I’ve been very transparent about the fact that I’m not well-versed in cinematography. I don’t know a lot about film theory. This stuff just isn’t my forte. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell a good movie from a bad one. I know what bad acting looks like. I took theater for a year.
But, most importantly, I know about stories. I know about plot and world-building. I know about genre and tropes. Therefore, I can still offer pretty good film critique.
Today, I’m going to talk about the four movies I saw this year that I thought really sucked. They didn’t have to be released this year. I just had to have watched them for the first time in 2018.
Why does the number four keep coming up in my worst lists? Pure coincidence. Unless it’s a sign, though I don’t know for what. Damn it, I’m being needlessly ominous again. These worst lists are really bringing out the melodramatic oracle in me.
Anyway, now it’s time to rip these so-called “films” to shreds. Here are my top four worst movies of 2018:
- A Girl Like Her (Premiered March 27, 2015)
I remember seeing previews for this movie around the time it was being released and feeling intrigued. Then I promptly forgot about it. I don’t really recall how I wound up watching it, all I know is that I did. And then I forgot that I watched it. Can you guess what the main problem with this movie is?
That’s right, it’s totally forgettable! Not really what you want from an anti-bullying mockumentary. The message has no impact, and thus adds nothing to the conversation.
The movie follows Jessica Burns, a high school student being bullied by her former friend, Avery Keller. She enlists the help of her best friend Brian in documenting the harassment. Using hidden cameras, Jessica slowly gathers proof of the torment she’s being dealt.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough. Jessica can no longer take the pain and tries to commit suicide. She spends the majority of the film in a coma. Meanwhile, a documentarian comes to their school to interview the students. She takes a special interest in Avery, hoping to uncover answers about why and how she became a bully.
It’s all hard to believe because because a lot of the bullying seems almost cartoonish. As someone who spent a large portion of her adolescence and teen years being bullied, this doesn’t reflect real life. Bullies are creatures of opportunity. They don’t go out of their way to seek you out and make you feel bad. They’re sharks circling blood, not lionesses on the prowl.
It also doesn’t help that this anti-bullying story is just a drop in the sea of movies and TV shows that use suicide as the ultimate consequence. It’s really starting to lose the weight it’s meant to have. It’s not making people care, and that’s the only reason to make a film like this.
A more effective story would be to create a well-rounded character. Make us like them and empathize with them. Then show them being bullied and living with its effects. It’s hard to care about the victims in films like this because we don’t know who they are. I can’t tell you a single thing about Jessica, aside from the fact that she is a victim. She’s not a character— she’s a consequence.
Moreover, the mockumentary format is a cheap gimmick meant to get us to care. It’s supposed to trick our brains into thinking this is real, even though we already know it’s not. Again, this isn’t how you get people to care about bullying. This isn’t how you construct a call to action. Let us get to know the character. That’s what makes it personal. That’s what will get your message to stick.
I appreciate how the documentarian interacts with Avery. She listens to and humanizes her. She forms a bond with her, and then shows her the footage from Brian’s camera. Knowing she’s been validated and that she has support on her side, it’s easier for Avery to acknowledge and accept the terrible things she’s done. It shows her she can grow and change. This, I feel, is important.
However, it also inadvertently redirects the focus of the film from the victim to the bully. We learn more about Avery’s life and personality than we ever do about Jessica’s. We’re given more opportunity to feel sympathy for the bully than the girl who is literally in a coma because of said bully.
It seems like the moral of this film is the old adage, “hurt people hurt people.” It implies Jessica and Avery are really in the same boat. However, the context of the movie doesn’t support this. Avery feels like her mother doesn’t listen to or care about her. Jessica is betrayed by a friend and bullied so bad, she thinks the only escape from her pain is death. Yeah, Avery’s mom sucks, but it’s just not the same.
