Villains

Release: Friday, September 20, 2019

→Hulu 

Written by: Dan Berk; Robert Olsen

Directed by: Dan Berk; Robert Olsen

In terms of competence, small-time criminals Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) are closer to the Harry and Marv end of the spectrum than they are the Bonnie and Clyde side. These impetuous twenty-somethings are not very good at crime. They are also on the verge of retiring to Florida. Once they rob this convenience store — wearing goofy animal masks, because, why not? — they vow to turn over a new leaf. Soon enough they will literally be selling sea shells down by the seashore. It’s not much of a plan, but it’s a plan nonetheless.

Problem #1: They run out of gas before they can even get out of the woods of Wherevertheyaresville, and are forced into sidetracking to an isolated house where they hope to grand theft auto their way down to the Sunshine State. Justifying their actions turns out to be a pretty fun and rewarding game for those of us watching from afar. These are two kids who make bad decisions but have good hearts; they seem committed to one another and to this idea of living a different kind of life. Once inside the house, they promptly set about snorting coke in order to inspire a plan to relieve the homeowners of their car (or at least enough gas so they can continue on their merry way).

Problem #2: They aren’t exactly expecting to find a young girl (Blake Baumgartner) chained to a pipe in the basement. Mickey wants nothing more than to just GTFO; Jules insists they take the child with them. When they head back upstairs to find the keys to free her they stumble right into George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) and Problem #3 begins. And it’s a doozy. Small-time crooks must learn how to outwit big-time weirdos whose calm demeanor and southern mannerisms are a thin veneer masking sinister intentions.

Villains is the third feature from directing duo Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, a pair of up-and-comers whose first full-length movie, 2015’s Body, was made on a budget of $50k and filmed in 11 days. Villains is another budget-conscious film but one that gets a lot of mileage out of its simple premise, confined setting and small cast. Berk and Olsen describe it as a creative breakthrough. It’s an impressively ergonomic production. This is indie filmmaking elevated by established acting talent and an addictive combination of offbeat humor and palpable tension. The cast dig into their roles with fervent energy, and skillfully use that energy to create memorable characters who, Sedgwick aside, don’t come with much of a backstory.

Villains may not do anything radical, yet the filmmakers manage to throw in a few interesting wrenches into each party’s plans that make for a fun-filled adventure, one that builds to a violent and satisfying payoff. It’s a spirited good time and while the scales tip decidedly more toward comedy than horror, the murky morality of the whole thing is sure to encourage multiple rewatches.

Hands off the table, please.

Recommendation: It’s the high-energy acting that really sells it. Fans of Bill “Pennywise” Skarsgård and Maika Monroe are strongly urged to track Villains down. Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan are no slouches either. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 82 mins.

Quoted: “What makes you feel good? Ice cream. Mint choc –“

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: IMDb

Parasite

Release: Friday, November 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Bong Joon Ho; Jin Won Han

Directed by: Bong Joon Ho

I don’t know why, or how, I have never seen a Bong Joon Ho movie before now. The South Korean filmmaker is one of those major voices of world cinema that’s hard to ignore. Yet here I am, crawling out from underneath a (scholar’s) rock. And I wonder if all his movies are quite as metaphorical as Parasite? Or as good. Even if they aren’t he already has a fan in me; you all know how much I love metaphors. Even if they aren’t exactly subtle.

Parasite is a brilliant allegory for class warfare that to’s and fro’s between homes, between worlds and between seemingly disparate genres. The story, collaborated on by Ho and screenwriter Jin Won Han, focuses on the relationship between two families existing on opposite ends of the wealth spectrum. As you might suspect from the title, we are supposed to feel a certain way about that relationship, maybe even take sides. Ascertaining who the real bad and good guys are — or, if you like to play the metaphor game like I do, as we are perhaps intended here, who the real “parasites” and “hosts” are — is kind of the whole point of the exercise. Judging who is actually being victimized proves thrillingly challenging when every character is shaded with a moral grayness, when there is more going on beneath the surface than what first appears.

Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) is the sloven patriarch of the Kim clan. He’s fallen on hard times with his restaurant business having collapsed. He has absolutely no prospects of securing regular income, but he does have the love of his family. His wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae Jin), disaffected twentysomething daughter Ki-jeong (Park So Dam) and college-aged son Ki-woo (Choi Woo Sik) help him fold pizza boxes as a way to make some pennies. They steal wifi from upstairs (you just have to find the right corner in the right room) and allow themselves to be swallowed whole by the debris storms blown in from outside as street cleaners effectively double as fumigation for their semi-basement-level apartment.

Ki-taek can only see it as a blessing when a family friend, Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon), one day comes by and gifts Ki-woo a “scholar’s rock,” which he says will bring material wealth to those in possession of it. Ki-woo views it as more metaphorical (then again, he says that about everything). That same friend later offers Ki-woo a job opportunity — he’s leaving the country to study abroad and needs someone to replace him as a tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Parks, who are apparently “nice but gullible.” For Ki-woo, who’s tired of combatting the homeless who like to urinate near their kitchen window, this is a no-brainer; he just needs some important documents to be forged and to make a good impression during the interview.

After gaining the Parks’ trust Ki-woo puts into motion an ambitious plan to get other members of his family involved. One by one they will each take on a different role serving this well-to-do household. Chauffeurs, live-in nannies, art therapists — opportunity abounds here. If all goes according to plan, something Papa Kim does not like to do as he thinks plans always fail, they will pull this off without ever being suspected of being related. What results goes beyond the most ingenious home invasion scheme you’ve ever seen; this is more like a life invasion — a long con of increasing boldness as the Kims set about vicariously living that sweet life, feeling very little remorse over the things they have done to ingratiate themselves into a world in which they seemingly do not belong.

Parasite made history at Cannes last year, becoming the first Korean film to take home the coveted Palme d’Or, the swanky film festival’s top prize.* I’m really not trying to invoke Ron Burgundy here but it’s kind of a big deal. Some fans have even renamed the honor the ‘Bong d’Or.’ So that’s been fun, and Parasite has been a fun movie to follow. It’s become a buzz word, a fashionable Google search ever since it first premiered, with Ho at the center of a lot of Oscartalk. Can he vie for one of those, too? Or is that just asking too much?

I tell you what would be asking too much: wanting more than what he delivers in his seventh feature film. The intrigue factor is ratcheted up constantly by a smart concept, a camera that moves voyeuristically through the intricacies of gorgeous, purpose-built sets, and Ho’s confident, playful direction. How he keeps Parasite from tipping completely into serendipity is no small feat, even though there are one or two elements here that threaten to cross the line (basement-operated light-switches, anyone? What architect thought that was a good idea?). Performances are uniformly excellent, and on multiple levels.

What’s most impressive is how Parasite fashions incredible entertainment out of a sobering reality. Ho is clearly sympathetic to the struggles of the working class and he’s put together a movie that’s both cultural and universal. This is the product of a director who has spent some 50 years watching his home transform from one of the poorest to among the most advanced industrial economies in the world. While Parasite certainly speaks to the direness of the Korean class divide its greatest strength is how it feels accessible as a human drama about dignity and decency.

* it also became THE FIRST KOREAN Film TO HAVE WON A GOLDEN GLOBE AWARD.

“….did I leave the house unlocked again?”

Recommendation: For this Bong Joon Ho newbie, Parasite is among the best movies of 2019. It’s a scathing indictment of the capitalist system that also happens to be blisteringly entertaining. Its message is creatively and powerfully delivered without being obnoxious. If you enjoy movies with sophisticated plots and that do not fit neatly into any one particular genre, Parasite should burrow deep into your skin. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 132 mins.

Quoted: “They’re rich but they’re still nice . . .”

“They’re nice because they’re rich!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: IMDb 

Don’t Breathe

'Dont Breathe' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 26, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Fede Álvarez; Rodo Sayagues

Directed by: Fede Álvarez

Don’t Breathe, the sophomore effort from Uruguayan director Fede Álvarez, is what you’d get if you expanded into a full-length feature that scene from The Silence of the Lambs in which Buffalo Bill stalks a terrified Clarice Starling with night vision goggles while his prey helplessly fumbles around in the pitch black. This is, of course, to say that Don’t Breathe is relentlessly intense almost start to finish, marking it as one of the most effective thrillers to hit theaters this year.

