Speak No Evil (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

After meeting accidentally in Italy, a Dutch and a Danish couple meet up again for a weekend in the Dutch countryside where things go awfully wrong.

Shockingly suspenseful! It is the little things that will make your heart skip a beat. While nothing is ostensibly happening in Italy, Sune Kolster’s music wants you to know that something will happen. What seems innocent or just odd in the beginning will get unbearably awkward and uncomfortable later. The slow-paced editing builds up the narrative in a manner that makes the audience a narrator who knows more than the Danish couple. But neither we nor them can foresee what is about to happen. A prime example of editing (or lack thereof) is the moment where Agnes is told what to do on the table – the perfect establishment shot that involves actions/reactions simultaneously is like a volcano ready to errupt. Other instances of incredible pace and rhythm involve the dancing competition and then the chaos that follows after that.

There is nothing much to say without ruining the experience for you so I’ll keep it short and conclude with the great acting. Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huรชt, Karina Smulders, and the kids play beautifully their part (I’m sure the kids don’t have the full picture), adding to a realism that will cut your breath. Writer/director’s Christian Tafdrup visual explication of evilness becomes a spine-chilling reminder that, arguably, the invention of monsters such as werewolves, vampires, and zombies might be our way of coping and/or even projecting a possessed “darkness” that we could never admit to ourselves…

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Amercement (2020): Drama

A small-time drug dealer struggles to get a legitimate job and, before knowing it, he dives deeper and deeper into the criminal world.

A reality that doesn’t sound like Greek to any Greek. Co-writer/director Fokion Bogris captures through his lens the reality of the Athenian streets and the petty, unorganised crime like few have before him. From a narrative’s point of view, using profusely “lowlifes”, Bogris challenges toxic masculinity, personal and social insecurities, and homophobia through characters that have loads to hide and plenty to lie about. Everyone wants to “score big” or live the “easy life” with the least possible effort, crossing the lines of immoral and illegal without even realising it or caring about it.

From a filmmaking point of view, he creates a neo-noir atmosphere and a sense of realism that numerous members of the Greek audience will identify themselves with. While “realism” in film theory is a subject that opens a lot of cans of worms that make theorists (endlessly) argue with each other, in this instance, what I mean is that, through its minimal editing, it reduces the shot-reverse-shot techniques and, depending on the subject matter, it focuses on either the action or the reaction. In either case, both become – intentionally or unintentionally – funny as, more often than not, the characters’ close-ups express the intended feelings. The same applies when all characters are included in the shot and the audience gets to experience everyone’s feelings simultaneously. Add the colossal amount of slang and vulgar language to the mix and the result enhances the realistic effect to the point of surrealism; a movement that, arguably, can characterise numerous societies nowadays.

That particular filmmaking path, paved initially by writer/director Yannis Economides, has upped the game for the Greek cinema and the Greek filmmakers and has given the actors the opportunity to express themselves in a way they struggled to do before, present society in a way that could not be really presented before, and make a statement that the Greek cinema can be as competitive and daring as anybody else’s. Having said that, that school of thought wouldn’t exist now if filmmakers such as Theodoros Angelopoulos, Pantelis Voulgaris, Constantine Giannaris, and Panos H. Koutras (and many more) hadn’t offered so much to the film industry.

Finally, the last round of applause goes to the cast that shines in front of the camera: Vagelis Evangelinos, Stathis Stamoulakatos, Maria Baloutsou, Vasilis Anastasiou, and Sissy Toumasi.

Amercement is definitely worth your while as it’s an eye-opener, “welcoming” its audience to the dark side of the… world as you know it.

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Fall (2022): Thriller

In an attempt to rekindle their friendship, two young women decide to climb a 2,000-foot radio tower where they get trapped.

The daring opening sequence that will get you excited will be immediately followed by clichรฉs that could have been easily avoided. By cutting to the bar, closing up to the whisky glass, and, over somber music, explaining the emotions that are simultaneously shown, the filmmakers miscalculate already the audience’s intelligence. Not a good start, admittedly. What’s done right after that is the tower’s build-up. The editing’s pace and rhythm warn you that this is a beyond expression bad idea, but if they wouldn’t go for it, the film wouldn’t have been made and we wouldn’t be talking about it.

So, the main sequence, the tower’s climbing, and reaching the top… is absolutely terrifying! From the comfort of my chair, I was not able to breathe so, I can’t even begin to imagine how it would be if one was actually up there. And when calamity strikes it gets even worse. What you’ll probably start experiencing then is shortness of breath and vertigo, because producer/co-writer/director Scott Mann utilises these scenes beautifully – or should I say fearfully? Even just standing or sitting at this height cuts most people’s breath short, never mind moving around, looking down, and hanging by it. I could barely sit still on my chair. Anyway, how much better does it get after that? Well, while the story remains intense – mostly due to the height they are at and the efforts they put to find a solution – the dialogues don’t get much better. The subplot does not really help the story’s advancement. Be it as it may, shortness of breath and vertigo persist till the very end of the second act.

Overall, Hunter’s idea was stupid and selfishly she dragged with her Becky, someone who hadn’t climbed in a year, due to climbing lost her boyfriend, is currently self-destructive and depressed, and, consequently, is in a horrible physical condition (even though due to Hollywood reasons she still looks fit). And more stupidly, when they get up there, she asks her to do something way even more stupid by telling her: “The old Becky would have done it”. Do I need to mention that they decided to climb an over 2000-foot tower of rusty and unstable metal with so much skin out? What can I say…

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P.S. While the B67 TV tower doesn’t exist, it is based on a radio tower of similar height that people have been using for climbing and then jumping off with a parachute.

Where the Crawdads Sing (2022): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

When a dead body is found in the marshes, a recluse young woman becomes immediately the prime suspect.

Engaging, thought-provoking, and deeply emotional! The brilliant opening sequence that promises a lot starts delivering immediately. The found body (inciting incident) and the accusation of Kya Clark lead to the flashback that reveals the American South’s problems in an emotional yet non-judgmental way. The domestic abuse and the notion of the outcast immediately prevail in the film, something that will get you to know Kya, humanise her before anybody else does, and, consequently, make up your mind about her way before the lawyer, the judge, the jurors, and the crowd does.

Love, innocence, fragility, and the happiness found in everything that society ignores or learned how to turn the blind eye to, set the foundation for the drama to flourish, hook you in, and open the gates to the mystery that has already started permeating it. Based on Delia Owen’s novel and Lucy Alibar’s script, Olivia Newman’s directing provides a good taste of the South of the 60s – leaving out or smoothly bypassing (surprisingly?) THE major problem – but also leaving a lot of food for thought behind, such as the lack of individual morals, the long collapse of societal ideals, and the downright detachment from nature. One of the hats behind this beautiful production is worn by the amazing Reese Witherspoon.

Daisy Edgar-Jones (the British pulling a fantastic South American accent), David Strathairn, the man whose performance has never failed to impress, Taylor John Smith (as Tate), and the brief appearance of the diverse Garret Dillahunt create this ecstatic atmosphere that blends the thrill and the romance and lead this journey to its rightful destination. A destination that will raise questions from as back as the court and the presentation of facts to the man’s reaction upon his discovery – no spoilers.

Highly recommended to everyone who has ever felt, even momentarily, the way Kaya has her whole life.

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P.S. Take it from someone who has never been a fan of Taylor Swift: The end-credits song is Oscar-worthy and a perfect match to the film’s narrative! It left me gobsmacked!

The Sadness (2021): Horror

A young couple tries to survive the spread of a virus that brings out people’s darkest side.

Brace yourselves!!! The slow-burn first act is the calm before the storm; the everyday life with the everyday problems as we know it. You know it’s gonna go crazy, you just have no idea how much. Once it gets started, the horror introduced with Jim will get you hooked and cut your breath short until you get to experience the introduction again with Kat… tenfold! The train’s claustrophobic sequence is one of the bloodiest and most excruciating cinematic experiences you’ve ever had.

Producer, writer, and director Rob Jabbaz makes sure to shock you to your core in the beginning, but then, somehow, he manages to find a funny side to it, as if he parodies, momentarily, what he started. Once most of the horror has been unleashed and extremely graphically portrayed, Jabbaz seizes the opportunity to politicise it – it was shot throughout the pandemic, after all – slows the pace down, and gives you the time to wonder where it’s heading. And this is where I stop. The rest’s up to you to figure out and decide whether all this violence was justified and how the allusions and metaphors were laid out to you.

The first round of applause goes to Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, and the rest of the cast who deliver some really disturbing performances. It would be intriguing to ask them how they felt after portraying such characters. The second round goes to the crew that did a fantastic job behind the cameras despite the numerous pandemic restrictions.

Highly recommended for all hardcore horror fans!

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Elvis (2022): Biography/Drama/Music

The blessings and tribulations of the man who left behind him an everlasting legacy.

Mesmerising, vibrant, insightful, and saddening. The beauty of Buz Luhrmann’s films lies, predominantly, in his sense of pace and rhythm; in his sense of editing. Elvis introduces a “superhero” whose powers are music and showmanship, and Luhrmann comes on really strong, really fast. In the first half hour, he manages to build the foundation of an icon that is destined to follow a meteorite’s trajectory. What comes next is the introduction of tribulations of the still rapidly rising star. Segregation laws, massive hysteria, national paranoia, and personally costly decisions shape the image of a man, unknown to the public, who has to face demons as you and I do. And Luhrmann showcases that the world keeps changing while trying to fit Elvis in it – while not sparing the details of how hard that is. Notably, finding and losing (only to find one last time) that place, when everything around moves so fast, is the most crucial part of the hero’s journey.

Luhrmann puts on an electrifying and prestigious show! He builds up the rise and (internal) fall of Elvis as we know him. Now is the time though to praise the people who are also responsible for that show. First and foremost Austin Butler (Elvis) – who we might see at the Oscars. He took the role amongst A-list actors way more known than he is and all I can say is that he fully deserved it. His performance now will always be associated with Elvis Presley; he became Elvis Presley. Tom Hanks shines as his disgusting manager, he is inarguably one of the greatest actors alive. Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner kept the script non-linear and tight and offered a fresh and unique perspective. Mandy Walker whose lens expresses all the intended feelings. Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa masterly weave these feelings together and lead to my very first comment on the immaculate pace and rhythm that flows through Luhrmann’s films. Costume designer, Catherine Martin, goes the extra mile and gets hundreds of costumes to dress up Elvis and the rest of the cast and I’m positive we’ll also see her at the Oscars. Last but not least, extra credits go to EVERYONE else in front and behind the camera who worked on the film.

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P.S. To corroborate my point, if you want to get an idea of Luhrmann’s sense of editing, watch Moulin Rouge! (2001), and more specifically, the “El Tango de Roxanne” sequence (01:18:08 โ€“ 01:25:31). It lasts 443” and contains 419 cuts – approximately, one cut per second (I had to watch it at half the speed to count all of them)! In editing’s (unofficial) terms… a proper “frame-fucking”!

