THE THIRD DAY (2020)

A decent entry into the “creepy isolated cult” sub-genre, told with plenty of breathing room over six episodes.

Not as fantastical as I was hoping it would turn out, but nonetheless a fairly effective thriller told in two parts: three days (episodes) each of someone arriving on the island of Osea and things getting progressively worse for them, they things tend to do when you ignore all signs telling you to leave immediately.

Of course, the causeway connecting the island to the mainland floods over with the tide so the windows of escape are always narrow, but it’s often hard to sympathise with someone who sees creepy, bloody paintings on the exteriors of buildings and gets extremely chilly vibes from the locals and doesn’t just nope right the hell out of there immediately. There were too many points, especially in the second half where I was yelling “Fuck this place! LEAVE DAMMIT!!” at the television and yet the characters always managed to miss their chances to escape again and again.

Unfortunately, it does a bit more telling rather than showing us why this place holds such mythic portent. We hear it a lot but it’s never really explained or justified why it’s special or how it’s special.

In the end it comes down to the two leads of each of the sections (titled “Summer” and “Winter” ), and their emotional through-lines are what keeps it from falling off the rails thanks to Jude Law, Naomie Harris and the excellent supporting cast. Much is shot in a disorienting, uncomfortably close style that makes the character journeys harrowing and anxious to follow.

Supposedly there was an interim “Autumn” section which was broadcast as a 12-hour single-take live event between the two parts during the Osea festival that we only saw the lead up to and the fallout from in the show itself. It does feel as though something is missing, though if I hadn’t looked it up you’d never know it was missing.

For me it didn’t quite tip over into being really excellent, since something like Midsommar or the original Wicker Man handled similar material in a much more unsettling way.

Still, it’s a pretty decent little thriller, I was just expecting some elevation or reinvention of the genre when all it was offering was a good execution on worn ideas with nothing dramatic to reveal at the end.

THE OUTSIDER (2020)

Stephen King really has a way with small towns and supernatural murder.

Based on the book of the same name (which I haven’t read), it tracks the investigation into what at first seems like a very clear cut murder that quickly starts to escalate and destroy the community.

Tone and cinematography are appropriately unnerving, casting is excellent. Pacing is slow, but it works in its favour, taking its time to chew on each twist and let things unfold.

It’s all very Stephen King, and definitely one of his stronger ones, though the horror aspects fade out a little in the second half. Still, the characters are compelling and the mystery is well constructed.

Slow burn, recommended.

TENET (2020)

What a mess.

Ok, positive first: The soundtrack slaps. The performances are all excellent. The execution of the practical effects and the stunts are great.

But…

The sound mixing is, BY FAR, the worst I’ve heard in a blockbuster, possibly ever. Action scenes are thunderously loud even with the volume turned way down, and the dialogue is so quiet we needed subtitles so we weren’t yo-yoing the volume constantly with the remote.

The editing and pacing are an absolute mess. A basic two-shot can cut back and forth to the point where it’s distracting from the dialogue. Which is often a mercy because there’s zero wit or subtext to anything anyone says. The dialogue is mostly flat and purely functional. It’s not fun or engaging.

The first 45min could easily be cut and the same information much more effectively and interestingly disseminated in the rest of the film. Even still the plot moves at a breakneck pace: out of the gate four characters dump five bursts of exposition on you from six locations, none of which especially clarify anything, and things don’t improve from there.

We jump from location to location so fast and characters make decisions that change direction within a sentence of one another with no clear purpose. Nothing breathes, nothing coheres, it feels like someone trying to talk so fast that you won’t notice the huge gaps in the logic of what they’re saying and all the while you’re being told “Keep up! This is very smart!”.

The so-called mechanics of time inversion are wildly inconsistent and unclear. It’s a cool hook of an idea drunkenly explained on the back of a coaster. It’s like someone saw the Hong Kong reverse-time battle in Doctor Strange and thought “Let’s do that but louder, less fun and deliberately much more confusing for some reason”.

