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By Vernor Rodgers
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"PEPPERMINT"

In "Peppermint" we have Jennifer Garner stepping into the Paul Kersey role of the "Death Wish" movies, only she ratchets up the vengeance.

Garner plays Riley North, a wife and mom whose very normal if stressful life is shattered one night by senseless violence. Dealing with a snobby neighbor who undermines her daughter Carly's (Cailey Fleming) birthday party, having to work late that night, and not aware her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) -- trying to ease up some of their financial troubles-- first agrees then pulls out of a scheme offered by a co-worker, Riley soon finds her life shattered when a drive-by shooting murders her family.

Riley then relies on the justice system only to find it corrupt and it is she, not the killers, who gets hauled off. But she manages to escape, steal money from the bank where she worked and literally goes off the grid for five years. In that half-decade she managers to evolve from a suburban wife and mom to a calculating killing machine.

Once she gains her revenge on the men who murdered her family, she set her sights on higher targets including a corrupt judge and a drug kingpin who handles the purse strings. She has managed to find a safe habitat among the homeless on the streets, and her Guardian Angel rep there ensures anonymity.

Meanwhile, the law enforcement in the form of police detectives Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr. from "10 Cloverfield Lane") and Moises Beltran (John Ortiz) as well as FBI Agent Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh) is in pursuit. There obviously is some crookedness going on there too but anyone who follows plot-twist formulas can pretty much figure out who is the baddie.

Like all action thrillers. "Peppermint" is essentially magnificently absurd fiction. So much gunfire, a lot of brutal one-on-one violence yet Riley emerges pretty banged but functioning when in reality she'd be in a coma and near death.

But set that aside and enjoy Garner showing she can handle action roles as well as Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johanssen, and in her heyday, Sigourney Weaver.

With director Pierre Morel at the helm, he who directed the first, and best, of the "Taken" series, viewers can be assured of a great bit of exciting good-versus-evil mayhem.

"PEPPERMINT" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/eeBMQpzoEXQ

 

"THE NUN"

"The Nun" has been a very polarizing movie among horror fans, especially those who are fans of "The Conjuring" and "Annabelle" movies. Some find it excellent while others reported they walked out of the movie. A prequel to these spooky films, "The Nun" sets out to explain the chilling visions of a ghostly, decidedly evil  nun that pops up in visions in the "Conjuring" adventures.

My problem is that I get details of "The Conjuring" mixed up with those of the "Insidious" films. Going into "The Nun" while fuzzy on the happenings in the earlier "Conjuring" movies, I was briefly confused by the casting of Taissa Farmiga as Sister Irene. Being the younger sister of Vera Farmiga, and bearing a strong resemblance to her older sibling, I at first thought Taissa was playing the younger version of Vera's "Conjuring" character Lorraine Warren -- until it hit me that Vera was Lorraine, not Irene.

That cleared up, I found "The Nun," while a bit slow, to at least adequately presenting an explanation for the visions of the sinister nun.

It's a story that has been told before. It centers around an abbey in Romania that had been built for truly evil purposes, so for some reason, the church decides to convert it into a convent in hopes of turning it from nasty to sacred. But when a nun commits suicide by hanging, the church dispatches Father Burke (Demian Bichir), accompanied by Sister Irene, who by the way is not a full-fledged nun yet, as she needs to take her vows, to the abbey to investigate. They are guided there by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), as his name suggests, a transplanted French native.

Father Burke and Sister Irene do uncover the sinister secrets of the abbey, and supposedly subdue the evil entity involved, but since this precedes "The Conjuring" stories, we know that is not the case.

For those really involved in the "Conjuring" and "Annabelle" films, "The Nun" proves useful in setting up the story. Otherwise, those not familiar with these movies will find a standard and not particularly compelling evil spirits story.

"THE NUN" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/EQRFgGwGeok

 

"HELL FEST"

A surprisingly competent if standard slasher, "Hell Fest" is one of might be a growing sub-genre of crazed killer movies that build upon the premise of Halloween-themed attractions being exploited by psychopaths to commit real horror. This has been explored in the "Houses That October Built" POV movies about a documentary film team checking out Halloween theme parks throughout the country only to stumble into ones where honest -to-goodness nasty people are mingling with the actors, leading to real blood being spilled.

In "Hell Fest," Amy Forsyth ("Rise" TV series) is Natalie, a young woman stressed out by college and work, who goes to visit her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards), from whom she has been drifting away, to rekindle their bond. Of course, when Natalie gets to Brooke's she is not too pleased to see that also there is Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus). Taylor is the kind of person we all have to tolerate. She happens to be a friend of your best friend, and your relationship with this person is always strained. But whatever the history between Natalie and Taylor, this Taylor is a hoot who knows how to have a good time.

So, Brooke informs Natalie that a group that includes Brooke's boyfriend Quinn (Christian James) and Taylor's love, Asher (Matt Mercurio) have been presented with VIP passes to Hell Fest, a Halloween amusement park. The passes were secured by Gavin (Roby Attal), a guy that has been set up as a date for Natalie.

Now, before we proceed, it must be noted there was a prelude to this in which at a previous Halloween amusement set-up, a young woman was killed by a hooded, masked man, her body then hung up and mistaken for a prop until it started getting gamy. Thus we know our happy half-dozen may be in for more than they bargained for.

They meet up with Gavin at Hell Fest, and after some awkward moments, Natalie and Gavin hit it off. Unknown to them is that a man, hooded and masked like the killer of earlier, has also entered Hell Fest, looking for a few victims.

Part of the fun of "Hell Fest" is that the viewers get to experience some of the mazes and the jump scares therein. Having toured the mazes offered at Knott's Scary Farm in recent years, I was enjoying some flashbacks.

The killer claims his first victim, the brutal killing witnessed by Natalie, who initially thinks it's fake. But when she realizes it isn't, and the killer realizes she knows this, she and her friends are next on the slasher's list. Compounding the problem is that it takes a while for Natalie to convince her friends a real killer is on the loose, and then has to do the same with the park's security personnel.

There are some problems with believing the killer knows his way around the back stages of the attractions and can freely move around without encountering any park employees; plus there is a scene in which Natalie is being terrorized in a restroom in which nobody else enters. Come on.

But "Hell Fest" succeeds in creating tension, keeping us guessing which threats are real and which turn out to be false. Before long the cast has been trimmed down to just a pair of Final Girls trying to outrun and outsmart the killer.

And this is capped by a truly unnerving final scene.

"Hell Fest" is a nice warm-up for not only Halloween but for the much anticipated release of the "Halloween" movie in which Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role as the iconic Scream Queen and Final Girl, Laurie Strode.  

"HELL FEST" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/2zNAtmmWSJY

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