s library, which is used to research the creator and find information about the contest. Even when something does have a real world counterpart, the colors are slightly over saturated, giving it a surreal look.

This is a very entertaining movie. As stated before, I haven’t read the book, but that seems like a plus in this case, because I wasn’t worried about all the differences between the two. The sci-fi elements aren’t too overwhelming, so people who don’t usually like sci-fi should find it interesting. The action sequences look great, especially in high definition. As for the story itself, it’s basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory set in the future, with an eccentric old man leaving his vast empire to a random stranger who has managed to prove themself worthy, but that’s not to say that it isn’t entertaining.

Ready Player One is not available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Early Man

EarlyMan

Early Man

Directed By: Nick Park
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Richard Webber, Simon Greenall, Nick Park, et.al.
Rated: PG
Grade: B

Caveman Dug, with his best friend/pet Hognob, lives a somewhat happy existence with his tribe in the valley near their home, despite his wanting to begin hunting larger game, like mammoths and to try and decode the peculiar paintings on their cave walls, which show their ancestors crowding around what appears to be a round object. One night, however, their small, comfortable world is shattered when they’re forced out of their home by ore-mining Bronze Agers, who declare to Dug and the tribe that the stone age is over, and there’s no place for them anymore. Desperate to find a way to get his home back, Dug infiltrates the nearby Bronze Age settlement and discovers that they play a game they call football, which remarkably resembles the old cave paintings Dug inquired about. Dug then decides to challenge the Bronze Agers to a football match which will decide the fate of the cave and surrounding valley.

This is a highly enjoyable movie. While the plot, an origin story for the game of football/soccer, may be a little nonsensical, you can tell that it wasn’t meant to be serious portrayal of the Stone and Bronze Ages. Overall, you can tell that they actors were having fun voicing their roles, and the jokes are genuinely funny, even though most of the comedy tends to lean towards the British end of things, and not of it appears to have been aimed over children’s heads. It’s hard to tell actor chemistry with voice actors since it’s more likely than not that everyone is in different rooms while recording, but the voices all mesh well together.

This movie is animated, and looks to have been done to reflect the claymation-style of animation used in previous movies by these film makers, though it was more than likely done with computer animation. It was done well, though the movie tends to lean towards navy blues rather than go for full-on blacks. The characters and objects have depth and dimension, more so than their hand-drawn counterparts.

Pretty much everyone should find this movie enjoyable, though sometimes British comedy can be a little too subtle for some, this is a kids movie, so the jokes should be on a level that nearly everyone can understand. The plot is easy to follow without needing to be glued to the television, and the hero characters are all likeable.

Early Man is not available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Geostorm

Geostorm

Geostorm

Directed By: Dean Devlin
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Adepero Oduye, Zazie Beetz, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: C+

In the near future, Earth’s weather has become so extreme that a massive satellite capable of altering the planet’s weather patterns is placed in orbit. However, on the eve of turning over control of the satellite from the United States to the United Nations, a series of severe, and fatal, weather events happen and astrophysical engineer Hank Lawson is sent up to try and figure out what’s going wrong and put a stop to it before the system fails completely, creating a worldwide storm system called a Geostorm.

In the realm of disaster movies, Geostorm is near middling. At this point in time, the plots can get somewhat predictable, and while the actual plot has some originality, for the most part it could be nearly any disaster movie made in the last 20 years or so. The acting is sufficient, though Butler and Sturgess aren’t the best at imitating American accents (fun fact: there’s a line where Butler’s character says he and his brother were born in the UK before moving to the US as kids, most likely to cover for the fact that neither one of their leads can pass off an American accent very believably). As far as entertainment value is concerned, it’s slightly more so than your average disaster flick, probably due to the previously stated somewhat original plot. The actors themselves have a decent chemistry. Butler and Sturgess are believable as brothers, and Sturgess has good chemistry with Cornish, who plays his love interest. There’s also a hint at a possible potential romance between Butler and Lara’s characters, but it doesn’t go beyond a few long looks and isn’t really addressed.

The special effects are really well done. They show instances of extreme weather developing on a rapid scale, several shots and scenes taking place in space, and some instances of slightly futuristic technology. It’s all handled well, and nothing looks too obvious. The background filler is also done well.

If you’re looking for a fun popcorn flick, then this is definitely recommended. You don’t need to think too much about the plot, and there’s enough action to keep you interested. There’s also something of a whodunnit, with two possible choices for the mastermind behind the weather plot. It also serves as a bit of a cautionary tale about global warming, and the increasing severity of natural disasters and storms without getting too preachy.

