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.
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!
imagine a Scary Movie where the wonderful Anna Faris and Regina Hall actually thought they were giving solid dramatic turns.
A baby-sitter finds herself trapped in a house playing cat and mouse with a masked serial killer. Sound familiar? A Stranger Outside is standard ’90s Scream-style shlock, albeit without the self-awareness. But it wins points for some interesting plot ideas. For example, the baby-sitter is really a nurse who has taken the gig as a way of getting some easy cash after suffering a career and confidence crisis due to the death of a vulnerable child in her care.
The first half of the movie was trite, and the acting was a little over-the-top, although our lead Brittany Underwood was giving a decent turn. The less said of the performances by her co-stars Mark Grossman (boyfriend Jeremy), Michael Chandler (incompetent Dr Mixer), Jet Jurgensmeyer (baby-sittee Toby), or best friend Kaci (Shanica “No Relation” Knowles), the better. Things really fall apart in comedy style when the killer starts a-killing. The Scary Movie-like knife thrusts, slicing through pieces of paper, cowering beside counters, and hysterical screaming were beyond absurd; imagine a Scary Movie where the wonderful Anna Faris and Regina Hall actually thought they were giving solid dramatic turns.
This film is also oddly disjointed. The first half, a 90s throwback cliché, albeit mildly entertaining. The second half, a spoof movie not realising it’s a spoof movie. Indescribably awful, but in its awfulness, thoroughly enjoyable nonsense. A jumble of decent scenes and terrible scenes, passable acting and insanely awful acting, make for a diverting 90 minutes.
surely ranks as one of the most terrifying examples of the genre that I have ever seen.
I am a huge and borderline obsessive Game of Thrones fan. I mean, I don’t dress up and go to the conventions. And my bookshelf doesn’t boast a crumbling copy of David J. Peterson’s book Living Language Dothraki. But it certainly can’t be healthy for a 35 year old man to be repeatedly kept awake at night by an almost endless stream of fantasies where he inhabits the Game of Thrones universe as a key protagonist. How would I react if my dragons—-Wake up, Bryan, you pathetic manchild, and smell the early onset midlife crisis!
Given that context, it is very surprising to me that I somehow missed 2014’s Honeymoon starring as it does GOT‘s very own Ygritte, a.k.a., the ridiculously lovely Rose Leslie.
Leslie and co-star Harry Treadaway play head-over-heels-in-love newlyweds, Bea and Paul, who just can’t keep their hands off each other. We join them as they start their honeymoon in Paul’s family cabin in the woods. Our leads give believable albeit slightly off-centre performances, but their quirkiness brilliantly foreshadows the disturbing story to come. Paul wakes up to find Bea sleepwalking alone in the woods. Things start to fall apart quickly for the young couple as it becomes clear that something very bad happened that night.
But what happened in the woods that night? And what is happening to them now? The film never fully spells the answers out. There are many possible interpretations. Mine is extraterrestrial rape. And I think when read as an alien abduction film, Honeymoon surely ranks as one of the most terrifying examples of the genre that I have ever seen. Indeed, if alien abductions really do happen, this film paints a deeply convincing picture of the literally alien / otherly horror of that experience. Although I repeat: the interpretation of what happened is very open.
However, don’t get bogged down in the specifics of what actually happened to Bea. The events, alien rape or otherwise, are merely an incidental device to explore what can happen to a healthy and seemingly rock solid relationship when one partner is violated in some way. The actual violation could be viewed as unwanted pregnancy or perhaps the loss of one’s self to an illness such as Alzheimer’s. But I think this film pretty clearly had rape in mind. None-the-less, I don’t wish to suggest that this film was meant as an allegory of rape or some other specific traumatic violation. But merely that it examines a relationship after having undergone a (any) traumatic violation.
A brilliant and deeply unsettling film that gave me repeated goosebumps and made me shiver endlessly.
there is a line between teasing the viewer and being a pricktease … frankly, this movie will leave you with blue balls.
Lorenzo is a middle-aged artist who is about to have a baby with his much younger, sweetly vulnerable wife Sigrid. But as soon as she falls pregnant, her behaviour becomes more and more distant, sinister even. Or– is it all in Lorenzo’s head? It’s only when the baby is born that Lorenzo and the viewer truly plunge headlong down the rabbit hole.
