Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Midsommar (2019)

Image is property of A24

Midsommar  – Film Review

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia, Will Poulter

Director: Ari Aster

Synopsis: After personal tragedy strikes, troubled student Dani travels to Sweden with her boyfriend Christian, and a group of their friends. What starts out as a pleasant trip, quickly descends into a nightmare as they become involved with a sinister pagan cult…

Review: Quite often, when you picture the setting of horror films, the scene of a house, set in the pitch black night-time may come to mind. However, this doesn’t have to always be the case. Case in point, in his follow up feature to Hereditary, Ari Aster proves that you don’t necessarily need the dead of night darkness to make something seem scary, as something just as horrifying or unnerving can occur when the sun is shining in the bright summer sky.

Dani (Pugh) is going through an extremely difficult time in her life in the wake of an unimaginable personal tragedy, and it’s having an adverse effect on her relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Reynor). When she finds out he’s heading off to Sweden with a few of their friends for a festival that only happens once every 90 years, she decides to join them hoping to take her mind off things. Upon arrival, while things start off nice and peaceful, it doesn’t take long for things to go sour as the festival quickly descends into a hellish nightmare, basking in the hot Swedish Summer sun.

There is no sense of urgency in which Aster chooses to tell his story. His screenplay deliberately bides its time so this enables each act of the film to serve a purpose to the story, though this slow pace could be problematic to some viewers. The first act is solely concentrated on Dani’s testing relationship with Christian that is on the brink of collapse, fuelling a sense of dread for Dani that lingers throughout the film.  Through all of the ensuing horror that the festival’s activities bring later on in the film, the relationship of these two people is at the centre of this sun-soaked nightmare.

Once we get to Sweden however, and the festivities have begun that things start to get deeply disturbing for Dani, Christian and their friends. To say that this film is not for the faint of heart would be an extreme understatement, due to quite the large amount of disturbing imagery. Though it would be easy to be shocking for the sake of being shocking, the imagery is thought provoking, with the themes of grief, loneliness and rejection are all present. With just about every frame, there’s a lot of symbolism to be extracted from the unnerving festivities, so much so that one could write pages upon pages of analysis of what is being depicted on-screen.

There is not a single false note in any of the performances, but without doubt Dani is the heart and soul of the film, and Florence Pugh gives a wounded, layered, awards worthy performance. Among, Christian and the rest of their gang, it’s Will Poulter’s Mark who comes closest to stealing the spotlight as a man who’s less than impressed with the festival’s activities. This is something that the locals don’t take kindly to, and they consequently give off  sinister vibes to send a shiver (or two) down your spine.

Aster has crafted something that will be analysed for many years to come. The direction, combined with extremely beautiful cinematography and immaculate production design are all beautiful to look at. These juxtapose perfectly with the trauma of the events playing out in front of us, it manages to be simultaneously haunting and mesmerising to look at, with an unsettling score from The Haxan Cloak. Nightmares definitely can happen in broad daylight, hence, we should all just stay in doors.

Thematically thought-provoking, and visually immaculate, with a haunting but powerful lead performance from Florence Pugh. Ari Aster’s second foray into horror film-making is a beautiful nightmare come to life. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Us (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Monkeypaw Productions and Blumhouse Pictures

Us – Film Review

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss

Director: Jordan Peele

Synopsis: As they relax during a summer vacation, a family’s holiday quickly turns to a nightmare when they receive some unwelcome, and very familiar, looking guests at their home…

Review: For someone who made their name for many years as one half of a very successful comedy duo, Jordan Peele’s career has gone in quite a different direction in recent years. As he has made the transition from comedy, to film-maker pretty seamlessly. After the success of the unnerving and furiously relevant Get Out, which bagged him a much deserved Oscar, Peele is back to terrify audiences once again.

At the centre of this new nightmare is Adelaide (Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Duke), and their two kids Zora (Joseph) and Jason (Alex), setting off for a vacation to their summer home. All appears to be going swimmingly with the family enjoying themselves. Not long after arriving however, the holiday goes a bit awry, when some visitors arrive unannounced. It quickly dawns on them that these people, who bear something of a close resemblance to themselves, have got some sinister motivations. Thus a deeply unnerving ordeal lies in wait, and the family find themselves in a fierce battle to stay alive, a battle literally against themselves.

