THE LODGE (2019)

Small scale isolationist horror with a great handling of atmosphere and enough tricks up its sleeve to make you think it’s any one of half a dozen different sorts of movie at any point in time.

Even a cursory summation of plot threatens to give away too much. A cabin. Some kids. Their step-mother, who is the sole survivor of a suicide cult. Some long creeping moments of dread and a few unnecessarily jarring and overly loud bursts that don’t really add much to the guessing game.

Overall: pretty tense, some good imagery and a climax you’ll either see coming a mile away or be completely blindsided by.

Good for a cold, rainy night.

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.

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

It’s great!

Paranoid, economical, and leaning on a stellar lead performance from Elisabeth Moss and some really creative camerawork to sell what is essentially an absence, but also a very distinct presence. The camera lingers and follows what isn’t there, behaving as though empty space is being filmed with someone inhabiting and moving through it.

Fantastically executed, if this is the direction they’re moving with the classic Universal monsters then I’m all for it.

Recommended, don’t watch the trailer first.

KINGDOM: s02 (2020)

Zombie plague + feudal Korea + beautiful cinematography + devious political machinations = an absolute winner following a similarly great first season.

Lots of twists and turns, great choreography and characters. It’s on Netflix now.

Highly recommended.

THE SNOWMAN (2017)

Did they forget to add real credits at the start or did the graphic design place just give up?

Did they spend all their budget on these banging scenic wide shots and that one big swanky party scene?

Why is this character named Harry Hole? Is it a translation error?

Why does Michael Fassbender always look dead? Is it alcoholism or bad grading?

Why does Harry continue to live in his apartment when the walls have been torn out to spray for toxic mold and not replaced?

How is the killer already in his car when we already know he was following way behind this woman?

Why are there random white flashes in scenes?

Why do we see scenes from nine years in the past even though nobody in the present was there to remember them?

Why do only two people in the film smoke when they keep cutting to cigarette butts at crime scenes (which nobody ever finds or comments on)? Why does The Great Detective never see them right there?

Why is it suddenly daytime? Why is it suddenly nighttime? Why is it suddenly daytime? Why is it suddenly nighttime?

Why do they say the killer only strikes when it snows when we’ve seen that it wasn’t?

Why is half the dialogue recorded in voiceover or badly dubbed in? Is this a prank?

Why does Chloe Sevigny just suddenly have a twin? Why did they need a snow truck to drop Harry off when we already saw that the house is literally 10ft from where he just was? How did he know to look in the tank and how did the killer get in/out?

Why doesn’t Magnus get a promotion? He literally has every bit of useful plot information immediately ready as soon as someone asks for it. Is it because he has to wait to be told to give people crucial information?

Why do neither of the detectives working on this case know the same information?

Why does everyone in Norway except for two third-tier supporting characters speak with a proper British accent?

What is his relationship to his ex-girlfriend’s son? Why do they hang out? Is he just using him for his cell phone? WHY DOESN’T THIS POLICE DETECTIVE OWN A CELL PHONE? Why is he having police matters forwarded to a minor’s phone?

WHY SNOWMEN? Like, they ALSO show up at every crime scene but nobody ever makes any connections. IT’S THE NAME OF THE FILM AND THIS NEVER GETS EXPLAINED.

Why coffee beans? We the audience know why, but nobody else ever once comes close to even noticing them.

What is the deal with the entirety of Val Kilmer’s plotline? Why do we see something that nobody in the rest of the movie knows happened?

Are we in the middle of this? The start? Near the end? There’s been zero signposting of progress in either the killer case or the plot.

Why are the police just leaving a crime scene to be eaten by birds?

Is lying down on top of someone whose house you just broke into and who just attacked you because you broke into their house really the best way to resolve this situation?

Why does nobody ever follow up on JK Simmons? He’s literally the last person to see a victim alive after taking her photo with his phone IN PUBLIC WITH WITNESSES and then gives her his room card. HOW DID THE KILLER GET IN THE ROOM? How does nobody notice Rebecca Ferguson’s giant recording device? You can see it across the room! How did the killer find and move her gun when she was in the room the whole time? When/where did she get changed?

Who was the girl who had her boobs out for JK Simmons? She didn’t seem happy about it but then she just shows up again opening doors for people and then that entire plotline gets dropped. Who is she? IS SHE OK?? Why was Rebecca Ferguson even following her in the first place?

How does Harry know where to go to find his not-family? How does the razor-wire gun work and why does that exist? Why do none of the letters in the trailers show up in the film?

How did Harry not see the killer standing in the middle of a frozen lake in daytime not forty paces away? Is it because he’s just slightly out of shot? Why did the ice suddenly break when Harry was standing right there not a minute before?

How does Harry always only have half a cigarette even when he didn’t have a lit one two cuts earlier?

Is this meant to be a parody and something (a lot of things) got lost in the edit? It’s two hours long! What did they cut?? Besides all the resolutions to all the plot threads, that is.

How did they get this cast in this film?

And then why does the movie just… end?

Can someone give me whatever this cost to make?

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”