In it, a trio of burglars are scraping together enough money so they can flee the dying suburbs of Detroit by looting homes and getting cash for valuable possessions pillaged. When they discover a rundown home belonging to a war vet rumored to be sitting on $300k in settlements from an accident that claimed the life of his daughter, they assume they’ve hit the jackpot. Especially when they figure out the dude is blind. But we all know what assuming does, don’t we?

Small-time crooks turn into big-time prey as they casually waltz into a trap thinking the job is a done deal. It is in this suffocating space of decrepitness and unpredictability where we more or less remain for the duration. We’re briefly (and just barely sufficiently) introduced to the gang in the opening twenty minutes, right before Álvarez flips the switch and plunges us all into the depths of a home invasion gone horribly wrong. Front-and-center is Jane Levy’s Rocky, who’s desperate to leave behind an abusive home for the sun-kissed beaches of Califor-ny-yay with her younger sister. Then there’s her main squeeze “Money” (Daniel Zovatto), a terribly nicknamed character who doesn’t at all make for a subtle metaphor or, quite frankly, a memorable character. Dylan Minnette rounds out the crew as the slightly more likable Alex.

It isn’t really their movie, though. Don’t Breathe inarguably belongs to a man and his dog. Stephen Lang plays The Blind Man, an unsuspectingly agile old git who can navigate the interior with his other, much keener senses — sound and touch, most notably — and who keeps a Rottweiler handy in case of such emergencies. (Puppy credits go to three separate, extremely well-trained animals, each getting their moment to shine. And I’m assuming their Cujo-like presence is what earns the film its horror label; otherwise that classification is something of a misnomer. Kind of like me calling these big boys ‘puppies.’) Indeed the kids become a lot more interesting once we see them forced into action against a trained killer — better make that plural — and pressured into taking drastic measures to ensure they not only escape with their lives but with the money as well.

Don’t Breathe simmers in a stew of sociological, economical and psychological ingredients. It’s a morality play involving characters whose chance for survival is perpetually undercut by their own actions. Greed, selfishness and desperation invariably imprison characters we weren’t ever supposed to “like” in this fortress, even magnetizing them to it. And it’s Lang’s full-on committal to a relatively silent role — in fact the best bits of the film languish in the choke of dead air — that simultaneously rebuffs the invaders and causes us, the anxious voyeurs, to question just what we would do in such a situation. Utterly compelling stuff.

Stephen Lang in 'Don't Breathe'

Recommendation: Think of it less as a true horror film and more of a thriller, the likes of which made me, personally, feel like I had chugged one too many cups of coffee. I watched my hand on the steering wheel as I drove home from my local theater. My knuckles were all jittery. What the fuck man. It’s just a movie. Granted, a very, very good one. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 88 mins.

Trivia: Stephen Lang has a total of 13 lines of dialogue, the majority of which are reserved for the ending moments. 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Hellions

 

Release: Friday, September 18, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Pascal Trottier

Directed by: Bruce McDonald

So if your ‘Netflix-and-chill’ night ever came down to a choice between sitting in total awkward silence and putting on a movie called Hellions, you’d be better off trying your luck with complete silence. Go ahead, make it as uncomfortable as possible by broaching the subject of how awkward it is to sit in silence like this. Your date may think you’re weird but, hey, you’ve just saved the evening from total ruination.

You do this because you appreciate them enough to not make them suffer through Hellions, a massively overproduced home invasion thriller that boils down to a teen defending herself against some psychotic trick-or-treaters who come a-knockin,’ but not for candy. Dora (Chloe Rose) is your typically moody 17-year-old stuck at home alone Halloween night. She has plans to have a quiet night at home with her boyfriend but her mom isn’t so cool with that, man.

Mom’s going to be taking Dora’s younger brother out trick-or-treating so she won’t be able to keep an eye on her. That doesn’t stop her from contradictorily encouraging her daughter to go out and “have fun tonight.” (Oh, she will! But she ain’t going out.) Within a few minutes of being by herself Dora’s already texting her boy-toy, wondering whether they’re still going to that party or not. Then, a knock at the door. Rather than the handsome mug of the teen we’re expecting it to be, we’re greeted by a pretty evil-looking little tyke who seems to forget it’s customary to say “trick-or-treat” at the door on All Hallow’s Eve. After some substantial tension Dora sends the kid away, a little taken aback by both the mask and his odd behavior.

