a very standard movie … [but] never felt staid or boring.
Daniel (Rodolfo Sancho) and Sara (Belén Fabra) lead an itinerant life: they buy houses, do them up, sell them off, and then move on to the next project, but in the meantime they live in their worksite. This has caused their son Eric (Lucas Blas) some emotional problems as he can never embed himself properly into the local community — until the most recent community, that is, which Eric has been traumatically ripped from. So when Eric begins to hear voices, his psychologist thinks to look no further, but the source of the voices is far more disturbing.
Don’t Listen a.k.a. Voces (‘Voices’) is, in a way, a very standard movie of its kind. Old and possibly haunted house, evil presence, kid picks up on it first, bad stuff starts to happen, the terrorised family turns to an “expert” in pseudology or whatever, final showdown, etc. However, Don’t Listen never felt staid or boring. The presence is genuinely disturbing, the signs of a person affected by the presence are also disturbing and believable — and this is sold wonderfully by first victim (played by Beatriz Arjona).
The twists and developments never feel forced. The reactions of the characters are believable. Just when you fear the film may fall apart by Hollywoodising in the final act, the movie triumphantly soars.
the characters didn’t feel like cut-outs waiting to be killed, but like real people.
Six strangers from very different backgrounds have been invited to take part in an escape room together. Escape rooms are a chance for people to come together, build social skills, be creative, and have fun — win or lose. But it soon becomes apparent that when it comes to this particular escape room, losing is not an option.
A strong concept piece featuring a motley assortment of characters, Escape Room felt like a horror movie in the model of a classic Twilight Zone episode, an exciting mystery. It had shades of movies I’ve enjoyed so much, such as Cube (1997) and Saw (2004), but very much did not feel derivative. Escape rooms themselves are all the rage now, probably because, as one of our players Danny (Nik Dodani) enthuses, they’re like real life computer games. And so this feels a very 2019 twist on those older movies.
Escape Room had plenty of well-judged humour, scares, moments of real tension interspersed with genuine mystery and a sense of the marvellous, and the characters didn’t feel like cut-outs waiting to be killed, but like real people. This definitely elevates Escape Room above most other examples of the survival game subgenre where character, motivation, and plot are so often very much secondary to the creativity of the games and the kills.
The movie began with a bang and then slowed right up in order to introduce all of the characters and the setting. But then the pace kicked back in and didn’t let up. Thrilling. I particularly enjoyed this playing with pacing and also of realism; the movie stretches and snaps back like a rubber band, never breaking nor going too far, but pushing the viewer to the limit.
Escape Room isn’t the first movie based on this concept — for example, we have the confusingly named and dated Escape Room (2017) dir. Will Wernick and, err, Escape Room (2017) dir. Peter Dukes –, but it’s the best so far. It really felt like I was watching this generation’s Saw. And like Saw, there were twists and turns — although, admittedly, none as shocking as that twist from the original Saw. Just as in Saw, each room / trial is brilliantly imaginative; you almost feel yourself “playing along” at home. And just like Saw, I felt myself thinking, “This could easily be a franchise. I think they could make more! I hope they make more! Although any sequel would be milking this concept dry” As it happens, the films ends not with the hint, but the definite confirmation, of a sequel. I felt excited, but also a little sickened by the self-assuredness of this film: gone are the days of teasing the audience and hoping for the box office receipts to make a second movie profitable, now are the days of the five film Netflix deal. None-the-less, the set-up for the sequel looks anything but milking the concept: it promises to be a thrilling and wonderful development, and it’s to be released in 2021.
A great concept, entertaining and real-feeling characters, thrilling, horrific yet fun, Escape Room was both familiar and yet refreshingly different. I loved it, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
Four episode Ripper is Netflix’s recounting of notorious serial killer The Yorkshire Ripper, a.k.a. Peter Sutcliffe, and his murder spree across northern England in the ’70s and early ’80s. The series follows the standard script: talking heads, archive footage, and narration overlaid. None-the-less, it was thrilling. Well told, we are immersed in the world of ’70s/’80s Britain. With Sutcliffe’s recent death due to Corona (in December 2020), this is a timely and engrossing look at one of Britain’s worst ever serial killers.
As the series itself says, we all expect and want the serial killer to be an otherly monster, but the reality is far more banal, and far more terrifying.
