Last Sentinel (2023): Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

In the near future, when the oceans have drowned most of the land, four people do everything they can to protect a weapon that can wipe out what is left.

Low budget, high quality! Writer Malachi Smyth and director Tanel Toom build up suspense from the opening scene to the end credits. The characters are defined, and so is the problem; us! The human race. We’ve managed to drown the planet, and even then, we fight for what’s left of it. Cpl. Cassidy couldn’t have said it better, half an hour into the film. Kate Bosworth, Lucien Laviscount, Martin McCann, and Thomas Kretschmann form a great team whose members both clash as well as stand united against their own worst fears.

The more the narrative develops, the more hope is lost. The more hope is lost, the more unpredictable the escalation and climax get. Last Sentinel is a thrilling one-location, low-budget sci-fi with a couple of serious environmental and humanistic messages for you to contemplate. There is something else, though… the enemy! Who is the enemy? More importantly, what is an enemy? Enjoy watching!

Rest in peace Tina Turner and Ray Stevenson… Safe journey!

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P.S. Hope was the last thing left in Pandora’s box…

Scream VI (2023): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

After the Woodsboro massacre, Billy Loomis’ daughter and her friends move to New York, but a new Ghostface killer will be after them one more time.

Unfathomably unoriginal, unintelligent, and laughable. Scream VI, like Scream (2022) and Scream: The TV Series (2015-2019), is yet another waste of resources and talent and a prime example of milking the cow. There are filmmakers in Hollywood that don’t want to think outside the box or take chances and they keep perpetuating the same old over and over again, trying to make it look like ‘old wine, new bottle’. It is exactly the same, just more and more, and more boring. I honestly don’t know if they think that the audience is getting dumber or if their ideas are just dumb. Regardless, the final product is dumb.

I won’t even go into details as to why I think it’s dumb, because, unlike the creators behind it, I don’t want to insult some people’s hard work. I’ll just say this one thing: Whoever wants to write about killers using knives, do some research as to what happens when someone gets stabbed, especially with a knife of that size. The same applies when devising ‘whodunit’ strategies, or even breaking the rules. Learn the rules first, don’t invent your own based on cheap horrors, then break them, and, finally, don’t insult the audience’s intelligence. Wokeness, once again, proves that it has the Anti-Midas touch. It turns everything into $hit!

I have written quite a few negative reviews lately as a result of thinking that the films I was about to watch would be, at least, decent. But I have some really good ones brewing, so stay tuned.

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P.S. If you really want to know how talented directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are, watch the amazing Ready or Not (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/05/ready-or-not-2019-comedy-horror-mystery/

Shut In (2022): Thriller

A young mother of two children must find a way to protect them when her ex-boyfriend and his thug friend lock her inside a pantry.

OK, I’ll write in a way that I haven’t written before and, hopefully, I won’t have to write like that ever again.

So, the basics… The script is decent, the directing is all right, and the acting is really good. While the visuals and the audio are slightly problematic, it didn’t really concern me. What really concerned me was the intentions. Let me be clear: I have nothing against writer Melanie Toast, director D.J. Caruso, actress Rainey Qualley, the rest of the cast, or the crew. They worked the best they could with what they had. My issue is with The Daily Wire, and their right-wing propaganda where “They in fact intend to create an entertainment branch of their media company as an alternative to Hollywood which they consider to be too far left wing. And to create movies and shows with values that reflect traditionally minded Americans”.(1)

I will also copy and paste some information and statistics from my older review Run Hide Fight (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/24/run-hide-fight-2020-action-thriller/. This was the first film (from acquired rights) for The Daily Wire, and I remind, an American conservative news website turned TV/Film production company which, according to NewsWhip, is โ€œby farโ€ the top right-wing publisher on Facebook: โ€œThe Daily Wire is by far the top publisher among its peers in terms of engagements to its content, with more than 130 million Facebook engagements to its web content for the yearโ€.(2)

Should you decide to watch Shut In, ask yourselves this: Is that their idea about who “traditionally minded” Americans are? Really?! The atrocious Run Hide Fight (2020) capitalises on the American plague, namely mass shootings, and considers John Mclayne the hero American kids should look up to in life. Their mentality is responsible for the thousands of mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters that mourn the people they lost, and they have the audacity to produce such films, to state what exactly?

After Shut In, I vow to not watch any other film of theirs. If I knew from the start this was one of their films, I wouldn’t watch it either – just found it on Amazon and put it on. My bad. But, in a way, I am glad I did because I got the chance to position myself. As much as I don’t like Hollywood’s petty politics, the abhorrent woke movement, the boring SJW (whatever that is), the intolerable sense of fashion, and the rest, I can argue about it, and you can counterargue back. We might all learn something from one another, even change our minds or meet halfway. The kids and adults who were tragically killed by the epidemic of gun crimes in the US, can not! So, I will choose independent and world cinema, admire or tolerate Hollywood (depending on each project separately), and avoid at any cost films and filmmakers that “use” violence for anything other than sheer entertainment.

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  1. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10131024/trivia?item=tr6182532
  2. https://www.newswhip.com/2022/05/top-publishers-facebook-april-2022/

Cocaine Bear (2023): Comedy/Thriller

A mother with two kids, a couple of street thugs, and local police find themselves chasing one another over drugs, and all of them are been chased by a huge black bear that has gone berserk after consuming most of it.

Fun and surrealistic escapism. Writer Jimmy Warden and director Elizabeth Banks give the middle finger to anything that has to do with realism, defy reason, and, thankfully, hold no punches. Yes, the drugs fell off the sky. Yes, the chutist jumped to his death. Yes, the bear sniffed some of it… but died – and it was a “she”. All the rest, though, is unadulterated, brilliant, bloody, brutal, and funny fiction brought to you for your sheer entertainment. Kudos to Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, and the late and adorable Ray Liotta for their performances and for believing in Banks’ vision. Cocaine Bear is solid proof that when Banks leaves politics aside, she can do miracles. She’s a great actress and an equally great filmmaker. Extra credits go to the VFX team that looked like they had tons of fun while creating the bear and its crazy and bloody shenanigans.

Lastly, the film is dedicated to Ray Liotta, who unfortunately left us early, but fortunately, with brilliant and undying performances for all of us to remember. And as the bad news came in today, the same applies to the late Lance Reddick who will always be remembered for all the films and series he’s been in, RIP.

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P.S. The film was shot entirely in Ireland!

Monos (2019): Adventure/Drama/Thriller

A group of teenage guerillas who belong to a shadowy organisation, hold a female doctor hostage, not knowing that heavy military forces are coming to her rescue.

Allegorical, brutal, and nerve-racking! In my previous review, Plane (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2023/03/02/plane-2022-action-adventure-thriller/, I made a specific reference to the lack of realism in both the traditional military operation and guerilla warfare – despite the film’s other qualities. If you want to see what it could potentially look like, watch Monos! Writer Alexis Dos Santos and writer/director Alejandro Landes heavily invest in the realism of a group of youths and their isolation (hence the title that means “alone”, in Greek), making you wonder if you are actually watching a docudrama. Mica Levi’s soundtrack enhances smoothly the already powerful visuals and the editing team’s cuts flow the story naturally, connecting time and space in a way that it feels like you are actually there, observing like an omniscient narrator. Having said that, pay attention to the montage in the end and the way it constructs the group’s advancement. Except for Mosises Aria, the rest of the kids are not actors and this adds to the aforementioned realism, but I found it shocking that Julianne Nicholson (Doctora), who’s also an associate producer, performed her own stunts. All of them! Acting masterclass!