A couple more near-wordless scenes succeed in further quickening your pulse as Dora starts noticing kids standing in groups on all sides of the house, as if in preparation for an organized attack. Still no word from her boyfriend and it’s getting dark outside. Oh, how ignorance is bliss, for what ensues in the next half of the film (all of maybe 40 minutes) is nothing short of bizarre — not the kind of bizarre that gives horror a good name but the kind that becomes really difficult to watch, physically difficult.

What begins as a relatively compelling assault on the house by a group of kids with mischief in mind devolves into a patently absurd mix of poorly-conceived supernatural and demonic elements that makes Hellions next to impossible to categorize as either. Is this some kind of supernatural event this Blood Moon, or are the kids a bunch of evil E.T.’s? Then the mind starts to really wander: ‘What is a ‘hellion?’ Is that like a balloon? No, now I’m thinking about helium.’ Turns out, it’s a term of endearment for a misbehaving child. Or in this case, child actors instructed to wear a variety of freaky masks and superimposed (badly) against a pixelated, apocalyptic background.

I guess this is the part where I probably should say Dora has recently discovered she’s four weeks pregnant (gasp, she’s only seventeen!). Why’s this important? As it so happens, this is what the children have come for. They’re looking for a blood sacrifice, as they presumably do every year, and Dora’s the lucky victim. I can hear you saying now: ‘but the baby’s only four weeks old!’ Yes, that’s true. But this is pregnancy on steroids, you see, as the child fully develops within the span of the movie, subjecting the mother (or is it more politically correct to call her the host?) to all kinds of misery while her house is under siege. And the evil that’s outside will not go away until they get what they’ve come for.

On the surface, it’s not a bad premise. I can think of few things more unsettling than complicated pregnancy, and when you start talking about the potential of it being inhuman, well that’s just. . . . Also noted: the involvement of mostly child actors as the collective evil force is an inspired twist. Their speaking parts aren’t demanding, all they really do is repeat her name in a collective eerie chant that vaguely recalls Rosemary’s Baby, but their presence is certainly felt and one of the strengths of the film. But as time winds on, even they become lost in another CGI mess that’s as ugly as it is uninteresting.

You know how some movies become great fun when the poor quality and execution eventually give way to unintentional comedy, the kind of B-movie that you play drinking games during? Yeah, well this isn’t one of those. This is just horror botched. The problem is more fundamental than that even: it’s botched storytelling. It’s botched filmmaking.

Though not for a lack of creativity. If there’s anything Hellions proves it’s that the filmmakers — or I should say, whoever oversaw the final cut — were pretty creative in trying to cover up the glaring fact that the story is rather anorexic. All kinds of visual wizardry is put to ‘good’ use, not least of which being some seriously ill-advised music video-esque CGI that turns the picture shades of red and blue; several sequences are sliced, diced and recycled in a concerted effort to confuse and confound; a cacophony of loud noises and the aforementioned chants lay the psychological fuckery on thick, in case everything else hasn’t.

'Hellions'

Recommendation: Hellions is the epitome of style over substance and a great example of how badly that flaw can detract from a director’s vision. It’s okay if you rely on some style to complement a certain mood or atmosphere that can’t be achieved any other way, but when the style becomes the only thing viewers notice, you’ve gone a bit too far. Hellions goes several feet too far. Unfortunately there’s really not much here to recommend to genre fans or those looking for something random on Netflix. I’d go with something else. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 80 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.horrordrome.com

Hush

'Hush' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 8, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Mike Flanagan; Kate Siegel

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

What you don’t hear definitely can hurt you in Hush, Mike Flanagan’s second consecutive exploration of the human sensory system and how much we depend on it, especially in stressful situations.

In 2013 Flanagan emphasized, even obsessed over visual stimuli, how one’s mind has the ability to play tricks on the eye when it comes to seeing things that may or may not be there. The title Oculus should ring a bell, even if its vaguely silly plot about a rogue antique mirror that kills people, does not. Flanagan now seems poised to be taken a little more seriously, cutting a nifty slice of indie horror based around auditory senses, or the lack thereof.

