Tag Archives: film blog

Netflix Film Review “Escape Room” (2019) #NetflixReview @Escape_Room

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.

4/5

© 2020-2021 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “The Prodigy” (2019) #NetflixReviews #200WordReview

Nothing you haven’t seen before

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.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Orphan” (2009) #NetflixReviews #200WordReview @isabellefuhrman

A thrilling film

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.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “The Paramedic” a.k.a. “El Practicante” (2020) #NetflixReviews #200WordReview

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.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “His House” (2020) #NetflixReviews

A film that the critics will wax lyrical over … but which actually doesn’t live up to its promise.

Bol and Rial Majur (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku) had fled the brutal civil war in Sudan and fared a treacherous passage across the sea to the UK. After being given temporary leave to remain in Britain, their life looks bright–er. That is, until a menacing presence in their new home begins to interfere with their new lives.

His House begins with a wonderful premise that sees our characters trying to make a new life in a dilapidated council house on, perhaps, the worst council estate in England. The visuals are stunning and it’s genuinely scary — at first, that is, until the jump scare trick gets repeated once too many times. But there is some beautiful visual poetry.

This is a movie which, both for thematic and artistic reasons, I desperately wanted to love. Sadly, the wonderful premise and promise fall away rather quickly as the film really seems to fizzle out half way through act two. There is never enough threat to our main characters, nor mystery about what is going on. This is a real shame.

A film that the critics will wax lyrical over–it’s currently 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but believe me, it’s not that good–but which actually doesn’t live up to its promise. A visually-engaging albeit ultimately hollow movie.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “The Call” (2013) #NetflixReviews #200WordReview @abbienormal9 @halleberry

straight-up, thrilling cinema with no pretensions

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 tense thriller not to be missed.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Lineage of Lies” a.k.a. “Psycho Granny” (2019) #NetflixReview

enjoyable nonsense

This review contains mild spoilers

Samantha (Brooke Newton) has no family whatsoever apart from her mother who was herself adopted. So when her mum suddenly dies, pregnant Samantha’s world is plunged into chaos only to be saved by the unexpected arrival of her grandmother (soap stalwart Robin Riker) who is looking to make up for lost time. But does Granny have ulterior motives?

Lineage of Lies, also colourfully known as Psycho Granny, is classic network TV movie stuff. Low budget, over-acted, melodramatic, massive spoiler in both titles, and with things that make no sense. For example, how is our psycho granny able to lug 200lb dead bodies about, in public, without being seen or putting a hair out of place? Why does she only look just old enough to be Samantha’s mum, let alone grandmother? Why does someone who is self-evidently so brilliant at deception make the most rudimentary and careless errors, such as leaving dead people’s mobiles lying around for our protagonist Samantha to find? We also had plot dead-ends: why don’t the people from her past deceptions, who we are introduced to, catch up with or threaten her or her schemes in some way?

Having said all that, I loved it. This is typical student / unemployed / housewife / hungover / late night / corona furlough guilty-pleasure viewing. As for the plot, we know from the outset what Granny’s game is, and the fun is in seeing how she goes about bringing her plan to fruition. What I particularly liked about the film is that granny is after emotional not financial enrichment. Very human.

There’s no way this film can be considered “good”, but it’s enjoyable nonsense, none-the-less.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Review “The Mystery of Michelle” a.k.a. “Long Lost Daughter” (2018) #NetflixReviews

it is totally unbelievable that anyone that age [seven years old] would not remember their own parents clearly.

Kathy Rhodes’ (Molly Hagan) seven year old daughter Michelle disappeared on the way to school. Now, twenty years later, the arrival in town of twenty-seven year Michelle Jacobs (Sofia Mattsson) sparks off an obsession: has Kathy’s little girl somehow returned to her?

The Mystery of Michelle a.k.a. Long Lost Daughter is an entertaining TV movie and feature length debut from writer Joe Ryan Laia. The characters are generally sympathetic and believable. However, Kathy’s obsession with Michelle generally lacks the edge or menace required to make this movie really pop, except suddenly and therefore somewhat jarringly towards the end, and I feel this is a missed opportunity for Laia as it would have been easy to fix in a redraft. The movie therefore often plods along rather than zips.

The ending is fairly satisfying but also curious: what was apparently meant to be the cherry on the cake showing the sweetness and humanity of Michelle Jacobs instead comes across as giving her rather sociopathic tendencies. A bit of a discordant misstep to end the story with. But the most curious aspect of the plot, as it would be so easy to sort out and would have multiplied the drama tenfold, was Michelle’s age when she disappeared. She was seven. Not three. Not four. Not even five. But seven. The tension of the films depends on believing that Michelle’s own early memories of her real family could be confused and blurred. Yet it is totally unbelievable that anyone that age would not remember their own parents clearly.

None-the-less, there were some great scenes with neat writing and lovely acting, such as the tense dinner between Kathy, her husband, Michelle, and Michelle’s husband-to-be. This scene was very relatable, somewhat humorous, vaguely menacing, and the performance from Hagan really exuded guarded motherly love.

An entertaining 90 minutes.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Review: “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” (2020)

left such a powerful impression but at times failed to make a sharp impact.

Disappearance at Clifton Hill follows a troubled young woman whose return to her hometown at Niagara Falls triggers a disturbing memory from her childhood. Did her seven year old self really witness a child’s kidnapping all those years ago, or is it all just a confused memory, or a fantasy?

Tuppence Middleton gives a convincing performance of unbalanced, charismatic, driven loner Abby. I was captivated, totally believing that she is capable of all the deviousness she gets up to. The other cast members are also good, the film-stealing turn coming from director-turned-actor David Cronenberg (yes, the same). Unfortunately, the important role of the Moulins (Paulino Nunes and Marie-Josée Croze) seemed like a side of overdone eggs with extra ham. The sound design was unsettling and was key to the eerie, almost surreal and dream-like atmosphere of the film.

The film was a little bit tricky to follow, especially at the beginning, and the ending felt like it needed a more distinct underlining. But that was befitting a picture which left such a powerful impression but at times failed to make a sharp impact. None-the-less, I was along for the ride.

A wonderful portrait of a lonely woman in a town of lonely souls, Disappearance at Clifton Hill sometimes lacked edge and at times veered off into crime series territory (in terms of acting, story, soundtrack), but it was an enjoyable and engrossing ride — albeit too slow-going for some viewers.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Awake” (2019) #NetflixReviews #150WordReview #AwakeMovie #Awake2019

Please ignore the 5.0 IMDb and 14% Rotten Tomatoes scores.

A man wakes up in a hospital bed, bandaged from head to toe, and with no memory or who he is. But when our nameless protagonist (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) learns that he is a wanted serial killer, something just doesn’t sit right, and he won’t stop until he finds out who he really is and what happened to him.

Awake is a tense, fast-paced crime mystery with twists. Rookie writer Elana Zeltser makes a solid if not ground-breaking screenplay debut. The script, whilst not as clever as Memento (1999) or as taut as Taken (2008), is well-written with believable plotting and dialogue. Our leads, Meyers and Francesca Eastwood, also really sell the film, although the acting from Malik Yoba (detective Frank Ward) had a tendency to veer off into TV movie territory.

Please ignore the 5.0 IMDb and 14% Rotten Tomatoes scores. This film is much better than that. Riveting, fast-paced, not overly obvious albeit not earth-shakingly original, this is a lovely little movie to spend 92 minutes with.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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