Archive for the Thriller Category

Synchronic

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synchronic is one of those films that is conveniently described as “interesting” and it’s unclear whether you mean it as a compliment. The ambiguous word is perfection because it fits this movie to a T. Steve and Dennis (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) are paramedics in New Orleans who also happen to be best friends. They encounter a rash of unusual deaths in their line of work. A new designer drug called Synchronic is the common thread that unites all of the cases. It would appear this drug — which is sold in single-dose packets — might have otherworldly powers. When his partner’s daughter Brianna goes missing, Steve investigates.

The narrative is a slow starter. The first half establishes the close relationship between the central duo. It’s nice to see their bond is a positive depiction of male friendship. However, both men are adrift in their everyday lives, occasionally turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. Anthony Mackie’s character is a ladies’ man that has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jamie Dornan portrays a man who had difficulty meeting women in the past (!) but is now married with two kids. He’s currently having marital problems. When the pair confront a series of bizarre fatalities in their job, it unfolds like a crime drama, disseminated in fragments using a piecemeal approach.

The second half improves. Steve becomes the hero as it concerns his investigation into the whereabouts of Brianna. His EMT partner Dennis is mostly sidelined. Dennis’ vague personality lacks a compelling identity anyway. Steve’s experimentation with Synchronic is intriguing. Here the chronicle starts to connect the threads of the grisly murders we witnessed before. These developments provide some much-needed clarification in a picture heretofore wallowing in existential gloom. The script plays with the idea that sometimes nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “The past f—–g sucks, man!” Steve cries out at one point.

This is the fourth feature from filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Scott Moorhead who specialize in quirky features (Spring, The Endless) that blend sci-fi with horror. Synchronic debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 but didn’t get released to the public until after Project Power and Tenet. It feels like an amalgamation of those movies but through a low-budget indie B-movie aesthetic. Synchronic is a real downer of a film. Not a criticism. Just a fact. Nevertheless, its aimless meandering feels somewhat pointless until that mic drop of an ending involving a troubling sacrifice. The “good old days” are a misnomer. “Be thankful you live in the present” is the veiled admonition presented in its final scene. Fair enough. However I suspect a hundred years from today, someone will make a similar movie condemning our current era.

04-19-21

The Shadow of Violence

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on April 18, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Selecting the right title for a film is an artistic decision. In the UK this production was poetically released as Calm with Horses — based on the short story of the same name by Irish writer Colin Barrett. This is what the movie was called everywhere. Everywhere except in the US, where it was changed to The Shadow of Violence. So bland. That generic title always escapes me.

Thankfully the picture itself is anything but forgettable. The debut feature from director Nick Rowland is skillfully composed and self-assured. It deserves a bigger audience. Inexplicably it was dropped in U.S. theaters last year on July 31, 2020, during the economic shutdown. Given that most theaters were closed, it isn’t surprising that few Americans saw it. Then it debuted on Netflix on January 21, 2021. To be honest, this still wasn’t even on my radar until the April 11th BAFTAs where it garnered an impressive four nominations.

The chronicle concerns an ex-boxer (Cosmo Jarvis) who works as the muscle for the Devers, a drug-dealing family in rural Ireland. Despite his rough exterior Douglas — whose nickname is Arm — is a sympathetic soul. He’s trying to break away from the negative influence of his troublemaking chum (Barry Keoghan). Arm wants to concentrate on being a good father to his 5-year-old autistic son Jack. Calm with Horses refers to the peace that Jack finds when he’s engaged in equestrian pursuits. Arm’s loyalties are tested when the Devers clan asks him to kill someone.

Actor Cosmo Jarvis is impressive in the lead. His memorable performance is full of passion and nuance . Arm is a man conflicted between his son vs. his loyalty to violent mobsters. Choosing the right path is complicated. The Devers took him in at a low point in his life. He feels like he owes them. Jarvis is compelling even though he did not pick up a BAFTA nomination. Actor Barry Keoghan did. He portrays his violent buddy Dymphna. Actress Niamh Algar playing his estranged girlfriend Ursula did as well. She is also the mother to his son.