The film starts with a hot sex scene. Usually a bad sign. However, not so here: The Son was a tense psychological thriller, brilliantly acted by all. Lorenzo’s headspin into wretchedness and/or madness is masterfully constructed by Joaquín Furriel who is almost unrecognisable. Heidi Toini, who plays his Norwegian wife Sigrid, gives a brilliant performance which, like the candlestick-silhouette illusion, could equally be read in two completely different ways depending on perspective; is she an innocent and worried mother or is she a sinister evil plotter? Lorenzo’s best friends Julieta and Renato are equally magnificently played by Martina Gusman and Luciano Cáceres.
I couldn’t breathe throughout I was that spellbound.
This is honestly one of the best movies I have seen in the last year or two.
It could also be one of the worst.
Despite being almost perfect, the ending lets it down. But not because it was obvious or forced or too twisty or too straight-forward. Rather, the film just ends. Abruptly. You’ll understand when you see the film, but it’s like it’s missing the last two minutes. All the plot threads are pulling together when the final incident happens and — we don’t get to see the resolution. I had to think about the ending. That’s not a bad thing, the old thinsky ambigui-ending. And I think I know what happened. No spoilers, of course. But then again, judging from other people’s comments, everyone seems to have interpreted the ending differently. There is a line between teasing the viewer and being a pricktease, and with The Son we’ve crossed it; frankly, this movie will leave you with blue balls. It’s actually unacceptable that a movie this brilliant in so many ways should end with the cheap, “We’re not gonna show you!” shot at ambiguity. The writer and director should have had the balls to pick one of the possible outcomes and go with it. I have to warn you: this film is magnificent, but the bad ending — no, actual lack of an ending — is pretty disgraceful and will be, for many a viewer, film-destroying. Perhaps the book on which it is based can shed some light.
So, four stars out of five, or two out of five? I’ll have to give it a three, the weirdest and most atypical three star movie ever.
In the 1990s, Javier Muñoz (Javier Gutiérrez) was a world-eating advertising executive. But twenty years later, he is washed up, yesterday’s man, and a joke to all in the profession. With mounting debts and no prospects, and in spite of the pleas of his suffering wife (Ruth DÍaz), Javier desperately clings to the scraps of his former enchanted life: the dream apartment, the car. But you can only run for so long. For most people, facing the music is a wake-up call to adjust their lifestyle and their expectations; for Javier, it’s a call which wakes up something far more sinister, an obsession which will not die.
The film is beautifully acted throughout, and our leads are deeply convincing. Not only Gutiérrez and his on-screen wife played by Ruth Díaz, but also the supposed dream couple Tomás (Mario Casas) and Lara (Bruna Cusí). Javier’s journey is front and centre, dramatic, and thoroughly believable. He manages to remain somewhat sympathetic, despite clearly sociopathic tendencies. It’s a testament to both the writing and the acting, not just of Gutiérrez but of his co-stars, that we retain a kind of complicit, twisted, semi-loyalty to Javier, and believe his character arc completely. The other characters’ journeys are no less important, and are equally convincing.
Where once he sold manufactured dreams to the masses, he now craves that dream himself, a truth beautifully referenced through the first and last scenes of the film. The film had a poetic elegance. It was hard-hitting without moralising, and unambiguous as to where right and wrong lie whilst still drawing us in to sympathise with the wrong.
A really wonderful movie, albeit with a somewhat sour ending which may not sit well with a Spielbergian audience. Not sure about the title “The Occupant”; the Spanish title Hogar “Home” fits much better.
A foreboding storm is the backdrop to the sad tale of a boy who witnesses a murder and who in fleeing the scene is run over and killed. Twenty-five years later, an eerily similar storm forms which seems to create a link to the past. Can Vera save the boy? And what consequences will follow from this?
Mirage is a mind-bending mystery crime time-travel film. Beautiful in every way. The ending is shocking and totally satisfying; it doesn’t wipe out our journey as time travel films often do.
a paint-by-numbers thriller-stalker ideal for playing cliché bingo
Having recently separated from her philandering husband, lonely teacher Claire (Jennifer Lopez) has a night of passion with her new next door neighbour: young, sexy-but-smart Noah (Ryan Guzman). Yet when Claire tells Noah she made a mistake, Noah won’t accept it and starts his reign of stalking terror.
Despite The Boy Next Door being a paint-by-numbers thriller-stalker ideal for playing cliché bingo, it’s very entertaining. Great pacing, logical follow-through, and the acting is mostly convincing — although Guzman increasingly hams as the tension rises.
A good film? No. Entertaining? Undoubtedly. Unoriginal and sometimes absurd, The Boy Next Door is a guilty pleasure.