Dashcam (II) (2021): Horror

An entertaining livestream during the pandemic takes a turn for the worse when the host, unwillingly, gets involved with shadowy people and dark entities.

Dumb, laughable, nonsensical… everything a horror film shouldn’t be! In a nutshell, how this horror sub-genre came to be: found-footage, webcam, dashcam. Needless to say which category Dashcam falls under… Let’s start with the basics: Annie Hardy – the character, not the person – is the biggest douche you’ve ever encountered in a film and you won’t show any sympathy for her. Stretch, on the other hand, is somewhat indifferent. Director Rob Savage did a horrible job with the camera. I presume the editor, Brenna Rangott, spent most of the time piecing together badly shot, shaky, incoherent footage. Last but not least, we, the audience, spent all of our time, the whole 67′, wondering what the hell was going on – or 75′ if you stayed till the very end to watch Hardy freestyling with the end credits’ names.

If you consider Dashcam as a found-footage horror, you’ll get annoyed and disappointed. If you see it as a parody of the sub-genre though, with a funny leading actress, you’ll have a decent laugh. Jason Blum has produced some of the best horrors of the 21st century so, he’s allowed to have a misfire every now and then. My issues are with the particular film and not Blum or his company. But, speaking of laughter, the best part of the film is the side comments, they range from amusing to hilarious. I truly believe that if something similar happened in real life, the comments would literally be that. Now, from a filmmaking point of view, that is horrible because terms such as mise-en-scรจne (what’s included in the frame) fly out of the window. The audience’s attention is focused on the side of the screen when the action takes place elsewhere. It’s like focusing on reactions while being unaware of what these reactions are for. From a societal point of view, it is worse than horrible because it showcases that a fellow human’s dire need of help becomes the people’s entertainment and amusement. The evident collapse of humanity becomes, then, the real horror.

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Trauma (2017): Action/Drama/Horror

Two female couples get attacked by a father and his son while partying, but their revenge only causes further calamity.

Sadistic, brutal, and shockingly atrocious! I’ll keep it short… You know what you sign up for from the perversive opening sequence! What succeeds it is terrible filmmaking techniques, no matter how you look at it. Script, directing, acting, photography, and editing, do it no favours whatsoever but don’t be fooled by any of that, its sickness permeates the rest of the sequences, solely seeking to shock. Now, the shock works on two levels: On how shockingly bad the film itself is made and how shockingly disgusting its content is.

I would recommend Trauma as much as I would recommend A Serbian Film (2010) which is not at all. At least, the latter is well-made. But if you are really looking for a brilliantly made disturbing horror, I would definitely recommend Martyrs (2008). Personally, I prefer psychological horrors as they, among others, delve into the abyss of our minds and souls, but any well-made horror intrigues me the same. And this isn’t one of them. Trauma is aimlessly selling raw gore and loses on every other front.

It is not easy to make a film! Never mind a film that inspires awe, evokes the intended feelings, has a purpose, and remains true to it. All of the above and everything that has thrilled you, moved you, amused you, and made you fall in love with cinema… is what Trauma lacks of.

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P.S. Kudos go only to the person or team that made the poster.

Dashcam (2021): Horror/Thriller

A news editor, and aspiring journalist, receives a dashcam video that turns a simple crime into a government-level conspiracy theory.

Suspenseful, realistic, weak at times, but worth your while. The intentionally misleading opening shot will put a smile on your face as it indicates how much the hero goes out of the house. Overall, the film’s premise relies on pseudo-realism. Facebook, FaceTime, the vernacular, the body language, and even the way the news is edited are all indicators that these are real people like you and me (I was about to use “normal”, but that is a term I don’t understand anymore). Upon introducing the main characters, producer/writer/director Christian Nilsson cuts right to the chase with the landing of the footage (inciting incident) that was circulating the rumours of the alleged conspiracy theory.

What the audience encounters next is a perfect example of how the editing creates meaning; how the editing builds up the suspense. As an editor myself, there is so much I could tell you about the details of the film’s editing and the areas it is focusing on, but chances are I’m gonna bore you to tears. Personally, the idea of the conspiracy and the way it is built up in that sequence is the best part of the film. It is the part where you are still mystified and unsure, you want to believe Jake is up to something, and the part where you really want to know how the story will end. From the moment Jake calls Mara and then exits the building though, it somewhat loses that grip, giving an anticlimactic feeling. The reason behind my argument is that it answers questions about specific facts, on one hand, but it doesn’t question broader issues related to the facts provided – in other words how factual the facts are. I guess every investigating mind can approach it differently, but this is the way Nilsson does and I respect it.

Don’t let that discourage you, though. Dashcam lasts only an hour and twenty minutes, it is a low-budget indie that was shot during lockdowns, and the cast does a great job. It is an entertaining film to take your mind off things, wonder what you would have done if you were Jake, think about the ending for a minute, and go to bed. Francis Ford Coppola and Brian de Palma are Nilsson’s apparent influences – The Conversation (1974) and Blow Out (1981), respectively – but comparing Nilsson to them would be unfair as they were far more experienced and studio-level filmmakers.

Fun facts:

The film is about a New York Governor’s scandal that premiered the same day a real-life New York State Governor was accused of a sexual scandal.

Also coincidentally, there were two Dashcams in 2021. I’ll follow up right after this with the second one.

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You Won’t Be Alone (2022): Drama/Horror

Despite her mother’s best efforts, an ancient spirit kidnaps a young girl in an attempt to serve her forever.

A taste of Balkan folklore with a pinch of Witch (2016). As per Focus Features, the production company behind the film, it takes place in the 19th century FYROM – they said Macedonia, but let’s leave it at that. They also said that writer/director Goran Stolevski based the film’s shape-shifting legends on stories coming from his family. That sounds highly likely as all Balkan countries are inundated with such legends and myths which, partially, shaped those societies as we know them today. Having traveled through the Balkans a few times, I’ll tell you that the people, especially in villages, are nothing but welcoming and warm, still keeping to their norms and traditions. Just like you see in the film.

What Stolevski has achieved is a (Malick-esque) chronicle of the perception of life as seen through the eyes of a soul that knows nothing of “good” or “bad”, unaffected by morality and immorality respectively; “… like a river. It flows and flows… and still stays in the same spot.” And, as such, I’ll dare say that Stolevski’s perspective is unique. The way I see it, he raises significant questions: Does evil have a choice in life? Is evil predestined to remain evil? Even better, can evil be actually evil when that meaning is unknown to it?

Technically speaking, Matthew Chuang’s cinematography is immaculate and it needs to be praised highly. He mounts the camera over the shoulder and his tracking shots, from full to close-ups, deliver all the intended feelings and emotions. An extra round of applause goes to the whole cast that shines in front of the camera. Maybe the amazing Noomi Rapace is the main marketing attraction, but EVERYONE is spectacular! Both in front and behind the camera.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. The question I’ll leave you with is, does life run in a full circle?

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Everything, Everywhere, All At Once (2022): Action/Adventure/Comedy

A woman who struggles with everyday life engages with every aspect of her multiverse self to save every universe.

Funny, exciting, surrealistic, and absolutely brilliant! The opening sequence at the laundromat sets the film’s pace and rhythm. It introduces the heroes and heroines, establishes their characters, and makes it clear where everyone stands in the world. The dialogues are sharp, the editing is “snappy”, and the inciting incident (Alpha Waymond) moves the story forward to the second act.

From then on, The Matrix (1999) meets The One (2001). The Multiverse and the infinite versions of everyone’s self clashing create a concoction of euphoric and exciting emotions that, combined with the action and the underlying drama, offers a unique cinematic experience. I am certain that full analyses will be written in the near and distant future about this film, but, for now, I’ll just leave you with these few comments in an attempt to urge you to watch it. If I were still a film student or ignorant of how the ropes work, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how writers/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) pitched that script to production companies. Honestly, how does anyone ask for funding, pitching sequences where a butt-naked security guy jumps out of nowhere and lands on an oval tax award, aiming to connect to a different universe and engage with a more equipped to the occasion self? How about a female couple with hotdog fingers, licking each other’s mustard… Yes, hotdog fingers. Licking each other’s mustard – no euphemisms, here!

Being a bit more pragmatic/cynical nowadays though, and by reading the end credits, I can only assume that executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo made the green light turn a lot easier just by showing up. The Russos believed in the Daniels’ script and helped bring it to life. And, personally, I applaud them. Actually, I applaud all cast and crew for giving themselves 100%. And by doing so, Everything Everywhere All At Once became A24’s greatest financial and critical success. Michelle Yeoh matures like the finest wine and for over three decades has offered nothing but excitement, cry, and laughter, and, here, all of the above. Alongside her, Ke Huy Quan, best known for his stellar performances as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Data in Goonies (1985), Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, and, the one and only, Jamie Lee Curtis who will have you in stitches.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is your must-see for this year and so is Men (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/06/29/men-2022-drama-horror-sci-fi/, another A24 cinematic achievement. I may constantly sound like I’m sponsored by A24, but rest assured I am not. I praise them because they have the guts to produce scripts that other production companies wouldn’t even read ten pages. They are phenomenal in what they do and they immensely add to the worldwide cinema’s evolution.

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P.S. I certainly didn’t speak highly of the Russo’s last film The Gray Man (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/08/02/the-gray-man-2022-action-thriller/ but, here, even as producers, they utterly redeem themselves.

P.P.S. Language, generational differences, and political/existential beliefs are the film’s underlying themes. Look out for clues while watching.

Mudbound (2017): Drama/War

Two men come back to rural Mississippi after WWII, become friends, but only face bigotry and racism.

One of Netflix’s greatest and most underrated films! Directing, cinematography, writing, editing, acting, and the numerous departments that worked behind the cameras is the reason why they say that it takes a village to make a film. Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel, co-writer/director Dee Rees brings to life a film that many neglected, underappreciated, or just turned the blind eye to, but Netflix primarily distributed, after premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival – received a long-standing ovation.

Every sequence has something to tell. Every sequence moves the story forward, holding cinematic techniques that “teach” filmmaking. For example, when Ronsel is on the bus, showing without telling, the shot speaks volumes about the atrocious outcome of Jim Crow’s segregation laws that divided the people. The same laws that Ronsel encountered while trying to exit the shop from the front door. Anger, frustration, and unfathomable sadness are the main emotions that take over, but Rees’s angle is not judgemental. Before and after, sequences such as the congregation at the church, Ronsel and Jamie opening up, and the KKK acting as jury, judge, and executioner can be thoroughly analysed in regard to acting, directing, cinematography, and editing. Rachel Morrison became the first female cinematographer to be nominated for an Oscar, and even though she didn’t win it, she earned everyone’s respect worldwide.

