Tag Archives: thriller

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 the 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 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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Netflix Film Review “A Stranger Outside” a.k.a. “Babysitters Nightmare” (2018) #NETFLIXREVIEWS @BRITT_UNDERWOOD @JAKEHELGREN @MARKGROSSMAN @JETJURGENSMEYER @SHANICAKNOWLES

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.

So bad it’s almost good. But not quite.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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NETFLIX FILM REVIEW “THE SON” A.K.A. “EL HIJO” (2019) #NETFLIXREVIEWS @JOAQUINFURRIEL @MARTINAGUSMAN @CIANOCACERES @HEIDITOINI @LEODAGO_ @LEOYSUBRAYO

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.

Candlestick, or silhouettes? The Son masterfully plays with our perception of reality.

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.

Why?

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.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Calibre” (2018) #NetflixReviews

read the 150 word review here

debut solo feature … a remarkable accomplishment.

Two thirty-ish childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up after a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.

There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.

The countryside, almost a character itself, oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting. Indeed, the cinematography is beautiful and effective throughout, never drawing attention to itself but is quite magnificent. I particularly enjoyed one shot of Vaughn’s dinner. The sound design is understated but truly powerful and sells the film magnificently. 

The writing is tight and fat-free but never feels shoehorned or with an inevitable end-point. The film is marked by highly convincing motives and actions and reactions from all of our characters throughout. This is sold by some truly phenomenal acting, including from supporting characters.

Vaughn, a shy but nice bloke; Marcus, his larger-than-life but slightly unbalanced friend. We get the impression that Vaughn had emotionally distant parents and was a bully victim; Marcus seems to have the self-confidence and slightly self-destructive side afforded by a more privileged upbringing. But almost all of this was subtly and carefully implied rather than being explicitly stated. It felt like our two leads had a lot of backstory to work with and were therefore able to deliver a very convincing throughline. The film’s first act sees them having a highly believable lad’s bonding session. If you’re a man, this kind of sesh will definitely be familiar, true man-on-man bromantic bonding.

The finale was satisfying and totally appropriate with a final shot which made us feel complicit.

Calibre reminded me of the excellent Eden Lake: a tranquil countryside retreat, an incident in a forest, local townsfolk who seems a little on edge and present a constant threat. But in recalling Eden Lake, a truly gritty and realistic movie, Calibre made me realise how theatrical Eden Lake was by comparison. I was fully gripped and absorbed, whereas Eden Lake now seems a little bit “horror movie”, emphasis on “movie”.

This was writer-director Matt Palmer’s first solo feature length film after several horror short films. So the title “debutant” seems a little inappropriate. None-the-less, this is a debut solo feature, and it a remarkable accomplishment.

This film was tense and boding from the outset. It’s hard to think of how this could have been improved. Everything was magnificent. I am sorely tempted to give this a five star rating, but I only give five star reviews to films that I immediately think, “Wow, this will go down as one of the greatest movies in history”. Calibre was too simple a story and too simply told to ever be classed as one of cinema’s greatest works. But even though Calibre may not have changed the cinematic game, it is, none-the-less, a phenomenal movie which I cannot recommend highly enough.

4/5

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Netflix Film Review “Calibre” (2018) #150WordReview

A true gem.

Two 30-ish year old childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up for the first time in a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.

There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.

The cinematography was beautiful and the countryside oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting.

A true gem. Watch it.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Look Away” (2018)

… this twist was shocking, but I was more shocked at how poorly the film played this strong card.

Maria (India Eisley) is a quirky and lonely teenager, bullied and suffering a barely-fleshed out eating disorder, her only friend is merely using Maria as a personal side-kick and as a kind of depressive foil to make herself look good. A depressed mother (Mira Sorvino) and a philandering plastic surgeon father (Jason Isaacs) make home life equally unbearable. But everything changes when Maria looks in the mirror to see that her reflection is alive. The reflection is called Airam (because, ya know — I mean, work it out for yourself!) and claims to have Maria’s best interests at heart. But does she/it really? Things take a turn for the dark when they swap places.

