Archive for the Thriller Category

She Dies Tomorrow

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on August 1, 2020 by Mark Hobin

she_dies_tomorrowSTARS1.5Not one feature in 2020 was inspired by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  After all, movies this year were made well before our current situation.  Oh, I’m sure at some point in the future a ton of releases will be directly influenced by our dystopian state of affairs.  Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped us critics to carelessly reinterpret everything as a metaphor for Coronavirus disease.  This is the umpteenth film to be analyzed this way.  That may help make it seem more of the moment, but it also serves to emphasize that the narrative is extremely weak.  The constant threat of death we have faced over the past year coupled with state-mandated restrictions and economic shutdowns are so much worse than anything these entitled individuals have to endure.  Their life is a blissful utopia by comparison.

So a woman named Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) thinks she’s going to die tomorrow.  Amy expresses these feelings to her friend Jane (Jane Adams), who thinks she’s crazy at first.  Then Jane too thinks she’s going to die.  Jane likewise confides this to her brother Jason (Chris Messina) and his friends at a birthday party he’s throwing for his wife Susan (Katie Aselton).  Like a virus, soon they too are consumed by the same feeling.  This continues.  That’s the story.

Some readers may notice a similar preoccupation with how death spreads with esteemed titles like The Ring and It Follows. Those films are infinitely more interesting.  She Dies Tomorrow is burdened with a very low budget aesthetic.  The focus shifts from one character to another so we are introduced to several sullen types.  The personalities all suffer from an overwhelming sense of ennui and are largely depressing.  Everyone acts in a very naturalistic style without any concern for advancing the plot.  Knowledgeable fans may recognize actors Chris Messina, Josh Lucas, and Michelle Rodriguez who all appear in brief cameos, so I guess director Amy Seimetz must have called in a few favors.

Given the fact that not much of anything happens, conversation and mood are the whole point.  These are successful souls agonizing over a self-centered existential crisis.  People whine about insignificant problems they have intellectually created within their minds.  These thoughts have caused Amy to drink.  She also has just moved into a new home.  Poor thing!  She replays an oppressive version of Mozart’s “Lacrimosa (Reprise)” by Mondo Boys on a record player.  Yes, a vinyl record so she’s a privileged hipster.  She plays it over and over again to the point of irritation.  The characters mumble their dialogue.  Much of the script feels improvised.  Hallucinogenic flashing lights and overbearing sound design attempt to add interest.  Unfortunately, while the idea of death escalates, there’s no explanation as to why any of this is happening.  No resolution either.  Inexplicably, critical reaction has been positive.  I was completely bored by the entire affair.  When I wasn’t disinterested, I was slightly amused.  At times the production is so ostentatiously experimental, it borders on parody.   Despite the laughs, the experience was mostly tedious.

07-22-20

The Rental

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on July 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

rentalSTARS4You’ll reconsider the next time you decide to stay at an Airbnb after watching The Rental.  I mean when you think about it, moving into a stranger’s abode, even if only for a few days, is awkward.  It’s an intimate experience that requires trust.  This portrait presents insidious behaviors I may never shake.  But isn’t that what effective horror does?  Introduce fears that now haunt you.  I mean Hitchcock made the simple act of taking a shower scary.  2020 has had no shortage of horror films and wouldn’t ya know it.  This is a review for yet another.  Don’t write this off as an average release from the genre.  This one is quite good.

Our tale concerns two couples vacationing together for a weekend.  There’s Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and then there’s Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand). Josh and Charlie are brothers.  Mina and Charlie are business partners.  It sounds a little convoluted but as developments unfold, the relationships feel organic.  The connections help explain the familiarity that everyone has with each other.

The “rental” of the title refers to a glorious ocean view estate along the Oregon Coast.  The property is available to rent for anyone looking to get away.  Well, actually Mina’s application to lodge there is denied until Charlie’s is approved.  Did the fact that her full name is Mina Mohammadi have anything to do with that?  The group wonders.  That’s the first, but certainly not the last, disconcerting situation our foursome encounters.  Josh insists on bringing his bulldog even though there is a distinct no-pets rule.  That doesn’t bode well either.  Upon arrival at the house, they meet their host, a good ol’ boy named Taylor (Toby Huss).  The creepy passive-aggressive conversation they have with him has unsettling undercurrents that set the tone for their stay.