In front of the camera, Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, and the rest of the cast create incredible chemistry with utterly fulfilling performances. The fact that Mudbound is current and finds application to this day and age, indicates how much societies have failed. The fact that individuals make a positive difference though is what Rees aims at and, in the end, despair turns into hope. Without it, what are we left with, anyway? In addition, what do you think “Mudbound” means?

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P.S. Hit the link to get a glimpse of the film’s achievements: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2396589/trivia/?ref_=tt_trv_trv

P.P.S. My previous review was on The Gray Man (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/08/02/the-gray-man-2022-action-thriller/. Inarguably, it wasn’t a positive one. And even though that is an original Netflix film and Mudbound isn’t, arguably, one can claim that what characterises the streaming giant is diversity, and another the utter lack of identity.

The Gray Man (2022): Action/Thriller

A CIA agent becomes the agency’s target and all hell breaks loose.

Great cast, great potential, and a tremendous waste of both. Not uncommon for a special agent’s job to be dubious. Especially, right off the bat. But knowing, right after, that Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans will go toe to toe, most certainly makes it immensely interesting. But is it? The airplane sequence’s development is really, I mean, really uncalled for. Six has already displayed certain skills that brand him a top-tier assassin, but the CGI and the humanly impossible do nothing but take away these abilities, stating that without it he cannot do what the narrative suggests he is trained to do.

Regardless, he gets a chance to redeem himself. What happens next? Loads and loads and loads of human hunting, shooting, and Michael Bay-level of destruction. The “Prague on Fire” sequence is a representative example of that, and, in all honesty, no further elaboration is needed. There is a lot of impressive yet unrealistic action, knock-off Die Hard-esque and half-cooked dialogues that, again, discount its full potential. The good news is Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfre Woodard, and the well-anticipated confrontation of Gosling and Evans.

Producers/directors Anthony and Joe Russo were given $200m dollars to make it, deeming it the most expensive Netflix original film, tying it with Red Notice (2021). While the Russos know how to shoot both action and dramatic sequences (and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely how to write them) – Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), etc., The Gray Man falls really short. While the multi-chopped style of editing seems to be the obvious reason, if during principal photography the choreography is not well prepared, or if the actors are not given the opportunity to fully express themselves without being cut, the editing can only do so much (damage or good). Unfortunately, that particular childish narrative represents the side of Hollywood that only cares about the cash cow and not the audience’s intelligence. Oh! And, once more, everyone could have also been a fragrance or an underwear model. #

Is it worth your time? Well, it’ll make you forget your problems for a couple of hours, make you smile a little, and send you to bed.

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The Scribbler (2014): Mystery/Sci-fi/Thriller

In a building full of people with mental illnesses, a young woman with multiple personalities has yet to reveal her most dangerous one.

Neo-noir, suspenseful, entertaining, and criminally underrated! From the very opening sequence, cinematography, mise-en-scene, visual effects, sound design, and editing work perfectly together, setting up the scene for the perfect whodunit. How so? The Scribbler is based on Dan Schaffer’s graphic novel and director John Suits directs it as if you are reading the comic strips right off its pages. It is a faithful, dark, atmospheric adaptation inundated with humour, suspense, thrill, sensational appearances, and craziness aplenty! Katie Cassidy, Garret Dillahunt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Gina Gershon, and Sacha Grey go full berserk on screen, in a surrealistic tower of misfits who lack home, normalcy, sanity, and identity. And then Eliza Dushku and Michael Imperioli try to put the pieces together…

Admittedly, the first time I watched it I didn’t pay attention to plot holes, gimmicks, or didn’t even try to reason with the plot’s absurdities. The stylistic choices take over and the ethereal presences overshadow the details (significant or not) that matter in other genres. Furthermore, the film’s surrealism “allows” certain questions to be raised and reason to be defied. Looking at it from an academic point of view, one can only detect faults and find arguments on something that, personally, I found uncalled for. My advice is to get comfy, have no expectations, and watch something different that will make you forget your problems for an hour and a half. The Scribbler is highly enjoyable, and, unfortunately, went largely unnoticed.

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Men (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

After her husband commits suicide, a young woman escapes to the countryside only to encounter horrors she would never expect.

A24… The production company that aims at the different, the radical, the unconventional. Starting off with Harper (Jessie Buckley) and only getting a glimpse of what is hunting her, we take the trip straight to the countryside where she’ll be residing for two weeks – that is the plan, anyway. Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the house owner with British-English you’ll definitely admire and will put a smile on your face, shows her around, and so, the main players and environment have been established. But…

The first plot point, the beautiful yet extremely scary tunnel, instigates the thrill; it is where your heart will skip the first beat. From then on, the naked man, the troubled kid, the eccentric Vicar, the police’s incompetence, and everything that happens till the end Act II escalates the horror to the next level. Not a lot can be explained but that’s what enhances the mystery. The eerie and haunting operatic music throughout the montage sequences will keep you at the very edge of your seats, inarguably, mouth agape. “Paranoia” doesn’t even begin to describe it! Beware of the entities presented inside the church. Also, beware of the dandelionsย as well. Both of them play a significant role to the narrative’s understanding. And this is where I stop.

Alex Garland, the writer/director of Ex-Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) and writer of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let me Go (2010) is not a crowd-pleaser, and, consequently, is not for everyone. His lens serves his narrative well, offering realistic thrills to surrealistic scenarios – from alien invasions to men going utterly berserk. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear absolutely shine in front of the camera!

If you are not British or not accustomed to British folkloric tales and myths, you’ll be utterly confused. If you are, you’ll get the gist, but won’t be able to explain it, anyway. And that’s the goal. In an attempt to find answers, I only got more confused so, as intended by the filmmakers, I only provided a few possible explanations to myself – without meaning that they are the right ones. Because there is no right one.

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P.S. In reality, in the English countryside, you will encounter the most beautiful places and the most beautiful people.

Watcher (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

A young woman moves with her husband from America to Romania, and soon she realises that someone is watching every move of hers.

A deceiving, slow-burn thriller with a great leading actress. Why deceiving, huh? What you know and what you think you know is not the same. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around a young woman who is afraid that someone is watching her, and, potentially, following her. The subplot revolves around the same young woman who is lonely, in a foreign country, alone (for the most part), arguably depressed, and who neither speaks nor understands a word of what everyone’s saying. Until you know for sure, the line between the plot and the subplot is vague.

Zack Ford’s script and Chloe Okuno’s lens keep the narrative restricted. Okuno, like a watcher (pun intended), follows Julia wherever she goes and depicts reality as perceived through her eyes, only. Respectively, Michael Block’s editing discloses what you need to know, hiding carefully what you want to. The result of both is the deception mentioned above. Maika Monroe is an amazing and massively underrated actress. Watching It Follows (2014) and The Guest (2014) one can tell how much still she has to offer, especially in the horror/thriller genre. Also, Burn Gorman’s portrayal as a lonely man is brilliant.

It is a horrible feeling to be surrounded by an unfamiliar environment, language, and people, especially when being in an unstable mental state. Nothing and no one is what they seem to be. And Okuno and Monroe nail that feeling!

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Crimes of the Future (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

In the not-so-distant future, certain humans evolve in unexpected ways, and while some embrace it and see the artistic side of it, others only want to suppress it.

Intricate, interesting, and largely unspecified. It’s been eight years since we last saw a feature film from David Cronenberg – Maps to the Stars (2014) so, brace yourselves. The first act, and the Orchidbed in particular, inevitably leads back to Cronenberg’s early films that gave him his unique identity – The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), etc. Such elements can also be found throughout the rest of the film (the Sark autopsy, the Breakfaster Chair…) but it’s not just the prosthetics or the visual effects. The surrealistic acting, the Kafqu-esque atmosphere, the blurry distinction between art and science, and the dark consideration of what both are, constitute a dystopian, decadent future (not far from present-day) whose reality seems to belong to another Earth similar to ours, with humans identical to us, but with (un)natural elements and behaviours that are barely recognised or understood. The Fly (1986), Naked Lunch (1991), and eXistenZ (1999) add to the films mentioned above and, in their own respect, they have shaped equally different realities.

From a filmmaking point of view, admittedly, I didn’t find it challenging. Douglas Koch’s photography serves the narrative well, but that is pretty much is. The narrative in and of itself though is. Cronenberg has a long history of examining society through the lens of sexuality and technology and Crimes of the Future isn’t an exception. The new ways of experiencing pleasure, the alien-like technology that fulfills specific needs, and the evolution of people who consume… “plastic”, are all allegories of the world we live in. Did you get them? If yes, what did you think of them? How effective were they? If you thought they weren’t, why?

I find it hard to imagine how Cronenberg pitched this script, especially when it came to defining the audience. Shot entirely in Greece with actors from all over the world, the film has, on one hand, a universal taste, and, on the other hand, a small crowd to follow. Viggo Mortensen, Lรฉa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Lihi Kornowski, Don McKellar, Nadia Litz, Tanaya Beatty, Welket Bunguรฉ, and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos do a great job in front of the camera, but the narrative is such that can leave you undecided in regard to their chemistry.

To every Cronenberg fan: Watch it! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it.

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The Northman (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

A Viking prince devises an elaborative plan to avenge his father’s murderer.

Vicious, challenging, and visually compelling! Whoever follows Robert Eggers’ films, The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019), knows he’s famous for surrealistic acting, expressionistic photography, protracted shots, and idiosyncratic vernacular. And The Northman is no exception.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that Eggers worked closely with historians and archaeologists to meticulously visualise the medieval Scandinavian legend, namely Amleth. And if you are aware of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, I’m sure you can put two and two together. The Northman is Eggers’ first studio-level film, and, reading the interviews he gave, one can tell that it is not the film he initially had in mind, but its final cut is not a result he is disappointed with either. That old story in Hollywood’s book where the studios always interfere with the creative processes…

The dialect used, even though not easy to write or speak, will not blow your socks off like it did in his previous films. The reason is that the gore and the violence take the torch and lead your senses to a medieval spectacle where the slaughter of men, women, and children was the way to resolve differences and show superiority. While the film represents a specific historic era and should serve as a reminder that civilisation has evolved, today’s far-right decided to perceive it as a reminder that this is how things should be. Maybe, let them be the reminder that comparing two totally different eras and peoples is a historical fallacy, and their way of thinking is a representative example of unfathomably bottomless buffoonery.

Alexander Skarsgรฅrd, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and all the rest of the cast give stupendous performances! Give it a go, it is an amazing cinematic experience you will not regret!

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The Lure (2015): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Two mermaid sisters get a job at a cabaret and while one of them seeks people’s love, the other one wants to devour them.

Unique approach towards an unexpected genre. The Lure is a gory and brutal musical that mesmerises. When it came out it shocked certain audiences as very few could have envisaged a horror/musical of that sort. Interestingly, the same year, I got the same feeling from Bone Tomahawk (2015), a horror/western that shocked fans of both genres as, again, who would have thought this “marriage” could work? But is The Lure as effective?

