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

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Annihilation (2018)

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Arriving on Netflix, is this bold and engagingly strange science fiction from Alex Garland. It’s arguably one of the finer films of this genre I’ve ever seen, questioning the audience with its intelligent themes of rationality and life.

After a figure from Lena’s (Natalie Portman) life comes back into the fold, she ends up at a government facility close to a glistening barrier known as The Shimmer which is expanding. Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) leads Lena and three others into this weird anomaly to try and stop it reaching civilisation and to hopefully uncover exactly what it is.

Alex Garland has been writing screenplays since 2002 and after his blistering debut directorial work on 2015’s ‘Ex Machina’, this was a movie I was eagerly awaiting. Garland has managed to capture the traumas and oddities of a strange new world from within Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name. As this film goes along, there’s a fantastic sense of slow-burning tension that doesn’t always need to pay off with big action because he directs in such a way that chills to the core and makes this environment feel visceral.

A sci-fi with plenty of intrigue and interesting ideas aren’t always common to come by, so gladly this is an exception, in the same vein as the smartly concocted ‘Arrival’. It’s a film that I think deserves to go down as a classic in its genre, as it grips like a row of razor sharp teeth sinking into you, as you get hooked onto the creepy air of unease and confusion that roams this altering landscape.

The Shimmer itself is a world of melding possibilities leading to some of the most beautiful shots I’ve seen this year, ones that I utterly wished I could have seen on the big screen, but again Paramount offloaded one of theirs to be released by streaming juggernaut Netflix. Rob Hardy’s cinematography is sublime and truly keeps you on the edge of your seat as we trek through somewhere, that is at once stunning and dripping with mystery.

There are some unnerving moments within ‘Annihilation’ which I won’t divulge any further as to avoid spoilers, but I will say, what lurks in The Shimmer certainly builds a scary level to the back and forth narrative with Lena. Also, the final act is absolutely incredible. My mouth was agape for the duration and my skin was layered with goosebumps, in a lighthouse set sequence I can only describe as hauntingly glorious and terrifying in a way that seems to burrow into your very being.

Natalie Portman is a strong presence from start to finish, her character background aptly aids her through this lush yet dangerous world of lost memories and trepidation. Portman easily acts that sense of forceful wanting and knowledgeable progression. She also carries an empathetic sadness and regret throughout, which makes her an interesting character to follow. The entire team are a formidable squad of females with enough drip fed information about their lives, to give us understanding of their choices and motivations. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Gina Rodriguez all neatly display the fraying of their minds as they descend further into The Shimmer. The latter gets a crackling turn to shine in a scene that sees her burst with an intensity, adding to the ferociousness of what happens.

‘Annihilation’ is a masterful movie and one I will definitely be watching again. It carries a quiet menace as the unknown is explored and identity is questioned more and more.

8.5/10

 

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

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Dropped like something out of the sky; here comes a game-changer in terms of movie marketing and distribution, but that aside is this a good ‘Cloverfield’ movie?

Set in our future and aboard the Cloverfield Station are a crew from various countries who are hoping to perfect a particle accelerator; which could solve the energy crisis on Earth. As their mission finally catches a break, it seems not everything is good. The team become stranded, meanwhile life back on Earth isn’t looking safe and sound either.

So, after a few months of whisperings and internet talk about a new feature in the ‘Cloverfield’ series, we’re finally greeted with this big surprise release. It was due last year and then apparently again for an April 2018 cinematic date under the name ‘God Particle’ from Paramount Pictures, but as the sporting spectacle of the Super Bowl reached it’s halftime parade of expensive ads and new trailers, a teaser for this very movie was shown. Not long after the game itself the film was up on Netflix for all (subscribers) to see.

This I must admit is a bold move to make and pretty special to keep something under wraps. Having a $45 million movie on your hands and to maintain its secrecy and avoid the usual over hype of many trailers and TV spots is a fantastic achievement, if not one that disappoints me slightly because it’s final destination means it can’t be seen on the big screen. It’s a great film visually and the sci-fi element is explored quite well through the vacuum of space and a sleek revolving spaceship but Paramount mustn’t have had high expectations to forgo a cinema roll-out and leave Netflix to pick up the rights. This can be felt in a film that seems to have grown out of control to fit within the ‘Cloverfield’ universe.