While it’s loosely based on William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” (1963), it isn’t. “Lord of the Flies”, and Monos are addressed to different audiences. I’ll do a separate review of the former and explain certain differences, in the near future. For now, watch this masterpiece and experience a totally different perspective of life as seen through the eyes of people who have experienced the world in a way we wish we never have to.

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P.S. If past the end credits, you are still wondering about Rambo’s gender, you are meant to.

Plane (2022): Action/Adventure/Thriller

A pilot is forced to land a plane full of passengers on a remote hostile island ruled by rebels and to use the help of a dangerous man to find a way out of it.

Predictable, but very much suspenseful and enjoyable! So, let’s keep it simple. You meet captain Brodie Torrance (Gerald Butler), the diverse passengers get on board, you meet them too, you see their quirks and foibles already, you then meet Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) and you get ready for a… really bumpy ride.

Now, I don’t know anything about the technicalities of aviation or the circumstances under which crash landings can be possible, probable, feasible, or however you want to call it, but it’s shot and edited properly, in a manner that will get your attention – Butler immensely helps in that. From personal experience, I can tell you that the military operation is pure Hollywood. Nothing plays out that fast or that organised with so little information. Again though, it’s quite convincing the way it’s been portrayed – especially the stand-off sequence – and, as an audience, that’s all you need to know. In addition, the first attack on the captain, the protracted shot that follows the uncut action, is impressive. Ultimately, the sniper rocks, and Gaspare rules!

It’s a shame the director of Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), Jean-Franรงois Richet, and Lionsgate don’t take chances. On one hand, they invest in the captain’s realistic responses (till the very end), but, on the other, they lose it at the hostage situation and the brutality of the rebels. I guess it’s fun for everyone in the family over the age of fifteen, but an R-rated version would be really intriguing. Enjoy it regardless, though! It’s the harmless entertainment we need nowadays.

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Blood (2022): Horror/Thriller

A nurse, and mother of two children, finds herself in a terrible position when her son gets bitten by their dog, infecting him in a way she has never encountered before.

Flawed, but pseudorealistic and suspenseful. Starts off as a standard American horror in an unreasonably huge, old, creaky house where anything can go awfully wrong. Well, something does go awfully wrong, but it doesn’t have to do with the house. Actually, until the inciting incident, the dog’s biting, all of it seems a bit too American, but brace yourselves as it gets scary. Dramatic and scary! Will Honley’s script is tight, but director Brad Anderson and Michelle Monaghan make these dramatic and scary scenes as solid as they come.

Watch out for the pace and build-up! See, from the moment Jess realises what is happening, how she reacts, and how it escalates. Questions such as: “How long can this go on?” and “How is this going to end?” will fill up your mind. Now, the nature of the script presents a tremendous obstacle for both the writer and the director: to make the audience empathise with a mother that would do anything for her child – moral, immoral, illegal, etc – and then make them deal with the fact that “anything” is actually more than they can handle. Which one of her actions will tip the scales and to which side?

What Honley has done differently is to offer you a dramatic and humanistic approach to a “disease” that you have seen before in other horror sub-genres, but he and Anderson only hint at it; they let you speculate while keeping you on the edge of your seat. What also needs to be addressed is the excellent casting: Other than Monaghan, Skeet Ulrich, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, and Skylar Morgan Jones deliver the dark performances the narrative requires.

Blood has a beautiful rhythm and is inundated with eerie wide shots, meaningful close-ups, and disturbing Dutch angles. Stick till the very end that holds, literally, no punches! Again, flawed in parts, but a good cinematic experience overall.

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Baby Ruby (2022): Drama/Thriller

When a young woman becomes a mother, her world starts falling apart and the line between what’s real and what isn’t keeps constantly blurring.

Intense, dark, and surrealistic! There is this slight paranoia in the first act. That something has happened, something is happening or something is about to happen – altogether. While pondering that, it starts feeling like something has happened to Jo (Noรฉmie Merlant), or something is happening to her, or something will happen, and she is going to cause it – to herself or others. Writer/director Bess Wohl and editor Jin Lee deliberately confuse the audience with the way the story unfolds, the jump cuts, and the montage sequences, making them unsure if it’s Jo, the baby, everyone around them, or a concoction of everything and everyone. In the second act, that slight paranoia peaks, and only towards the end it starts steadily and gradually clearing up, revealing what is happening and what Jo thinks is happening. I’ll leave that for you to figure out, though.

Directorial debut for Bohl and the way she handles her brilliant actors, Noรฉmie Merlant, Kit Harington, Jayne Atkinson, and Meredith Hagner, and her editing – when to cut, what kind of montage to use, etc – is remarkable. More importantly, though, she manages to start, develop, and finish a narrative that delves into a fear only women in that position can understand. For whoever is or whoever has to live with a person in that position is just a descent into madness. I, not being in that position, found it a tad excessive or surrealistic, but maybe that was the goal. Having worked for the NHS, though, and seen some post-natal mental illnesses, I can not say with certainty if it actually is. And just by wondering and asking relevant people about it after the post-credits have scrolled down and days after watching it, it shows how much it is worth watching.

All I can say is that it’ll be worth your while. Actually, it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat while making you experience every family’s happiest moment through the lens of a lurking darkness that can consume everyone. Especially women.

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Sick (2022): Horror/Thriller

During the pandemic, two young women go to a lake house to quarantine only to realise that they are not alone.

Flawed but suspenseful. It’s been three years since the pandemic’s nightmare started, and films like Sick feel already something between outdated and voyeuristically familiar. Let me explain…

Not many of us or people we know have been assaulted by serial killers who asked if you wanna party or what your favourite film is right before they attempted to kill you. Having gone to the supermarket, though, to get toilet paper and finding nada has happened to all of us, even to the ones who caused the problem. So, once we have identified ourselves with that problematic situation (the guy at the supermarket), it feels weird to watch a film about it. It’s like watching people getting assaulted under similar conditions that we have experienced and that adds a weird pseudo-realism to it. Makes sense? Maybe, it’s me. Anyway, I move on…

Writers Kevin Williamson and Catelyn Crabb and director John Hyams pace really well this house-invasion horror that goes over the top about the aforementioned situation that we’ve all been through, one way or another. I mean, way over the top. Hyams did the amazing Alone (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/27/alone-2020-thriller/ with the also amazing Marc Menchaca and while Sick is not Alone, it’s still impressive. The best parts of the film are the tracking shots and the clear-cut John Wick-like (2014) action. Hyams knows what to frame and what to leave outside the frame. These on-screen and off-screen choices build up immensely the suspense and glue you to your seats. Furthermore, Gideon Adlon (Parker) and Bethlehem Million (Miri) do a spot-on job as victims of this invasion.