I have a feeling that horror fans will not be particularly thrilled. On the other hand, I’m not sure musical fans will give it a go either. Needless to say that Hans Christian Andersen’s fans will sit this one out too. Who is it for, then? My guess is for cinefiles; lovers of the different, the daring, and the unconventional. The Lure is for those who delve into the mise-en-scene as much as they delve into montage, but also combinations of narrative techniques. Having said that, a musical is comprised by only two major elements: dancing and singing. And I found neither compelling enough.

So while the story’s originality and dare win points, both of them fall significantly short. My question is then, why make it a musical in the first place? For the sake of different? Director Agnieszka Smoszynska has used plenty of nudity and gore, but I didn’t find her lens as daring (as intended?). My favourite sequence was after the domestic where everyone falls into a limbo. Overall though, I failed to engage with Silver’s and Golden’s predicament.

To conclude on a semi-positive note though, the acting is solid by everyone even though they could have achieved much more if the singing and dancing had a more pivotal role and more effort was put into the choreography.

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Monstrous (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

Fleeing her ex-husband, a mother with her young son move to a secluded house where a dark and sinister force resides.

Mysterious and eventually dramatic, yet doesn’t manage to hit the spot. Putting it on knowing nothing about it, I felt quite neutral, at first. Even though the narrative is quite restricted, the audience knows less than Laura and Cody and, therefore, is trying to catch up on cues such as Cody’s recurrent nightmare and the constantly ringing phone. The first plot point (the bridge between the first and the second act), arguably, builds up the suspense and increases the tension… only to calm down again immediately after. Overall, should you decide to watch it, you might find the pace and rhythm fluctuating “irregularly”.

I remember Christina Ricci when she was as young as Cody in The Adams Family (1991) and, in a way, I grew up watching her grow up in her films. She’s a tremendously talented actress, having played diverse and perplexed roles, and she deserves every praise under the sun. For reasons that only she and Hollywood are aware of though, she started choosing films that didn’t have much to offer to the genre they belonged to. Having said that, admittedly, there are a couple of films she’s been in and I would like to watch.

After everything is said and done, looking back to Carol Chrest’s script and Chris Sivertson’s directing, one can say with certainty that the drama overcomes the horror in the end and you can tell because of how heavy your heart feels. I know how mine felt, and that was mostly due to Ricci. As said above, she is a remarkable actress and always lives up to her standards.

Something that might help you watch it in a positive light is the little references to her mental health. Furthermore, the party sequence got me a bit as did her attempts to keep it together. There are some strong moments there, but, as I have repeatedly said, the sum should always be greater than its parts.

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Double Helix (2021): Short/Drama/Sci-fi

Two siblings escape their home and hide in an abandoned school, but the “Song of Life” will unexpectedly change their lives.

Concise, current, and thought-provoking. Writer/director Sheng Qiu brings to life the intentionally unemotional, Double Helix that shows without telling that “life” has yet to be defined.

Protracted shots, montage sequences, minimalistic soundtrack, underplayed performances and “Lynchian” narrative examine the ancient human attempt to become God and its inevitable consequences. Based on Jinkang Wang’s famous science fiction novel “Song of Life”, Double Helix combines Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” with the superfluous human need to explore boundaries we could overcome, but not necessarily should. Great watch! I hope one day we get to see the feature, preferably, with both Xi’an Cao and Zhenzhen Xiaoli. Extra credits go to cinematographer Ranjun Xu, and editor Jianfan Yu.

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The Hole in the Ground (2019): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A young mother and her son move out to the Irish countryside, but not long after she begins to suspect that it might not be him anymore.

Dark, atmospheric, and suspenseful! Strong inciting incident, followed by solid suspense build-up. And after that… it only gets better! Photography, Art Direction, and Visual Effects create a dark and eerie atmosphere that accompanies the equally dark and eerie narrative. The first stroll in that forest will most certainly convince you…

Mysterious and suspicious events will follow and, sooner or later, with the boy acting the he does, you won’t help but get a feeling of The Omen (1976). But if you think the boy is scary, wait until you meet Noreen, the woman who has sunk into the deepest psychological abyss. So, in regard to what can scare you the most, between the forest, the kid, and the old lady you have quite the choice to make. Eventually though, I don’t think that any of them is more scary than the feeling that your only child… is not actually yours…

The Hole in the Ground joins my pantheon of Irish horror films* that manages, in a tiny budget, to evoke all the intended feelings. Writer Stephen Shields and writer/director Lee Cronin write and direct respectively a solid horror which draws elements from ancient folklore legends to modern psychology. Seรกna Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, and James Cosmo do a wonderful job in front of the camera, believing in Cronin’s vision and projecting the intended fears onto the audience. Arguably though, the ending could have been shorter and a lot scarier if it had maintained the, until then levels of plausibility. But, that is subjective so, it’s up to you to decide. Regardless of what you think of the third act, this is a highly recommended indie horror. A24 is always on top of the game!

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* A couple of Irish horrors that stood out for me in recent years are:

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/24/a-good-woman-is-hard-to-find-2019-crime-drama-thriller/

and

Sea Fever (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/04/19/sea-fever-2019-horror-sci-fi/

River of Salvation (2020): Crime/Drama

A single, pedicure therapist who lives with her younger brother is trying to make ends meet while dealing with personal tribulations.

Dreams, sacrifices, and the unbearable hardships of life… Gripping opening act that distinctively introduces the characters, sets up the scenery, and presents the ordeals they have to face. Director Qisheng Gao amazes with the number of protracted shots that provide the opportunity for the actors to unfold their thespian skills and for the audience to absorb, on one hand, the tiny, yet significant details of the mise-en-scรจne (all the visual information within the frame), and, on the other hand, what one of the greatest film theorists, Andrรฉ Bazin, kept emphasizing on; the drama’s realism. Furthermore, Gao’s slow-paced editing does not rush the story, controls the film’s pace and rhythm, and reveals the key information the audience needs to know, when they need to know it. Inevitably, that increases their anticipation in regard to what and when they want to know.

As for the narrative itself, it hits the nail the harshest possible way as it addresses the ancient battle inside us of who we are, who we want to be, and who society wants us to be, in times where the bills can hardly be paid and the food on the table can barely suffice. While Gao deserves every praise under the sun, actress Yanxi Li crawls under the skin of the role, becomes Rong, and masterfully conveys the silent pain a woman in her position endures to keep her head above water while trying to save whoever around her is in need of salvation.

And all that while a dark secret lies underneath the surface…

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Lan Yu (2001): Drama/Romance

A young, gay student from the countryside arrives in Beijing and falls in love with an older businessman who is undecided as to what life he wants to lead.

A sweet and sour, beautiful, yet thought-provoking drama! The story’s beauty lies in its simplicity; the complexity of romance. Contradictory, isn’t it? It’s because we are. And so are human relationships. The ancient source of artistic inspiration, the expression of feelings – or lack thereof, will always be contemporary and the more we turn the blind eye to it, the more we will have to face it.

Lan Yu (Ye Liu) and Chen Handong (Jun Hu) fall in love despite their efforts not to, but the heart hardly ever abides by our mind’s decisions. Ironically, the cause of drama is Chen, the more mature and more experienced of the two, who doesn’t even know what he doesn’t want. Therefore, when life presents to him the choice, he only blows past it, and moves on. But, does he? Life works in mysterious ways and, when he least expects it, time reveals to him opportunities he was too blind to see in the past.

From a filmmaking point of view, the narrative is constantly restricted so, from beginning till end, what you know, or think you know as audience is what the heroes do and vice versa, something that increases the suspense as much as it increases the tension. Writer Jimmy Ngai and director Stanley Kwan, based on an anonymous novel published online, bring to life a provoking drama that will make you question your life’s choices, and ask the one simple question that, as much as we would all loved to, we’ll never find an answer. What if…

An all round applause for Kwan, Liu, Hu, and all cast and crew who challenge through art their political system and cultural norms, and keep the fire of unconditional and unrestricted forward-thinking burning.

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Hard Love (2021): Documentary

Five single women from different cities discuss what love means to them and why it is difficult to find it.

The intricacies of love and human relationships… What do five women of different age, cities, and social and financial backgrounds have in common? The difficulty to find love. From a young, successful entrepreneur to a struggling, divorced mum, the search for love turns into a life quest for a number of women in China and it makes one wonder why it takes Tracy Dong’s lens to bring it to light. We live in a world where the technological advancements have propelled the means of communication, and yet we struggle like never before to find our other half that will make us happy. Messsenger, WhatsApp, Viber, digital matchmaking platforms, such as Tinder and Plenty of Fish, or simply texting and calling have made it immensely easy to reach out to someone that potentially matches our standards, and, yet again, we still struggle to find that common denominator. One may wonder what happened to the “face to face” contact…

Dong’s omniscient lens “infiltrates” these beautiful (in and out) women’s lives and reveals the number of ways they are trying to find men to like them, and, surprisingly or not, she shows that appearance is not the problem. What women think of themselves, what men think of them, and what they expect from one another raise absurd expectations and create intricate scenarios, making it extremely hard for people to truly connect. To understand that respect and trust cannot be demanded, but only earned.

Extremely well-structured, non-judgmental, and humorous documentary from Tracy Dong that deserves to see the publicity lights, and surface that middle ground called understanding. Kudos as well to all the women that came forward to present to the world, in the simplest possible way, one of the most basic human needs; how they feel!

We don’t deserve to be alone. So, let’s not be…

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Raw (2016): Drama/Horror

A young and innocent student starts rediscovering herself when she develops a desire for human flesh.

Provocative, unsettling, and in need of purpose. Not your average first act… The initiation, portrayed in a colourful cinematic way, includes protracted shots of mild chaos and disturbance, such as taking drugs, dancing, kissing, shagging, etc, as part of a normal routine. No political statements there, just young men, women, and non-binary people having fun.

In the second act, the same natural course is maintained while operating on animals. As someone who not only doesn’t eat meat, but is an animal rights advocate I was uncomfortable watching certain scenes, but I don’t know how much will that affect you. For yet another half an hour, the initiation keeps coning and going while Justine starts developing the irresistible desire for raw meat and then human flesh. Certain scenes could be described as either disturbing or uncomfortable, depending on who you are talking to, or plainly unnecessary. What will define it is the way you will perceive them within the narrative. Do you think the film wouldn’t be the same without them? If they weren’t there, would it make a difference? Again, the answers will define the way you perceive them. Characteristically, the endless hair coming out of Justine’s mouth in the toilet, and the sex scene (you’ll know) are quite effective if you ask me. Are they enough though?

