Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnessthe newest film in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, is coming to DIsney + this week on June 22 and stands out most for the way director. Sam Raimi draws from his background in horror. While he is most certainly not the first filmmaker to jump from the cinema of terror to the world of superheroes, the manner in which he does so in the film elevates the typical Marvel formula into something quite surprising. In watching it, you can see familiar techniques in the way he moves the camera that is reminiscent of his work on 1981’s incredibly inventive The Evil Dead or imagery that feels like it might have been lifted from the gloriously gruesome Drag Me To Hell. With all this in mind, the question bouncing around for audiences is whether the director’s newest work, his first in almost a decade, is really going to be an out-and-out horror film?
If you’re like me in considering yourself to be a fan of horror, Raimi’s name would have likely caught your attention with the hope it will knock your socks off with frights galore. If you’re more interested in the superhero aspect and less in the horror elements, you’re probably experiencing a bit of trepidation right now about whether this will be a movie that will keep you up with nightmares. While much of whether you consider this to be a terrifying horror film is going to be dependent on your own personal experience with the genre, it is still geared around being largely accessible to even the most green of viewers.
The film is more infused with horror than it is a strict genre work, playing around with scares here and there while still plodding ahead through the more typical superhero fare. For better and worse, it still very much follows the Marvel formula. Thankfully, when it is able to provide brief flashes of horror, it creates a sense of flair for the unexpected that feels incredibly refreshing.
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As Raimi told Collider in an interview, the film is one that dips “its toe into the world of horror.” While it is not quite a full leap into the full potential of the genre, the director elaborated on this by saying how he “was able to take those horror films that I made in my youth and what I had learned from them, building suspense sequences, titillating the audience, and when to deliver the scares, and apply that in the spooky sequences in this film. ” These sequences Raimi is referring to are sprinkled throughout, oftentimes sneaking up on you when you least expect them. They are not going to be the most terrifying things you have ever seen, but it is a film that is often spoken in the cinematic language of horror.
These are not only some of the best moments of the experience but they are also quite creative in how they upend many of our expectations for this type of a story. Even the film’s most significant cameo takes a darker turn that may shock some audiences in how it ends quite brutally. Much of whether this is true terror will be in the eye of the beholder though Raimi handles it all with a light touch that has a dark sense of humor woven throughout these horror sequences.
There are also some occasional moments that almost reach levels of body horror though still stay within the limitations of the film’s PG-13 rating. In other words, do not expect the full gross-out levels of the aforementioned Drag Me To Hell. Of course, that isn’t entirely unexpected as that certainly would have been a very high bar to meet. Still, just because something isn’t shown directly doesn’t mean that your mind can’t fill in the gaps. Sometimes the most terrifying and macabre things come when directors invite our imaginations to think of things far worse than anything they can create on-screen.
Raimi is a master of this, and it is felt in abundance here, especially in the scenes where we see the impact of the unseen horror on the minds of the characters. It is an experience that most viewers can likely handle as there is a light touch to these sequences that is cut with a healthy dose of whimsy. Just when you think you know where it is going, Raimi will throw a more harrowing visual or absurd gag into the mix that ensures it strikes a unique tone all his own that speaks to his command of craft.
It recalls his work on the iconic and tender original Spider-Man 20 years ago which jump-started the entire superhero genre into what it is today. This recent entry is a more mainstream horror delight that ultimately left me wanting it to let loose more than he ended up doing. However, this will likely be a bit more digestible to the less horror enthused among us. Still, when it goes into necromancy is where it really begins to have fun.
It is all part of an undying sense of chaos that ensures the experience recalls the best horror work Raimi has done that he manages to sneak glimpses of in here. Whether that is your cup of tea or not, the film has much of the style of the genre even as it falls a bit short of fully embracing it. This may leave some feeling cold while others may feel relieved, it all depends on how much you are willing to take the journey Raimi leads us on. It won’t scare the most steely horror junkies among us though it might get under the skin of those less accustomed to the genre when they fire on their TVs for the viewing at home.