Assassination Nation (2018)

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When a film begins by rattling through a list of trigger warnings, you know you’re in for a wild ride and some aspects will likely sit uncomfortably with people making them #triggered, as the youths now say but if you can stomach everything from nasty slurs to torture then you won’t be disappointed.

In the town of Salem, four young friends share almost every secret. Lily (Odessa Young) has her own sordid private life which could become extremely public as a run of hacks hit the people of the town, from political figures to cheerleaders. It isn’t long until Salem is swept up by a hysteria and these four girls are its target.

Now, this visceral flick comments that it is a “1000% true story”, which it isn’t but the satirical elements which elevate to crazy heights could easily be perceived as based on true events what with the screen-obsessed world we currently live in. Sam Levinson, on only his second feature film is someone to watch because this is a bold, exploitative movie with a lot to say. There is a whole mound of style layered over the simple story of personal truths spilling over to be accessed information by all.

For a while this is a movie which looks like a red, white and blue tinged frat dream; almost a bubblegum start which greatly and swiftly pops like dynamite. It’s a revenge film ripe for our times, pumping with violence, social dramatics and a soundtrack which pulsates through you. It’s easy to say this is a film revelling in blood and shock but in fact it’s an engrossing cautionary tale of how affected by social media we are, how hear say is damaging and the struggles of what people expect of us can boil over. These themes are massively relevant and perfectly handled in a neat black comedy/thriller.

If you saw ‘Revenge’ earlier in the year, then this is a film that reminds you of the vengeful attack demonstrated by Coralie Fargeat. There’s a similar aggression soaking the narrative and amped up camera tricks and shots construct a blistering treat for the eyes. A smooth one-shot sequence which follows the red coated gals from outside a house is exceptional in terms of craft and building tension, more than this it works fantastically by making us voyeurs, the very people this film is right to judge.

It isn’t only voyeurism which is barbed, the fragile male ego from the outset is listed as an oncoming point for the film and this dangerous weapon is definitely shown off. On top of this there is the very real problem of mob mentality which is utilised within the later stages of the film and would do enough to scare off ‘The Purge’ inhabitants. These alarming issues are brilliantly opposed by the actors playing the teenage women. Odessa Young is front and centre and is a force to be reckoned with as she stands strong, even when torn apart by those around her.

Surely it’s no happy coincidence that Levinson sets this blood-fuelled story in Salem. The electrically charged events, mirror the witch trials from 326 years ago. The friends are damaged and headhunted by technology and townsfolk with no morals or thought process. Their own trial is as utterly useless to survive against unless they rise up. The female empowerment may be through thinly drawn characters but it’s evident and makes for a powerful final image before the credits appear.

‘Assassination Nation’ has some obvious story moments but there’s plenty of black humour and unsettling madness in a superb pulpy exhilarating show, one that wakes you up to the climate against women and rings social media alarm bells.

8/10

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Suspiria (2018)

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Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ director Luca Guadagnino’s homage to the 1977 ‘Suspiria’ is a film that has vastly polarised critics and audiences alike and is definitely an example of a weirdly hypnotising film, whether it be good or bad.

Dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has always felt an urge to be where top choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is. This desire takes Susie to the Tanz Academy in Berlin where she quickly grows accustomed to the methods of Blanc and other madams and their front as a dance school slowly disappears to reveal them as a chorus of witches.

Off the bat I must admit I have not seen the Dario Argento original but shall definitely seek it out after watching…whatever this was. The whole look of this update doesn’t go down the usual glossier redo but keeps the film in bland, bleak tones of browns, greys and whites which makes the bursts of red all the more alarming. The entire feature has this odd pull; like it’s drawing you into a state of hypnosis which nicely mirrors the inexplicable connection Susie has always had with Madame Blanc.

Guadagnino utilises on some neat shots and clever style choices throughout this film. Whether the frame rate is slowed right down or cameras suddenly whip and zoom toward someone, there’s definitely a smart tactic made by the director in presenting this strange horror with a flair of confidence and compelling curiosity.

People will likely be talking about the near final scene for a while. A carnival of Dionysus proportions with a river of red is outlandish and mad. This creepy coven shows off a beastly display of blood and ritual that is so horrific and over the top that it’s very nearly unintentionally amusing. Better flashes of horror comes from a dance section with the ladies draped in ropes of red which is amazingly choreographed and an earlier back and forth rite of passage between a debut rehearsal and a victim trapped in her own freakish hall of mirrors. This moment is squeamish and damn effective.