Ultimately, just like Scream (1996) – also written by Williamson – Sick‘s motives are purposefully kind of satyric or comedic, expressing the paranoia of what we went through not so long ago (see the lack of toilet paper above) that will go down in history as one of the most head-scratching buffooneries of the humankind.

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The Chalk Line (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A couple that is trying to have kids stumbles upon a young girl with partial mutism and the mystery about who she is and where she came from begins.

Flawed, but gripping! Without wasting any time, it cuts right to it. At first, it seems quite disjointed as if writer Isabel Peรฑa and writer/director Ignacio Tatay are rushing to be done with each sequence. But then, the fast-paced editing moves the fast story forward even faster as if you are watching it in fast forward. And as if that’s not enough, every single shot’s internal rhythm – mostly medium or close-up tracking shots – seems so fast because everyone is moving fast in it. I’m sure intensifying the narrative was the reason behind those decisions, but, honestly, my eyes started tripping.

OK, there is some really good news as well though. The story itself, based on actual events, is brilliant. Peรฑa has developed an original, suspenseful, and scary plot (the girl’s appearance out of nowhere) over a realistic and dramatic subplot (the insufferable pain of not being able to have kids) that has been psychologically and physically ripping people apart since the dawn of time. Tatay should have paced it more patiently, leaving the shots to “breathe” more and the audience to “absorb” the happiness and sadness, to get carried away by the suspense, and to be able to tell the difference.

There is an impactful and intense climax that definitely deserves your time and attention. What’s more, the wonderful Elena Anaya (Paula) does an incredible job as a woman with a maternal instinct who would do anything to protect someone as if she was hers. Pablo Molinero (Simรณn) beams an underlying sorrowful darkness next to her as well.

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Piggy (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

An obese girl who gets constantly bullied witnesses a crime that will complicate her life even further.

Challenging, thought-provoking, and unique! Bullies… Who likes bullies?! Would you like yourself if you were one? Would you even know if you were one? Then, who likes an outsider? How would you deal with it if you were one? Piggy succeeds where the vast majority of Hollywood horrors fail. It dares to challenge society and youth in a way that very few filmmakers have. Writer/director Carlota Pereda disregards how the masses might feel and gives it to you raw, just the way you don’t like it. Her horror/drama reflects the ugliness of modern times through a mirror that reveals an extremely unpleasant image of ourselves.

Piggy tackles bullying but also battles the actions towards it or lack thereof. On one hand, the act of bullying or doing nothing to prevent it from happening is abhorrent, and, on the other hand, taking drastic action raises significant questions as to what the limit is. Piggy shifts the moral compass time and time again, placing the audience in a very uncomfortable position. You will not stop thinking about how “bad” the “right” way feels and how “good” the “wrong” way does. Ultimately, what is moral and legal, and the disorientating line between them will be occupying your thoughts while the story painfully advances. What we would like to happen, how it should happen, and what it actually happens will really cloud your judgment. And all that to a wild, climactic, and controversial ending.

While all cast and crew deserve praise for this beautifully ugly film, Laura Galรกn deserves the biggest round of applause for portraying such a character with such charisma. Congratulations to Magnolia Pictures/Magnet Releasing, and everyone else who co-funded this film.

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M3gan (2022): Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

A robotics engineer designs a life-like doll that turns out to be stylishly sadistic and murderous.

Noble intentions, but awfully formulaic execution. You can’t get more Hollywood than that so, I will just keep it simple. I’ll start with the positives: Allison Williams (Gemma) is always great. She’s an excellent actress and gives amazing performances no matter what she’s in. Then, M3gan as a concept is the new Chucky – Child’s Play (1988). Don’t expect it to become a “classic” though despite her cool killing mode. Finally, Violet McGraw (Cady) is not one of them annoying child actors. She’s actually really good.

Now, for the negatives: Firstly, the character arc is way too obvious from the very beginning. At first, Gemma can’t even take care of her plants, and then you know that M3gan will wreak havoc and she and her niece will come closer and have learned “valuable” lessons in life – can’t get more obvious than that. Secondly, the underlying drama, the parents’ loss, the inciting incident that sets the cogs in motion, has been severely epidermically approached. Actually, that was the part that put me off the most. Finally, using montages to advance the story forward is the easy way out. It was great seeing Rocky (1976) becoming a better boxer in five minutes back then, but now? Hmmm… Not so much.

Producers Jason Blum and James Wan, respectable veterans in the horror genre, have nothing much to offer other than bloody entertainment. Director Gerald Johnstone, the one behind the great Housebound (2014) seems like he just had to work with whatever he had to work. Aleka Cooper’s script was meant to be bloodier and gorier, but again, the producers noted how well the trailer did on freaking Tik Tok and decided to water it down and address it to teenagers. Fair enough, at least now you know who it is meant for. Both Blum and Wan have interesting projects lined up, so I look forward to them.

So, there are positives and there are negatives. Is it worth watching? Sure, why not? But mostly, due to M3gan’s bat-$hit crazy artificial psychopathy. If I were to pitch that script, the tagline would be something along the lines of “Annabelle (2014) gets an upgrade”.

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Prey for the Devil (2022): Horror/Thriller

A demonic possession will challenge a nun’s faith, but also her promiscuous past.

Decent concept, but too formulaic. Right off the bat, both photography and acting promise a good scare. Then the statistics show up, and I pause for a minute to research if they are accurate. They aren’t. As Hollywood tends to do, it just bends truths and facts, to confuse the audience, so they don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Great narrative technique, but not when presented as “facts”. Come on…

Regardless, the suspense and the thrill work quite well for the most part, it is the horror that doesn’t and the first exorcism cannot hide that. Certain Hollywood producers cannot escape the formulaic and the clichรฉ. They will use, for instance, jump scares – which is only a tool – over and over only because the scripts they are handling are grasping at straws. Remember, “flashy” editing, rhythmic, and metric montages can only do so much to advance the story. The same applies to visual effects. The story needs to flow convincingly on its own.

Robert Zappia’s script tries hard to become innovative, but it doesn’t do well. On the other hand, Daniel Stamm, the experienced director behind the gritty 13 Sins (2014), and The Last Exorcism (2014) seems to have his hands tight up. Lionsgate used to be ahead of its game, but not for years. They just love, as said above, the formulaic and the clichรฉ. Jacqueline Byers (Ann) is a great actress, but a victim of a narrative that is doomed to fail.

You know what I would like as an audience? Pseudo-realism! No soppy montages, no jump cuts, and no demons who do whatever the poor narrative demands them to do just to make it to the end credits. I would like a suspense build-up that leads to a balanced drama/horror narrative, addressed to people that I can relate to. And all that, accompanied by filmmaking techniques that will not constantly remind me that this is a film, especially a Hollywood one. Both 13 Sins and The Last Exorcism do that. How can I properly relate to these characters? Once again, everyone could have been an underwear model. It’s like, literally, all Calvin Klein models quit and decided to become members of the clergy.

Wait for the sequel of The Exorcist (2023) around Halloween time. Hopefully, that will blow our socks off.

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Calibre (2018): Drama/Thriller

A weekend of quality time turns into a living nightmare for two friends in a remote Scottish village.