Hush pits a young mute woman named Maddie (Kate Siegel) against a psychotic stalker (John Gallagher, Jr.) that appears at her back door late one evening. We find ourselves in an unnamed and unidentified location, some thickly wooded area better off not named. Here Maddie’s been living a quiet life in isolation, one that she claims she didn’t choose but rather was forced upon her since complications from a surgery many years ago rendered her permanently deaf. She seems to be getting along well despite being completely on her own, and despite her struggles to complete a second horror novel. (She’s already published one.)

Flanagan wastes preciously little time propping up the pieces that will hold the conflict in place. In hindsight, introductions could have been a little less mechanical — we see Maddie chat with a neighbor briefly about that book — although there’s really no reason to dilly-dally since the premise is so pure and uncomplicated. But during this fleeting calm we get to know and care about our protagonist. Siegel’s committed performance, including some emphatic signing, reveals much about her personality, Maddie’s intelligence and passion for writing evident above all but we can tell she’s still trying to recover from something emotionally. She seems vulnerable and distant. That vulnerability takes on an entirely new meaning when we first see her tormentor, a chilling shot that demonstrates why her lack of hearing is a potentially fatal disadvantage.

Let’s talk about the home invader, shall we, because he’s something of a nightmare. Armed with a compound bow and a facemask, Gallagher (credited simply as ‘The Man’) feels like he just sauntered over to the next house after the events of You’re Next (I guess he’d need an animal mask if he was really wanting to fit in). The change of pace seems to be a good thing for the up-and-comer, even if his iciness is a trait that takes some time getting used to (maybe it’s the lack of a beard and a shaven head that does it). Even if his character’s backstory is nonexistent — where is he coming from? why is he doing this? just who is this guy? — his psychosis isn’t to be questioned. Here is a man whose depravity knows no bounds.

Plus, that aura of mystery that first seemed like lazy writing comes back to haunt us later. We want to go digging for answers, any lame justification as to why this man might want to make Maddie suffer, but that’s a fruitless effort. Some people are just no good. That there doesn’t appear to be any kind of personal vendetta means there’s little reasoning with the guy and without reason there can be no comfort. To Maddie’s credit, she does try.

To Siegel’s credit, who also co-wrote the script with Flanagan, her resilient performance is destined to hush the skeptics, those who write off contemporary horror as lazy cash grabs utterly disinterested in offering up intriguing characters (to be fair and as a skeptic myself, they have a valid point with a great many releases). Hush works primarily because of its characters; it’s certainly less ambitious in other aspects. Too often there comes a pause where you think ‘what the hell is the guy doing right now? Why doesn’t he come in and end this now?’ Indeed, the mind is going to wander where it shouldn’t, and that’s an unfortunate result of the story focusing so intensely on how Maddie reacts to a situation that goes from bad to worse. If we’re assuming events are unfolding in real-time, there’s a lot of downtime and that fact becomes quite the distraction.

But this game of cat-and-mouse is too compelling, too tightly-wound to worry about nitpicks like that. You could poke enough holes in the script to make it look like swiss cheese before writing it off as something you’d rather not watch. Hush is so impressive in the way it integrates an atypical character into a more familiar narrative. Not once do you feel bad for Maddie simply because she can’t hear — you fear for her life when that fact actually becomes a threat to her safety, but never do you pity her. She’s a strong and independent woman willing to do what it takes to overcome her terrible situation, willing to do anything other than lay down and die.

What kind of an ending is Maddie going to be able to write for herself? The answer can be found if you’re willing to sit through some seriously uncomfortable silence.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.26.48 AM

Recommendation: Hush offers the jaded/casual fan of modern horror another reason to give the genre another go; it’s a character-driven piece with some crucial sound design and editing that rewards more often than not and while there could have been some more substantial development early on, the great performances and unique circumstances are enough to overcome a few shortcomings. If you liked Oculus, you should definitely Flanagan’s latest a shot. Exclusively on Netflix.

Rated: R

Running Time: 87 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Everly

Release: Friday, February 27, 2015

[Redbox]

Written by: Yale Hannon

Directed by: Joe Lynch

There’s an unshakable sense Joe Lynch and company didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity they had with Salma Hayek playing the lead in this economical, often comically violent home invasion thriller.