Writer/director Julia Ducournau knows how to shock the audiences. But as I’ve said numerous times, the sum should always be always bigger than its parts. And I don’t think this is the case here. In the end, I don’t know why I watched it (again). I struggled to find purpose. Admittedly, the second time I watched it to write a more accurate review and because, not so long ago, I watched Ducournau’s Titane (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/12/titane-2021-drama-horror-sci-fi/ and wanted to compare and contrast. I hope you give it a go though because actresses Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf go really over the top.

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X (2022): Horror

In 1979, a young crew of filmmakers rent out an isolated house to shoot an adult film, but when its elderly hosts find out they reveal their sinister intentions.

A horror like only A24 knows how to do! What the police come across in the opening sequence is the result of a massacre you’ll see all about it. So, 24 hours prior to that, the crew packs it up and sets off for the house that will make everyone famous and rich. The adult film that will change everyone’s life. The shoot that will accomplish everyone’s American dream. With heroes, antiheroes, villains, and old houses straight out the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (any version), the set-up is ready for the bloody inevitable – pun intended.

From a filmmaking point of you, the editing tells beautifully the parallel stories between the film’s shooting and the old “lady’s” story while breathtakingly builds up the suspense. For a while, it might feel like that nothing is happening, but I assure you that it is the calm before the storm. After the verbal reference to Psycho (1960), the visual one confirms the pending bloodbath. Gruesome moments follow that hold no punches and, undoubtedly, cut anyone’s breath short. There is no way to describe them without giving the gore away so, I’m just gonna leave it here.

Writer/producer/co-editor/director Ti West creates a good old-fashioned horror that deserves the cinematic experience with like-minded people or the company of your own self. His narrative abides with the horrors of the era it represents, and Eliot Rocket’s photography, the make-up and the special effects department deserve a separate praise. As for the editing, West and David Kashevaroff, on one hand, naturally unfold parallel stories, and, on the other hand, break almost all rules of pace and rhythm by connecting sequences… unnaturally. While film theorists would laugh at the way X has been edited, I’d say that the splatter and gory nature of the film justifies just about any technique under the sun. Intentionally, the porn shooting within the film does not fall far from the film itself.

There are some really strong moments there, such as the stealthy crocodile, the granny waving, and, more or less, every gruesome murder you see on screen, and these moments are very much worth of your time. Furthermore, watch out for the impressive performances from Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Kid Kudi, and Britanny Snow. Highly recommended!

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P.S. Bare in mind, that throughout all this I was alone in the cinema.

P.P.S. Shot in New Zealand.

P.P.S. There is an prequel coming up…

The Cellar (2022): Horror

When a family moves into an old house and the daughter disappears, the mother realises that a sinister entity dwells in the cellar.

Interesting, but standard. I remember watching Elisha Cuthbert in films when she was a teenager. Now, she is a mom of one. So, I’ll try, to my best ability, to pass on, objectively, constructive criticism. There are a lot of outdated techniques here, such as: constant background music to enhance the fear / suspense (the picture should always suffice without it), something’s about to happen but isn’t happening, overreacting to nothing, and, of course, jump scares! For example, I understand the need for creating atmosphere, but Ellie holding a candle while talking on the phone that she could have put on speaker phone and use its torch to see much better where she is going is… irrational. And such irrationalities are scattered throughout the film.

Kuthbert was, among others, Kim Bauer in 24 (2001-2010), Danielle in The Girl Next Door, and Carly in House of Wax (2005). As much as it is hard for me to differentiate her from those roles, I must say that she does a great job as a mom of a teenage girl she once used to be and she is a very decent actress. Brendan Muldowney’s The Cellar though will never be celebrated as they don’t stand out at all due to both outdated narrative and filmmaking techniques. It’ll just make you forget whatever is troubling you for about an hour and a half.

Admittedly, the “steps-counting” sequence is unexpectedly suspenseful, the mathematical equation is quite innovative, and the ending is very befitting. But the whole should always be greater than the sum of its parts. And in this case, it just isn’t.

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Midnight Mass (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

A small island community is taken aback by the arrival of a new young priest and miracle occurrences that turn out to be sinister omens.

What a miniseries to watch around Easter! No matter how much I praise it, little to no justice will be given to any of the episodes or the sum of all of them. Therefore, I’ll keep it deliberately short so you can enjoy every moment of it. In a nutshell, from an audiovisual point of view, this is what you should expect: Mike Flanagan’s protracted shots and meticulous mise-en-scรจne (framing and information within the frame), well-paced and structured editing, The Newton Brothers’ enchanting soundtrack, and gripping performances by: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Ed Flynn, Hamish Linklater, Joe Collie, and everyone else in between. From a narrative point of view, expect non-linear storytelling that constantly withholds information, intentionally misleads, carefully and thoroughly releases clues that you are called to put together, and… a grand finale!

Midnight Mass is a nearly perfect miniseries with Flanagan’s unique signature and Netflix back-up once more. The man behind miniseries, such as The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), and films like Hush (2016), and Doctor Sleep (2019), strikes back with another ‘haunting’ series that will keep you on the edge of your seats. Other than continuously and masterfully building up the suspense, Midnight Mass unleashes the immense drama a person experiences… when they have to live with the consequences of their actions while not being able to live with themselves… when they have to face the curse of time that only flows forward and cannot be reversed… when they endure everything for the long-pursue of redemption. Watch out, especially, the episode with Erin and Riley on the boat. One of my favourite finales that topped my mounting expectations.

There are numerous production details to talk about but most of them would ruin your experience. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and I wish you Happy Easter! Be well!

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P.S. My beloved Ioanna, you know that one’s for you ๐Ÿ™‚

Black Crab (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

In a dystopian future, six soldiers are tasked with the transport of a mysterious package to a safe place that has the ability to end the civil war that has ravaged the country.

The vicious and dramatic opening sequence provides just enough information to pick your interest, get your attention, and throw you straight into the abyss of the plot. Caroline Edh’s (Noomi Rapace) skills and abilities are naturally shown without being told and the introduction of the mission creates more mystery, enough to maintain the suspense and make one wonder what it is that they are carrying across the sea that can end the war.

From the moment the mission commences, sequence after sequence, the six elite soldiers are presented with the atrocities of war and this is where one can argue that it gets quite scripted, but I found it well-written, acted, shot, and edited so it kept me at the edge of my seat. Overall, in terms of structure, the narrative follows the rules by the book. There’s nothing surprising really, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. Co-writer/director Adam Berg brings to life a dystopian sci-fi that, even though due to the heavy CGI, it lacks the natural darkness the Scandinavian cinema has always offered, it still manages to generate the intended emotions. Rapace is made for such roles (for any role, actually) and she rightfully steals the show.

I deliberately went for another Swedish film back to back only to emphasise on the diversity of the Swedish cinema. A Man Called Ove: https://kaygazpro.com/2022/04/13/a-man-called-ove-2015-comedy-drama-romance/ was my previous review and as much as Black Crab cannot top it up, it hits the spot and entertains the way it is supposed to do.

While the ending might trigger mixed feelings, you won’t regret watching it. It’ll make you forget the atrocities of the real war out there as well as the pandemic that, even though it has taken the back seat, it still hovers over our heads.

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A Man Called Ove (2015): Comedy/Drama/Romance

After his wife dies, a bad-tempered old man loses the will to live, especially when his new neighbours arrive.

Loneliness, old age, cynicism… and not necessarily in that order. Right off the bat, from the opening sequence, Ove (Rolf Lassgรฅrd) steals the show as the non-bending tree that will take on the whole world. A man who once was fortunate enough to find happiness… but sadly and abruptly that happiness left him.

The initial emotional flashback provides the right amount of information about who Ove was before he became the dishevelled version of his current self. The sweet and sour present, the dark humour of the twisted fate that doesn’t allow him to leave life on his own terms will make you smile while, strangely, making your heart skip a beat. As the flashbacks unfold, his younger self’s social awkwardness, the determination to overcome it, and the introduction of the wonderful Sonja add plenty of colour to the life of a man who paints it all black. From then on, fate’s mysteries and intricacies will lead you to something that you will have to see for yourselves.

Based on the novel by Fredrik Backman, writer/director Hannes Holm creates an incredibly nostalgic comedy/drama for all ages and sexes, and 27 wins, and 18 nominations – 2 Oscars amongst them – are not enough to praise this Swedish quality of a film. Rolf Lassgรฅrd, Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll, and Filip Berg’s performances are priceless – including Orlando and Magic, the two cats involved. For the life of me, in the end, I “saw” the black hole of despair Ove was in, but before I got sucked in, I got pulled out by… Sonja. You’ll see…

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The Greatest Showman (2017): Biography/Drama/Musical

The son of a poor tailor grows up to be a visionary who risks everything to become the greatest showman on Earth.

The dream to make it in life… The ambition to embrace who you really are and to be finally accepted and rewarded for it. That’s what The Greatest Showman is about. Based on actual events and on real people, the film’s narrative is accompanied by, arguably, the most moving songs you’ve ever listened to in a musical. They lack neither the political statement nor the social message while they make you want to sing and dance to their rhythm. Eleven out of these songs were written by lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who won the Oscar for La La Land (2016). No matter how much I praise them and the songs, I will not do them justice.

The visuals are as amazing, they are gripping, and they mesmerising. Everyone gives a stellar performance and works amazing with one another as if they were all meant to work together. Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle, Yahea Abdul-Mateen II, and the rest of the cast purely shine and dominate the screen, and months of preparation, finally, pays off.

Michael Gracey’s directorial feature debut makes The Greatest Showman the Rocky (1976) of musicals. Call it however you wanna call it, praise it to the best of your abilities, listen to everyone else telling you how great it is… the audiovisual outcome of the thousands of people working on it can be only fully appreciated only by watching it. It spent years in preproduction with all studios fearing that an original musical of that budget [$84,000,000 (estimated)] might not perform well, but against all odds, and against ferocious competition, it made $436,949,634 worldwide.

Watch it while thinking where you are and where you want to be or where you were and where you are now and you’ll find your heart skipping a beat. More than once.

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Strange But True (2019): Thriller

Years after a teenage boy died, his then-girlfriend shows up pregnant in his family’s broken house, claiming that it’s his.

Gripping thriller that went under the radar. The opening sequence on its own is interesting, but nothing new. Melissa’s announcement that she is pregnant with Charlene’s son, who died five years prior to that, becomes a proper head-scratcher, but combining it to the opening sequence captivates your attention whether you want it or not. As if that’s not enough, the psychic’s information, the role of the estranged father, Bill and Gail’s subplot, and all that in regard to the opening sequence keep the suspense at peak level throughout most of the film.

The plot in and of itself is heavy and unbearable to whoever has suffered such a loss. Strange But True gives you the feeling that in every sequence something is about to happen, unfortunately nothing good, and the plot gets more and more intricate and dark as the story unfolds. The thrill and drama blend with each other, creating a concoction of overwhelming feelings, making one wonder how will this situation be resolved.