African American LGBT activist, Divinity Scully, and zany new-age Jew, Davina Duchovny
Once the new X-Files series (starting 2016) got cancelled after two seasons, it was only a matter of time before a reimaginized reboot would happen. Relive the story anew of the odd couple that was African American logical smart-thinking LGBT activist, Divinity Scully, and white middle-class zany new-age Jew, Davina Duchovny, as they investigate the paranormal — all at the tax-payers’ expense.
Note: this article was originally written in 2016, and the prediction about only two seasons of the new X-Files has actually come true!
See Happiness (1998) for what writer-director Oren Uziel was trying (and failing) to achieve.
Shimmer Lake tells the story of a bank robbery gone wrong, in reverse order. An interesting concept for this mystery crime drama / black comedy which focuses on the petty small town characters and their pathetic lives.
Sadly, the comedy and mystery crime were discordant, and very few jokes made me laugh. See Happiness (1998) for what writer-director Oren Uziel was trying (and failing) to achieve.
The biggest flaw, however, was that from the get-go we don’t care about the characters or follow the plot or even want to follow what is, on paper, an alright story. There was no way in to empathise or connect at the beginning of the film, merely a mess of stuff. Even the concept falls apart; the movie thinks it’s Memento or Pulp Fiction, but it really isn’t. The smug wink from one of the characters at the end was a bum note of smuggery. If told in the right chronological order, our response to this film would be, “okay, so…?”
Annihilation (2018) is a nightmarish hallucination utterly unlike anything you’ve seen before, a genre-defying science fiction-horror-thriller-psychological thriller-creature feature which shares genetic strands with Sphere, Event Horizon, Contact, and Cloverfield. Spectacular.
Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) was different from the day he was born, a genius far ahead of his peers. But when he starts to exhibit a sudden and disturbing change in behaviour, his parents become concerned that there might be darker forces at work.
Prodigy is a fairly standard example of the weird kid horror genre. John and Sarah Blume (Peter Mooney and Taylor Schilling) always wanted a child. Finally, and with great effort, they get him. But he’s a troubled child who starts to go off the rails. What force is behind this horrible transformation? Luckily, an expert is on hand with a kooky theory — that the Mum initially dismisses out of hand, but then comes to see is real. Nothing much is added to this rather staid formula bar some reasonable acting, including from young Scott who previously appeared in Stephen King’s It, and a few very scary moments.
Nothing you haven’t seen before, Prodigy is a well-made movie which only doesn’t score a three due to its general unoriginality.
A husband and wife have recently overcome the tragedy of losing their child and decide to adopt. But is the new addition to their family everything she seems at first sight? (Well, it’s a horror film, so no.)
Orphan is a rare thing, a genuinely believable and real-feeling horror thriller. Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) totally convince. All their passion, love, boredom, mutual frustration, arguments will be familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship; nothing felt forced, it seemed like being a fly on the wall. The development of their relationship as things go from bad to worse was also thoroughly believable. Nothing was at all melodramatic.
Believable is the key word, for some fairly extreme things happen in this film, yet we buy everything. Good acting, good writing, and some rather effective lighting and make-up work, totally sell the story and the twists. And just when you think things may come off the rails, Isabelle Fuhrman delivers as orphan Esther. The only thing that bugged me was why they even needed to adopt; they already had two healthy kids. The motivation to adopt another child didn’t fully convince.
A thrilling film, not your typical “weird kid” horror movie.
A fairly low-grade guy, Ángel was already half-gone before he even went
Ángel (Mario Casas) is a paramedic in the ambulance service. Stable job, reasonable flat, beautiful girlfriend Vane (the elfin Déborah François), and talk of babies: life seems to be going in the right direction. However, after tragedy strikes during a call-out, Ángel becomes increasingly distant and suspicious of Vane.
The Paramedic a.k.a. El Practicante is a good film. Well-acted, it keeps us with bated breath. A fairly low-grade guy, Ángel was already half-gone before he even went, so his downward spiral seems less a transformation than a totally believable and natural development. But herein lies somewhat of a problem: I couldn’t quite understand what Vane saw in Ángel even from the beginning. Another problem was the end. It seemed hollow, although that’s perhaps in keeping with the tone of the film. But more than that, it seemed slightly unbelievable.
The dark tone and machinations of the characters keep us dutifully hooked. Suspenseful, thrilling, a disturbing slow-burn, and yet somewhat lacking; the movie’s trajectory felt almost inevitable from the get-go.
A disturbing slow-moving thriller which never quite lands a killer blow. Still very much worth a watch.