The Rental is the directorial debut from actor Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, Now You See Me) and it is a surprisingly assured and accomplished effort.  Beautifully filmed, effectively acted, and well-plotted ….up to a point.  This horror saga is an efficient 88 minutes.  I dare say the first two-thirds had me thinking this was more of a psychological thriller along the lines of something Hitchcock might do.  A lot of the credit must also go to the king of mumblecore Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) who brings his talent for natural dialogue to the screenplay he co-wrote with Dave Franco.  An interesting schism is introduced after a disagreement arises over whether to take recreational drugs that first evening.

The cracks that exist within their respective relationships underscore the subsequent events.  College dropout Josh has already expressed reservations that he feels he isn’t good enough for wildly successful tech entrepreneur Mina.  These thoughts weigh on his mind.  Co-workers Charlie and Mina are back at the mansion dealing with a hangover from the previous night.  Meanwhile, Josh and Michelle have a deep discussion while the two are out walking together in the woods that same morning.  Josh drops some revelations.  Michelle begins to doubt Charlie’s faithfulness after being confronted with a disturbing pattern in his past relationships.

The Rental holds a brilliant set-up that could have gone any number of ways.  I must tread lightly for fear of spoilers but the uneasy feelings are further compounded by a shocking discovery they make on the property they are renting.  Unfortunately, the end isn’t — shall we say — as intellectually sophisticated as the beginning.  In fact, the narrative devolves into a completely different film.  I admit I enjoyed both of them.  What ultimately happens is still exciting.  Just a wee bit anticlimactic after the impressive setup I relished before.

The Old Guard

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Thriller with tags on July 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

old_guardSTARS3The Old Guard isn’t winning any Oscars but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.  I am a movie critic, not a film “snob”.  Of course, that word means different things to different people.  For some, a snob will actually scorn blatant Oscar bait so I probably shouldn’t get too bogged down in labels.  I only contest that I have a love for many types of flicks even when I critique a release for its obvious flaws.  Critics rightfully want to champion works that promote character development but movies that simply indulge on a purely visceral level are often negated.

There was an era (the 1980s) that genre films of this type routinely succeeded and the perspective changed.  An action-packed screenplay could also support interesting characters that kept us on the edge of our seats. First Blood (1982), The Terminator (1984), Die Hard (1988) and Point Break (1991) are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.  The passage of time has only cemented these thrilling classics in the pantheon.  It’s easy to defend these endeavors as cinematic touchstones now but it wasn’t in the age they came out.  The Old Guard seeks to delight that same audience.  This production doesn’t come anywhere close to achieving the heights of those aforementioned titles but there is a glimmer here of what made them great.

The chronicle concerns an impressive team of soldiers for hire that goes on a revenge mission.  The difference is that these mercenaries are immortal.  Charlize Theron plays Andy also known as Andromache of Scythia.  She’s a centuries-old leader of a band of warriors and she’s perfectly cast.  Theron exhibited a desire for such projects when she did Æon Flux 15 years ago but it’s really only been in the last 5 years that she has presented herself as a serious action star.  Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, The Fate of the Furious, and now this.  Theron’s unflinching portrayal is one of the high points.

I crave a story.  These roles are difficult because they’re largely defined by fight choreography and not the depth of nuance in the acting department.  In fact, the ability to show little to no emotion is usually desired.  That’s exactly what Andy is — a killing machine with a consistently grave demeanor.  She barely comes across as human. Showing more character development is a woman named Nile Freeman played by KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) who was a former US Marine who discovers she is an immortal as well.  Her journey as a new addition to the team is emotionally compelling.  The appealing cast also includes actors Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Their presence, as well as others, ensures the audience is treated to a captivating ensemble of personalities.