There’s no real tension regarding who or what the reflection is, the very first shot of the movie spells it out: Airam is Maria’s twin sister who died at birth. There also isn’t any real tension to the way Airam gets justice for Maria. Justice would be served, and I would just go, “Oh, okay, so that’s happened, I guess.” There felt like minimal pay-off. There could have been a slow build-up to key scenes of “justice”, there could have been a creepier tension built between Maria and Airam. Jason Isaacs does steal the movie, however, with his off-kilter and complex portrayal. The film missed another pay-off with certain revelations regarding Airam’s true fate/identity; this twist was shocking, but I was more shocked at how poorly the film played this strong card. There’s an awkward aggressively sexual scene between Maria and her Dad, but this, too, felt like it could have gone in a more interesting direction.

This was an entertaining film, but it kept me wondering why they didn’t explore the concept more. What happens to Maria when she’s in the mirror? Is there a whole other dark world in there, like ours but the opposite? Or is it happy and light, making her not want to come back while Airam is unhappy in Maria’s world? Why wasn’t justice performed more ironically; for example, why was Maria’s school tormenter not, despite having a secret crush on her, punished in a way fitting his relationship with Maria? He just gets kyboshed. And why isn’t Maria made to be more likable? Self-deprecating sense of humour, perhaps. An interesting hobby, maybe. She’s just pathetic and characterless.

Nice idea, some good acting, an entertaining albeit mindless way to spend 103 minutes, but devoid of tension. A Horror-thriller without much of either. The ending also felt incomplete. This film is a wasted opportunity.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “In The Tall Grass” (2019) @Netflix #Horror

 … would have made a cracking little episode of The Twilight Zone.

In the Tall Grass is based on the novella co-written by one-man-novella-industry Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. It’s a high concept mystery-horror-thriller that seems like it would have made a cracking little episode of The Twilight Zone.

We meet a dilapidated and forsaken church, as much a character in this story as any of the humans, whose carpark is a de facto layby for weary travellers. This is the only thing for miles around apart from motorway and countless acres of thick, tall, grass. When heavily pregnant Becky (Laysla de Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) stop to rest, they hear a small lost boy (Tobin, Will Buie Junior) stuck within the thick growth pleading with them to help him get out. So far so simple. But when they enter the tall grass, they find themselves trapped in a nightmarish and constantly-changing maze where the very grass seems alive with an evil presence which is determined to keep them captive.

Such a high concept could backfire (see M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Happening). But In the Tall Grass initially worked quite well, particularly since it seemed like we were watching the marvellous Triangle (2009) but rebooted on a farm instead of the open sea. A silent, evil presence at the centre of the shifting grass maze had serious shades of King’s own The Tommyknockers and was quite convincing.

Unfortunately, what wasn’t convincing was some of the acting, particularly that of the usually great Patrick Wilson. Wilson hams it, chewing up the scenes like a demented Ash from Evil Dead III. Unfortunately, that acting did not sit tonally at all well with the rest of the film. As my wife put it when Wilson cracks open the can-o’-ham, “This is just silly now”. She left the room.

From this point onwards, the film really struggles with its own lack of source material, although this needn’t have been a problem: King’s own novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption proves that a novella can be weighty enough for a magnificent film treatment. Sadly, this novella just didn’t have enough to it. The whole venture descends into a shlocky slasher movie. There is some surreal and disturbing body horror, however, which was gruesome and great!

The film does manage to just about pull itself together for the conclusion which is satisfying. And, Wilson and Whitted aside, the acting is compelling and convincing. But the whole thing just about careens off the tracks as it finishes. It would have benefited greatly from curtailing its length from 101 minutes to an old school 90, maximum; 81 would have done fine. Even if Wilson hadn’t channelled Army of Darkness, there’s no escaping that this film was a Twilight Zone episode spread too thin. A very uneven, albeit enjoyable, result.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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