Low budget, high quality, excellent deliverance! Absolutely captivating! Two friends go hunting in the countryside at a time when everything works out well for them. What can go wrong, right? Calibre is the epitome of how one’s life can descend into darkness right before it makes it to hell. A hell, no religion has prepared you for.

I won’t tell you much, but I’ll tell you this: it’s not an easy watch. It offers a soul-wrenching realism that will unavoidably place you in Vaughn and Marcus’ shoes, but especially Vaughn’s. It will make you question what you would have done if you were them and will challenge your emotions and principles. On the other hand, you will be placed in Logan’s shoes too. Keep this in mind, a remote local community’s sense of justice might be different to anyone who has not been born or raised in a place feeling forgotten and abandoned by the rest of the world. Watch it and see what happens. Feel the suspense escalating by the minute as well as the psychological torment.

Netflix couldn’t get this more right! Writer/director Matt Palmer puts together a flawless drama/thriller, offering a suspense masterclass. Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran, and the rest of the cast deliver exceptional performances, amplifying the already heightened suspense and drama. My advice is to read nothing about it! Turn the lights off, put Netflix on, choose it, and experience the horror of consequences.

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P.S. That was the second time I watched it and I felt the tension even more.

Nanny (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

Wanting to bring her son to America, a Senegalese woman becomes a nanny for a wealthy family while her mind plays horrific tricks on her.

Well-acted, but awfully problematic. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was not sitting well with Nanny. So, keep in mind that it is predominantly a drama and not a horror. Therefore, you may agree that the dramatic plot should be supported by a horrific subplot. Well, it does that much, so the question is, does it in an appealing manner? In a way that hooks you?

Aisha is an overly relatable character, especially for those who know about migration, and Anna Diop absolutely nails her part, adding to the drama that slowly and painfully unfolds. Hence, her story starts from sad only to end up… well, you’ll see. But the snippets of horror don’t add up as they find it difficult to place themselves in the story. The constant use of eerie music when they try to do so is their only way of infiltrating, and writer/director Nikyatu Jusu feels the need to have an “in-your-face” approach. That becomes a direct contradiction because what is happening to Aisha lurks under the surface and the filmmaking techniques that are meant to subliminally deliver her uneasiness couldn’t make it more obvious as if you otherwise wouldn’t get it. You would. And you will probably figure out from the very beginning what the drama is about. In psychological dramas, thrillers, and horrors the action is divided between on and off-screen, carefully chosen by the director what is happening where. Jusu places everything on-screen, projecting confusion rather than mystery, and the plot and subplot become indistinguishable.

Jusu’s strong suit is the use of Diop’s incredible acting skills, and, consequently, she solely becomes the reason to watch it. The film itself, unfortunately, till the very end, fails to decide what it wants to make you feel. Needless to say that the ending is a narratological mess that claims a “fatality” victory over the already visually wounded audience. Shame, really…

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The Menu (2022): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

Upon invitation, a group of elitists travels to an isolated island where the chef has prepared a menu beyond anyone’s imagination.

Spicy, sweet & sour, and easy to digest! Right-o… let’s start with the basics! If cooking is your fetish and you are familiar with posh recipes, you will engage quickly. If, on the other hand, you are as irrelevant as I am about fancy foods and restaurants and you quickly make pasta for three days just before you rush to work, then you’ll just find it funny, and meaningless, and you will only empathise with Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) – and you won’t even know half of it. But brace yourselves, that is until course number… I am not telling you. This is where it gets interesting for both parties; the relevant and the irrelevant ones. The comedy and the mystery start blending in, and shocking revelations will glue you to your seats. The chef’s dark surrealistic psychopathy moves the story forward in an entirely unexpected direction. As further disclosures about the… menu will not be made, all you need to know is that surprises, pleasant or otherwise, do not stop till the very end.

Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and director Mark Mylod’ The Menu, like so many films of Searchlight Pictures, is the fresh breath that Hollywood needs. I’ve used that expression before with production companies such as HBO and A24. It’s like slowly and gradually Hollywood reinvents itself, producing films like this one, Pearl (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2023/01/06/pearl-2022-horror/ and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/ while still making, of course, superficial and somewhat insulting films of the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/02/23/texas-chainsaw-massacre-2022-crime-horror-thriller/

Anyway, the narrative is deep, intricate, and twisted. See, for example, the “Tantalus” name. Read about the myth and connect the dots appropriately. I’m sure there are connections between the chef’s menu and the haves and have-nots, but the food industry is not my specialty. Also, look out for the themes of idolisation and fanaticism and connect them to the innumerable people who watch shows like Gordon Ramsay’s. That will explain Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), but also the sous chefs’ behaviour and decisions.

Highly recommended to all fans who love the marriage between comedy and horror – and great acting.

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P.S. Will Ferrell is one of the producers.

P.P.S. John Leguizamo’s character is based on… Steven Seagal!

P.P.S. Why do you think producers keep hiring British actors to portray Americans? Interesting…

Village of the Damned (1995): Horror/Sci-fi/Thriller

When a whole village mysteriously passes out, many women wake up pregnant with kids that will grow up to be pure evil.

Classic, no matter how you look at it. The intriguing inciting incident, the mysterious human blackout that ultimately causes the pregnancies, is one of the most appealing cinematic concepts ever conceived – pun not intended. What were the whispers? How did they locally cause the massive-scale collapse? Was it natural or supernatural? All these questions, as well as the government’s interest in the event, move the story forward to the actual deliveries and the ostensible happiness that follows. But the signs of sinistry show too early and cut the happiness short. How do those kids do what they do? How is this going to end? Is it going to end?

There is not a lot to say about filmmaking techniques. Some of them may be now outdated while others are standard, but it doesn’t matter, really. John Carpenter approaches the themes of life, death, and the supernatural in a way he only knows how. And that’s enough for you to know. Needless to say that watching it again now, after all those years, it got me saddened right from the start. With the recent loss of the wonderful Kirstie Alley and the tragic years that haunted Christopher Reed after that film, I choose to remember them now at the prime they once were. Linda Kozlowski and Mark Hamill are also exceptional.

Despite its differences and similarities from Wolf Rilla’s homonymous original film and John Wyndham’s novel, this version, despite its flaws, can still be called a “classic” horror for the fans of the genre.

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P.S. I know I’m being childish now, but I’m gonna say it anyway… Towards the end, I imagined Charles Xavier mentally battling them! I know, right?!

The Apology (2022): Thriller

On Christmas Eve, twenty years after the day her daughter disappeared, a woman gets an unexpected visit from her ex-brother-in-law who holds crucial information about that day.