Based on John Searles novel, and penned for the screen by Eric Garcia, Rowan Athale’s massively underrated thriller definitely deserves your attention. There is also a great cast leading it and supporting it: Nick Robinson, Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Brian Cox, Margaret Qualley, and Blythe Danner give amazing performances, truly believing in Athale’s vision. Past the end credits, upon realising the truth, you won’t help but wonder. Pontius Pilate raised the question: “Quid est veritas?” (What is truth?) Do we recognise it when we hear it? Is my truth the same as yours? Is your truth same as others’? Or we all live in a different one? Strange But True addresses the “truth” without being absorbed by it, and, eventually, reveals an ambiguous silver lining that comes from a very dark cloud.

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The Cursed (2021): Fantasy/Horror/Mystery

When a creature of unknown origins terrorizes a small village in 19th-century France, a pathologist with certain skills is invited to explain and give an end to the horror.

Fantasy and reality blend in a great atmospheric, period horror. WWI: The atrocious, yet mysterious opening sequence will get your attention. Cut to the two interweaving stories after that, the mystery increases and the foundation of what is about to happen is built on both the story and character development. The clash is established in a 100”-shot of massacre, followed by, a brutal amputation and an undeniably daring burial. From then on, the inevitable hell is released through oneiric (dreamy) and realistic sequences that will make you want to avert your eyes, but you’ll feel obliged not to.

From start to finish, writer/director Sean Ellis creates an atmospheric supernatural horror, delving in superstition, religion, science and reason, but also into the deepest fears lurking inside our unconscious mind. Furthermore, Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, and the rest of the supporting cast do an incredible job in front of the lens. The Beast of Gรฉvaudan is something that, indeed, happened in a village in rural France, but without being 100% sure, I think it happened a century prior the era depicted in the film. Regardless, it is an over-celebrated and potentially inflated story that culminated in an urban legend that we are still speculating about today as no sufficient evidence explained what it really was or where it came from.

Definitely, a must-watch for every horror fan! Sean Ellis is the genius behind films such as Anthropoid (2016), and my two favourites Cashback (2006), The Broken (2008) – reviews will follow soon. These are absolute cinematic experiences for every filmgoer, and mark my words: Ellis will use his brilliance and make a film in the near future that will make everyone wondering where that came from.

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The Innocents (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

During the summer holidays, four children befriend one another as they develop psychic abilities that prove to be anything but innocent.

Slow-burn, atmospheric, and psychologically brutal. I’m not sure how much the children knew about what they were doing in the individual scenes or if they are now allowed to watch the final cut, but would be interesting to find out. As in previous cases though, chances are that they don’t and they find out when they are old enough to watch it themselves and make sense of it. Remember, to them, what they do is just instructions that, without having the big picture, it may as well be just fun. For us though, the adult audience… is soul-wrenching.

The premise is rather simple: Kids are associated with innocence, yeah? And even though that is something you might expect to see here, you will not! These kids do not represent innocence. Not all of them anyway. If you are a horror fan it cannot not remind you of films, such as The Village of the Damned (1960) or Children of the Corn (1984). But it’s neither. The connection between the children starts as mysterious, fun and sweet, but gradually escalates to a dark, sinister, and contradicting connection of unidentified origins.

Very well written, shot, edited, and acted! Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is definitely worth your attention. Pay attention to the little details: Pessi Levanto’s soundtrack; how his music is used, when it is used. Sturla Brandth Grรธvlen’s cinematography; from the long shots (the ominous, invisible force…) to the kids’ close-ups (… affecting them). Extra attention also to Jens Christian Fodstad’s editing and how beautifully the narrative visually flows. All kids do a tremendous job in front of the camera and get a lengthy round of applause, it is Alva Brynsmo Ramstad (Anna) who is tasked with the hardest role and her performance is stellar! I could not tell at first if she was acting. Hats off to all the kids!

Finally, if you are interested, I have extensively delved into the portrayal of kids in horror films on my podcast Kids in Horror: Source of Evil vs Source of Resolution: https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/09/kids-source-of-evil-vs-source-of-resolution/ Michelle Satchwell, the Head of the Social Sciences Department at a large school in Derbyshire, UK, analyses the use of kids in horror films and examines the genre through the prism of Evolutionary, Cognitive, Psychodynamic, and Social Psychology.

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After Yang (2021): Drama/Sci-fi

In the not-so distant-future, a family’s A.I. breaks down, and, when certain secrets are revealed, everyone starts reevaluating life’s values.

Going from kinda melancholic, to kinda funny, to clearly confusing, Kogonada’s After Yang determines from the very beginning what kind of a film it is. Based on the short story by Alexander Weinstein “Saying Goodbye to Yang”, After Yang walks a tightrope, loses its balance and falls, depending on your school of thought, either onto monotony or somnolence. If you are a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos’ emotionless films, Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), you might find it interesting – and it actually is. It’s no surprise Colin Farrell is in it as he has been in two of Lanthimos’ films and, I’m glad he is for it shows that he is beyond Hollywood clichรฉ roles that boost his personality and not his acting skills. Next to him, Jodie Turner-Smith (Kyra), Justin H. Min (Yang), and Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja (Mika) complete the main, and wonderfully diverse cast.

On the other hand, personally, I prefer films that evoke emotions as their expression fills me with emotions, and, consequently, I express myself. After Yang left me emotionally flat; I grasp the philosophical approach, but I believe it falls short cinematically. Having said that, pay attention to the editing when characters philosophise; the expression of their thoughts right before the expression of their sentences. What does that mean to you? How do you interpret it? What’s the reason behind it? Photography, admittedly, adds to the quality of the film as do certain visual effects, still though, I struggled to get emotionally attached to the narrative. In the end, I liked how the story concluded and how it got there as it left me speculating and/or imagining the real meaning of the plot. Some more questions for you: What does family mean to you? What do memories mean to you? What are we without them?

As mentioned above, there is philosophy aplenty involved. Its cinematic approach though might leave you unengaged with the narrative – but, it may not. This might be due to the kind of action, the kind of utterances, the flat performances, or, simply, the way the story unfolds. I would recommend it to a particular audience as some people I know would watch it and debate or accept my arguments and others would fall asleep the first half hour, blaming me then and asking for their time back.

Now that you know, it’s up to you.

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The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A film crew makes a medical documentary on an elderly woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s, but as she deteriorates, a series of inexplicable events prove to be something more sinister.

Terrifying, despite its small wrinkles. Alzheimer’s on its own is dramatic as much as it is horrific. The people who have it and the people who love them, to say that they suffer is an understatement. But for lack of a better word, that’s what they do. Writer/editor Gavin Heffernan and writer/editor/director Adam Robitel seem to have done a thorough research on the subject and seem to have understood the calamitous situation the people who face it go through. Of course, they decide to add some extra sinistry to a condition that couldn’t be more painful, both physically and mentally so, in the end, you’ll get to decide if that addition actually adds to it or takes away from it.

While there are certain sequences that are terrifying, most of the times, I felt like crying my eyes out. Jill Larson is EXTRAORDINARY in this role, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that no one would want to see their beloveds suffering this way from that or any other disease. It is not disheartening or demoralising… it is crippling, it is bone-shuttering, and it is soul-wrenching. For everyone involved. Larson deserves every praise under the sun for making this found-footage, pseudo-documentary ‘believable’.

I have an interesting comparison for you! Watch The Taking of Deborah Logan, and compare and contrast it with the one below. Two different cinematic experiences that can make everyone appreciate verisimilitude, and the diverse power of narrative. Also, a cinematic reminder that the avoidance of repetitive patterns is not optional, it is pivotal. Relic (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/07/15/relic-2020-drama-horror/

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P.S. Produced by, the disgraced now, Bryan Singer.

The Assistant (2019): Drama

A personal assistant’s long day, working for an executive producer who, he and everyone in between, keep abusing their authority.

Welcome to the business side of the film industry. Where, like any other business, $h!t always rolls downhill. And like any other business, one needs to start from the bottom of that hill… from the abyss of nothingness! Where even the cockroaches give one orders. This is exactly what Jane’s (Julia Garner) story is about. Another day at the office…

From the very beginning, Jane’s paid slavery, other than written on her forehead, is dictated by Kitty Green’s lengthy shots and slow editing (Blair McClendon co-edited it). Green produced, wrote, directed, and edited a drama of an aspiring young woman who sacrifices her personal life to do her best at work, only to get bullied by her superiors who abuse their position and treat their inferiors like children of a lesser God. What Green successfully manages to achieve is to constantly indicate that no matter how high or low one is, they’ll manage to give the same amount of abuse, if not more, to the people below them. And as mentioned in the beginning, the one in the bottom gets it all. Watch when Jane herself speaks to the driver, these are the first signs indicating that she herself has already… (you’ll get it).

Regardless of who gets the biggest portion of that $h!t though, what remains a fact is that no one is really happy in the end. Not at all. Not by a long shot. Ambition is characterised by desire and determination and most of us have it in life. It’s something that grows inside us and something that becomes obvious to the people around us. And for that reason, it goes hand by hand with expectation – both ours and the people around us. Trying to constantly match ambition and expectation, it takes a significant toll on our lives, and the time will inevitably come where we will have to ask ourselves: Where do I draw a line? When does ambition stops being ambition and becomes vanity? When I sell my soul, will I know I have done it?

Kitty Green’s creation and Julia Garner’s performance will give you a sneak peek, on a random “Tuesday” of the people working “behind the cameras” in a film’s pre-production process. I’ve seen it, been through it, and I know how it feels like. You become that “Tuesday’s” worth of dogshit. Or less…

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Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021): Action/Fantasy/Sci-fi

A man with a dark past is sent to an allegedly cursed place to find and bring back a missing woman.

Experimental, surrealistic, and intricately poetic. Don’t expect to make much sense in the beginning… Or in the middle… Or in the end… I’ll keep it deliberately brief so you can decide for yourselves if this is your cup of tea or not.

It seems like Nicolas Cage and Sofia Butella’s story takes place in a dystopic, surrealistic, post-apocalyptic, Westernised Japan stuck (metaphorically) in (a futuristic) time. How did that happen? It doesn’t really matter. Through diverse filmmaking techniques, such as Tarantin-esque and Lynchean, Prisoners of the Ghostland is inundated with surrealistic performances and utterances, and oneiric (dreamy) and trippy sequences. Furthermore, the spirit of ancient Greek drama that guides it, from the chorus to the means of expression, adds to the hero’s journey on the way of redemption. What to expect, in a nutshell: A story that doesn’t make too much sense, in a film that doesn’t care to explain (not the way you would expect to, anyway). And neither feels guilty about it nor apologises for it.