‘Suspiria’ does have an abundance of flaws though, a major one lies with the screenwriter’s choice to present the narrative in a 1970’s setting with too much room spent on the aftermath of the Berlin divide and post-war anxieties and grief. This theme is fine but on the whole it drastically takes away from what could have been a more focused look at just the dance academy and its witches. Thom Yorke’s soundtrack provides a heavy dose of piano which adds to the mesmerising quality but often makes the movie like a lullaby to rest your eyelids to. Also, that carnival explosion of gore and coven craziness has a great sinister sound backing the visuals and then Yorke’s vocals come in again and make the whole thing feel dreamy and ridiculous.

Johnson definitely knocks back anyone who says she can’t act because her turn as Bannion is a fantastic journey of passion, training and a personal core of unsettling change to where she ends up. Swinton is as strangely alluring and magnetic as always, just the way she delivers her lines like a precise poet carries a maternal yet worrying edge. The likelihood is that she also plays two other characters and one is of an aged male doctor which further proves what a brilliant chameleon Swinton is as an actor.

‘Suspiria’ to the uninitiated really goes places you won’t expect and feels like a mysterious yet slow descent into hell. It’s often too drab and floaty but has great attacks of visual horror along the way.

4.5/10

Outlaw King (2018)

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“The English are coming…” and so is Chris Pine adopting a Scottish lilt as the lead in Netflix’s latest original feature. As has often been the case, the streaming giant’s release of originals have been hit or miss, so with director of ‘Hell or High Water’ behind this historical drama, which side does this one fall on?

1304 and Scotland hope that Edward I (Stephen Dillane), the King of England can help them select a new successor but instead he takes control of their country. It isn’t long until Robert Bruce (Pine) starts mastering a revolt against the English but with only some men willing to stand with him against a might army, it could prove to be a difficult task.

It is true to say that this is a film that takes a while to get into the sword swing of things but the final 20 minutes make up for a so-so opening 30 minutes. The introductions to Bruce, Edward, the Prince of Wales and other characters are explained in little detail adding no weighted history to a movie clearly happy to be more loosely based on fact than providing rich interest to its audience.

Along the way of rebellion, there are some odd camera shots where they enhance and zoom into certain scenes which just felt off; especially for the period of this story. They felt too modern, too stylish for the context but Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography makes up for these minor quibbles. He’s most definitely a DoP who knows how to capture the gritty dramatics of tension and conflict, from ‘The Hurt Locker’ to ‘Detroit’, this recent offering is no exception as the soiled lands of English’s northern neighbours carry a grounded beauty.

As mentioned, the last spell of this film whacks with medieval carnage, a bold and exhilarating melee of mud and blood which sees the possible hope of Bruce and his Scots carrying out a clever plan. Throughout the film there are a number of other mini battles where daggers and swords provide plenty of maroon-soaked damage and director David Mackenzie doesn’t hide away from the brutality of the actions of these men. ‘Outlaw King’ proudly wears its macho quality but it’s devoid of major heart and would be more memorable on a big screen, left to Netflix it serves as a forgettable distraction.

One of the four top Hollywood Chris sports a crown and beard as Robert the Bruce and his accent is good, which is always nice compared to some Americans trying to don accents from our side of the pond. Pine ensures there’s an honesty and swagger to his performance which helps to keep us on side with his plight. The strongest most memorable turns come from Aaron Taylor-Johnson; as a ballsy, aggressive man desiring his home back and Florence Pugh who is sworn to marriage with Robert but isn’t simply left as the dull wife indoors. Pugh carries likeability and emotion as Elizabeth.

So whilst this may not be a film that really captures your attention, it’s got a strong cast and an excellent final set-piece which keeps this Netflix Original from being one to skip over.

6.5/10

Overlord (2018)

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Now this may not be the fourth instalment in the ‘Cloverfield’ world as people had speculated when word got around that J.J Abrams was behind this feature, but that’s truly for the best because this is a stonking great stand-alone movie that blows the roof off with tremendous energy and B-movie revelry.