Nail-biting at times, but inconsistent overall. From a filmmaking point of view, interesting opening sequence. Like an omniscient narrator, the audience hovers over isolation and “uninvited” enters Darlene’s house, the amazing Anna Gunn, where the drama and thriller will unfold. Interestingly, IMDb characterises the film only as a thriller. Respectfully, I beg to differ. Anyway, the reunion with the ex-brother-in-law (Jack), admittedly, paces itself but proves to be essential to the plot point that will connect Act I and Act II, namely the revelation of that information. So, be patient and wait for it. Just wait…

The editing slows down, and the disclosure of information comes in waves. Writer/director Alison Locke focuses on Darlene, and manages to capture the shock that turns into anger, rage, wrath, and, finally, despair. So far, the film’s strong suit is the balance between Darlene’s reaction to that information (receiver) and Jack’s position (transmitter). Gunn ultimately nails her part as the mother who lost everything that day and had to live day in, and day out parents’ worst fear and Locke mounts the camera and follows that performance. Until the tables turn… and the characters start acting differently. Personally, this is the point where character development faces irreparable and head-scratching inconsistencies that damage the rest of the film. And this is where I’m going to stop in an attempt not to spoil anything crucial.

The Apology is like a book or wine; some will like it, and some won’t. I do recommend it, for sure, but that is mostly due to Gunn’s performance. Another recommendation I have with a similar premise, but a different story is The Lodge (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/05/15/the-lodge-2019-drama-horror-thriller/. That is one helluva cinematic ride!

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P.S. It is always a pleasure to see Janeane Garofalo in a film, be it a primary or secondary role.

The Sixth Sense (1999): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

A troubled child psychologist takes on a kid that is able to make contact with the dead.

Still haunting, still dark, and still gripping. This is more of a reminder than it is a review. By now, everyone knows what happened, how it happened, and when it happened. The reason I am resurfacing it though is to quickly remind you why it still cinematically matters, and, maybe, encourage you to watch it again this festive period.

I’ll leave out the couple of obvious plot holes that could have been paranormally interpreted in more than one way and avoid the use of reason in explaining how we get from one act to the next. But… I’ll focus on a couple of significant details that you either missed back then or possibly forgot over the years, such as the colour red. The award, the made-up house, the clothes, the staircase, the balloon, and, of course, the mysterious doorknob that does not open the door are only but a few examples of the colour’s usage that pushes the narrative forward but also betrays the film’s twist. This pattern is waiting for you to unravel it and grasp its importance in relation to Cole and his bliss or curse, depending on how one perceives that sixth sense of his.

The other mystery that makes the whole difference in the world in understanding the way the story unfolds is distinguishing who tells the story. In other words, whose story is it? What Cole knows that everyone else doesn’t is now known. What Dr. Crowe doesn’t know, but Cole does is also now known (back then none of it was). The answer lies in the camera angles. What the camera shows and the way it shows it gives away the person or entity’s point of view. These angles also establish where the audience stands at any given moment, something that wouldn’t have been possible if the editing wasn’t such. Ultimately, after the film’s twist is revealed, understanding whose story it is will put into perspective who helps whom, and will provide answers to most of the complex questions.

Bruce Willis captures the essence of his role, Toni Collette gets her first (and last) Oscar nomination, and Olivia Williams supports the story to her full extent (she’s an equally brilliant actress). But the ultimate surprise couldn’t be anyone else other than Haley Joel Osment (also, first and last Oscar nomination), the wonder kid that was later seen in films, such as Pay It Forward (2000) and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). And if you are wondering how a kid goes from a film like The Sixth Sense to A.I., know that in both films, producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (husband and wife) are behind both productions. Even though that’s a story for another time, keep this in mind: Kennedy started as a production assistant in the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), helped develop films such as Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985), and made the Star Wars universe what it is now. George Lucas might be the mastermind behind it, yes, but, without her wouldn’t have expanded to the lengths that it has now. Again, just to keep in mind how behind ostensibly irrelevant films the same people call the shot. Food for thought…

With The Sixth Sense, at the turn of the century, M. Night Shyamalan established himself as the new dominant ‘player’ of the thriller/horror genre, despite the numerous ups and downs that followed. I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we all look forward to the Knock at the Cabin (2023).

Filmmaking is an intriguing and intricate process and The Sixth Sense is an intriguing and intricate film that took years to decode the techniques behind its effect on the film industry. I hope you enjoy it once more.

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Carter (2022): Action/Thriller

A man is tasked with a nearly impossible mission upon waking up with no memory.

Unrealistic and unwatchable! From start to finish the same unrealistic things repetitively happen in an unwatchable manner. Carter is constantly running around, fighting hordes of people (more unscratched than Steven Seagal) in an attempt to achieve something that is befitting for the era just gone, namely the pandemic. Writer/director Jung Byung-gil tried to reproduce his previous film’s success The Villainess (2017): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/07/21/the-villainess-2017-action-thriller/ (unfortunately, I didn’t praise that either), combining it with what writer/director Ilya Naishuller did with Hardcore Henry (2015) and Nobody (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/05/25/nobody-2021-action-crime-drama/. Unfortunately, again, the outcome is neither.

Carter is a film that thousands of people have worked hard to bring to life so I won’t be too harsh on it. This type of action film is not reinventing the wheel: The Raid (2011): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/04/06/the-raid-redemption-2011-action-thriller/, The Raid 2 (2014): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/04/07/the-raid-2-2014-action-crime-thriller/, Headshot (2016): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/11/30/headshot-2016-action-drama-thriller/, The Night Comes For Us (2018): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/11/19/the-night-comes-for-us-2018-action-thriller/, to name but a few, are films with modest budgets and impressive results. The know-how is there. Byung-gil should have stuck with what works and add his own personality to it rather than trying to create something ‘new’ that is unbearable to watch. Arguably, his philosophy was: ‘I shoot it this way and all the mistakes can be fixed in post.’ While mistakes are indeed fixed in postproduction, that is not the role of editing whatsoever! The editing stitches the pieces together in a way that the narrative calls for and the way Carter has been shot, intended to create the illusion of one continuous shot, has irreparably damaged the hard work of those thousands of people in front and behind the camera. They say that the editing either makes or brakes a film. It has most certainly torn it apart, in this case.

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P.S. If you want to see how jump cuts and radical editing are truly effective (in a time when it was innovative), watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

Smile (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A patient’s suicide will lead a therapist down a dark path against a malevolent force.

Raises the stakes, and excites, but doesn’t fully deliver… There are numerous types of narrations that the camera can help convey to the audience. One of them is the “omniscient narration” where the audience gets to experience situations that the characters can’t. For example, be at multiple places at once and have background knowledge of the characters without them knowing it – they haven’t disclosed it, but you have seen it. This is part of the reason why you get to engage more with their suffering and the events surrounding them. But not only. Not wanting to bore you more with jargon, I’ll move on to what I believe matters while watching Smile.

For the horror part, the film successfully relies on the contradiction between the abhorrent anticipation of death and the eerie smiles right before it happens. Smiling is a feeling that should derive from happiness and not from a malevolent presence that totally ruins one’s life before taking it. And Smile effectively builds up the suspense that leads to the pending horrors. While the narrative is not original – a paranormal evil that forces people to harm others or themselves, and the protagonist, racing against time, needs to find a way to break that curse before it’s too late – Smile has certain strengths and weaknesses. Horror, in that respect, is the strong suit.

For the thriller part, the film utilises the fear of doubting oneself and the feeling of helplessness. And that feeling is especially enhanced when the heroine is meant to be an expert in explaining and controlling those emotions and feelings. Writer/director Parker Finn manages to balance those two genres really well and offers a refreshing perspective on something that has been said and done numerous times before.