Other cast members may have reaped more accolades, but it’s Jarvis that seizes our attention. Douglas may look like a massive brute, but his appearance belies a sensitive and tender personality. The difference in size between the hulking Cosmo Jarvis and the diminutive Barry Keoghan sort of gave me a George and Lennie vibe from Of Mice and Men. This is exceptionally bleak and depressing, a somewhat atypical view of Ireland. It takes a while for the narrative to take shape. Once it does, it’s a captivating character-driven drama with several authentic performances.

04-14-21

Godzilla vs. Kong

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 1, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You’d think a movie with the title Godzilla vs. Kong would be pretty self-explanatory. Not hard to understand, right? Well, you’d be wrong. This is the fourth entry in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse — a comprehensive series featuring Godzilla and King Kong. Like Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, the filmmakers have decided to devise a needlessly complicated backstory to connect it to the previous installments. This directly draws upon the setup in Kong: Skull Island (2017) as well as Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). I just want to see two beasts face off in the biggest beatdown in history. Can I?

The answer is yes, you can….after suffering through 40 minutes of exposition that weaves a lot of convoluted details that connect the stories of the earlier chapters into this one. This includes a discussion of “Hollow Earth” That is the idea that the center of the planet has an excavated space with other titans living within. Devoted viewers may recall this was brought up in Kong: Skull Island. The Skull Crawlers from that feature also make a brief appearance here too. Hollow Earth was likewise discussed in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Godzilla is using subterranean tunnels to swim across the globe. Just quickly tell me, but don’t subject me to nearly an hour of talking heads pontificating about the idea. It’s a tortuous set of details that is bewilderingly hard to follow. News flash: Your movie is called Godzilla vs. Kong. If I wanted a confusing scientific explanation I’ll watch Primer. Director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) doesn’t seem to grasp the idea that audiences don’t require laborious clarifications in a monster flick. One line from Rebecca Hall as Dr. Ilene Andrews explains it perfectly: the rivalry between these two beastly kings is rooted in a historical feud traversing centuries to an epic Titan War. Their hate spans generations. Got it. That’s all I needed to know.

The title is about creatures, but the screenplay written by Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) and Max Borenstein (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) is frustratingly all about the people. They deliver their lines in blunt simplistic declarations. Alexander Skarsgård is Dr. Nathan Lindof of the Monarch corporation. Monarch is the secret scientific organization created to study these huge beasts. With his matinee-idol good looks, Nathan is handsome but very capable. Rebecca Hall is Dr. Ilene Andrews, the beautiful but still extremely brilliant anthropological linguist who’s been trying to communicate with Kong with little success. Surprise! It’s Ilene’s adopted daughter who has established a rapport that she cannot. Jia is an eight-year-old orphan — cute as a button — who happens to be an Iwi native that forms an unusual bond with Kong.

Sorry, the humans are uninteresting. Nevertheless, actress Kaylee Hottle as Jia is possibly the human MVP of the ensemble. As if her character wasn’t already precious enough, she is a deaf/mute actress that communicates through sign language. The contrast between the diminutive Jia communicating with the larger-than-life Kong is the closest thing you’ll get to poignancy in this undertaking. If a tribal girl with seemingly magical abilities isn’t a predictable trope, I don’t know what is. There’s also Brian Tyree Henry as a quirky conspiracy theorist who joins forces with two precocious kids played by Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison. The random tangent of their story arc promises a Goonies-esque adventure that never materializes in any meaningful way. But who cares? None of this nonsense is crucial to the plot anyway. Demián Bechir portrays Walter Simmons, the tech founder of Apex Cybernetics. He’s an evil billionaire (Is there any other kind?). He has a sexy adult daughter embodied by rising star Eiza González. She’s a top-tier executive but is fond of wearing tight fitting clothing that doesn’t highlight her intelligence. Apex Cybernetics is responsible for creating Mechagodzilla, a man-made weapon designed to destroy Godzilla. Later Bechir’s character selects a Japanese employee (Shun Oguri) to pilot the man-made contraption. I don’t write this stuff folks. I merely review it.