It’s the day before D-Day and a squadron have orders to reach a church in a French village and destroy a German planted radio tower. A few of the men survive and band together, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) heads out and on his wanderings he uncovers a deadly secret concocted by a sinister doctor, who is carrying out a series of tests to produce a serum which could gift the Nazis some soldiers that can’t die.

This is only the second full length film to come from Australian director Julius Avery but it’s a blistering delight. The first steps of ‘Overlord’ are much more gripping and dramatic than you’d expect. The whole WW2 angle and the mission that these soldiers are given are dealt with by Avery with fantastic explosions of fear stemming from German-occupied France and amongst this you can find some softer moments in the script as the comradery grows and the humour rounds out the edges.

What works so well is the way the movie sort of reveals its true intentions as a zombie film, at first glance a spectator who’d seen no trailer, poster or any information would see the first half an hour as a solid war movie and it is. There is great mystery building amongst the horrors of this occupation, which culminates in a horror of a very different kind.

Once the gritty style of the war moves into the more gross out zombie-horror section you can expect large dollops of bloody prosthetics and gory VFX that might not shock but it certainly grabs the attention and pulls you into this extremely visceral genre piece. It is true to say that along the way the characters we follow are two-dimensional and their journeys are fairly predictable but these paper thin characteristics aren’t trying and in fact, the poor decision making and off character choices are very much the bread and butter of horrors so it can be forgiven.

There is a huge amount of fun to be had whilst watching ‘Overlord’, the entire feature may be brash but it’s brilliantly enjoyable and it feels like some science fuelled nightmare with moody Call of Duty visuals and twisted nastiness to boot.

8/10

The Predator (2018)

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A lot of talk has been going on as of late with ‘The Predator’ and most of it isn’t about the movie itself, so with these dramatic revelations does Shane Black’s recent feature manage to pull through or is it not worth the time?

After a Predator ship crashes to Earth, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) makes first contact but is soon captured and dispatched to a rag-tag of veterans by Will Trager (Sterling K. Brown). As these lethal aliens come after their armour; McKenna, the vets and evolutionary expert Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) team up to hunt the hunters.

I must admit that I have never seen any other film from the ‘Predator’ franchise so maybe that aided my amusement to watching this one. There is a great bundle of fun to be had though, if you can ignore some awful Rasta-dogs, plenty of guts, expletives and explosions fill the screen with such giddy abandon that makes this a sci-fi horror like the saga is known for but a crimson soaked comic thriller instead.

This almost non-stop action and comedy comes right out of the Shane Black book of movie-making. Sure, it isn’t set during Christmas but Black writes in plenty of witty dialogue that chips in and out of the impending danger. McKenna doesn’t just have one other person to riff with like other Black screenplays, i.e ‘The Nice Guys’ or ‘Lethal Weapon’, he has a whole bus full of characters to make this movie burst to the seams with laddish humour.

Comedy and ripped intestines don’t prevent the third act from feeling like a sore spot. The film descends into being overly ridiculous and more than a couple of times you can see really shameful uses of CGI. A sequence that is all about a blood sport of hunt and kill should have been way more exciting than it was. A big reason as to why this section doesn’t work comes down to the frantic editing and characters that just disappear or are culled which you can’t quite keep up with.

Aside from this weak final twenty minutes, the movie is a dumb joy to behold and a large feature of that joy boils down to the acting in the brotherhood which manifests between McKenna and a squad of men with extreme characteristics. Holbrook keeps up a near-constant grimace and aggression and Keegan-Michael Key is a big player in padding the film with plenty of laughter.

‘The Predator’ doesn’t really connect to the vets but there is enough wise-cracking involved that we know to root for them whereas on the flip side of the coin, which lands in Sterling K. Brown’s proficient palm, we face a charming yet despicable foe who chews up the scenery with Nicorette gum and pure craft. Olivia Munn, controversy aside, is great in softening the blows of constant larking about. She’s no boring damsel in distress biologist, she has enough smarts and skill to keep her cool around Predators and a team of men dripping in testosterone. Jacob Tremblay is a force of munchkin talent to be reckoned as per usual, his ‘superpower’ of autism may get heavy handed but he’s never irritating which other child actors can easily be.

Some may have issues with the plot development and yes the last stages aren’t so strong but watching antics of a newly formed squadron versus a beastly statuesque creature with dreads is an entertaining ride.