The script’s weakest point is Rose trying to explain what is happening to her to the people around her. Being a doctor, even deeply and severely traumatised, she should be able to convey her message in a slightly less “crazy” manner; rationalise it in a more effective way, at least, to the people that she should have known how they would react. In that respect, the drama isn’t as powerful as the situation demands it to be.

As I’ve said numerous times before, it’s worth mentioning that none of the efforts behind the camera would matter if the cast in front of the camera didn’t deliver. Sosie Bacon, first and foremost, and all the supporting cast deliver convincing performances that increase the believability of something extraordinarily unrealistic such as the specific supernatural force. And while at it, the fact that Finn chooses not to explain its origin or its true motives is something that you will judge.

On a different note, I guess here there is a discounted underlying message given (or not) in a Hollywood manner. The invisibility and therefore unpredictability of mental illness that constitutes it harder or even sometimes impossible to diagnose, let alone treat, makes the person suffering from it… all alone. And that’s infinitely scarier drama than any CGI.

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Emily the Criminal (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

After being constantly rejected due to her past, a young woman is pulled into the criminal underworld where she sinks deeper and deeper.

Bold, manipulative, and real! Shoulder-mounted camera and tracking shots always raise the bar high. The story is straightforward from the very beginning. She has skills, but she has a past, and if she ever wants to make money, she has to go rogue. And writer/director John Patton Ford and actress Aubrey Plaza capture that from the opening shot. That mockery disguised in an interview’s clothes, the first job’s minor suspense, the second job’s increased tension, the painful reality of constantly working paycheck to paycheck and still making less than what you have to pay out, and the harsh realisation that your life keeps endlessly amounting to absolute nothing, gradually and painfully unfold like visual poetry. The question becomes then, what happens when the shit hits the fan after all the choices that one has made but they didn’t seem much of a choice at the time? Other than Plaza, Theo Rossi does a great job as Youcef (massive fan of him since Sons of Anarchy) and Gina Gershon lights up the shot she’s in even if she appears for a split second.

Excellent thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and will make you doubt the honesty you think you have with yourself. Is Emily turning to crime just because “the system” lets her down or has always been the criminal she revealed herself to be? Again, brilliant performances and brilliantly paced, built up and escalated.

Ultimately, what has always been known becomes once more apparent; the crime world has one rule, there are no rules. And the one thing that is certain, is that nothing is.

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P.S. Thoroughly thought title!

P.P.S. If you’ve been to such interviews, you know. You know…

Don’t Worry Darling (2022): Drama/Thriller

In the 1950s, a housewife starts gradually suspecting that the ostensibly peaceful suburbia she lives in is nothing like it seems to be.

Intriguing concept, but lacks depth. Suburbia, defined gender roles, Mccarthy’s paranoia, and a hint of mystery blend into an overly euphoric society that raises questions from the very beginning. Who are they? Where are they? Why are they there? What are the men doing? Why are they doing it? I’m not asking more so I don’t spoil it.

While all the ingredients are there and the premise of the film is intriguing, the plot lacks depth. Without telling you much, due to preexisting knowledge of certain mystery films, you will quickly get the idea of the town’s conspicuous facade. Once you do, what you can hope for is for something totally extraordinary to happen that will make you say: I didn’t see that coming! Will you be blown out of the water when you least expect it? I’ll leave that up to you to figure out.

Since its birth, art had always been questioning society and the world we live in. The film industry has done it on numerous occasions – I’m not naming films to not betray the narrative – and Don’t Worry Darling is no exception. Shane and Carey Van Dyke’s story and Katie Silberman’s script are exciting and Olivia Wilde’s lens captures that excitement but not necessarily the thrill; the suspense’s buildup and climax. Does it worth a watch? Yes. Even though there is an agenda that reflects today’s troubled and confused society? Yes. To me though, Don’t Worry Darling is a prime example of theory contradicting practice. It is directed by a woman with the intent to empower women, but, in reality, both men and women messed it up in the process and the film paid the price. For more BS on Hollywood trying to be diverse, ask actress KiKi Layne on what she has to say: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10731256/trivia?item=tr6531755

Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, KiKi Layne, Gemma Chan, Chris Pine, and the rest of the cast perform well, but surely you’ll find their performances a lot better elsewhere.

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P.S. Half of the main cast is British.

The Stranger (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

An ostensibly random encounter turns into an elaborative secret operation against a prime suspect of a heinous crime.

Slow-burn, dark, compelling, and different! The Australian filmmaking school at its best! The introduction, disclosure, and development of Mark and Henry will blow you out of the water. This is the character development that film schools refer to. Who they were in the first act and who they are revealed to be in the end will keep applying constant pressure against your chest. By unfolding these characters along with the mission’s extent and nature, writer/director Thomas M. Wright creates a mixture that slowly and mentally painfully comes closer and closer to imploding. The charismatic thespians Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris put heart and soul into their characters and, while I usually say “shine” in front of the camera, in this instance, they put life’s light out, hence that constant pressure on your chest. Jada Alberts’ performance immensely contributes to the deprivation of the human psyche’s light.

There is not a lot I can say without ruining the experience for you so I can only urge you to turn off your lights and put your phones on silent to enjoy an incredible Australian cinematic experience. The script is solid, the editing converts the story into an intricate plot, and everything you get to know, you get to know it when you need to and not when you want to. Interestingly, what you don’t get to know is hinted at or implied, leaving it up to you to interpret it – the polar opposite of what Hollywood offers.

The beginning, as well as the ending, are visual poetry. The narrated images serve as an expression of feelings that eerily initiate and befittingly conclude this journey. Based on the book by Katie Kyriacou and a real-life haunting case, Wright creates a dark and heavy-on-the-soul masterpiece that, once seen, will not be easily forgotten.

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Barbarian (2022): Horror/Thriller

A woman arrives at her Airbnb rental only to confront horrors beyond her wildest nightmares.

The epitome of suspense and the confusion after that…

From a filmmaking point of view: What a 44-minute thrill! A slow-burn thriller that cuts your breath short by manipulating you as to who Keith (Bill Skarsgรฅrd) is. Can be trusted? Is he who he claims he is? Is Tess (Georgina Campbell) overly suspicious about nothing? What would you do if you were her? Her relatable character and the predicament she has to face become the solid foundation of suspense and the driver to move the story forward. And then an unexpected, horrific, and atrocious nightmare begins and unimaginably escalates – no spoilers… By cutting to AJ (Justin Long), all writer/director Zach Cregger does is leave you hanging, on one hand, but, on the other, he provides a great introduction to him, what has happened to him, and, once more, urges you to decide as to whether he is who he claims he is or someone who is accused of being. Furthermore, he eventually connects the stories perfectly. Without telling you how much later on, Cregger cuts to the “answers” of burning questions that ultimately (unintentionally?) create more. From then on, I’ll leave it up to you. Tone, pace, and rhythm change, and the narrative takes an even more unexpected turn. Last but not least, a lengthy round of applause goes to Campbell, Skarsgรฅrd, and Long who give exceptional performances.

