THE PLATFORM (2020)

CUBE, except vertical and the levels represent society. Low budget sci-fi horror with a decent hook and some visceral, nasty things to show you.

Fairly blunt in its sociopolitical metaphor, but it’s not really trying to be clever beyond making the broad strokes of commentary. It’s fairly plain what it’s getting at, but beyond face-value it doesn’t really say anything much deeper.

Stomach churning at turns, nihilistic at others, ultimately it’s an okay thought experiment that isn’t entirely sure what to do with its premise beyond the obvious.

Worth a watch, just not over dinner.

VIVARIUM (2019)

An extended TWILIGHT ZONE episode in all the right ways. If that’s your jam then this is worth a look without reading anything further at risk of spoilers.

What of the plot can’t be extrapolated from the title and the first few minutes of the film are best left untold, since so much of the unfolding events work their magic through a well crafted dive into what the fuck is going on here??

It’s very slow and kinda bleak, building to a hallucinatory climax. Quite grounded despite an otherworldy sort of scifi pretense and solid, minimal production design.

Once its setup is established it spends its time playing out much as promised, bouyed up on great performances of unravelling sanity by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg and a new contender for the most horrible uncanny child performance in a thriller/horror film. I hate him. Great job!

I avoided the trailer, but watching it afterwards I noted that it gives away a lot of the first half, so definitely skip it. Drags on a little in the middle but a bit of tedium is selling the experience of the characters.

Otherwise, this is worth a watch!

DEVS (2020)

Minimalist contemporary-set scifi with excellent production design and a languid, contemplative pace.

Not for everyone, mostly because it’s very slow and it chooses to skew hard into heady philosophy — pretty standard territory for writer/director Alex Garland. But those inclined towards this sort of thing will love it.

Skirts around the whole “mystery box” approach pretty handily by not being coy with its premise and so spends good time with a host of characters grasping what the devs department at a Silicon Valley tech giant is actually doing.

Nick Offerman and Alison Pill are standouts and the cinematography is top-notch, there’s a good sense of real-time events unfolding as episodes take place roughly over the course of a day each but this can lead to little bits of drag here and there. Can be a bit “telly” rather than “showy” with characters but compared to how clumsily WESTWORLD has swung towards blunt expositional dialogue this season I’m willing to forgive a much smaller show a few faults when it excels in other areas.

Overall, pretty good. I’m always keen for more scifi like this so I’d recommend checking it out.

UNDERWATER (2020)

Great cast, great production design… but ultimately it’s a pretty by-the-numbers wannabe creature feature which feels stuck together at a disjointed pace in a way that sacrifices any tension or tone for predictable jump scares and expositional dialogue.

Not outright bad in any regard, just kinda middling and doesn’t flex as much on an interesting premise as it could have.

Has some cool moments but mostly it’s just okay.

COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

There’s something inherently difficult in translating this specific short story to the screen, given that the titular “colour out of space” is supposed to be indescribable by nature and film is an inherently visual medium.

Still, there’s some interesting work done with colour grades and some really neat glitch-style VFX that do a fine job of translating cosmic horror in a creative way, even if the story is a little choppy and doesn’t flow together as well as it should, especially in the back half when the body horror gets turned up and things get stomach-churningly weird. It’s clumsy and clunky at times but pretty forgivable because it’s trying. Surprisingly understated from Nicolas Cage too, which is neither criticism nor compliment especially — he could have gone bigger but did it really need it?

There are some really unsetting images on display right alongside some ethereally beautiful ones and more than one homage to the big daddy of Lovecraftian films, THE THING. And it gets points for swinging out in a creative direction moreso than I was expecting.

Mostly good, if a little lacklustre overall but genre fans will find a lot to like here.

BRIGHTBURN (2019)

What if Superman hadn’t been sent to Earth as a refugee but rather as a kind of sleeper agent to a race of cruel alien warmongers?

Alternatively: Superboy the movie but he’s creepy and psychotic and it’s vaguely a methaphor for puberty.

A further case for the notion that the origin story is the least interesting part of a hero/villain fable, particularly when the morality of the protagonist is implied to have been decided for him by his host planet’s programming and no amount of nurture from his adoptive family will sway him back to “good”.

Kinda predictable despite being mostly well executed with some disgustingly visceral horror stuff in there too. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t quite live up to the potential of the premise in any way that something like CHRONICLE hadn’t already managed.

TERMINATOR: Dark Fate (2019)

Yeah, it’s fine.

Much more promising at the start with good characters old and new, some absolutely belting fight sequences and a legitimately great evolution of the Terminators into the new REV-9 model.

Gabriel Luna is pitch perfect as a faster, meaner twin machine, and the physicality of the role makes for some awesome battles with Mackenzie Davis’ augmented protector that feel right out of a kids’ imaginary action figure showdown.

Honestly, the main problem is that it goes so big so fast and then doesn’t really have anywhere to go — the stakes have been so protracted and epic action fatigue sets in. There was at least two points where I thought we were at the end only to keep on rolling on again into something more huge and bombastic but the stakes hadn’t upped to reflect it.

For example: Did we really need the whole crashing plane bit? It really desensitised me to the ACTUAL peak of the film some 30min later. Like, I get that everyone played UNCHARTED 3 and that part of the game was fantastic, but I think we’ve done all we can with planes falling out of the sky as a dramatic setpiece now.

Overall, chop out at least one action sequence or condense their more creative parts into one of the other scenes, remove flashbacks so you’re 25+ min shorter and you’d have a much more satisfying ride.

Still, FX are great, it’s an interesting parallel (alternate?) timeline and it’s better than about half of the other TERMINATOR films.

Worth a watch, even if it does drag a bit in the back half.

PROSPECT (2018)

A post-goldrush story on a micro budget that makes use of every dollar — the spacesuits and tech are charmingly analogue and cumbersome, medical treatment is harsh, the people are cruel and brutal and happy to kill for the possibility of a fortune.

Held aloft by the boundless charisma of a morally ambiguous Pedro Pascal and finding a resourceful lead in Sophie Thatcher, this is a frontier tale with a minimalist scifi angle.

Enjoyed it, worth a watch.

THOM’S TEENIES TV TOP 10

One of the things I struggled with most when compiling my top film picks for 2010-2019 was that the decade saw such a dramatic shift to a gilded era of television, much of which matched and even surpassed their cinematic bretheren.

There’s so much that is now possible in the episodic format that was unthinkable even a decade ago, and truly these last ten years represent a new high water mark.

As such, I’ve given my favourites their own list, in no particular order, here:

Continue reading “THOM’S TEENIES TV TOP 10”