The Old Guard is actually adapted from a graphic novel so if you suffer from what I call “comic-book movie fatigue” this may not be your cup of tea.   It can be a bit formulaic but the fight sequences are indeed dynamic.  Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has only helmed three films since her directorial debut Love & Basketball in 2000.  The Secret Life of Bees (2008), and Beyond the Lights (2014) followed.  Each work is satisfying.  The Old Guard is a big hit on Netflix so perhaps this will be the moment that finally catapults a career that spans two decades.  It has a fantastical superhero element to it.  Given the silliness of the premise, I would’ve appreciated a little more humor though.  Why so serious?  Nevertheless, if you’re looking to be entertained for 125 minutes, this should fit the bill.

07-13-20

Shirley

Posted in Biography, Drama, Thriller with tags on July 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

shirleySTARS2It’s now considered a classic, but when Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery was originally published in the New Yorker back in 1948 it was extremely controversial. Readers called it “outrageous,” “gruesome,” and “utterly pointless”. Most people were confused by the fable. In a similar fashion, this movie appears to seek the same reaction from viewers.  Shirley unfolds like one of her tales.

Shirley is a completely fictionalized biography of the acclaimed American writer.  Shirley Jackson was an actual person.  The author is well known for horror and mystery.  The Lottery became one of the most frequently anthologized short stories in English.  It’s essentially mandatory reading in the U.S. curriculum so chances are you were forced to read it in school.  That’s not a dig. I agree it’s an effective composition that evokes dread, but * full disclosure * my introduction to it was involuntary.   Another work of hers includes The Haunting of Hill House which has been adapted to film in both 1963 and again in 1999.

Shirley, however, isn’t really about anything that concerns those contributions.  Actually, the facts of this story are a humorous detail.  The movie, directed by Josephine Decker, is adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell.  In what I assume was an innovative attempt to make the career of Shirley Jackson more interesting, her life and that of her husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) has been reimagined.  Jackson is suffering from depression, unable to write.  She rarely leaves her bedroom.  Stanley invites a couple — Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman) — to come to live with them in North Bennington to help out.  This situation inspires Jackson to write a book.  There is some validity.  Shirley was a married author who released a novel called Hangsaman.  The screenplay fictitiously envisions that piece was inspired by this arrangement.  However, the rest of the narrative including the very existence of this couple is made up.  I’m all for creative license, but why in this case?  Was the truth even more dreary?  If the writers had been a slave to authenticity perhaps there might be some excuse for the banality of this tale. Yet this is a complete fabrication where the writer could have created any number of scenarios in which to delight the audience.  The fabrication they chose didn’t do it for me.

Shirley is such a bizarre film because it seems to eschew the basic qualities that make a captivating picture.  The central protagonist isn’t likable, it moves at a snail’s pace and nothing particularly exciting happens.  Elisabeth Moss conspicuously goes the actorly route by sporting unkempt hair and a pair of unflattering spectacles.  How closely her behavior matches the real author is not something I am qualified to review.   I know what I find entertaining, however, and this ain’t it.  I’ll concede that Moss is good.  She perfectly affects a decidedly unique personality so her achievement is effective on that level.  A devotee of the author could easily imagine that the actual woman might be a dark person.  However, in this portrait, she isn’t a subject that you’d want to construct an entire production around.

An amusing addendum.  I recognize that Shirley Jackson’s most famous work was originally published in the New Yorker in 1948.  That esteemed magazine was a pioneer in giving the author significant attention.  The periodical could well be considered her very first fan.  That “weekly” publication (47 times annually) still exists and continues to review films as well.  Their numerical assessment of this movie?  40/100 according to Metacritic.com.  Ouch! And I thought I was being harsh.

06-09-20

7500

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller with tags on June 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

sevenfivezerozero_ver2STARS2.5Airborne thriller concerns the hijacking of a plane by Islamic terrorists.  Add this to the growing list in the aviation genre that includes movies like Airport, Alive, and Final Destination.  This is definitely one selection that will never become a part of your  in-flight entertainment.  Count your blessings.   That’s a good thing in this case.  The narrative is efficient in the extreme as the drama ultimately becomes a two-hander between one pilot (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and one terrorist named Vedat (Omid Memar).