This also isn’t the only reason why bullies bully. In fact, it’s not even the most common one. The main reason a person becomes a bully is that they suddenly find themselves in a position of power and don’t know how to wield it. There are extensive studies that support this. Suggesting that we should feel sorry for bullies too is dangerous and irresponsible. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. You’d think people who care so deeply about children’s lives would know that.
This movie fails because it’s forgettable and uses cheap gimmicks to try and garner sympathy from the audience. It doesn’t make an effort to tell a story, more concerned with the message it wants to get across. But that message is flawed and muddled, contradicting itself at every turn. I wish people who want to tell stories about bullying actually understood what makes an impactful story. But movies like this just want to after-school special the world into oblivion.
- The Greatest Showman (Premiered December 8, 2017)
I love musicals. They tap into the part of me that longs to be something more. The trailer for this particular musical felt like it was tailored specifically to me. It promised a theatrical movie with bombastic music. Obviously, given its place on this list, it didn’t deliver.
This film chronicles the story of P.T. Barnum’s life. We see how his infamous circus came to be, watch him overcome hurdle after hurdle. This movie was made to show us why P.T. Barnum is known as the greatest showman.
The musical numbers are great, but the movie as a whole is a huge letdown. Watching these performances is like wearing rose-colored glasses. They make the songs seem better than they are. In reality, most of the songs sound the same and are utterly unmemorable. The only songs that have stuck with me are “The Greatest Show,” “Rewrite the Stars,” and “Never Enough.” And the latter only sticks with me because Kelly Clarkson did a beautiful cover for The Greatest Showman: Reimagined.
A big problem with the music is that it doesn’t function the way musical numbers are meant to. The songs are supposed to either further the story or provide insight into the characters. The only songs that do this effectively here are “The Other Side” and “Rewrite the Stars.” All the other songs are simply there to make Big Statements that really have no bearing on the story whatsoever.
The movie feels like a race to get to the next major event in P.T. Barnum’s life story. The songs are merely pressing pause on the plot. It makes the pacing feel unnatural and jerky. It was difficult to become immersed in any one point in time, when just when you become invested it jumps to the next scene. This movie flings its audience around like a ragdoll and does it without apology.
My main issue with this movie is the characters. The only remotely developed character is P.T. Barnum. Everyone else may as well just be props. We learn a bit about Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler, but only enough so they can have a whirlwind romance.
All the audience knows about the circus performers is that they’re different, but learn to embrace those differences and love themselves how they are. Ordinarily, that would be a great arc, but it’s supplemented with nothing. They are simply defined by their “flaws.” How can I root for these characters when I don’t know who they are?
This makes all the character arcs unearned and motivations unclear. Why do the circus performers forgive Barnum for being an asshole? How do they learn to love themselves? Why does Jenny Lind try to sabotage Barnum’s reputation? The film makes no effort to answer any of these questions. We’re just supposed to accept it.
This film was doomed from the start when they decided to make a musical about P.T. Barnum. Not only does this cause the writers to be hyper-focused with hitting all the main beats in his life story, but it requires them to actively ignore the ugly side of his legacy. Barnum was notoriously awful to his performers. He abused the animals in his show. But no one wants to root for a monster. It’s easier to pretend he was just a well-meaning guy with a dream who got caught up in the fame.
The story would’ve been far more effective if it had been about completely fictional characters, and only partially based on P.T. Barnum’s circus. The writers could’ve been more inventive with the story and allowed themselves more opportunity to develop the characters. And then I wouldn’t have had to write a review like this.
A good musical knows how to balance its songs with its dialogue, and uses them effectively. It puts care into creating and developing characters with which the audience can empathize. This musical does neither. Maybe P.T. Barnum deserves the title of “the Greatest Showman,” but this movie does not.
- Verónica (Premiered on Netflix February 28, 2018)
Though this movie was originally released August 25, 2017 in Spain, it didn’t reach worldwide audiences until earlier this year. Immediately, it was lauded as one of the scariest horror movies of all time. People were losing their absolute shit over this film. So naturally, I had to check it out.