There are some good gimmicks here but there’s never any tension to anything. The stakes vary wildly from scene to scene, sometimes even within a single sequence, and at a certain point it’s hard to care because all the cool flashy stuff doesn’t really serve the clever narrative trick Nolan thinks he’s playing. There are MUCH better ways to use all its better elements and not have it feel like a jumbled, convoluted mess.

Hard to tell exactly where in the production line this went off the rails, but at two hours long and absolutely failing to convey anything meaningful besides a few cool shots you can spend your time better elsewhere.

Definitely not worth potentially getting Covid at a cinema for, barely worth sitting through at home.

BEHIND THE MASK: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

A slasher film parody/mockumentary that exists in a world where the famous supernatural serial killers not only exist, but that it is a position one can aspire to.

It’s a stroke of genius to see a hopeful slasher legend trying to build his own myth. All the tropes of the genre are accounted for using a combination of training, preparation and tricks right out of a basic magician’s handbook.

Loses a bit of steam when the mockumentary aspect folds into a more traditional horror film arc, but fans of the classics will find a lot to enjoy even if the final execution doesn’t quite live up to the cleverness of its premise.

If you grew up on slasher films, this one’s for you.

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (2020)

The ‘Haunting of…’ series really has a lock on what a ghost story traditionally is — more a melancholic tone of trapped souls and tragedy than sudden loud noises and cheap jump scares.

This is the kind of horror that seeps into your dreams, but the more time spent in the manor the less frightening these ghosts are and the sadder the memories of their stories become.

The same tricks abound as the first season — figures lurking unnoticed in the background, a pervasive sense of dread, overlapping narratives. Production design is excellent, the cast is fantastic, the ghosts are unsettling and sad.

Not as scary as the first season, and much slower, but the anthology setup is definitely a winner. I’m always keen to see what Mike Flanagan comes up with next.

Enjoyed it, nice to have a little closure on the bad dreams too.

El secreto de sus ojos (2009) // VS // The Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

While at first blush the two might seem to be the same story, really only the broadest of strokes have been retained in the adaptation from Argentina to North America, and all the richness of character has been drained out for a by-the-numbers crime thriller with an overqualified cast.

EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS (2009) won awards and acclaim as a mystery wherein the investigation into the murder of a young woman twenty-five years in the past stirs up old relationships when the investigator returns to town to try and write a book about his experience on the case. We slowly learn what went wrong, why he was forced to leave, and the life he was forced to leave behind — framed around an unconsummated romance with his superior and the deep vein of corruption running through the Argentinian legal system.

It’s very much sincere and charismatic and takes time to show how the incompleteness of the case has worn on everyone involved, that they have fallen into incomplete lives even now, two decades on, and you sincerely hope for them to find solace or closure.

There’s also an incredible single take chase shot that flies into a soccer stadium, sweeps around the crowd and then pursues the invesigators through the chaos after their mark. That shot alone is a technical marvel worth the price of admission.

Being a mystery, I’ll stay as light on the details as possible, but it’s deserving of the praise and Ricardo Darin is a treasure.

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015) takes the skeleton of the case and a passing glance at the romace framing the narrative and reshuffles everything else so that nothing fits together in the same way nor approaches anything like the engagement of the original.

The cast is excellent — indeed, this is dream casting for the story and I don’t doubt they were able to pull Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Alfred Molina in simply by screening the original for them. But that’s about as far as my compliments will go.

First and foremost: almost all of the actual detective work happens off screen. The bonding of the investigative team originally came from working out how each of their personas lent something of value to the case and they grew closer through it. In the 2015 version we’re shown a few brief flashbacks of people “being friends” and that’s meant to suffice. It doesn’t.

The politics in this version is a strange shoehorning of post-9/11 anti-Muslim fear involving a stakeout at a mosque that ultimately lends nothing to the story at hand. It can’t possibly have been twenty-five years worth of time between the two parts of the story, and very little effort was actually made to make either time period distinguishable or distinct from one another.