Our central protagonist is Tobias, an American co-pilot on a flight traveling from Berlin to Paris.  A small group of Islamic extremists — and I’ll clarify, I counted 3 — attempt to take over the aircraft.  Their weapons of choice are shards of broken glass.  Writer-director Patrick Vollrath was previously nominated for an Oscar in 2016 for his live-action short Everything Will Be Okay.  He makes his feature directorial debut with this economical drama.  That’s a nice way of saying the entire picture is completely set in one room — the cockpit of a plane.   To say this drama is claustrophobic would be an understatement.

7500 creates a harrowing scenario so there is tension but it’s unpleasant without being engaging.  All of the exciting moments occur in the first half.  The hijackers make demands.  People are threatened.  The navigator is conflicted.  Then our attention begins to wane as Vollrath seems to repeat the cycle with more of the same.  Joseph Gordon Levitt does his best with substandard material.   However, the characters are superficially detailed.  I mean they’re people so we care because they represent human life but the screenplay is unable to afford them any depth.  They aren’t relatable or interesting.  Director Paul Greengrass tackled very similar material in an infinitely better way with United 93.  My recommendation is to watch it instead if you haven’t seen that far superior film already.   You would do best to skip this….unless you happen to be a Joseph Gordon-Levitt completist.

06-20-20

The Vast of Night

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on June 1, 2020 by Mark Hobin

vast_of_night_ver2STARS3The camera slowly enters a black and white TV set.  We overhear a familiar-sounding narration and are presented with opening titles that recall Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.  The narrative gradually morphs into color.  It mostly stays this way, but every so often it turns black and white again as an affectionate reminder of the homage.  Director Andrew Patterson retro ode recreates a 1950s mood that concerns a mysterious sound that bewilders two teens.  There’s switchboard operator Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) and the comparatively more worldly DJ Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) at local station WOTW.  The Vast of Night is set in the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico and it’s certainly an impeccably fashioned period piece.  The portrait has been lovingly put together.  Although I’m surprised no one associated with this production realized that call letters for radio stations west of the Mississippi begin with a ‘K’.

The Vast of Night has a beguiling approach.  All of the events take place after dark.  The initial dialogue is delivered at a breakneck pace and it can be hard to follow at first.  During the first 30 minutes, the meandering introduction felt especially unfocused.  Stick with it though because this is superfluous exposition.  The proper story doesn’t even begin until half an hour later when Fay hears a bizarre audio frequency coming through the electronic circuits.  She forwards the intonations to Everett who plays it on the air.  The strange humming noise is identified by a disabled veteran named Billy (Bruce Davis).  The phone caller conveys his experiences in an extended auditory sequence.  Later on, the duo travels to meet an elderly woman named Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer).  She too recounts her experiences with the same sonic vibrations in another static shot.  Her verbose monologue is a long-winded sequence that may test the patience of most viewers.

The Vast of Night is a gloomy drama built solely around an enigmatic reverberation.  Evidence suggests a conspiracy theory involving a military experiment.  Most of what makes this saga compelling is its commitment to a B movie atmosphere.  However — save for a few showy unbroken tracking shots — the assemblage is not particularly cinematic. The film is regrettably centered entirely around the recollections of two loquacious individuals: Billy and then Mabel. Their lengthy monologues would be perfect vignettes for a popular radio program. That is before TV became the dominant entertainment medium in the 1950s. The interludes are not the most visually captivating. Some have labeled this release science-fiction but honestly, this extremely low budget tale is more mystery than anything else. It isn’t until the final 10 minutes that the feature ultimately succumbs to a spectacle that deems it as sci-fi. It’s unquestionably a powerful ending to a protracted buildup but its effectiveness also serves to underscore another insight. It’s at that moment we the audience suspect the film’s lo-fi aesthetic was more due to a lack of finances than art.

05-29-20

The Lodge

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on May 17, 2020 by Mark Hobin

lodgeSTARS3When horror movies are bad, they are intolerable.  For me, that includes slasher flicks that solely exist to show blood and guts.  On the other hand, when they appeal to our psychological fears, they can be fascinating.  The Lodge comes from directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.  They seem to specialize in what aficionados call arthouse horror:  Under the Skin (2013), The Witch (2015), and Midsommar are recent examples.  The genre is not for all tastes but if you enjoyed the Austrian filmmaking duo’s admittedly far superior feature debut Goodnight Mommy (2014) then this is a decent followup to that production.