Maybe my Netflix account somehow got the wrong version of this movie because this is one of the worst horror movies I’ve ever seen. What were people pissing their pants over? Having to read subtitles?
This movie is just another in the long line of horror films that rely on jump scares and other horror movie clichés. You could play Horror Movie Cliché Bingo with this movie. You’re sure to win, as the film ticks off the squares for “Based on a True Story” and “Oujia board.” Verónica unironically uses the three biggest modern horror movie clichés and people are out here praising it like it’s goddamn Citizen Kane.
The only thing I liked about this film is the family dynamics. Verónica loves her younger siblings so much and takes care of them like a second mother. Their actual mother, meanwhile, is working long hours to provide for her family. I grew to care for this family and I was devastated by what happens to them.
I really don’t have much else to say about this movie. Much like most other modern horror films, it’s just a vehicle for clichés. The art of horror is nearly lost these days because this shit gets butts in the seats. I had hoped this film would bring some of that craft back, but unfortunately Verónica fell victim to overhype. The bitch, alas, is not back.
- Sierra Burgess is a Loser (Premiered on Netflix August 30, 2018)
We all really thought this was going to be a good movie. What fools we were, so naïve. Then again, perhaps we were willfully blind. It is a movie about catfishing, after all.
The movie follows Sierra Burgess, an overweight teen struggling to survive high school. When a cute boy named Jamey texts her believing she’s popular girl Veronica, Sierra begins a relationship with him. The problem is, she’s still pretending to be Veronica and now must enlist her help in keeping up the lie.
This film is grossly problematic, littered with transphobic and homophobic jokes, catfishing, nonconsensual kissing, mocking of disabilities, and cyberbullying. And our protagonist is responsible for all of them. There’s no commentary here, no criticism. This is just who Sierra Burgess is.
Perhaps the movie could’ve been better had everyone involved not been so hell-bent on emulating ‘80s teen movies. Filled to the brim with harmful tropes, the only thing new this film does is swap the genders. But the issue with these tropes was never the gender, it was the actions and entitlement. It was the lack of consent. Why would you think the tropes we’ve condemned would suddenly be acceptable because your protagonist is a girl?
Of course, this also extends to tropes that are largely gender-specific. This film inverts the insidious “ugly girl gets a makeover” trope in the worst way. Sierra doesn’t get a makeover, but Jamey does tell her she’s not anybody’s type but his. She doesn’t have to change because the narrative does it for her. So many terrible ‘80s tropes have infested this movie, I’ve barely even scratched the surface.
The humor is also lifted directly from an ‘80s teen romcom. Because in 2018 we’re much more aware of how marginalized groups are silenced and sidelined, many films and television shows are making efforts to not use them as the butt of jokes. This movie, however, does not. Its humor is antiquated, the kind of tone-deaf comedy that belongs in the ‘80s. It doesn’t reflect the ideals of the Western world today.
Because the film is so focused on nostalgia, Sierra has no character development whatsoever. She doesn’t learn anything— on the contrary, she knows the entire time that what she’s doing to Jamey is wrong. She suffers no consequences, getting both the guy and the new friend.
In fact, she actively doesn’t understand the real issue when everything goes wrong. Sierra goes home and cries to her parents about how hard it is to be in high school and “look like this.” While this is an issue many teenage girls face, the scene isn’t anywhere near as powerful as it should’ve been because it comes on the heels of Sierra being exposed for the bad things she’s done. How are we supposed to feel empathy for her on this front when she hasn’t expressed any negativity toward her looks up until this point and she only does now because she rightfully lost the people she hurt?
Though a couple scenes made me smile, this movie is nothing more than a dumpster fire. The ending is completely unearned. The story feels dated and the humor is out-of-touch. Nothing about this movie is original or genuine. This movie deserves every negative review it’s received. It’s not just Sierra Burgess who’s a loser— it’s everyone who thought this film was a good idea.
Do you agree with my list? What were some movies you hated this year? Tell me about them in the comments!
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