A troubled couple, Ray and Joanne (Sam Worthington, Lily Rabe), stop at a petrol station where their daughter’s arm gets Fractured in a fall. They rush to the nearest hospital, but something is terribly amiss. Pushy staff keep mentioning organ donation. And when daughter Peri (Lucy Capri) and Joanne disappear during an MRI, the hospital deny they checked in — or even exist at all. Ray must fight to save his family and prove his sanity.
A kind of horror Flightplan, we are kept guessing until the end: abducted family, or imagined family?
Unsettling, thrilling, but slightly shlocky. A good romp.
Where Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow.
Under the Shadow (2016) sees a mother struggle to maintain a normal family life in war-torn 1980s Tehran amidst Iraqi bombs and a mysterious evil presence.
BAFTA award-winning, foreign language, original setting, social commentary, Mark Kermode-approved: everything a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself loves. Yet this Iranian The Babadook doesn’t quite work.
Where Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow. Babbadook‘s is-it-isn’t-it-real psychological terror has been replaced with going-nowhere social commentary on feminism in post-revolutionary Iran. A truly scary “monster” and creepy apartment building can’t hide the lack of focus or peril. Disappointing.
everything that a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself should love…
Under the Shadow (2016) depicts a mother and daughter struggling to maintain a normal life in war-torn 1980s Tehran. After their father and husband is conscripted, Iraqi bombs start raining down. In a visually striking moment, one bomb lodges in the building’s roof: it doesn’t explode, but it seems to bring a mysterious evil with it that begins to tear the family apart.
This BAFTA award-winning horror has long been on my “must watch” list. Sadly, I’m no longer a freeloading undergraduate with cash and time to spare, so I couldn’t catch it at the cinema. Luckily, Netflix bought it — a surefire sign that the film was gold — and I got to watch it this weekend.
Called an “Iranian Babadook” due to its slow build and psychological horror element, this film holds a 7.0 on IMDB and 98% fresh on RottenTomatoes — rarely heard of scores for a horror. Foreign language? Check. Original setting? Check. Social commentary? Check. Mark Kermode approved? Check. It’s everything that a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself should love. And how I wanted to love it. But this was the single-handed most disappointing film experience I have had in years.
Where The Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow. 82 minutes never felt so long. The film wasn’t awful: jaunts to the basement bomb shelter were creepy, the sound design was at times deeply unsettling, and the evil presence was original and truly scary. But unlike The Babadook which nigh-on perfectly balanced psychological terror, monster scares, and possible mental breakdown in a is-it-isn’t-it-real stylee, Under the Shadow just felt like a going-nowhere social commentary on the state of women in post-revolutionary Iran with a bit of bump-in-the-night thrown in. Tension wasn’t maintained, the film didn’t feel like it was headed anywhere, and our mother and daughter, strangely, never truly seem imperilled by the menacing presence. The picture juggles several themes, yet never delivers on any of them. Smaller productions often suffer from fewer rewrites, Under the Shadow is no exception: this is a screenplay crying out for another round or two of redrafting. It never fulfils the ample potential it hints at.
However, the acting, direction, clever construction, and originality save the film somewhat. Memorable, note-worthy, but sadly Under the Shadow just doesn’t hang together.
With a title like Unforgettable, this film is almost asking to fall on its face.
Julia (Rosario Dawson) has just clawed herself out of a violently abusive relationship. Her reward: super job and wonder-man David (Geoff Stults). But her new life is shattered by David’s “tightly wound” ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl) who cannot, and will not, accept that she has been replaced. Julia battles the demons of her past to overcome everyone’s doubt and her new foe.
With a title like Unforgettable, this film is almost asking to fall on its face. The truly compelling central performances by Dawson and Heigl stopped this being a waste of time, but a classic it is not. Trite, boring.
How dare they will have going to have rebooted this classic!
Nooooooo. I can’t even bring myself to joke about this. But I just know it’s going to happen! Despite what Robert Zemeckis says, money talks; just ask Judas. How dare they will have going to have rebooted this classic! Sad face. Possibly justified as someone having gone back to the past from the future and changing the timelines in some kind of Star Trek reboot stylee.
Having recently separated from her philandering husband, lonely classics teacher Claire (Jennifer Lopez) has a night of passion with her new next door neighbour: young, sexy, super-intelligent Noah (Ryan Guzman) who’s moved in to care for his frail Great Uncle. Unfortunately for Claire, Noah is a not a one night kind of guy. There’s a fine line between “persistence” and “harassment”, and Noah isn’t even trying to tread it.
The Boy Next Door is a paint-by-numbers thriller-stalker. But despite giving the impression that writer Barbara Curry watched hundreds of films in the sub-genre in order to compile a checklist with which to construct this cliché-Bingo of a movie, the film is exceedingly entertaining. That’s an unfair assessment of the script, anyway, as Curry based the story on her own personal circumstances, so all clichés are real, probably. None-the-less, let’s tick the clichés off.
Lonely and beautiful female lead? Check. Too good to be true younger male love interest? Check. Son who gets turned against his own parents by aforesaid love interest? Check. Stalking love interest who tries to ruin his lover’s career in order to, bizarrely, drive her back into his arms? Check. Final showdown where the adulterous husband gets the chance to redeem himself heroically? Check. Murder afoot? Check. And it goes on and on.
But the film has a lot of good points. Actions have consequences, and everything follows through logically. Okay, some of the deeds are a bit over-the-top, but everything feels internally consistent with the overriding logic of the film. Tonally the film is also consistent, and it zips along at a thrilling pace. There’s very little fat to cut. The acting is mostly convincing, particularly believable was Claire’s son Kevin (Ian Nelson), and Jennifer Lopez gives an understated and believable turn as Claire, although our two main protagonists do slightly ham it up as the tension reaches boiling point. The odd absurdity aside — Noah giving Claire a “first edition” of 2800 year old work the Iliad, a poem which has been in print in English for hundreds of years, the book itself clearly a twentieth century printing — this film is well-crafted and does what it says on the tin. I was on the edge of my seat and totally absorbed in the film world.
Is it a great work of art like the Iliad it keeps mentioning? No. Is it even a “good” film? Well, no. It’s unoriginal and often absurd. But is it entertaining? Absolutely. It holds a mere 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes which is definitely unfairly harsh. Probably the best “bad” film I’ve seen in a while. Artistically-speaking, this feature only warrants two stars. But it’s just so damn enjoyable, that I have to give it a three!
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!