This is a portrait that capitalizes on the emotional state of a person.  The tale concerns two children Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh).  They have been forced to spend Christmas at the family’s remote chalet in the mountains of Massachusetts with their father Richard (Richard Armitage) and his girlfriend Grace portrayed by an excellent Riley Keough.  The mood is grim because the kids’ mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone) has recently committed suicide upon learning that Richard intends to wed Grace.  While at the cabin, Richard the father responds to a work obligation, insensitively leaving Grace alone with the kids.  Empathy is clearly not one of this guy’s strong suits.  The “evil” stepmother is a trope, but Grace seems nice.  However, the children are understandably antagonistic toward her.  This stranger has ostensibly replaced their mom in their father’s life.  Some additional backstory, Grace was raised within a cult when she was a child.   She happens to be the only survivor of a mass suicide carried out by that group.  The underlying unease — inspired by that disturbing event — plays a significant part in the ensuing drama.   Let’s just say Grace is still dealing with some unresolved issues.

The inability to interact with our fellow man is genuinely lamentable.  As we currently shelter in place for the third month, the horror of social isolation has become a reality.  Whether it’s been enforced upon us by the state (COVID-19) or in a situation in which we have inadvertently placed ourselves (this movie), confinement can divide families.  Stepmom Grace (Riley Keough) is simply trying to coexist with her fiancé’s progeny.  The Lodge also involves physical deprivation.  Their dwelling soon loses power and heat.  That further adds to the ongoing tension.  Is this merely a matter of faulty utilities or is there something more sinister lurking beneath the surface?

Arthouse horror takes its time to progress.  It relies less on violent circumstances and more on a deliberate pace to intensify despair.  What I most appreciate about The Lodge is you can’t predict what’s going to occur at any moment.  The chronicle effectively exploits a creepy and unnerving atmosphere.  I truly admire that quality.  The narrative style captivates the viewer much in the same way that slow-burn storytelling snags an audience.  Plot developments unfold ever so slowly.  These characters aren’t keen on conversation but rest assured it’s all gradually building toward an explosive finale.  Before that happens, the anxiety is nerve-shredding.  I’ve purposely kept the specifics vague because more details would spoil the fun.  However, I will admit the account is seriously flawed.  There are some unexplored ideas the story could have considered.  The Lodge is a film of missed opportunities to be sure.  However, I was captivated throughout the saga and that’s saying something.

02-25-20

Disappearance at Clifton Hill

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on May 8, 2020 by Mark Hobin

disappearance_at_clifton_hillSTARS3After her mother’s death, a troubled young woman named Abby (Tuppence Middleton) returns to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.  She has recently inherited the Rainbow Inn, a family-owned motel in the city’s tourist trap town of Clifton Hill.  While there, the experience dredges up some long-suppressed memories from when she was 7-years-old and witnessed the kidnapping of a boy with a bandaged eye.

Sounds like the basis of a fascinating film, right?  It should’ve been.  However, too many developments prevented me from embracing this complicated tale.  Let’s start with the fact that Abby now finally decides to investigate this crime 25 years after she was aware of it.  That’s the first of many unexplained situations.  One or two is a mysterious curiosity, but ten or more becomes a muddled head-scratcher.

Director Albert Shin is clearly influenced by the work of David Lynch.  It’s a bit unfair because the work of his idol can be so unbelievably abstract that it almost defies critique.  On the contrary, Shin’s endeavor is rooted much more in traditional storytelling.  Because of this, we expect a certain amount of coherence.  The mystery is pretty convoluted.  A traumatic memory triggered by the return to one’s hometown is a solid foundation to sustain any great thriller.  I was immediately drawn into the production and enjoyed it up to a point.

Interestingly, Albert Shin along with co-writer James Schultz introduces one embellishment on top of another.   While in Clifton Hill, Abby is reunited with her estranged younger sister, Laure (Hannah Gross).  Apparently, Abby is a compulsive liar.  Laure understandably doesn’t believe a single word her sister says.  This is something we discover for ourselves when Abby arrives in town.  She immediately picks up some random man (Andy McQueen) in a bar.  Their awkward exchange results in a failed connection.  Nonetheless, they unexpectedly meet again when she contacts the police department.  Surprise!  He’s a police officer too.