Geostorm is not available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Truth or Dare

TruthOrDare

Truth or Dare?

Directed By: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk, Landon Liboiron, Sam Lerner, Aurora Perrineau, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: B

While with her friends in Mexico on spring break, Olivia meets Carter, an attractive stranger who promises to take the group to nearby party. After bringing them to a remote, abandon mission, he challenges them all to a game of Truth or Dare, which they reluctantly agree to. As the game progresses and the friends being infighting, Carter finally revealed that they were lured there, and that the game they’re playing is real, and has real-world consequences. Unamused and tired, they head back to their hotel, and eventually home, where Olivia and her friends soon begin seeing strange messages appear around them all asking one thing: Truth or Dare?

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of teen-aimed horror movies, much like there was on the late 1990s/early 2000s, and Truth or Dare is one of the more recent offerings. Like most horror movies, there’s a slight sci-fi/fantasy element mixed in, and like most horror movies, it’s not prominent enough to take casual viewers out of the story. The movie itself actually takes a standard genre plot – partying teens mess with the supernatural and face the consequences – and adds the unique twist that the core group of characters are innocent victims brought in to keep feeding the force behind the game. The actors all have decent chemistry, and for the most part, resemble the college grad students they’re supposed to be. With a PG-13 rating, the movie is relatively bloodless, with only a few graphically gory deaths.

The most prominent effect in the movie is the facial distortion used for when people are possessed by the entity behind the game, and according to the various sources, it was meant to look like an unusual Snapchat filter. There’s also one scene where an unnamed character is burned to death, though it looks like it may have been done practically, with a stunt person and a mannequin. Anything else is just background filler.

As far as horror movies go, this one seems to be a fairly safe bet. It’s intense enough to keep casual fans interested, but not so much as to completely freak them out. The fact that the protagonists are initially bystanders is an interesting take on typical horror plotlines, and the ending isn’t what you typically get from them either. It should hold up to repeat viewings, possibly getting more enjoyable since you can relax and take in hints you may not have noticed the first time around. There’s really only one glaring plothole, but since it’s tied to deus ex machina, it doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

Truth or Dare isn’t available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but ir can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Assault on Arkham

AssaultOnArkham

Batman: Assault on Arkham

Directed By: Jay Oliva, Ethan Spaulding
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Neal McDonough, Hynden Walch, Matthew Gray Gubler, CCH Pounder, Giancarlo Esposito, Jennifer Hale, John DiMaggio, Greg Ellis, Nolan North, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A

After the Riddler is captured by Batman and sent to Arkham Asylum, ARGUS director Amanda Waller activates the Suicide Squad, which is an elite group of villains tasked to perform undercover operations for the government. The group is tasked with finding the Riddler in Arkham and retrieving sensitive information he stole from ARGUS. Meanwhile, they must avoid piquing Batman’s interest while he searches Gotham for a dirty bomb that the Joker has assembled and hidden somewhere in the city.

Assault on Arkham, which is part of DC’s Animated Universe, is another movie that sets a standard for their animated fare. The storyline is solid, and the voice actors, which include a handful of recognizable names, all do well, with no one giving a particularly over the top performance (unless the character calls for it, that is). As stated in previous reviews, I’m not familiar with comic books outside of televison and movies, so I have no idea if this movie corresponds with a particular comic book arc, or if it’s an original story. The characters all seem to mesh well together, but again, I’m not overly familiar with their comic counterparts.

The movie is animated to look somewhere between computer animated and hand-drawn, but it was likely done on computer. The animation itself is well done. Not too much of the movie takes place during the daytime, but the colors pop, and the shadows don’t get fuzzy.

One good thing about most comic book movies (both comic book and live action) is that you don’t need to be overly familiar with the source material to enjoy the movie. This should appeal to anyone wanting to see a decent action movie who doesn’t mind it being animated. Although there are a few graphic death scenes (a few characters literally get their heads blown off), so if you’re wary of that, then you might not want to let young children watch.