From a sociopolitical point of view: A cleverly camouflaged (but not enough) “woke” film… The role of the white, heterosexual male, the role of the female ethnic minority, and the role of the police, to name but a few, are laid out there for you. I was in two minds at first, but the moment I heard about Reagan (no spoilers) it all became clear. Political agendas made films. From The Birth of a Nation (1915) to Oktober (1927), to Casablanca (1942), to John Wayne, to the white, heterosexual, overly muscular American “hero” of the Reagan administration, to today… films always had an agenda. Arguably, back then was a lot more difficult for the average cinemagoer to spot these agendas, but nowadays they become clear as rain. And, for me, it is off-putting. The agenda takes the focus from the narrative and places to politics. Something that you will not spot as often in independent productions as their aim is a lot more focused. Hollywood and forced-down-the-throat agendas go way back, but the good news is that there are still films out there that effortlessly aim to elevate strong female protagonists and minorities that Hollywood has been neglecting for so long and now is trying to “prove” it has been reformed (see comments on previous films I have reviewed on forced diversity).

To sum it up, the best and scariest part is the layering – distinguished and emphasised by the highly skillful editing. Hands down, one hell of a ride to hell on earth: What could possibly be beneath something that creepily lurks underground? Then, the worst and most uncalled-for part is its political agenda.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy it. It’s really worth the shot!

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Halloween Ends (2022): Horror/Thriller

Michael Myers faces Laurie Strode for one last time, massacring whoever stands in his way.

Mixed bag of feelings but highly recommended. I’ll keep this one deliberately short as I’d love you to watch it and make up your mind. I did recommend Halloween Kills (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/10/30/halloween-kills-2021-horror-thriller/ and I definitely recommend this one. Halloween Kills provides a great sequel to Halloween (2018) and also provides an answer to the most significant question of both the canonical and non-canonical films: Why does Michael Myers seem invincible… on Halloween day? Respectively, Halloween Ends provides the ending (?) all Halloween films – especially the canonical ones – deserve (?). Maybe, on the way there you’ll pick on a few “narrative discrepancies”, but, no matter what, an end needs to be put to the saga of Michael Myers who had been leaving behind him piles of bodies and very long blood trails, for a very long time (?).

David Gordon Green helms it one more time, balancing action, drama, comedy, and horror in a way that let many fans down and even though some of the “accusations” have a solid basis, some of them are as brutal as Myers. What needs to be said is that Jamie Lee Curtis is still the iconic Laurie Strode who set the solid foundation of the modern dynamic on-screen heroines.

Despite its flaws, I hope you enjoy it. It’s Halloween and this one seems to be the appropriate film/finale for the “spooktacular pumpkin period” (bad joke, I know).

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Hellraiser (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

The infamous puzzle box is found by a troubled young woman who will, inevitably, have to confront the merciless Cenobites.

Watching the trailer I couldn’t help but ask myself, what’s wrong with it? Well, for starters, it didn’t look “dirty” enough. Then, it didn’t look gory, it revealed too much in too little time, and, consequently, didn’t leave much to look forward to. Anyway, the marketing could have been rubbish so, I couldn’t wait for the film itself.

The inciting incident, at the billionaire’s mansion, will get you hooked but will not excite you. It’s a good start but it could have been a lot more. The characters themselves are decent, more investment has been made in Riley, and Odessa A’zion nails it as a troubled personality. The rest were so and so. Therefore, whatever happens to them as the narrative unfolds, will not bring tears to your eyes and you probably won’t even say ‘oh no!’.

Speaking of narrative, the film follows the same recipe its predecessors did, offering really nothing new or groundbreaking. The only “new” is the digital VFX and make-up that do the film no favours whatsoever. Unfortunately, that is an even greater weakness than the narrative because it makes the Cenobites look… fake. And if they look fake, the illusion of their “reality” crumbles. Hellraiser (2022) is the typical example of the parts being greater than the sum – when it should have been the other way around.

Favourite moments include, and are unfortunately limited to: the beginning of the bathroom sequence, the beginning of the infirmary sequence, and the introduction of the notepad. The bathroom doesn’t come through – nothing happens, the infirmary gets you excited – and leaves you hanging, and the notepad, as informative as it may be, is not enough to make it the film it deserved to be. A film that represents unfathomable gore, twisted darkness, and unbearable infliction of pain.

Here’s my advice, if you want to discover director David Bruckner’s real talent watch these: VHS (2012) – his, but also all segments, Southbound (2015) – a favourite of mine, The Ritual (2017): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/10/26/the-ritual-2017-horror-mystery-thriller/ (one of my earliest reviews, really synoptic), and The Night House (2020) https://kaygazpro.com/2021/10/27/the-night-house-2020-horror-mystery-thriller/

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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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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!

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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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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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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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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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 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 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.

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!

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.

Hippopotamus (2018): Drama/Thriller

An abducted woman wakes up in a room with no memory of how she got there, while her kidnapper keeps giving her some kind of painkillers.

Interesting, yet poorly executed. The positive one-word or one-line reviews are placed on the films’ posters as part of the marketing and are meant to draw viewers in; excite them before they even go to the cinema or hit “play” at home. Hippopotamus‘ poster serves that very same goal. Does it live up to the expectations though?

From an audiovisual point of you, the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) and sound mixing is poor. That stands out immediately, it doesn’t get any better throughout so I move on. From a visual point of view, it is also poor. On the 20th minute, there are a few well-edited dolly shots (a shot pattern that repeats about 20′ later, and then 30′ after that), but then the poor directing activity continues. Ingvild Deila’s and Stuart Mortimer’s acting is decent, but the characters seem and interact in a flat manner and the bad ADR only distracts the audience’s attention anyway. The real saviour of the film – at least, visually – is the editing.

From the script’s point of view, the slow-burn build-up technique only works if it amounts to something. That applies, especially, to scripts that their plot unfolds in single location. Hippopotamus ticks both boxes, but producer/writer/editor/director Edward A. Palmer leaves it to the point that audience’s attention has long wondered off. By the time the film makes it to the resolution, it is already late. Palmer seems to have had a vision that he pieced together well, but the pieces themselves proved to be problematic.

If you manage to make it up to the last part of the second act, you’ll be the judge of whether it was worth it or not. Personally, I didn’t face the twist as a revelatory experience. Far from it. After all the previous “buts” mentioned above though, I’ll throw in a positive one. Making any type of film, is not an easy task. From nano-budgets to tentpoles, every film faces its difficulties and I’m sure Hippopotamus was not short of those. No one can accuse a film where its cast and crew were paid next to nothing or nothing that they haven’t done a decent job. The fact that they managed to complete it and make it to Amazon Prime, is a humongous achievement if you ask me. And Hippopotamus easily stands out in the platform as one of the best achievements in that genre.

Stay safe!

Encounter (2021): Sci-fi/Thriller

An ex-Marine runs away with his kids in the middle of the night, in an attempt to save them from an extraterrestrial organism that takes over people.

