The Crooked Man (2016)
No Soul Is Safe
Enough happy movies for a bit, let's get into something more dark and sinister. That's really what I'd like to say, but it's yet to be seen if Crooked Man here will be as frightening as his Freddy Kreuger posturing implies or more akin to the somewhat disinterested looking faces floating in his body. The easiest way to know for sure is to watch, so spine in check and turn off the lights, it's time to try and get spooked.
Horror, like comedy, is largely subjective. I may have brought this up previously in some of my other horror reviews, so I'm not going to dwell on it here, but just keep it in terms when I say that as far as pants-danger terror levels, you aren't looking at much more than Baby's first spooky flick. This takes an age old premise and plays it out nearly every step in a way that you'd anticipate. First, we take a nursery rhyme and the music that goes with it, put it on the internet with a spooky story about how everyone who sings it meets their unfortunate end, and you have the story at it's core. Fight, yon survivors, fight for your right to live!
If that story is as basic as you imagine it sounds, then you can be positive that when I said just a short while ago "baby's first" I meant that you shouldn't expect to be frightened or checking under your bed unless your new to the genre or your at that tender young age where nearly anything can scare you (and hey, some people are 60 years young and have a pretty tender heart when it comes to scares, so don't think I've ruled you out!) Surprisingly enough, the movie actually doesn't resort to mass production jump scares nearly as much as I would have thought - with probably at most two being the idiotic "it's really just a friend/relative touching them even though we'll hit the scare chords in the music to try and make you jump anyways" manner. There's a handful of jumps beyond that, but for the most part they fail at being flat jump scares due to a more fluent use of the setup - such as stopping the music before it happens, giving that sense of relief that it was a false alarm before a rock suddenly comes blazing through the window.
So, lacking that, it's pretty obvious at this point that the movies lacking terror. There isn't much a of a threat level - largely because you don't care that much for the characters (and we'll get to acting later), but also because the very "made for TV" quality of things. The Crooked Man largely seems to do that ghostly jittery-step stutter that does frighten some people, but largely feels somewhat wasted in this movie when the sporadic and random nature of the stutter takes away from the character coming off as actually crooked. He's got a bit of a hunch most the time, but the cartoon picture of the thing shown on the internet site in the movie is more frighting levels of crooked than the actual man. Cosmetically, it's not done terrible, although it's kept quite simple (maybe not quite as simple as something like Slenderman, but still we aren't exactly talking Freddy or Predator levels of details here). He does seem to have the power to just mangle and snap peoples bones as he wishes, although strangely by the end of the movie it almost seems he's forgotten he can do that.
It without a doubt feels made for TV as far as quality goes. This may seem a bit harsher than I intend at first listen though - as largely it's actually pretty good as far as composition goes. Although it's simple and the stutter effects are way overused, Crooked is used quite well in regards to his surroundings. There's a little fast and loose with his adherence to being in the dark, but a great example of what I'm talking about is the first time he shows up in the opening's attic. It's actually pretty easy to miss him - considering the only real hint besides the movement is the white of his face - as the pizza guy walks back down the stairs after resetting the breakers. Of course, to help you out it throws in some lightning flashes so he's much more visible as seen in the picture above - something I think a heavier focus on being purely terrifying would have removed so he's always in the actual dark. Beyond that, scenes are composed nicely - plenty of use of the 180 rule going on during conversations between characters, and it tries not to linger on the same shot for too long to help keep things from feeling too static and bland.
Although outfits and scene setups are generally pretty good, effects and acting are a bit more washy. In the effects department, the costumes all look good enough - even the rather generic "everyday clothes" of the setting - Other effects however, such as the ground cracking or the CG cat eating a dead CG mouse are pretty dated looking, and it's only a year after it came out. This is largely where that made for TV vibe comes from, and it's something we've seen even as far back as that Shining TV miniseries and it's goofy hedge lions. Thankfully the CG effects aren't super overused - well, with the exception of the stutter effect, which might not be entirely CG but at times can look a lot like someone just using a photo warp filter - so it never becomes grating - just might elicit more laughs than originally intended by the movie.
The acting was one that I hadn't expected a whole lot out of - although I did partially decide to watch this movie over others because it had Micheal Jai White and I know he's done a good job in at least a few movies I've seen. Sadly, and I honestly don't know why I didn't see this coming, his character is barely in the movie - although it's also not exactly his greatest performance either. The main cast can go anywhere from horrible to decent as far as performances, but I'd also like to point out that at least part of it has to be due to just terrible lines being written in the script. Some of the characters also come off as incredibly stupid - the police dad being on of them - and plenty of generic tropes from horror movies can be found in this as well.
Overall, this wasn't a bad movie. The nursery rhyme being evil plot line isn't exactly original, but the concept of urban legends actually being true in some way is always enjoyable in my book. In most other regards, it's mediocre at best. The Crooked Man's song is actually relatively catchy, and a bunch of youngsters staying up later than they probably should be watching this on TV very well could get much more out of it spook wise than the seasoned horror bleeders. There is some violence in there or some darker threads that a parent might want to check out, but compared to most entries in the genre this is certainly horror-lite.