Batman: Assault on Arkham isn’t available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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ZOMBIES

Zombies

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S

Directed By: Paul Hoen
Starring: Meg Donnelly, Milo Manheim, Trevor Tordjman, Emilia McCarthy, Kylee Russell, James Godfrey, Kingston Foster, Naomi Snieckus, et. al.
Rated: Y7
Network: Disney
Grade: A-

In idyllic Seabrook, everything – and everyone – is perfect, and if you’re not perfect, you’re either forced to conform, or you’re hidden away. When an accident at a nearby chemical plant creates a toxic green fog that turns all it touches into brain-hungry zombies, the citizens build a wall to keep the hungry hoards away. Decades later, the zombies, aided by technological advances, are able to curb their impulses and lead normal, productive lives, and eventually the teens living in what’s known as Zombietown are allowed to attend Seabrook High School. Once there, zombie students Zed and his friends Eliza and Bonzo are excited to finally be included in a real school and possibly join extracurricular activities like football, computer club, and band, only to find out that they’re stuck in the basement away from the other students. After Zed is caught wandering the school and a shutdown is in place, he meets Addison, a pretty blonde cheerleader who was raised to believe that all zombies are evil, but also wants to see the good in everyone since she carries a secret of her own. Together, Zed and Addison try to erase the lines between humans and zombies and finally get the two groups reintegrated.

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is a fairly typical DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie), with a standard boy-meets-girl/Romeo and Juliet story. Despite the standardized format and rather predictable ending, the movie is actually very entertaining. As long as you like musicals, that is. Like most DCOMs these days, this movie features several song and dance numbers, which vary between surprisingly good and laughably cheesy. The acting is about what you’d expect from a TV movie aimed at kids. Most of the supporting characters get a bit over the top, but the main actors hold their own. Since most of the actors in the movie are relative unknowns or are just getting their first major role, nothing should be held against them for being a tad bit over dramatic at times.

Since this is a made-for-TV movie, there are very little special effects used. When they do use them, though, they’re not that bad. There are some zombie transition effects at one point in the movie, and a couple of the dance sequences have some stage effects, and what little else is used is background filler.

If you like DCOMs, or just cheery movies with happy, although slightly predictable, endings, then you’ll like Z-O-M-B-I-E-S. Despite the fact that half the characters are zombies, there’s no real sci-fi or horror elements used, and the movie is entirely bloodless. It’s also a good movie for kids to watch to help teach them about tolerance and accepting those who are different from what society deems as “normal.”

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is available free to stream from the DisneyNOW app, and purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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The Awakening

Awakening

The Awakening

Directed By: Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Shaun Dooley, Joseph Mawle, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: A-

In 1921, just after World War I has ended, psychics and supernaturalists have become highly popular with those grieving the loss of their loved ones. Florence Cathcart, however, has made a career of debunking the supernatural and exposing the charlatans taking advantage of those overcome with grief. After being approached by Robert Mallory, a teacher at an all-boys boarding school in the country, which he says has been plagued with sightings of ghosts, she’s hesitant to involve herself. However, when she learns that these sighting have culminated in the death of one of the students, she ultimately agrees to help. Shortly after her arrival, the students are released on holiday, leaving only Florence, Robert, the caretaker, the school’s matron, and a young boy who’s parents live too far away for him to visit over the break. After everyone else has gone, Florence begins experiencing a terrifying sequence of events, ultimately leading to her delving into her own past, as well as the school’s history.

The Awakening could simply have been a stereotypical ghost story, with the nonbeliever being converted with the first hint of supernatural activity, however, this film chooses to have her remaining skeptical, even after being confronted with what most would consider solid proof. The hazy, dreary setting of the English countryside in the rainy season, most of the color seems to have been leeched from the scenes, which adds to the tense, supernatural atmosphere. The actors all do well with their roles, and give off an air of slight unease that increases as the supposed haunting intensifies. The storyline is well done, and not quite as predictable as some others in the same genre. The movie is probably more of a thriller than a horror, as it’s relatively bloodless aside from a scene where the caretaker attempts to assault Florence, and a flashback sequence that shows how her family died.

Despite this being a horror/thriller involving ghosts, the special effects are kept to a minimum. There’s some heavy saturation in flashback scenes, and the most of the scenes at the school have color timing done to mute the tones, but none of it is too flashy, and there are little, if any, ghostly effects. All other effects are kept to background filler, and aren’t noticeable.

Fans of horror/thrillers and ghost stories will enjoy this film. While there’s no real action, the movie instead going for psychological drama, the story is interesting and intense enough to hold your attention. Also, while you don’t necessarily need to pay strict attention to the plot, it’s also not a movies you can ignore for long periods without losing your place. It’s also not so intense that you’ll only want to watch it once.

The Awakening is not available free to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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