Despite having a strong presence Hayek is relegated to the role of Donkey Kong: all she must do is survive an incoming wave of bad guys and, barring something just completely off-the-wall in the script, she’ll be home free. Er, in a manner of speaking. She’s actually home the entire time, as Everly rarely leaves the confines of an upscale loft apartment, and when it does it saunters out into the hallway for a few long seconds just to see if the coast is clear. But it rarely is, and Everly is certainly not free.

If it’s not giving the film too much credit, Everly seems to harp on the idea of freedom more than its bloody special effects. On a small scale, Everly wants needs to be free of the physical and mental anguish brought on by her psychotic ex-boyfriend Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe). That her family winds up getting in the middle of several attacks (albeit on the back of some extremely foolish decisions) is surely reason enough for Everly to break free of her dark, dangerous past. Ironic that Lynch’s film can’t break free from the mould of the typical brainless action outing. Everly’s background is as unknown as the environment outside this building. And if there is freedom to be found it exists only in the physical: some way of escaping this hell-hole.

Everly’s ability to defend herself, while more often than not entertaining, makes her a thorough enigma if we are in fact meant to be rooting for her. Given the waves upon waves of attackers, each one seemingly more violent and depraved than the last, we want to assume Everly’s done something worse than cheat on poor Taiko; surely no degree of infidelity would justify this kind of a response. While the various intrusions mark Everly a prisoner in her own home her natural ability to quickly solve each recurrence of that very problem necessarily redirects a spotlight back upon her past. Alas, we don’t ever fully get to understand Everly.

As she exists in this version of the film — the final product, sadly — Everly is neither person nor prisoner. She’s a heavily-tattooed survivalist with no last name. Her current predicament, no more complicated than that classic video game. The controls are basically run, shoot/throw things, duck and hide. Despite Hayek’s faintly detectable humanity — even though, ew, she’s a hooker and shame on her for not being around for her young daughter — she doesn’t get to leave the stinging impression that the physicality of her performance wants her to. Drama is far more obsessed with getting even, an eye-for-an-eye when at least one of those eyes should be focused on the details. Like, why we should care about any of this.

While it’s good to see a female spin on this steadily-growing subgenre of action films popularized by Liam Neeson and his brand of vengeance-seeking, Everly overcompensates for its casting, eventuating in a grotesquely violent shocker that will be remembered less for Hayek’s energy than it will be for the blood stains it leaves behind.

“Say ‘Hola’ to my little friend!!!”

Recommendation: For those desensitized to brutal action, Everly delivers a lot of the good/red stuff. It’s suitably a short-lived home invasion and the experience packs in enough disturbing events to satisfy those sorts of fans but it’s a problem having someone as talented as Hayek in a role so poorly developed. She’s too mysterious to embrace but nowhere near sadistic to be rejected. Sad to say Everly is one to watch less for the character/actress than the crafty little kills she’s responsible for throughout.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Purge: Anarchy

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Release: Friday, July 18, 2014

[Theater]

The Purge: Anarchy offers you yet another chance to let it all out with a second blood-splattering of twisted social commentary.

Instead of running around blindly inside a house defending ourselves from masked invaders as we had done only last summer with the Sandins, now we band together with several nondescript characters in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. It’s the year 2023 and the sixth annual purge is set to commence. Get your shotguns ready, kiddies.

There was so much lost in the transfer of The Purge from script to screen. This grisly thriller was so ineffective in selling its audiences that a sequel became necessary as if to say, “Oh yeah! Wait. Here’s what we meant.” Though the acting isn’t much of an improvement, getting out of the house has proven to be the healthiest thing for this possible franchise-in-the-making.

One of the great missteps made by DeMonaco and company last year was stunting the growth of some of the admittedly intriguing concepts, about how one man’s choice to kill a fellow human being would invariably differ from the man standing to his left or his right. Or about how class struggles between the very wealthy and the destitute could make the choice to murder a much easier, and possibly even an economical one. What The Purge boiled down to was a luke-warm home invasion procedure, where audiences were relegated to surviving jump scares and a few squirts of blood as forms of entertainment.