Matters then become more tortuous.  Abby’s investigation turns up an array of various personalities.  Another person of interest is a bizarre character named Bev Mole (Elizabeth Saunders) who mysteriously holds her incapacitated husband (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) like a prisoner.  How’s about an additional complication?  We’re informed that Abby had been in Phoenix, Arizona for the past 18 months while pretending to have retrograde amnesia.  This is about the time I checked out of this perplexing mess.

These ongoing concerns about Abby’s psychological stability are such a distraction.  The mind tends to wander when faced with an incoherent plot.  I couldn’t help but notice how Tuppence Middleton is similar in appearance to actress Rooney Mara who happens to have a sister (Kate Mara) who also acts.  This would’ve been a perfect project for the two of them.  That’s neither here nor there.  Tuppence Middleton is talented and a solid thespian in her own right.

Some of the characters are pretty exceptional.  There’s a couple of cheesy magicians that are fond of tigers.  The Magnificent Moulins are portrayed by Paulino Nunes and a stellar Marie-Josée Croze.  Her overtly theatrical achievement belongs in a campier feature.  Let me be clear, Croze’s performance is an absolute joy.   She injected some much-needed levity in this pseudo serious drama.  Oh, and speaking of iconic directors like David Lynch, how about a different David — Cronenberg that is — who pops up as Walter Bell, one of the longtime residents.  He portrays a local historian, deals in conspiracy theories, and hosts a podcast.  He delightfully enters the flick while scuba diving for sunken relics at the bottom of the falls.  He also owns a diner called Flying Saucer Restaurant that is just about the kitschiest eatery I’ve ever seen.  Turns out it isn’t a set but rather a genuine place.  If I’m ever in Niagara Falls, Ontario, I plan on stopping by.

It would appear the screenwriters didn’t know where they wanted the narrative to go.  Let’s simply throw in everything but the kitchen sink.  Music and mood are the movie’s considerable strengths.   What elevates this neo-noir is the eerie and immersive ambiance that sustains the piece.  As weird as it is, I kind of wanted to visit Clifton Hill.  The original score by Alexander Sowinski and Leland Whitty is an avant-garde jazz piece featuring woodwinds and brass to create a creepy atmosphere.  It’s so effective. I would begrudgingly give this release a pass.  However truth be told, most people will probably be frustrated by the disjointed story.

05-05-20

Extraction

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller with tags on April 29, 2020 by Mark Hobin

extraction_netflixSTARS2A very wise person once said, “It’s not what you know.  It’s who you know.”  Extraction proves the adage still holds.  Director Sam Hargrave has been an enduring presence in Hollywood ever since 2005 when he did stunts for the WB TV series Supernatural.  However, I suspect it was his connections as a stunt coordinator for the 3 Marvel films (Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame ) the Russo brothers directed that ultimately led to this job.  Joe Russo even wrote the screenplay that supports Sam’s directorial debut.  Is this a story that will captivate your attention?  Let’s just say if action and stunts are more important to you than plot, then this will be an absolute treat.

Chris Hemsworth plays a black market mercenary.  It’s hard to feel too much concern for an individual that is seemingly invincible.  John J. Rambo exhibited more vulnerability.  Rest assured that this is a drama where even getting shot in the neck may not be a life-threatening injury.  The main character is a writer’s creation.  There’s an amusing bit of foreshadowing early on when Tyler unceremoniously slams someone’s head face down onto a steel rake.  The scene is brief, but halfway through the picture, we learn that this guy’s full name is Tyler RAKE.  Hats off to those who have already seen the movie and made this connection.  Anyway, he is hired to rescue Ovi Jr., (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) a teen who happens to be the kidnapped son of India’s biggest drug lord Ovi Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi).

This hazardous mission requires Tyler to transport the young boy out of Dhaka, Bangladesh which —  from the looks of this production — has got to be one of the worst places on Earth.  Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (The Usual Suspects, Drive) is a talented individual but here he chooses to film the events through a yellow filter that gives everything in this country a grimy haze.  The overall effect is off-putting.  I suppose it’s a superficial way to make the air appear unhealthy.  Extraction does for Bangladesh what The Hangover Part II did for Thailand.  I can safely bet the Bangladesh Tourism Board will not be endorsing this release.