Luckily the picture is smart enough to know that we came here for the battles and there are a couple of doozies. The first one is under the sea where Godzilla has the upper hand. But the second one begins in the hollow earth where Kong realizes that this might be his ancestral home. It’s here that he picks up an ax made from a spike off the back of Godzilla’s ancestors . The second showdown ultimately occurs when Kong jumps through a portal to meet Godzilla. They end up in the streets of Hong Kong. The setting amongst the buildings with neon outlines resembles a disco nightclub. It’s in these moments that Godzilla vs. Kong redeems itself into the movie you came to see.

There was a time when I enjoyed these nonsensical fight fests without giving a care. I often wonder how I would’ve reacted to a flick such as this when I was 5. Back then, they utilized actual people in suits. That would have been preferable. Here the CGI fest feels more like a cartoon than an organic meeting of physical enemies. Welcome to 2021. Another peculiarity of the 21st century is that insidery callbacks to earlier episodes are considered more of a priority than simply telling a coherent story. Only diehard fans will recognize every single one of these “easter eggs” inserted into the dense narrative. Ah but that is the current state of cinema. Speaking of which, this was simultaneously released for free to subscribers on HBO Max and in theaters in the U.S. Given our current reality, it’s obvious most people will see this on a TV. That’s fine. Even IMAX can’t fix a bad script. At least the production has a sense of humor. The quirky soundtrack emphasizes selections that perfectly describe the scene. “Over The Mountain, Across The Sea” by Bobby Vinton, Elvis Presley’s “Loving Arms”, “Breaking The Law” by Judas Priest, and “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies all play at key intervals. I chuckled at how the lyrics perfectly encapsulate the action on screen. Godzilla vs. Kong is by no means a good movie, but it’s moments like these that remind me it can still be fun. At this juncture in time, that just might be enough.

03-31-21

The Mauritanian

Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on March 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The story of what happened to Mohamedou Ould Salahi is a troubling tale that details a shocking abuse of human rights.

The Mauritanian is based on his memoir Guantánamo Diary published in January 2015. Salahi was detained on suspicion of being involved with the planning of the September 11 attacks. The story begins when he is apprehended at a wedding back in his home country. The case against him includes a lot of ties to various people who were indeed involved. However, the evidence implicating him is circumstantial. Clear-cut proof that Salahi himself had anything to do with 9/11 is lacking. Part of the film details his experiences at the prison as well as his interactions with other inmates. The constant demands made upon him to give a confession grow more and more intense. It is an emotional portrait that humanizes the man and stokes our anger over the way he is treated. Tahar Rahim stars as Salahi. He elevates the production with a powerful performance that draws us into his plight.

The chronicle is also a legal drama that features his defense team. Jodie Foster is criminal defense lawyer Nancy Hollander and her associate Teri Duncan is portrayed by Shailene Woodley. Doubts over whether their client is culpable keep coming up. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch on the side of the prosecution. His desire to get a conviction is balanced with a need to make sure they have the right man. Even though everyone seems conflicted, we the audience are not. Salahi’s innocence is implied at the beginning so coming to terms with his guilt or lack thereof is never a conundrum. The Mauritanian is pretty clear-cut in its presentation that the U.S. government failed.