The Purge: Anarchy actually stumbles just as much as its predecessor, almost as if it were stabbed in the gut, but the novelty of this evening and the concept manifest themselves in more convincing ways this time around. There’s more to focus on here. More by which to become distracted from the cheesy dialogue and over-acting. Rather than running into dead ends and hallway doors every ten minutes, DeMonaco’s new script presents more characters, more creative kills and more ethical dilemmas to mix up the tension, the violence and the surprises in a much more engaging way that The Purge simply wasn’t able to. Instead of centering around an average family that failed to really gain our sympathy, even as they were being invaded on this horrible night, we now become drawn into a cauldron of desperation and panic via three different walks of life.

We are firstly introduced to a mother-daughter dynamic between a woman who works in a diner, Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul). Eva’s working hard to earn a raise so she’ll be able to afford her father’s medicine, medicine that’s apparently not having much of an impact on whatever his ailment is. The second perspective comes in the form of a young couple fallen on hard times and actually considering separating soon — Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez portray Shane and Liz who are driving to a safe place before the commencement of the purge before they predictably break down in an unsafe part of town. Then, of course, we get the requisite battle-hardened man, a man who knows what real loss feels like. Frank Grillo seems somewhat suited for the job and is Anarchy‘s most interesting character by a long shot.

He’s relatively boring still. And a bad cliché at that. This is to suggest the rest of the ensemble are completely stock characters, and they are. There’s not a single trait among the four others that rings the bell of originality, and oftentimes many of them are completely frustrating. Cali’s infatuation with Sergeant is most vividly irritating, though the dynamic between them is not as bad, ironically, as the one between her and her on-screen mother.

But we’re not here to scrutinize every last performance. To do so in Anarchy would render this review a rant, for at least The Purge had Ethan Hawke. It wasted Ethan Hawke, but it did have him in it. Maybe it ought to be considered a consolation prize being dubbed a waste in these films. Hawke was underused and underwritten in 2013 whereas Grillo has to contend with a thoroughly expressionless and stiff character whose ultimate trajectory is one of complete predictability.

Fortunately, the bloodletting and the overarching narrative that is Anarchy isn’t quite as much. Each group of characters journey through this night in different stages of shock and each have different reactions, which allows for easier access into this world as compared to a snooty family being protected by a modern fortress. Far be it from me to tell the director how to shoot his own work, but this approach to his curious ethical dilemma here is far more interesting and says much more about the human condition than whatever it was that he came up with a year ago.

If you want to remember all the good the purge does, may I recommend you see this film rather than what came before it.

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“O fuck’s sake, this again?”

2-5Recommendation: Though still engorged with its share of narrative flaws, character woes, and thematic tenuity, The Purge: Anarchy is, at the end of the day, a mark of maturity. There are expansions in almost every direction and the most rewarding one is the physical: the setting helps to actually crank up the tension, whereas the home setting in the previous did everything it could to water down what could have been an additionally chilling indictment of a culture increasingly infatuated with violence as a means of self-expression. And I honestly would give the rare recommendation of seeing the second film before the first.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “People like us don’t survive tonight!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Purge

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Release: Friday, June 7, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

This flick was a complete waste of a free movie pass.

That may seem like an unnecessary statement, since at least it was a free showing and I really had nothing to lose. . but I DID have something to lose: any remaining hope for reinventing the horror genre.

I’m tired of the slasher-thriller/torture-porn that tries to claim it’s a horror movie. A bunch of bloody, self-mutilating scenes of torture does not a ‘horror’ film make; it may be horrifying to watch, but there’s nothing truly scary about any of the Saw/Hostel franchises or any of the various takes of Cabin in the Woods. I suppose these all are entertainingly vicious in their own right, and that’s quite alright. I actually really appreciated what was trying to be done in Saw, and Eli Roth had a pretty cool idea going into Hostel. I consider horror to possess the scariest scenes based on outright psychological discomfort, perhaps going so far as to suggest psychological torture, not the physical manifestation of coming to desperate extremes. (I guess you can say that Saw and Hostel did have these psychological elements in their stories, but they clearly favored gore over a story that is free, or at least mostly free from the genre’s cliches.)

But when we talk about a film like The Purge, it’s a film clearly lacking in both elements and so much so that the scenes of nastiness and brutality wind up becoming comical — unintentionally so. I laughed harder in this film than I have in many comedies lately.