And that impressive chase shot I mentioned? It becomes a single drone shot coming into a baseball match and then as soon as the chase starts proper it just cuts like a normal chase. No single take. Why even bother adapting something if you’re not going to pay attention to the things that made the original unique?

I would highly recommend watching the Argentinian version, and then come back here to find out a little more on how the American remake fucked it up.

SPOILER WARNING

Continue reading “El secreto de sus ojos (2009) // VS // The Secret in Their Eyes (2015)”

DARK (s01-03)

An elegant, intricate knot. The sort of story that screenwriters all wish they were clever enough to pull off this effectively.

It’s just the right length, brilliantly self-contained and full of endearing characters and so much mystery that you’ll be going right back to the start to figure out where that thread you lost went.

Yes, it’s complex and can be labyrinthine and hard to follow at times, but the creators have done an incredibly impressive job of leaving breadcrumbs in everything from casting to production design. Seriously, the casting of actors as older/younger counterparts of themselves is frequently astounding.

And the plot. Ooooooooh the plot. Young boys start going missing around a small German town, thirty-three years to the day after a similar rash of disappearances happened and we see the effects of this ripple through a small community being affected for a second time in a generation. But what is actually going on is truly best left to be discovered yourself.

While the third season threatened to keel over with another burst of complexity, ultimately I felt it stuck the landing and was genuinely disappointed when we reached the end to find there was none left to be revealed, when the knot showed how thoughtfully it had been tied right from the start.

Haunting, moody and engaging. Truly, one of the great modern mystery/sci-fi shows. Highly recommended.

THE LAST OF US: Part II (2020)

What a ride. Brutal, bleak and uncompromising in its determination to make you feel every twist of the knife and to question your part in how far Eillie is willing to go for revenge.

It’s significantly longer than I was expecting, which at first I thought was a fault, but the back half actually contains and surpasses much of the emotion and spectacle of the first, and of the original game, and I found its bolder choices always backed up its thesis statement that violence begets violence.

This is an unpleasant lesson, of course, and Naughty Dog’s stubborn refusal to sway from making you truly feel that these are almost exclusively terrible people while investing significant time and effort into making you empathise with them is a large part of what will make this game stand out long after the naysayers have gotten over the fact that this is not a fanservice sequel but rather a direct continuation of the consequence of the choices that very flawed people made in the first game.

Yes, it is at times tropey. Yes, it is at time quite ham-fisted in what it is trying to convey. Yes, it seems like it could have ended cleanly in more than a few places. But ultimately it’s unafraid to shy from the sort of harshness that makes something like The Road both miserable and incredible at once, and that lingers long after the credits.

It is staggeringly well crafted, beautiful and horrifying to look at, emotionally draining and tense throughout.

Ignore the hate, make up your own damn mind. There’s an incredible, one-of-a-kind journey into darkness to be found here.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

Continue reading “THE LAST OF US: Part II (2020)”

THE VAST OF NIGHT (2019)

A nice, simple little scifi thriller with the look and feel of an early Cold War-set episode of STRANGE TALES or THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Does a great deal with very little, and has some really creative camera work that beautifully describes the distances around a small town somewhere in 1950s America.

Some incredibly long and seamless shots and two extremely charismatic lead performances, but to say anything of the plot would be to ruin the tone and the expectation it so wonderfully builds with steady, thoughtful pace. Could have perhaps gone a little further with some of its more creative reaches to really elevate itself it greatness, but I’m not going to hold that against it since restraint stops it tipping over into gimmicky and helps it feel authentic.

Recommended — don’t read anything up about it!

REVIEW SPECTACULAR 7: Revenge of the Medium Movies

Every once in a while I remember a bunch of films that I’ve recently watched which didn’t leave enough of an impression to want to paint them, so I compile them into a single post. This is one of those posts:

GUNS AKIMBO
BLOODSHOT
JUMANJI 2
DOLITTLE
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
FANTASTIC BEASTS
A WRINKLE IN TIME
WRECK IT RAPLH 2
RAMPAGE

Continue reading “REVIEW SPECTACULAR 7: Revenge of the Medium Movies”