Like with Get Out, there is a vast amount of subtext and deeper meanings to Peele’s screenplay that are definitely intended to mess with your mind. It’s not quite as politically charged as his previous film, but nevertheless Peele isn’t afraid to get across some dark and disturbing symbolism. He shines a light on humanity, and the human condition, which can be open to a lot of different interpretations, chief among them being is humanity its own worst enemy? This is far more than your typical home invasion film, and Peele’s direction in these intense dramatic scenes is masterful. Even with the haunting score from Michael Abels and Mike Gioulakis’s ominous cinematography, it’s proof if needed that you can make anything scary if you want to. You will never look at red overalls and scissors in the same way ever again.

To be asked play two very different versions of yourself cannot be an easy task for any actor, but it’s a task that every member of this family rises to in spectacular, and haunting fashion. Lupita Nyong’o has proven herself in the past to be a fantastic actress, but here she gives maybe the performance of her career as both she and her doppelganger counterpart are the leaders of their families. After his hilarious turn in Black Panther, Winston Duke is on hand to provide the comedy, and he does so brilliantly. When adding comedy into a horror story, it can be extremely problematic as it can negate the horror elements of the story, but Peele’s background in comedy ensures that the film stays on track.

Despite a mere two films under his belt as a director, Peele has in the last couple of years gone from strength to strength. It’s one thing to make your first film to be eerie, enthralling, extremely well layered and thought provoking in terms of its themes. Yet to follow that up with another equally thematically deep and haunting film is a resounding testament to Peele’s remarkable talents as a writer and a director. Get Out was by no means a fluke, and now audiences, especially fans of the horror genre (and their doppelgangers) have a new name to hail as a horror film-making force to be reckoned with.

 Brilliantly tense performance(s) across the board, especially from Nyong’o, Peele further enhances his reputation as a horror maestro with a suspenseful and thought-provoking sophomore feature.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

A Quiet Place (2018)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures and Platinum Dunes

A Quiet Place – Film Review

Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

Director: John Krasinski

Synopsis: In a desolate post apocalyptic future, creatures that hunt based on sound are roaming killing anything that makes a sound, one family must live in absolute silence in order to survive…

Review: If one were to somehow measure the decibel level of Planet Earth, one would imagine that it would likely be quite loud. As a species, it would be fair to say that humanity makes quite a lot of noise as we live our day-to-day lives. Therefore to live in a post-apocalyptic world where making even the slightest of peeps will likely be a fatal mishap, seems an extremely daunting prospect. For one family dwelling in a desolate US city, this is a predicament they find themselves in.

It is 2020, and with many of humanity presumed to have suffered a terrible fate at the hands of our nameless antagonists, we meet the Abbott family who are desperately fighting to stay alive in this dire situation. As well as directing and writing, Krasiniski stars as Dad Lee, and Mum Evelyn (played by real life wife Emily Blunt), and their children Regan (Simmonds) and Marcus (Jupe).

We are thrown right in the thick of this crisis, and with a mere few shots and not a single line of dialogue, it becomes crystal clear that this world is a terrifying place to inhabit. It is a brave choice to have pretty much no dialogue for the first half of your film. In so doing, the film relies on sound to convey the imminent danger facing the family, and thanks to some sterling work from the sound department, that danger posed by these ghastly monsters is almost instantaneously, and brutally, established.

Don’t. Make. A. Sound….

The post-apocalyptic world is a very familiar scenario for sure, but the screenplay, written by Krasinski, along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, gives the film a very unique and fresh feel to it. To say it is suspenseful, would be quite the understatement. The world that these characters are inhabiting is an extremely tough situation in which to try and stay alive. Consequently, right from the very first shot the tension begins to build, and despite a few lapses, the tension remains high throughout.

To write, direct and play a lead role in the film is a lot of work but Krasiniski does all three to wonderful effect. Equally terrific, as she almost always tends to be, is Blunt as his wife. Their chemistry is very strong, which isn’t surprising given they’re married in real life! What’s equally strong is the relationship they have with their children, the standout of whom is Millicent Simmonds as their deaf daughter, the fact that the actress herself is deaf adds a great deal of authenticity to this story of one family’s struggle to survive.