This is a disturbing movie. Salahi was ultimately held for fourteen years in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp from 2002 until his release in 2016 without ever being charged. That prison is infamous for the inhumane treatment that detainees experienced there. This movie climaxes with torture. The picture is noble in its intentions to bring a grave injustice to light but it’s hard to watch at times. I didn’t need to see graphic abuse to know bad things happened there. Director Kevin Macdonald famously directed The Last King of Scotland which brilliantly demonstrated how sometimes evil remains hidden in plain sight. Here it’s never a question of who’s right and who’s wrong, so the viewer must simply suffer along with Salahi until his eventual freedom.

03-11-21

I Care a Lot

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on February 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Holy heartlessness! This is a very mean-spirited movie. Rosamund Pike plays a woman named Marla who works as a court-appointed legal guardian for elderly patients. That sounds like she’s a do-gooder but she’s actually running a scam. She’s a grifter abusing the system by separating wealthy senior citizens from their families. Then Marla liquidates their assets after essentially imprisoning them in rest homes. She is a thoroughly repellent sociopath. That loathsome mood only grows as the story develops.

Things perk up when a wrench is flung into her evil plans. Marla makes the mistake of committing one Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) to an assisted living facility. Jennifer’s son is a Russian mob boss (Peter Dinklage). Roman Lunyov is extremely vexed by what she has done. A feeling of hope is introduced. What is there to say when a Russian mobster is the most sympathetic individual in the film? At this point, the viewer is invited to think, “He will make things right. Mom will be rescued and Marla will get her comeuppance.” Unfortunately, the script by writer-director J Blakeson fails to deliver that much-desired satisfaction. The drama is highly frustrating. There is no one to root for in the narrative.

Marla is a character that could only exist in a work of fiction — the figment of a writer’s creation. She’s totally unflappable with the overconfidence to neutralize every setback thrown her way. She has the support of a clueless judge, a crooked doctor, and a disreputable nursing home director that all obsequiously defer to her wishes. Most are in on the take. The cynicism toward the health care system is pervasive, but not particularly clever. It’s a wholly irritating experience because (1) the screenplay is asking us to accept a lot of far-fetched ideas and (2) everyone is so reprehensible that you just want to turn away in disgust.

It’s a shame because Rosamund Pike is rather effective in playing this part. The actress is operating within the same vein as her Oscar-nominated performance in Gone Girl. She’s a psycho with ice in her veins, hell-bent on destroying people’s lives so she can make more money. She’s sporting a razor-sharp bob, wears well-tailored suits and is constantly sucking on a vape pen. Her steely portrayal is good. The movie is vile. Let me clarify. I did NOT care a lot for I Care a Lot.

02-19-21

Saint Maud

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 15, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was starting to think this movie didn’t even exist. Saint Maud was one of the most promising premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019. Shortly thereafter A24 acquired US distribution rights and planned to deliver it to theaters in April 2020, but then cinemas were shut down. A24 ultimately shelved the picture with no proposed US released date. It was finally dropped on the premium cable network EPIX on Feb 12, 2021. Hallelujah! Saint Maud has been freed from purgatory.

So the story concerns Maud (Morfydd Clark), a nurse who has recently become a devout Roman Catholic. There is a suggestion that the traumatic death of one of her patients prompted this conversion. She’s no longer employed at St. Afra’s hospital, however. Now she’s working as a personal home care nurse for a hospice patient (Jennifer Ehle). Amanda is a former dancer and understandably depressed in her current state. She does have friends that visit. She has a lover named Carol (Lily Frazer) as well. Maud doesn’t approve of these hedonistic interactions nor for the the fact that Amanda is an atheist. Maud comes to believe that God has called upon her to save Amanda’s soul.

Saint Maud is a striking film that uncannily elicits an ominous mood. Writer and director Rose Glass relies on religion as a motif. Faith in God has been a common theme in some of the very best horror movies. Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen are prime examples. This isn’t as narratively strong as those classics but the atmosphere is rather affecting. The dramatic portrayal of a woman conflicted by pious mania can be mesmerizing. Imagine Piper Laurie in Carrie but less overwrought and more sympathetic. Stylishly filmed and strongly acted, the chronicle is provocative and troubling. Maud is unquestionably odd but she remains a fascinating individual. She genuinely wishes to help Amanda. She is sincere in her convictions and that earnestness initially compels the audience to tentatively embrace this mission.

