you’ll need to follow this movie up with something suitably light, such as four straight hours of back-to-back Blue’s Clues and You, just to take the edge off it.
Jake Gyllenhaal is a burnt-out cop, Joe Baylor, who’s been demoted to the 911 call centre pending an investigation into his alleged misconduct. Between abusive callers, crank callers, and non-emergency timewasting callers, Joe’s car wreck of a life — oh yeah, his wife’s left him and taken the kid, too — finds temporary sharp focus when a kidnapped woman calls without the knowledge of her abductor. Joe throws himself into a race against time to find and save this woman before it’s too late.
The Guilty is a truly breathtaking thrill ride. A kind of Donnie Darko does ‘The Call’ (review here), The Guilty is a film of disturbing twists and turns both within Joe’s fractured mind and out there in the real world. We are taken on a journey through the morally ambiguous nature of all people without losing clear sight of objective morality, all in a non-preachy way.
This is somewhat dark film that may be a bit of a downer for some. Certainly, you’ll need to follow it up with something suitably light, such as four straight hours of back-to-back of Blue’s Clues and You, just to take the edge off it. But art, like life, ain’t always pretty.
Like much Argentine cinema … a great idea … but ultimately an unsatisfying mess
Strange events and a murdered wife brings a motley collection of investigators — a cop, a doctor, and a paranormalogist — to this Buenos Aires neighbourhood to investigate. Will they get to the bottom of the case and stop this evil from spreading?
Terrified a.k.a. Aterrados is a disturbing horror film. It never allows you to get your bearings. And asides from a dodgy bit of special effects early on, the film is darkly creepy with a disturbing evil presence.
Unfortunately, the film’s apparently deliberate decision to have no character-based central narrative thrust or fixed protagonist makes it hard to get into and stay with this movie. The effect is that a bunch of weird and disturbing stuff is happening, but without any reason focus or point. It’s frankly hard to care about what happens.
Like much Argentine cinema, there is a great idea here, and some wonderful acting, direction, and film design, but a film that none-the-less is ultimately an unsatisfying mess that goes nowhere. No matter how good these other things are, if the central narrative doesn’t work, it’s game over for the film. Sadly.
Five friends decide to celebrate a stag do in an alternative style: with a manly cross-country hike in the deepest darkest woods. Uh-oh. They inevitably end up getting stalked by a lone marksman who terrorises them.
The whole point of Prey is to see how pressure exposes unseen cracks in the fellowship causing our team to battle against each other and themselves as their friendship threatens to self-destruct. Can they keep it together, will they destroy themselves? Sadly. this descent doesn’t work at all, as it was impossible to understand why these friends were friends to begin with; they hated each other from the get-go. So it’s all rather undramatic and boring.
As for the marksman, the film’s pathetic attempts to explain their actions makes no real sense whatsoever. Indeed, there’s no real motivation for anyone’s actions, including the decision to go on a hike instead of a booze-up. It wants to be a German Ritual (2017), but it’s really not.
1551. A brutal and bloody civil war has ravaged Japan for a hundred years, ferocious warlords have been locked in a death struggle for supremacy in the fractured land. Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan tells the tale of that era and how, through a painful birth, the modern Japan would be born.
Age of Samurai is a limited docuseries featuring the usual shtick: talking heads, narration, recreations with actors, and maps. So many juicy, juicy maps. However, it’s the way you tell ’em, and Age of Samurai has some wonderful acting, artfully but not distractingly shot talking heads, lush graphics, phenomenal editing, and a narrative structure that sucks us in. Forget anime and manga: this series is a gateway drug to Japanese culture. My only criticism is later important characters sometimes just pop up instead of being mentioned or having their importance artfully foreshadowed.
A kind of real life Game of Thrones… set in Japan, the twists and turns were riveting. I’ve never much been interested in Japanese history, but this has started a fever in my brain; let’s see where that fever leads.
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.
Veteran 911 operator Jordan (Halle Berry) receives a call from a teenage girl, Casey (Abigail Breslin), who has just been abducted and is currently locked in the boot of her kidnapper’s car. As would-be killer Michael (Michael Enklund) drives Casey to an unknown location for a certain death, Jordan must battle her own demons and find Casey — before it’s too late.
The Call is a tense, non-stop, thoroughly riveting thrill-ride. The performances all round were great, Michael Eklund giving a big but convincing turn as murderer Michael, and the direction was accomplished and what we would expect from Brad Anderson. The use of different kinds of minority characters, without rubbing our faces in the production’s self-righteousness, was actually refreshing and empowering and not at all distracting.
The very last moment of the film was admittedly somewhat forced, although only if we take our characters’ word for it, which I didn’t (no spoilers, so sorry for the vaguery). And some critics have poo-pooed the third act, but I found it a believable and natural development of the story. Frankly, The Call is the exact kind of film that the critics love to hate: it’s just straight-up, thrilling cinema with no pretensions.
a nightmare … as perpetrated by floppy-haired, latte-supping, trendy technologistas
The Circle is the world’s number one tech business, a Facebook-Google-Apple mash-up led by a kind of Steve Zuckerjobs (Tom Hanks). Young intern Mae (Emma Watson) scores a dream opportunity to work for the firm, but the dream quickly turns into a nightmare. The set-up is compelling: the darkside of social media and modern technology, the invasion of people’s privacy and the loss of anonymity, as perpetrated by floppy-haired, latte-supping, trendy technologistas, under the guise of techtopian idealism.
Sadly, a well-realised world deserves a well-realised film. Most characters are cardboard cut-outs that we don’t care for. The development of Emma Watson’s character is illogical; the more she suffers the folly of this Brave New World, the more she seems to buy into it. And the ending is unfulfilling and makes no sense; Mae’s reaction is the literal opposite of the logical end point of her story arc. Watson does the best she can, and Tom Hanks is compelling, but the lack of through-line in the script makes for a frustrating what-might-have-been mess.
A nightmarish hallucination … utterly unlike anything you’ve seen before
An isolated area of countryside is cut off from the world by an eerie shimmering light which surrounds it; no one who enters “the shimmer” is heard from again. Communication in and out of the shimmer is impossible. And with the shimmer slowly growing in size daily, engulfing the surrounding area, the government is called in to carry out a classified investigation under the guise of a chemical clean-up operation.
An all-female team, led by a biology professor (Natalie Portman) and a psychologist (Jennifer Jason) Leigh, each with their own agendas and ulterior motives, are the latest to enter. The world they find within the shimmer is an Alice-in-Wonderland, LSD trip gone wrong. A nightmarish hallucination, which is both utterly unlike anything you’ve seen before, and completely convincing.
The film is a genre-defying science fiction-horror-thriller-psychological thriller-creature feature which shares genetic strands with Sphere (1998), Event Horizon (1997), Contact (1997), and Cloverfield (2008). But this is all par for the course for writer-director, Alex Garland, whose previous accomplishments include Ex Machina and 28 Days Later.
This film is tense and, yes, genuinely scary. A horrifying slow-burn with some first rate acting.