It is not easy to convey fear and every other emotion without making a sound but all of the family members pull it off tremendously well. Krasiniski might be best known for his comedic acting chops, but his direction is meticulous in its execution. Every time one of our family find themselves in danger,  the tension is racketed up a few levels and the audience feels that as they watch these characters desperately try to survive. In addition, the score provided by Marco Beltrami also plays its part to help build that tension.

Though it is a little slow in the initial stages, the film manages to be a very innovative piece of horror/thriller cinema, all while racketing up the tension without a great deal of dialogue being uttered, an achievement well worth shouting about, just not in this world.

A simple premise, but one that feels refreshingly original and excruciatingly tense almost from the first shot, with excellent performances across the board. Whisper it quietly, but we might just see future ventures into this genre from Krasinski.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Image is property of A24, Curzon Artificial Eye and Film4

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Synopsis: A skilled surgeon meets a young man whom he befriends, but when strange things start happening to his family, he is left facing a terrible and heartbreaking decision…

Review: Sometimes, a film lets you know right off the bat that the story you’re about to witness is unconventional to say the least, and not like anything you have ever seen before. The dominance of certain genres in mainstream cinema mean that such pieces of idiosyncratic cinema can be most welcome interludes. Indeed, these types of unique storytelling can almost be deemed necessary. Following in the wake of The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos certainly continues on down that path of peculiar storytelling.

Of course, we have already seen an example of this type of out of ordinary storytelling in the form of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, a film that it would be fair to say polarised audiences massively. And though not quite as shocking as that film was, Lanthimos certainly aims to unsettle the audience in this tale of Steven, a renowned heart surgeon who encounters a teenage boy named Martin whom he befriends. Everything seems fine and dandy between Steven and Martin, he introduces him to his wife Anna (Kidman), his son Bob, (Suljic) and daughter Kim (Cassidy).

Yet as time goes on and mysterious, unexplained things start happening to Steven and his family, and something suggests that the root cause of these events is Martin, who has a grudge against Steven for something that he might have done in the past. The story is certainly very unconventional and the characters are not exactly the most likeable bunch of people you’re ever likely to meet in your life. Farrell plays Steven as your loyal family man who loves his family more than anything, but despite all that, there’s some dark undertones to his character. Kidman is perhaps the most likeable of the bunch, but even she is sucked into this murky situation that is enveloping this family, and the duo certainly shine in these roles that are certainly designed to test the actors to the maximum.

Perhaps giving the best performance of them all though is Keoghan as Martin. Initially he starts off as quite a friendly young man, but it isn’t long before you notice the very troubling and sinister occurings that are going on with him, and perhaps the root cause behind all of this psychological, nightmarish horror that is unfolding. Lanthimos’s directing style, including long shots of panning down ominous looking hallways certainly helps add to the uncomfortable vibe of the film, not to mention the very dreary colour palette. Lanthimos’s script (co-written by Efthymis Filippou) is shrouded in themes that are designed to haunt the audience. It opts to explain certain things, but not others, and it’s up to the audience to fill in the gaps.

There is certainly a lot of mystery surrounding, which you would think keeps the plot moving along at a brisk pace, yet this doesn’t prevent the film from suffering pacing issues. It is a very slow burn, particularly in the first act as you watch all the the pieces fall into place. However, once it reaches the second half and in particular the climax, it pays off, but not in a way that is going to leave the audience at all satisfied. Not because the climax doesn’t pay off, it pays off alright, but the pay off is not exactly going to leave you blissfully happy once the credits begin to roll. No, it is instead going to mess with your mind.

 Unnerving to the maximum, but tremendous performances across the board result in an intriguing but ultimately extremely uncomfortable experience that doesn’t lend itself to repeat viewings.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

mother! (2017)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures and Protozoa Pictures

mother! – Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Synopsis: A married couple are in the middle of redecorating their home, living a quiet peaceful life, yet when some uninvited guests show up, their tranquil  lifestyle is changed forever…

Review: The wonder of film is that it can generate a considerable array of responses among audiences. A film can be inspirational viewing, it can leave you speechless in shock, it can make you very angry, and it can leave you wondering what on earth you just watched, leaving you thinking about the film for days afterwards. In the case of Darren Aronofsky, here’s a director who is not afraid to make some psychologically damaging stories that leave their mark on their audiences.