This is an exceptionally violent production — the kind of generic shoot-em-up that dually redefines the word disposable.  First, in terms of memorability.  See this once and then forget about it immediately after, but also in the way it treats humanity.  A lot of people are murdered and every human life extinguished is treated with the same emotional weight of swatting a fly.  Nevertheless, the duplicitous script still manages to sprinkle little bits of “poignant” information throughout the movie to make sure the audience feels something (anything) for this character.  Tyler is haunted by the memory of his own young son, who died of leukemia while Tyler was away on an assignment in Afghanistan.  Normally that would be troubling, sure.  The thing is, it’s hard to sympathize with his love for one life when he’s responsible for so many deaths.

As many hunker down during shelter in place, Netflix has been the go-to source of entertainment for 60 million people in the US.  Now more than ever there are plenty of options but the streaming service has proven to be one of the most popular.  Netflix has made its Top 10 programs become a matter of public record.  I’m a pop culture fanatic which is akin to being a cultural anthropologist.  I’m fascinated by the things that end up in the #1 position.  Extraction is a big hit and so I watch what becomes part of the zeitgeist.

I wouldn’t have paid to see this in a theater.  Yet that’s exactly where a product like this would be best experienced.  That’s where connoisseurs of this stuff can appreciate all the explosions, carnage, and destruction on a widescreen in full digital sound.  Sadly fans will never get that chance.  Extraction was released to Netflix on April 24th and the title promptly shot to #1.  I’m not surprised.  It stars Chris Hemsworth.  I too think the actor exhibits charisma when he plays Thor so I figured if he’s starring in this, how bad could it be?   The answer is…extremely.

04-24-20

Vivarium

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 8, 2020 by Mark Hobin

vivarium_ver2STARS2.5Before March 2020, a science fiction-themed work like Vivarium would’ve been just another riff on a Twilight Zone episode.  Ok, I’ll concede that it utilizes a premise stretched preciously thin by its feature-length.  Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) are a young couple that go house hunting.  A peculiarly unsettling real estate agent, named Martin (Jonathan Aris)  introduces them to a residential tract development called Yonder that takes cookie-cutter housing to its conformist extreme.  Martin leads them into house #9.  They go inside. They chat for a short while and suddenly * poof * he’s gone.  They attempt to leave themselves but get lost in Yonder’s labyrinth of similar-looking roads.  After a while, they run out of gas.  Now they are compelled to spend the night.  The nightmare has begun.

Vivarium is a pessimistic ordeal about two individuals trapped at home.  Tensions arise due to the oppression of their forced isolation.  Occasionally there are incidents that will pique the viewers’ interest.   Early on the couple awake to discover a box with a living infant boy inside.  The instructions on the box read: “Raise the child and be released.”  The perplexing occurrence continues to lull the viewer into a state of unease.  The misery of parenthood is definitely a theme but it’s made worse by their confinement and inability to escape.  Their involuntary restriction to interact with anyone else adds to their growing hysteria.  Director Lorcan Finnegan has co-written a story with Garret Shanley about a civilization where personal freedoms have been eroded.

Vivarium‘s existentialist horror is admittedly helped by admirable production design.  Philip Murphy creates a maze of generic green monopoly houses that stretch endlessly unto the horizon.  The vivid color palette is quite effective.  However, no amount of style can obscure the fact that this is simply a movie about two people constrained to stay at home with an unruly child.  Can anyone relate?  The point could have been conveyed in a 10 minute short.  Yet Vivarium cruelly hammers the same objective for a full 98-minute feature.   The film is not only a descent into hell for the couple but for us the audience as well.  Let’s get down to brass tacks.  A month ago I might’ve found this to be an amusing — albeit implausible — bit of fantasy about a dystopian society.  At this moment in time, it feels strangely prescient.  Timing is everything in life.  Regardless, it doesn’t matter when this bit of hokum was unleashed onto the public.  It’s not powerful.  This a case where sadly real life is stranger (and a lot bleaker) than fiction.

04-06-20