For your information… the film faced certain setbacks. Director Sion Sono suffered a heart attack and the film was moved from Mexico to Japan, and that delayed the production for about 1 year. It took 17 years for the writer Reza Sixo Safai took to get the film made so, if it wasn’t for Sion’s health, it still would have been 16. This is the fourth collaboration between XYZ Films and Cage who, once more, goes on berserk mode. If you are interested, Mandy (2018): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/12/01/mandy-2018-action-horror-thriller/ and Color out of Space (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/02/07/color-out-of-space-2019-horror-sci-fi/ are equally colourful and crazy. But even they make more sense than this one. Oh, if that’s your thing, don’t forget this one: Willyโ€™s Wonderland (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/24/willys-wonderland-2021-action-comedy-horror/

Cage’s surrealistic acting is unique and it’s his trademark. Love him or loathe him, he has managed to stand out and create a specific fan club that follows him. He even got acting schools to focus on his way of performing, calling him the David Lynch of acting (Lynch has praised him already). Needless to say that Butella is mesmerising as ever and, as in previous films, she doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty.

Now that you know, it’s up to you of you are going to give it a shot or not.

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The Desperate Hour (2022): Thriller

A mother goes above and beyond to save her child after a horrific event that forced authorities to place a small town on lockdown.

Suspenseful and thrilling, despite its small faults. The first act, the set-up, manages in fifteen minutes to effectively provide all the necessary background info about the family and the surrounding environment. Even though I found it a bit too American at times, maybe you won’t even notice. In parallel, it lays a solid foundation for the second act’s suspenseful sequences.

As the film’s trailer and IMDb’s logline don’t disclose what the predicament is, I’d rather keep it under the wraps as well. The incident refers to the plague that wreaks havoc in the US, and I’m sure hundreds of families who have been through that will not be able to watch it no matter which side of the fence they stand.

I’ll say no more about the plot, so you get its full force when you come across it. It’s only an hour and twenty minutes and it’s definitely worth your time. Naomi Watts is incredible and she carries the whole film on her shoulders. She is a powerful actress and she hasn’t stopped proving it. Other than Watts, the film’s strong suit is the off-screen and restricted narrative. You constantly know as much as the mother does and the facts you don’t know are replaced by dark imagination, hair-raising speculations, and terrifying thoughts.

Somewhere down the line it gets somewhat far-fetched, but don’t let that prevent you from watching it. Chris Sparling, the writer behind Buried (2010) and Sea of Trees (2015) and director Phillip Noyce, the man behind Sliver (1993), The Quite American (2002) and The Giver (2014) bring to life a lockdown film that will cut your breath short despite the script’s minor wrinkles or its filmmaking techniques. I hope it gets your attention.

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): Crime/Horror/Thriller

A group of youngsters decides to revive a ghost town in Texas without possibly imagining that it is Leatherface’s home.

If you’ve watched the latest Wrong Turn (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/03/04/wrong-turn-2021-horror-thriller/ there is no need to explain to you why shoving political agendas down one’s throat can ruin a film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared me a bit at first, but managed to saved it quick. And then it ruined it again… Leatherface’s brutality shows no remorse nor mercy before he even wears the face. As a matter of fact, he is the film’s best ingredient.

David Blue Garcia Massacre‘s narrative is built on millennial characters, behaviours, and mentalities that I cannot so much relate to. I find it difficult to understand why would one react to such a horror the way most of them do. But, that is just me. Maybe, you’ll be able to. There is an emotional clash here between totally indifferent (to me) notions, such as “sjw” and “cancel society” and an utterly lethal Leatherface who unleashes his full cinematic potential. Even the bus scenes, admittedly a bloody and visceral sequence, could have been constructed with no music and a lot slower editing to let every savagely violent murder be better visually absorbed.

Tobe Hooper (interestingly, wearing the producer’s hat) and Marcus Nispel created a real suffering to more realistic people that didn’t directly involve politics. Leatherface on its own is a political and, consequently, societal outcome of all the wrongs humanity ever had to offer. Leatherface is a real-life human monster so, being preoccupied with including a forcefully diverse cast – which is insulting rather than politically correct – and building the narrative around that is bound to butcher the film – pun intended. The film originally failed the test screenings with flying colours and the production went from studio to studio. In the end, Netflix got it saying “yeah, whatever. Bring it”.

It seems that today’s hate, racism, bigotry, misanthrope, or however else you want to call it is consuming us individually, but also collectively. Whoever wants to spread hate in society is not welcome in it. History teaches us that change takes time. Go off-grid and leave us and cinema alone. Producers are wasting their money and we are wasting our time. Everyone loses in the end.

Again and again, Leatherface is the one worth watching while the narrative will, potentially, leave you indifferent. Watch it and make up your own minds. And always remember: The passion for violence, physical or psychological, should never transgress fiction!

Stay safe!

P.S. The plotholes and gimmicks are endless.

P.P.S. Imagine wanting to change the world, start knocking on doors to deliver your message, and the first person who answers is Leatherface…

Kimi (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

An agoraphobic voice stream interpreter detects a heinous crime and gradually realises that she is next.

Mild suspense and good acting get you through it. Behold… the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock and Rear Window (1954), adapted for the young adults of today, and the exhausting times of our pandemic. Writer David Koepp and director Steven Soderbergh create a world similar to ours with COVID, masks, lockdown references, texting as a means of communication, and, of course, Siri and Alexa that have entered our lives, and, if I’m allowed, infiltrated our homes. In Kimi, this might be the subplot, but it is what still scares me the most – so glad I don’t have either.

Back to the plot, the crime itself is an audio recording, visualised by Angela in her mind. Is it how she pictured it? Is it something else? Maybe worse? The suspense builds up through relatively slow editing that allows the viewer to take in the frames’ information (mise en scรจne) and “enter” Angela’s world. Soderbergh’s close-ups, tracking shots, low angles, and Dutch shots, effectively manipulate the space Angela is in with a voyeuristic and omnipotent lens that provides information on both the prey and the predator, but carefully and discloses it. Too carefully I will add and that information could have easily manipulated the plot as well, creating a twist – but, no. On the other hand, Zoรซ Kravitz is the real deal. She’s incredibly convincing as the agoraphobic tech-girl who loses her marbles upon realising what the stakes are. She carries the film on her shoulders.

In the end, for me, the believability was lost for reasons you’ll probably discover should you decide to watch it. I found it quite disjointed. But, don’t let that discourage you. It’s enjoyable even though you won’t be thinking much about it past the end credits. Minor details that I found interesting include, but are not limited to: 1. The way Angela visualises the murder in her mind. Watch it and think about the way you compose images in your head. What shape are they in? Are they continuous? How clear are they? 2. In a drugged state, in the mini van, the way that through her eyes, the audience and Angela alike, perceive both her and her surroundings, while listening to the thugs chatting. These are details a meticulous director pays attention to and proves once more that Soderbergh takes control of both his on-screen but also off-screen narrative – everything happening inside and outside the frame.

Stay safe!

Mother/Android (2021): Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

A pregnant woman and her boyfriend seek a safe place to survive the uprising of the androids that have eliminated most of the human world.

Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic attempt to thrill, doesn’t hit the spot. I’m gonna keep this deliberately short. The good news is Chloรซ Grace Moretz. Moretz was born to become an actress thus, she is amazing no matter what kind of film she’s in. Even in films such as the Shadow in the Cloud (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/20/shadow-in-the-cloud-2020-action-horror-war/ that had a great premise and incredibly poor development (mother against monsters vs mother against androids).

Everything else is a three-act free-fall to solid concrete. Producer/writer/director Mattson Tomlin’s film lacks the understanding of both the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic stage. Simple as! There is nothing more to it. It is an underwhelming idea of what would have happened if androids rebelled against the species that created them. James Cameron succeeded in providing that version of our future about thirty-eight years ago and has yet to be surpassed.

Admittedly, some handheld shots work really well, but it is the narrative that doesn’t. Other than androids’ predicament, certain human decisions and actions are far beyond understanding, such as nine-month pregnant Georgia’s decision to save Sam. That defies all wrongs of decision-making ever made in the human history of wrongs. Yeah, that much sense it makes! And I will not even get started on the countless plotholes. Shame, really. But I insist on Moretz’s amazing performance (at everything she’s in).

Stay safe!

P.S. To every aspiring screenwriter out there – including me: Producers who constantly claim they seek perfection, innovation, and uniqueness in your scripts in order to consider it… they are lying!

Pontypool (2008): Fantasy/Horror/Thriller

What seems to be just another day in the studio for a radio broadcaster and his team, turns into a living nightmare when disturbing information comes in of brutal killings around town.

Claustrophobic and satirical, with poignant messages hidden under the surface. I love that film! It is the simplicity, the mystery, the restricted narrative, and definitely Stephen McHattie! The lady banging on the window in the first act is the harbinger of doom and the twenty-minute gap between that and the first information coming in from Ken about “the riot” serves as the doom’s delay. The moment the suspicions become confirmation, the audience’s imagination starts riding into the unknown, filling it with grotesque images of horrible death not seen at all. What is that crowd? Why do they do atrocious things to other people? What do these specific words trigger? Why do these specific words trigger it?

In the end, it feels like a satyre of certain known horror films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), but it carries a couple of messages that are open for debate. Without spoiling it to you, the mention of the “separatists”, and the use of the English language play a significant role to those subliminal messages’ interpretation.

Based on Tony Burgess’ novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, who also penned the script, director Bruce McDonald brings to life a humorous horror that is meant to scare, entertain, and make you think at the same time. Lisa Houle, and Georgina Reilly amazingly accompany McHattie It is a must-watch regardless of how you look at it. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay safe!

Dark Crimes (2016): Crime/Drama/Thriller

A businessman’s murder case will trigger an investigation on a writer who wrote about it, down to the detail.

Great story, with even greater flaws. The daring opening sequence will neither disgust you nor leave you flabbergasted. Arguably, certain close-ups would have achieved one or the other, but that would have probably led to an R-rated final cut so, director Alexandros Avranas uses them instead on the characters. How important is that sequence to the narrative’s development, then? Would it still be effective without it?

Based on David Grann’s article “True Crimes – A Postmodern Murder Mystery” (The New Yorker, February 11, 2008), Jeremy Brock’s script cuts right to the chase and doesn’t invest in the characters’ involved. The problem with this is that, as audience, we relate to no one. Literally, no one. Unfortunately, that leads to not caring about about anyone, or anything. Eventually, that leads to the suspense’s murder, and the film’s downfall.

While non of the action is shot closely, the faces’ close-ups in conjuction with the positioning of the camera right in front of the actors during dialogue – like talking to it – and their placement right in the middle of the frame, feels like awkwardly breaking the fourth wall for an unknown to everyone reason.