Saint Maud is a compelling study of a woman come undone. It could also have been an inspiring take on theological fervor as well, but it falls short of understanding her beliefs. Maud soon veers into episodes of religious fanaticism that do make her seem a bit unbalanced. In disturbing episodes, Maud inflicts pain upon herself as some sort of absolution. In one scene, she punches several thumbtacks through two prayer cards. She then inserts them into her shoes to be transformed by the agony as she walks around town. As a person of faith, I am prone to regard such behavior as preposterous. However, there is some basis for these acts of spiritual discipline. Although it isn’t common, some ardent practitioners in the Philippines willingly subject themselves to an actual crucifixion. The Catholic Church condemns such acts of self-flagellation. Yet a small sect of believers continue to practice in this manner. Some insight into Maud’s thought process here could have deepened our understanding of this woman and transported the narrative to a higher plane. “It’s not a religion for wusses,” Carla once reductively explained to Sam on the TV show Cheers after he complained about the difficulty of doing a Catholic penance. This is cerebral horror that explores the passion of religion and then how those ideas can be distorted. Indie film distributor A24 also gave us The Lighthouse and The Witch. If you’re looking for that kind of experience, this should satisfy that thirst.

The Little Things

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on February 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The idea that actors have foolishly turned down roles in classic films is a common Hollywood anecdote. Denzel Washington revealed in a 2002 Playboy interview that he passed on the Brad Pitt role in David Fincher’s iconic Oscar-nominated Seven. He regretted it. It’s hard not to think about that while watching this dated, derivate thriller. Coincidentally it all culminates in a scene that directly recalls that film. The difference is, the ending of The Little Things doesn’t even hold a candle to the impact of the one in Seven.

The tale concerns two police officers (Denzel Washington and Rami Malek) on the trail of a serial killer in Los Angeles. John Lee Hancock reportedly wrote the script 28 years ago and ultimately decided to direct it himself. The saga is set in the 1990s and this actually feels like a production made in that era. I’m specifically talking about Silence of the Lambs and the aforementioned Seven. Obviously, if this was as compelling, it would be a glowing 5-star review. The problem is the police procedural is fairly routine for a significant part of the drama.

It’s also fitting that the narrative is set in the 1990s because it simplifies the action. The chronicle opens with a girl in a car being pursued on a deserted highway by a mysterious driver at night. I wondered “Why doesn’t she just call the police on her cell phone?” before I realized this was set in the past. The retro milieu makes this and other plot developments a lot easier to depict without having to deal with pesky details like advances in cellular communication and forensic evidence.

The Little Things is a lackluster effort. The mood kind of snaps to attention when Jared Leto shows up a bit later. He’s a suspect who enjoys toying with the police. Leto gives a supremely creepy performance. Whenever he’s on screen, I was riveted. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek are talented actors too. Denzel quietly mumbles with intensity. Rami does the same. As cops, they gamely exploit an old school vs. new school antagonism towards each other. It isn’t enough. Both fail to make their characters interesting here.

The story ultimately meanders to a payoff that is supremely unsatisfying. When a movie starts weak and finishes strong, that’s usually forgivable, but end badly and that’s the memory you take away. Jared Leto’s achievement is good enough to make this watchable. So far he’s garnered nominations at both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor’s Guild awards. If you’re dying to know why, it’s worth checking out.

02-04-21

Promising Young Woman

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller on December 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Promising Young Woman is a film that seizes the zeitgeist. That means the actions of the lead have an underlying social-political subtext that transcends the genre. Its brand of female empowerment incorporates the spirit of the “Me Too” movement. It is a bold and slightly polemical statement on our current times. Now before you dismiss this film as “not for you,” let me be clear. Those ideas may bubble underneath our protagonist’s behavior, but they’re not explicitly stated. The narrative’s first focus is to simply entertain. I submit this release as the latest addition to the feminist canon. I’m talking about a wide range of cinematic classics that include His Girl Friday, Alien, 9 to 5, Thelma & Louise, and Erin Brockovich.

Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) once had a bright and hopeful future. She was attending medical school but dropped out under mysterious circumstances. She now lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) and works in a coffee shop with friend Gail (Laverne Cox). Every weekend she goes to bars and pretends to be severely intoxicated. Inevitably some man (with less than honorable intentions) will take her home and try to take advantage of her. Before things get out of hand, she becomes alert and lowers the boom. Why does she do this? That is an enigma delightfully explained by the movie.

This is in essence a revenge fable. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, she is an actress, having appeared in supporting parts in many critically acclaimed films (Albert Nobbs, Anna Karenina, The Danish Girl). She was also Camilla Parker-Bowles on the Netflix show “The Crown.” Perhaps her most impressive resume highlight is as the showrunner for the 2nd season of the BBC America TV series Killing Eve. She’s already shown her genius before. However, this is a surprisingly self-assured debut with a well-defined perspective. If you were sleeping on Emerald’s talent before, then this feature most assuredly heralds the arrival of a “promising” new director. She exploits a distressing truth that is part of the cultural conversation then articulates it as a piece of compelling entertainment. The saga is like medicine that tastes like peppermint candy. It’s delicious but it’s also good for you.

Cassie Thomas is a likable woman that has rationalized her vicious takedown of “nice guys” acting with ill intent. She may outwardly look like a cutie pie but an inferno rages beneath her pretty exterior. She embodies an assertive woman fully in charge of her capabilities. All the while she radiates a femininity that belies the humanity at the heart of her character. She is vulnerable. Deep down she would still like to meet a genuinely sweet guy. Cue Ryan Cooper portrayed by Bo Burnham at his most bumbling and genteel. Her reunion with this former med-school classmate sets the chronicle off in another direction . He also has a sense of humor that is as sarcastic as hers. It appears this tale of vengeance has suddenly shifted gears with his introduction as a redemptive character.

Carey Mulligan is excellent in every role she plays but she tops herself here. She has received a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars once before. It happened for An Education back in 2010 (Sandra Bullock won that year for The Blind Side). Mulligan has been doing consistent work ever since. Mudbound and Wildlife were recently popular with critics. If there is any justice, Carey will be nominated again. Incidentally, Emerald Fennell should be cited for her trenchant screenplay as well. A lot of things happen in this story. I haven’t even explained how a former school friend (Alison Brie), a med-school dean (Connie Britton), and a repentant lawyer (Alfred Molina) from her past all play an important part in her present plans. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Yet I’ve said enough. The dramatic twists and turns is a pleasure I will not spoil. An ideal review should never reveal too many plot details. It should merely stoke your desire to see it. Now go see it.

12-05-20

Run

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on December 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It wasn’t her first role, but I suppose people first became aware of Sarah Paulson back in 1995 on the supernatural-themed TV series American Gothic on CBS. It only ran for one season, but she’s been steadily working ever since. She’s arguably one of the hardest working people in show business. She’s done Broadway (The Glass Menagerie), starred in the ABC network TV program Cupid in 2009, and performed in supporting roles in a plethora of high profile films (12 Years a Slave, Ocean’s 8). However, what’s brought the most acclaim is her ongoing involvement in the FX anthology American Horror Story. She has portrayed many different characters on AHS. It has earned the actress a Golden Globe and 6 Emmy nominations for that show alone. She just began another similarly themed TV series Ratched on Netflix. She’s good at horrifying people. I mean that as a compliment. She radiates goodness on the surface but there’s a sinister quality underneath her placid exterior that is most unsettling. That edgy trait is put to good use here.