In his latest film, Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a wife and husband, neither of whom are really properly identified, known only as Mother and Him respectively. In a large house that is far too big for just the two of them, they live in quiet harmony with Mother decorating their house while Him is a poet, struggling to find his muse. However, their peaceful existence is ruined when a guest, Man (Harris) turns up unannounced. Mother is uncertain, but Him welcomes this visitor into their home. And when Man’s wife shows up (Pfeiffer) this is where everything gets really sinister.

To say this film is strange would be a severe understatement. Aronofsky reportedly wrote the screenplay in five days, which could imply that the story maybe a bit rushed, but this is for the most part, not the case. Though a slow burn in the initial act, once the guests start to arrive is when things go south very quickly. Right from the first shot, the tone is creepy and sinister with some very vivid imagery, and metaphors that can be open to many different interpretations. Be warned, some of the imagery is macabre,and deeply unsettling at times. The very unequivocal undertone that is at the centre of this story will either infuriate or mesmerise, as is evident by the boos and cheers that greeted the movie in equal measure at its Venice Film Festival debut. Divisive in every sense of the word.

With her Hunger Games days now long behind her, Jennifer Lawrence continues to show her considerable acting credentials by giving a haunting , wounded performance, an Oscar nomination wouldn’t feel out of place. She is front and centre of the film, we witness many of the horrors in this film from her perspective. Bardem has shown in the past that he can portray a terrific villain but here, he’s a bit more nuanced, but still also gives an unsettling performance given the role he plays in the developing horror that we witness in this film. The rest of the cast also do their best to add to the ensuing tension, and that makes said tension almost palpable.

Aronofsky helms the film in a way that makes it deeply unsettling to watch, which is clearly what he was going for. The camerawork certainly helps to build the tension. However, the screenplay is so engaging it will ensure that you will be transfixed by the events you see on screen, and equally aghast. Yet at the same time, there’s something so intriguing behind the themes and ideas that drive this film. With metaphors about a plethora of topics aplenty, Aronofsky has made something that certainly will not be to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless, what he has crafted has ensured it will be dissected and analysed at films schools for years and years to come, and that’s no mean achievement.

You will probably either love it or hate it, bold but dark and unsettling storytelling with two haunted performances at its heart, a film that will leave a lasting impression on its audience, for better or for worse.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Scott Free Productions and TSG Entertainment

Alien: Covenant – Film Review

Cast:  Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo

Director:  Ridley Scott

Synopsis: The crew of the Covenant make course for a chartered planet that’s seemingly hospitable for humanity to colonise. Upon arrival however, they make a horrifying discovery that has them fighting for their lives…

Review: When you are the creator of a franchise that has made its mark on pop culture and was a game changer in the science fiction/horror genre, it always feels like there’s a certain amount of pressure when said director make a return to the franchise, as Ridley Scott certainly found out. The expectation that was on the shoulders of Ridley Scott when 2012’s Prometheus, the first film in a prequel series of events taking place before Scott’s 1979 classic. It was not the happiest of returns to the franchise for Scott, as the film’s divisive reaction can testify. However, for this newest instalment Scott decided to return to more familiar routes.

The year is 2104, and the crew of the Covenant are soundly asleep in their stasis chambers, destination planet Origae-6. Yet when disaster strikes and fatalities occur, newly appointed Captain Oram decides to change course and head for a new planet that looks perfect for them to colonise. But of course, once they land there and begin to have a look around, it’s not long before the crew realise something is very wrong and the members of the team are all locked in a desperate bid for survival against some Neomorphs who as to be expected, are looking to make a meal out of the crew, LITERALLY!