While the story is strong, brutal and real, these directorial decisions not only distract but also confuse. Another issue I spotted was the short sentences and the very scripted arguments, i.e., only after one would finish a sentence the other person would start talking. That is, probably, due to the effort the native English speaking actors put to speak in a Polish accent and the Polish/non-native English speaking actors to speak in English – with the exception of Martin Csokas (Kozlov) who is of Hungarian descent, speaks the language, and is quite convincing.*

I’ve watched Avranas’ previous work and I would recommend you to watch Miss Violence (2013), and the controversial (for some) Love Me Not (2017). As for the cast, Jim Carrey, Marton Csokas, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, and Agata Kulesza, as bright as they may be in front of the camera, they don’t get the chance to shine. Jim Carrey was great in The Number 23 (2007), regardless of its critical and box office performance, but the the accents issue and Avranas’ choices made one wonder how he used to be the highest paid comedian out there.

Stay safe!

*He is New Zealander and can pull also off British and American accents.

The Art of Self-Defense (2019): Action/Comedy/Crime

A socially awkward and self-doubting young man decides to join an eccentric dojo after being attacked on the street.

Awkward, sarcastic, dark, misleadingly funny, but disturbingly dramatic under the surface. The Art of Self-Defense is a case study from numerous aspects, and choosing that particular martial art as a means to “prove” it, brings a questionable and head-scratching outcome. Here it goes…

As per IMDb, writer/director Riley Stearns also trains and teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The picture on the dojo’s wall is of Grandmaster Morihei Ueshiba Osensei, the founder of aikido. In the same dojo, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) while respecting Osensei and preaching his ways, he teaches Karate. Taking for granted that Stearns knows they are three different martial arts and that he doesn’t undermine his audience’s intelligence, I come to the conclusion that the mix-up is deliberately placed there, and more particularly, in Casey’s head.

Other than the martial arts, there are quite a few things that don’t add up. Without any spoilers, that particular punch at the office in regard to the extremely mild consequences, the answering machine’s message, the night class, the characters comprising it, the normally accepted old-fashioned patriarchy and misogyny, the dog(s) and how that relates to the film’s denouement, the Sensei himself… These, and a lot more, don’t connect properly in the end, leading me to believe that Stearns follows a “Lynchian” way of storytelling.

I can’t say a lot more, and I don’t want to, really. Stearns has created a dark psychological comedy/drama that you’ll either love it or loathe it. Expect surrealistic reactions and events that, when thought of in a real-case scenario, they would create emotional contradictions. Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Potts impress with the way they choose to conceal, implode and explode their emotions, delivering the unpredictable performances the obscure narrative demands. I hope you appreciate it.

Stay safe!

P.S. Eisenberg and Potts collaborated again the same year in yet another allegorical/psychological film that deserves your attention. Vivarium (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/03/31/vivarium-2019-horror-mystery-sci-fi/

These Final Hours (2013): Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

With only a few hours left before the end of the world, a man needs to decide where his consciousness lies.

Impactful and soul-wrenching apocalyptic indie drama! Right off the bat, the end is nigh! The comet has hit the Earth, half of the world is already gone, and Perth is the last place the firestorm is going to hit! James’ last journey to redemption is also our tour to the end of humanity. The comet may be the one that kills the planet, but it seems that humanity has died way before that. The journey consists of violence, amorality, guns, drugs, partying, death aplenty, and… maybe hope, right before it dries up. Twelve hours to a destination that, in this case, it actually matters as much as the journey itself.

The film’s quality shows in all three stages of production. The script is solid, the mise-en-scene is thoroughly meticulous from beginning till end, and the editing moves the story forward by pacing it, keeping the interest always at peak level – excellent use of flashbacks. Writer/director Zak Hilditch incredibly utilises his small budget, investing it in an apocalyptic drama that reveals the hair-raising nature of ours, but also the one that makes us proud of the tiny little things we have or we can achieve in life… even right before death.

Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, Jessica De Gouw and Kathryn Beck deserve a massive round of applause for their incredible performances that bring to life characters that go through an unfathomable situation. The end of the world is something that we may not be thinking about seriously but These Final Hours is a nightmare but also food for thought for all of us. The Australian cinema has proved time and time again that it can deliver gripping and gruesome dramas and horrors, and this one is no exception.

Stay safe!

Every Secret Thing (2014): Crime/Drama/Mystery

A little girl’s disappearance makes a detective focus her investigation on two young women who just came out of prison for killing a baby seven years prior to that.

Thrilling, yet something missing. I believe a story is as good as one tells it. The inciting incident, the death of an infant at the hands of two young girls is powerful and the foundation of a nightmare that terrifies the parents the same way the boogeyman terrifies the kids. The second missing girl, right after the girls’ release from prison, now eighteen years old, makes your heart skip a bit, turning it into a dark “whodunit” that makes the audience constantly wonder which of the two may have done it – if it’s one of them.

Everyone immediately involved with the case carries a cross that leaves an awful stigma in their soul that cannot be removed. The girls, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) for doing back then what they did. Mrs. Manning (Diane Lane) for even walking around town when everyone knows what her daughter had done. Detective Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) who found the first baby, got mentally traumatised, and now relives the horror once more, not knowing if she’ll get redemption or deeper scars.

The plot gives the chance to everyone to unfold their point of view that sticks to “facts” that are merely their personal interpretation of a twisted reality looping in their head – with the exception of Detective Porter. She is the one who has to read between the lines of the rest call “truth” and find out what has happened to the little girl before it’s too late.

Based on Laura Lippman’s novel, Every Secret Thing is a gripping “race against time” drama/thriller from writer Nicole Holofcener, director Amy Berg, and producer Frances McDormand that, even though it’s not without faults, it manages to get your attention and sustain it till the very end. Having said that, Berg decided not to invest too much in the drama surrounding this horrifying situation and that works against the suspense’s build-up. I believe that taking the time to shift the focus, every now and then, to the characters’ personal moments it would give the audience an inner view of why everyone acts the way they do. In addition, that would work well with the flashbacks.

Regardless, it deserves a watch as all actresses are very charismatic and each and every one of them contribute to the aforementioned thrill.

Stay safe!

The Wind (2018): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A tragic event makes a woman not be able to distinguish what is real and what isn’t in a secluded house, in the Western frontier of the late 1800s.

The opening sequence’s protracted shots, the abrupt cuts, the non-linear narrative, and the soundtrack that accompanies them are elements of indie films that, when used appropriately, can tell a story in an unconventional way that has the potential to defy the usual Hollywood standards (clichรฉs). The Wind starts off that way and its plot unfolds in three different timelines. Even though dissimilar in duration, their forceful impact leaves a mark for a variety of reasons.

How that impact will affect us is subjective so, as objectively as humanly possible, I will only comment on the filmmaking techniques and the metaphor it carries. Apart from the techniques mentioned above, the Dutch angles (diagonal shots), certain jump scares, and the when and how the flashbacks are used add to the film’s quality and make you contemplate what is happening and when is happening as the story progresses. The Wind is the feature debut for director Emma Tammi as well for writer Teresa Sutherland, who, both of them, bring to life a western/horror that is not cut and dry. Is it metaphysical? Is it paranormal? Is it psychological? It will inevitably confuse you, but simultaneously, will intrigue you, make you think twice, and question everything you will have seen until the end credits start rolling down. Caitlin Gerard, Ashley Zukerman, Julia Goldani Telles, and Dylan McTee believe in Tammi’s vision and deliver convincing performances, but most credits have to go to Gerard carrying the horror on her shoulders

For no specific reason, I had high hopes about this one, and, in the end, I loved it. The open ending leaves numerous possibilities for interpretation and you may switch your TV off, but your mind will want to reexamine the scattered clues left for you from beginning till end. The Wind is a low-budget film that incredibly utilises every penny invested in it. A must-watch for every mind-bending horror fan out there.

For spoilers, please, have a look at the separate section below. Read only AFTER you watch it!

Stay safe!

P.S. Think carefully which “tragic event” I am referring to in the logline.

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SPOILER ALERT!

The clues that will, potentially, help you make up your mind, or, at least, point you in the right direction are the following:

  • Maybe she lost a child, maybe she didn’t.
  • Her washing line has only women’s clothing – maybe she never had a husband, or if she did it was before her journey there.
  • Similarly, the reverent may have never visited her. She didn’t know him even though he was (probably) the first person she met upon arriving there – he gave her the demon booklet.
  • Respectively, maybe the neighbours never existed and all of them were people who she may had met on her way there and fictitiously constructed stories about them.
  • Incidents that further indicate that she is not mentally well are the following: The goat and the wolves pose equal threat to her, she carries a very specific drug (opioid?) in a box that comes in frequently handy, in the end she is not stabbed, then seen on a bed in the middle of nowhere, and then on the ground.

You can approach it, I believe in two ways:

1. By explaining it in a similar manner to other American, early-settlement mysteries, such as the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

2. As one oneiric (dreamy, even though “nightmarish” might be more appropriate) sequence of a woman who succumbed to her mental traumas, and loneliness and isolation only unbearably added to her unfathomable pain. Having said that, she maybe even never made it to any house, suffering on her own, constantly descending to paranoia, in the middle of nowhere.

A Classic Horror Story (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A group of carpoolers will inexplicably wake up one morning in the middle of a forest, the home of a bloodthirsty cult.

Bloody and mysterious, but nothing you haven’t seen before. The dark and hostile opening sequence reeks of pending vulgar, cult-y death! The technique of cutting away to the humorous introduction of characters (future victims), but also the characters themselves constitute a… classic (American) horror story. Of course, the film is Italian so, let’s see how that translates.

Admittedly, the first bloody sequence, half an hour into the film, is going to cut your breath and make you want to avert your eyes, but chances are that you won’t. From then on, expect some more of that, but not much more in general. It is a film that you won’t be talking about past the end credits. It has been done before numerous times the last twenty years, and better:ย  Wrong Turn (2003), Wolf Creek (2005), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), The Killing List (2011), The Ritual (2017), Midsommar (2019), etc. By adding all of the above into the mix, it doesn’t necessarily make the mix more flavoured. On the other hand, this merely means that it cannot be gruesomely and morbidly entertaining. And it is, just don’t expect much. Writers/directors Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli and Netflix create an amalgamation of horrors with a touch of social pedantry and a hint of urban pseudo-philosophy.

The show is mostly stolen by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz who is a very convincing actress and, inarguably, one of the hottest women in the film industry. Coincidentally(?), she’s the leading actress of Revenge (2017), portraying a woman who suffers a vicious physical and sexual attack (and takes a bloody revenge after that). Exploitation film finds its roots to the early “talkies”, right after the silent era, and it seems that almost a hundred years later still sells. I guess, for as long as there is a demand there’ll always be a supply. Even though I watch, analyse, and academically research films from every walk of life, I am a horror fan and watch all kinds of horrors. But, if one day that sub-genre eclipsed, I wouldn’t miss it. The is a hideous sadomasochistic psychology behind it, making it the harbinger of snuff films. But that is a different discussion for a different place.

Stay safe!