I didn’t’ watch Run when it debuted 2 weeks ago (November 20) on Hulu. It unexpectedly broke records as that streaming service’s most-watched film premiere ever. Then I took notice. The outstanding Palm Springs previously held that record. Run concerns a new mother (Sarah Paulson) who has recently given birth with complications. Flash forward 17 years later. Daughter Chloe, played by newcomer Kiera Allen, is in a wheelchair. She is housebound and chronically ill. Diane homeschools her daughter and seems to be a doting and loving parent. She unfailingly administers the medications Chloe requires to stay healthy. Then one day Diane gives Chloe an unfamiliar green pill. Chloe had inadvertently seen the bottle earlier. It was prescribed to her mother and this discovery creates a nagging suspicion in Chloe. She tries to get to the bottom of what’s happening.

Run is a modest but efficient thriller from director Aneesh Chaganty. He did the mystery movie Searching in 2018, a missing child saga entirely set on computers and smartphones. This is given a traditional approach, but it’s likewise compelling. Sarah Paulson is good at playing the kindly mother that may not be all she appears to be. Kiera Allen is impressive in her debut as Chloe. The actress has used a wheelchair for 6 years in real life. The account builds, exploiting a growing feeling of anxiety. Things get crazier and the adventure involves a battle of wits. The writing is dependable. As details unfold, however, there is a salient sense of predictability. The screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty and frequent collaborator Sev Ohanian contains foreseeable story beats. A game of pursuit, near captures, and escapes isn’t innovative. Yet a tale can succeed if the actors invoke your emotion. This boilerplate narrative might have failed in the hands of lesser talents. Paulson and Allen believably sell this movie. Because of them, I enjoyed Run.

11-23-20

His House

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on November 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The greatest horror films have something more percolating beneath the surface than what is readily apparent. His House begins as an immigration drama about a married couple from South Sudan named Bol (Sopé Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) who are seeking asylum in Britain. As refugees, they’re given an expansive but dilapidated flat to live in for the time being. Soon after they discover a demonic presence within the home. Are these problems part of the residence itself or have visions of their very difficult past come to haunt them in this new setting?

The year 2020 can only charitably be described as a colossal mess. Perhaps that is the reason why the past 10 months have conspicuously released more horror films than I’ve ever seen. His House is yet another addition to the genre. There are deeper elements at work. The lives of this pair have been affected by unfathomable tragedy. Their daughter (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba) drowned in a boat accident while they were trying to escape. To make matters worse, they’re working with a caseworker (Matt Smith) who reminds them they’re on probation and need to “fit in” to remain in their new environment. Bol buys clothes to match the photograph of a happy white family in an in-store display. He also joins the locals at the pub in a song about footballer Peter Crouch and starts eating with a knife and fork. Rial can’t abide by the utensils. “All I can taste is metal,” she complains. Their attempt to assimilate isn’t successful. Meanwhile, the evil spirits only seem to intensify.

Writer/director Remi Weekes’ first feature is basically a haunted house tale. Yet it’s a bit more. He presents a character study of well-developed characters. We care about the victims being terrorized which is always a good thing in any story. Remi Weekes explores some interesting ideas about how sometimes the terrors we’ve had to confront within our own lives are just as — if not more than — nightmarish as supernatural forces. Despite the artistic milieu, there are several effective jump scares that will entertain fans.

If only the conclusion had been afforded the same intellectual consideration. Peel back the layers of a complex foundation and you’re left with the essence of a scenario we’ve seen before. OK, sure, there’s a surprising plot twist thrown in, but to what end? The fantastic setup promises a dissertation on racism, xenophobia, and colonialism then devolves into a generic fable about guilt. A violent act suddenly provides a quick and easy solution. The disparity between the emptiness of what ultimately happens and the depth of what came before is vast. A clever metaphor needs a brilliant climax and this one sadly falters. Still, a fascinating effort that is well worth checking out.

10-30-20