James DeMonaco’s latest is meant to subvert — and get a load of this — the very birth of our nation (as it were). Our “original” Founding Fathers (because, apparently we get a few new ones) were ultimately the ones who purgers might blame for how the nation had come to such a corrupt, impoverished state of decay. Though it’s not very clear when this conversion began, the nation has since been reborn, with a kind of sadistic martial law that essentially confines America’s temptation to commit crime — including murder — to one night a year. The effect has been a dramatically reduced crime rate (yes, because even the craziest of the crazies out there completely disregard their very own nature to destroy things on the other 364 days of the year) and poverty has essentially been wiped out. Unemployment is at 1%.

It should come as no surprise that when the movie opens, we should expect the events of this night to be different from all the others, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a movie. This is the case either way, but at least there is some semblance of a premise here. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his family live in an upscale, gated community. James has successfully sold more security systems than anyone else (in the area, anyway) and is damn proud of the fact. And why shouldn’t he? Indeed, he is the one responsible for converting his lovely mansion into something of a fortress compound that looks more like the thing where we found and killed Osama bin Laden in years ago.

During The Purge of 2022, things all go to hell for the Sandins, when James’ son (Max Burkholder) sees a stranger outside their yard desperate to find shelter, and makes the mistake of allowing him inside their home. And yes, you guessed it: problems immediately arise from within. Unsure of the identity or motives of this unidentified black male (you’ve gotta love how the only people represented as ‘those in poverty’ in this film are black), James and his family are now forced into protecting themselves inside their very home.

Indeed, the setting of The Purge is nothing if not frustratingly limited. In one instance, Mary (Lena Headey) is trying to get their daughter to join them all in the same room but fails to do so by not grabbing her by the wrist and forcing her in that direction. The two were literally standing next to one another in the hallway. Later, Mary laments: “I tried to get Zoey to come but I just couldn’t…” First of all, how big is this house, and why are you so useless at trying to save those who you love the most?

It’s not the family’s fault, though, that their situation ends up becoming one joke after another. The man they’ve inadvertently been sheltering for presumably an hour or so into their lockdown is a target of a funny-looking gang of masked psychos who demand (in an awkwardly polite fashion) that they release this man to them at once, or they’ll be forced to destroy the house and the family. The man is poor, thus he is apparently to be butchered in the front yard because it’s these people’s right to do so. “Don’t deny us our right to Purge, our right granted by our new Founding Fathers,” is one of the mantras espoused by the ringleader.

What ensues is the utterly predictable, getting more predictable and more asinine by the minute. The Purge boils down to a dangerous game of hide-and-seek in pitch-black, after the Sandins fail to turn the home invader over in time. The new gang of criminals power down the house and enter by any means necessary — and this part is scary, for sure. I challenge anyone to not think of home invasion as at least mildly perturbing. All this is, though, is a series of jump-scares as the result of loud noises and conveniently hidden dangers around each and every corner.

The ending of the film is what completely renders this a comedy, rather than even a slightly effective horror-thriller. I won’t reveal anything, and there’s no “twist” as such, but The Purge‘s ethos swells to unbearable levels that actually gave my entire theater a fit of the giggles. (Here I was sitting by myself thinking I was being too hard on the movie for laughing earlier on.) It goes beyond ridiculous as the characters become completely distorted, rendered as monsters rather than human beings who are attempting to cleanse themselves of their anger and wanting to do bad things.

I’m not saying the genesis of this film is not original. In fact, that’s mostly why I went to see it. I saw a trailer that gave the impression of a horror film with potential to take a road less traveled: what would our nation be like for real if we had one night a year where all crime is legal? Who would fall prey that night? Who would actually go out and commit crimes? What stops one rich white man from killing another wealthy suburbanite? Are we all in some way harboring an ability to do evil when provoked at the perfect moment — i.e. when no cop, ambulance or other type of emergency service can do anything about it?

After watching, I have to say with confidence that the answer to that last one is ‘No, we are not.’ Unlike some, I was not bothered by the film’s backdrop of crime being legal for a night. I thought it was quite interesting actually. If the film had been better and not become a simple set piece for its entire duration, there might be compelling reasons to explore the deepest, darkest corners of the human heart. The Purge does little other than suggesting the idea, then abandoning it with its insanely poor execution and run-of-the-mill acting.

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1-5Recommendation: I do not.

Rated: R

Running Time: 85 mins.

Quoted: “Just remember all the good The Purge does . . . ” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com