Captivating premise, convoluted and disoriented elaboration. Very intriguing opening sequence with interesting visuals that leads only to questions. An unknown amount of people seems to have been infected by an extraterrestrial organism that arrived on Earth inside an asteroid. The connection between that and the reason why Malik has taken the kids, although it makes sense, or should makes sense, is a head-scratcher. That is because the information is being given, at first, in a disjointed way.

Answers kept coming as the narrative unfolded, but I couldn’t help but notice the mixed feelings I’ve had during the process. It felt like while things were happening nothing was happening. The soundtrack, the sound levels, Malik’s relationship with his boys, the subplot’s connection to the plot… The latter, especially, confronts, contrasts, even contradicts the initial questions, something that raises yet another question: How bad is he? I say no more about the events, as spoilers are not allowed.

Once all answers are given, the uncertainty and confusion are been instantly replaced by transparency, and while that is meant to happen, that fact that the fog gets dissolved instantly, it disrupts the pace and rhythm. I can’t say with certainty if it’s the script that’s causing it or the editing, but I’ll go with the script. Writer Joe Barton and writer/director Michael Pearce raise ambiguous feelings while developing both the characters and the story and, admittedly, Jed Kurzel’s original music, albeit atmospheric, it interacts with the visuals in a way that… cancels out the intended feelings. Which, in all honesty, I am not sure what they were meant to be. This ambiguity reflects on Riz Ahmed’s and Octavia Spencer’s performances who look as bewildered about their utterances and actions.

If I had to put my finger on, I would say that the major cause of this is the epidermic approach of what is happening to (or with?) Malik. Again, I can’t anymore. Have a look for yourselves. I don’t regret watching it, but I’m glad I didn’t have any expectations. Maybe, you’ll feel differently.

I hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

Better Watch Out (2017): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

When the parents decide to have a Christmas night out, they hire a babysitter for their teenage boy, but what seems to be a home invasion will make their night a living hell.

The Christmas horror for the whole (15 and over) family. Expect something like Home Alone (1990) meets The Babysitter (2017). The premise, at first, is simple. The parents want to have a Christmas night out, they hire the neighbourhood’s beautiful girl to babysit their teenage boy, they leave, and not long after, a home invasion shakes them to their core. From what I see, IMDb doesn’t disclose much, if anything, so, I’ll make it deliberately generic, and keep it as well spoilers-free.

Very well structured both in terms of script and execution. In less than ten minutes, every character has been introduced as well as the house with all its rooms. The inciting incident is very well disguised and when it reveals itself, it shocks! From then on, there is a roller coaster of incidents that take place one after the other in a synchronised manner, not very well timed to keep it real, not too messy to confuse. Overall, in less than an hour and a half, Better Watch Out brutally entertains, horrifies, and leaves you in the end with wanting some more. Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, and Ed Oxenbould have an amazing chemistry between them and shine in front of the camera. I wish I could say more, but I will stop here.

Behind the camera, writer Zach Kahn and writer/director Chris Peckover create the kind of mixed genre that I particularly like. Comedy/horror is not easy to make. To be able to scare someone but also make them laugh takes a lot of consideration and preparation as these are polar opposite feelings. And to blend them into a film, especially involving kids, imposes a risk to the filmmakers when pitching such a project to the producers and distributors. Why? The target audience is not clear to them which means that it will potentially be unclear to the audience too. And from what I read, it didn’t do particularly well. But don’t be alarmed by that. As I’ve said before a few times, especially this time of the year, this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play brother and sister in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015).

The Protege (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

When her mentor gets murdered, an assassin seeks revenge for the people behind the hit.

Entertaining, yet nothing innovative. I don’t really like to badmouth films, but here we are. Especially, the ones that decent effort has been put into them. I’ll start with some positive feedback: Maggie Q. Maggie Q has proved to be a diverse actress, seen in dramas, action/adventures, even horrors. Her acting skills extend beyond her fighting or modeling skills and when the role demands it she rises to the occasion.

Unfortunately, The Protege is not one of these occasions. Director Martin Campbell, after two James Bond films and numerous other successful (or not) action/thrillers does not meet, in my humble opinion, today’s standards. The story itself is a clichรฉ, with nothing substantial to offer to the genre, and the characters feel under-developed. Personally, I didn’t relate with anyone and everything felt like a dรฉjร  vu from Luc Besson’s early films to today.

I’ve said it before numerous times about action films and I’ll say it again: From the moment films like John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017) were released, the bar has been raised too high. Long shots is, partially, what cinematic realism stands for. And even though it is an extremely lengthy debate, the argument here is well-established: The action needs to be coherent, it has to be clear, and it has to have duration in order to be believable and be perceived as ‘real’. The director needs to work with the fight coordinator, the actors, and the stunts in preproduction so, during principal photography, everyone knows where they need to stand, where they need to land, and develop the hand-to-hand combat. The editing does not cut it anymore – pun intended. The editing needs to establish the continuity, not in every technique or counter-technique, but when the narrative demands it. Therefore, the info on the poster “From the studio that brought you John Wick…” sounds somewhat ironic. The film features Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton but, as with the rest of the performances, don’t expect much.

Unfortunately again, the narrative here is something almost everyone has seen before, lowering the excitement levels to underground levels. Shame, really.

Stay safe!

Dark River (2017): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

Following her father’s death, a woman returns to the farm she grew up on after 15 years, but the reunion with her brother will have nothing but dire consequences.

The hand-held camera and close-ups on Alice after the opening sequence speak volumes from the very beginning about her esoteric world. Upon her return to the farm, and the siblings’ reunion, Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley do a great job as estranged brother and sister, but the moment’s awkwardness, as well as the rest of the film’s pace and rhythm are well controlled by the editors Luke Dunkley and Nick Fenton. Writer/director Clio Barnard, Yorkshire lass born and raised, works with the excellent cinematographer Adriano Goldman, and delves into the personal drama Alice and Joe have to endure while developing simultaneously the tribulations of owing a farm nowadays. On one hand, their personal suffering seems impossible to be dealt with. While we get glimpses of the past, we can only imagine how hard it is for Alice to be back there. What we don’t know, until much later on, is how much Joe knows and how he positions himself in this predicament. Thus, we cannot fully comprehend the animosity between them.

On the other hand, owing that farm along with its innumerable troubles, only escalates that tension. What ideally could have happened, what did happen, as well as with how it could have been dealt with and how it was actually dealt with creates a family disaster of galactic proportions. That intensity is what describes the film. If I were forced to pick on something, that would be the fact that the tone is, from beginning to end, gloom and doom. As Dark River is mainly a drama, I would expect from it to give some hope before it takes it back. Instead, it just keeps on slowly and steadily taking it, leaving you bereft. Hence, the narrative’s element of surprise is lost there as, from a certain point on, you know that every new sequence you are about to watch is going to be a yet another calamitous encounter between the siblings.

Don’t be discouraged by that though. Dark River is the poster child of British indie cinema that only evokes emotions from relatable stories and characters and surfaces real dramas that take place in the world that you and I live in. Watch it and get to know an England so much different to the films that open with an aerial shot of London, shot wherever else after that, and dive into banalities that allegedly describe England. Dark River combines the cinematic realism and the English countryside, free of stereotypes and clichรฉs.

Stay safe!