“Doctor, I think I might be a little unwell…”

Given that Scott is in many ways the founder of this franchise, it’s almost a given that the film will look visually mesmerising, and here he continues that trend. The production design and set direction are excellent, and the cinematography is all just wonderful to look at, but great visuals do not make a great film alone, you need to have some characters that you want to get on board with, and this is where the film falters a little bit. Many of the crew have so little development that you just don’t care about them, perhaps cos you know they’re just meat for the aliens. Thus you don’t have any sadness for the characters when they’re picked off. The death scenes are nowhere near as iconic, but Scott definitely throws in throwback moments that fans will undoubtedly enjoy. Chest popping death scene anyone?

That being said there are a few standout performances, most of all from Michael Fassbender in a dual role playing two versions of an android whose motivations you’re never quite sure whose side he’s really on. Katherine Waterston due to tragic circumstances at the film’s outset is fuelled by grief and anger, which makes her a character the audience can get on board with. When the shit goes down, she really delivers a wounded and powerful performance, in many ways, she’s the new Ripley, but not quite as badass, and Danny McBride really helps give the film a little sprinkle of humour.

I’ll make a meal out of you…

Much like Prometheus, the film’s script is a little choppy and does falter at times in the second act. You do get the feeling that there are certain plot points that perhaps ended up being edited out of the final product, but the overall script delivers a story that certainly fuses elements of Prometheus and the original Alien film in ways that should be appeasing to fans of the franchise. Whilst also bringing that  signature sci-fi gore that this franchise has become synonymous with. It’s similar in many ways to the films that have come before it, but as has been proven in the past, that is by no means a bad thing, and here it helps the film remain on course, and ensures it becomes a worthy addition to the franchise.

It doesn’t offer anything new to the franchise, but by fusing the best parts of Prometheus and Alien combined with an excellent dual performance from Fassbender, ensures it doesn’t become another disposable alien flick.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Life (2017)

Image is property of Skydance Media and Columbia Pictures

Life – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Synopsis: An international crew on the ISS capture what they believe to be the first sign of life from Mars. Yet upon examination, the extraterrestrial being they have found is not very hospitable…

Review: When you have the premise of a crew of human beings aboard a space station in space, and there are some aliens involved, it’s almost a certainty that this means doom and gloom for those poor souls on board. Aliens don’t tend to be the sort of beings that want to sit down and have a beer and natter about everyday life. Nope, they usually want your flesh and blood and that’s exactly what you get in this intriguing mesh of sci-fi meets horror meets thriller.

Indeed, this is a genre and a combination that is not exactly new to audiences, as it’s become a very trodden path down the years. As such there’s nothing truly revolutionary about the story, but it still manages to be suspenseful and gripping to watch. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of Deadpool fame do their best to try and add something new to the table and save for one scene where the Martian symbiote decides to make a meal out of a lab rat, it’s your standard Humans vs Alien set up, with the humans trying desperately to survive. The cast do their best but ultimately there’s very little flesh on the bones of the characters (not such good news for Mr ET in that case!) The acting is of a decent order, but there’s no standout performance from what is a very talented cast, which is a huge frustration.

Indeed the likes of the Alien trilogy and Gravity have set the bar of quality in this genre, the latter of which particularly when it comes to recreating the look and feel of a space environment.  The effects are well done, as is the production design and set decoration. Director Daniel Espinosa does make it feel as though you are in space, but given today’s technology, and after seeing what Cuaron managed to achieve with Gravity, this is not as jaw dropping as it perhaps once was. What this film does very well though is the tension. Through some very quick cut editing and some solid camerawork, the tension really begins to build when the alien is coming after the crew one by one, and the remaining crew work out their plan for survival, which isn’t exactly easy in such narrow hallways aboard a space station.

There are some memorable moments, and one death in particular that is particularly horrifying to watch that could perhaps cause one or two astronauts to have nightmares, but overall Life does not better the films that serve as its inspiration. The film does have some interesting things to say about humanity as a species and does offer up interesting questions as to what would the reaction of humanity be if we discovered life on a different planet that is not our own. An event that might well happen several decades from now, so should that event ever come to pass, perhaps this film can serve as a lesson.

  Suspenseful, gritty and visually impressive without a doubt, but a lack of memorable characters and originality prevents this from becoming a true classic of the extraterrestrial/space genre.