7/10

The Meg (2018)

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Swallow a load of this monstrous shark movie, which on trailer and prior buzz alone looked to be the perfect summer popcorn flick of ridiculousness, but upon viewing it doesn’t quite reach that fabled height of silliness but comes close enough to make ‘The Meg’, a grin-inducing creature feature.

Backed by the financial might of Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), a diving team are hoping to discover an entire new layer underneath the Mariana Trench. As bad luck would have it they stumble upon the hungry jaws of Megalodon and the surface crew need to rein in the help of rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), who can hopefully stop the toothy villain from killing them and many more.

Director of the National Treasure movies, John Turteltaub sure knows how to call the shots with a rough and ready lead and provide fun thrills, so he’s a handy choice for this shark based feature. Once the film really gets kicking, then the enjoyment factor breaks through the shark cage roof but there are some moments that are, dare I say, a little slow and I wanted more blood-soaked action and some sense of silliness which the narrative set up sorely lacks.

Perhaps the 12A rating doesn’t help this movie either, if it had have been bumped up to a 15 it could have elevated the nastiness and nightmarish situation of a beastly water-dweller stalking populated waters but aside from this weakening classification and a mildly boring first act, this is a film that hints at deathly danger enough to whet the adrenaline-taste buds and survive as a dumb but fun family film.

Shark films obviously have a hard time living up to the famous dread which was sustained throughout ‘Jaws’, but as a B-movie sci-fi outing, this manages to provide two if not three sequences that are tense and have you fearing for the characters and fearing more the chomping nature of this gigantic prehistoric fish, for example, a beach swarming with happy go lucky people is a short but brilliant bite of joyful shark bait tension and features a true underdog!

Jason Statham on board is always a stonking good casting choice, if he’s knowingly setting himself up for meme culture and silly dialogue then it’s a film to revel in. Seeing The Stath taking on something, be it Cranky syndicates or the man-mountain that is Dwayne Johnson is never not a delight and in this movie he takes on something just slightly bigger than The Rock with great gruff determination.

This is a fun film that could have benefited from starting a little earlier in it’s knowledge of being a tongue-in-cheek blast, but once the fearsome creature surfaces than so does the entertaining ride.

7/10

Cargo (2018)

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In the dusty outback of Australia, ‘Sherlock’ star Martin Freeman tries desperately to survive, in what could only be described as bleak conditions. Adapted from a short film idea by the same creators, ‘Cargo’ does feel like it a little weighed down by a full length run-time but it doesn’t stop it being a gritty portrayal of fighting against the odds.

A virus has swept over the world and anyone infected has just 48 hours of human life left, before they turn into flesh seeking zombies. Andy (Martin Freeman) treks the countryside Down Under carrying his baby girl Rosie, trying to find a hospital to combat the effects he carries with him.

What stands out strongest within this post apocalyptic plot, is the character studying. Yolande Ramke writes a powerfully subtle zombie flick by focusing on the behaviours of its characters, also directing with Ben Howling they ensure the movie doesn’t fill us with easy-to-do blood splattered gore or adrenaline pumped tension. They work nicely together in really making you feel for Andy and understand not just him but the people he interacts with from start to finish. Good zombie films are always showing us the true monsters are found in us when people do the nastiest things to stay alive and this feature is no exception.

I must admit that there are times when a little shot more of tension would have been welcome. The 1 hour 40ish length does have a few points where it feels stretched out and having a couple of scenes whittled down would have kept the dramatic punch alive; as if mirroring the narrow time frame Andy has to survive. Also, aside from the clever and well written/acted character work, this isn’t exactly a film that demolishes the genre, if you’ve seen one or two then you’ve seen this one as well.

Aboriginal life gets a spotlight and there’s a good moment when a trapped Aborigine comments on the sickness but relays it back to how their people, their way of living is all but destroyed by white people, Australia has indeed left this tribe of rich culture to struggle in the background. It’s important that this film highlights them and moments including an Aborigine girl are soft, mystical ones that give the film an original spark.

‘Cargo’ may be a film that would be more tense as a thirty minute outing but there’s no denying that Freeman, newcomer Simone Landers and the writing/directing masters have provided Netflix and us a bold social commentary laced with the gnash of zombie thrills.

7/10