It’s a mildly slow-burner of a science fiction to watch, there’s neat moments of burrowing unease as things start to go wrong; as they always do in these kinds of films. The back and forth between space and Earth feels like the parts where they re-wrote to segue in the movie monster tie-in and general spots do feel like a scrambled mess to keep that storytelling building.

Saying this, the dynamic of the crew is good and the moments of error, confusion and danger aboard the spacecraft are entertaining. I wouldn’t say exciting or wholly dramatic but they work well and keep the film going along nicely too. The main interest for me was in the construct of the shifting paradox and the problems arising from there, which is explored with both thrills and humour but not as deep as perhaps it may have delved. I feel one reason the film isn’t as successful as it could be is down to the distracting technique of its release and expecting the ‘Cloverfield’ monster/arc to keep rearing up.

’10 Cloverfield Lane’ was one of my favourite films from 2016 because it tied in the monster series nicely and felt like a creepily separate thriller at the same time. This is still a good film but nowhere near as great. It’s a film that perhaps, thanks to its many delays and streaming resting place, feels more like a somewhat enjoyable online flick but not a dazzling or suspenseful one.

5.5/10

 

The Babysitter (2017)

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Released on spooky Friday the 13th  this adolescent horror comedy never really gets to grips with either the horror or comedy element. It can; I guess, be viewed as entertaining at points but it’s nothing I’d rush to see again or make a friend see. It belongs where it sits – on Netflix where a late night scroll could end you up watching this tackily made brash trash.

Frequently bullied twelve year old Cole (Judah Lewis) is excited that his parents are off to a hotel because that means the babysitter will be round. He may be the only schoolkid with one, but he has a fun and good relationship with Bee (Samara Weaving). She looks out for him and they share similar interests but one night after goaded by neighbour Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind), Cole keeps himself awake to see just what it is that Bee gets up to when he’s usually asleep. The answer may surprise and shock Cole leaving him experiencing a strangely bloody night.

I knew there was a horror/blood-soaked element attached to this film but I didn’t really look into what the plot was about so I won’t spoil what happens to kick things off or what goes down but yes…wow…there’s a literal WTF moment, those very words even pinged onto the screen seconds after I’d said them aloud to myself! This is when Cole, and the audience, realise what hell may be unleashed and it certainly is unexpected.

So, I guess that element of genuine surprise is a nice touch but before that occurs, the set up of the narrative and characters feels like it’s been transplanted out of that MTV music channel vibe. It’s as if the movie is souped up on a concoction of drugs; the editing and sounds all crackling and switching speeds like the post-production crew had one too many energy drinks. There are titles on screens, random frozen snap shots of moments and a general aura that this film is trying hard to be cool.

Unlike ‘It’ or my favourite TV show of the moment – ‘Stranger Things’, the child acting in this is quite poor, especially between a trio of bullies and Cole. The actor playing Cole does get slightly better but nothing to write home about. On the note of performances, Bella Thorne as yellow costumed cheerleader Allison is cringe, you see her laughing during her ‘panicked’ reaction to the aftermath of police entering the residence. Weaving is believable and I guess I kind of bought into the change of her character but everyone feels like an over the top parody of horror films as if the writer and director are badly spoofing horrors because they don’t like the tropes they come with.

The movie begins quickly descending into mad carnage but the Bee/Cole pairing was already a maddening awkward dynamic, his boob watch and their party time spent together with Stacy’s Mom inspired pool scene felt like unnecessary gratification for the teen audience, further proven by the Weaving/Thorne girl on girl smooch. It’s not just the obvious sexual edge they try hard with, Brian Duffield the writer seems to attempt comedic tension at times but fails with both.

‘The Babysitter’ is definitely not taking itself too seriously and I get that, but that doesn’t mean I can totally forgive it for having its tongue well and truly shoved in it’s cheek. Immaturity is a word I’d use to describe the tone of this release, there’s not much in here to satisfy comedy or horror fans but I’d imagine fourteen year old lads would be happy.

Looking at the above poster, like a GTA one-sheet or visually inspired by ‘The Guest’, it’s sad to say it doesn’t hold the latter’s synth-horror or skewed drama-comedy bite, it feels more like the underwhelming and juvenile ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’. Yet with all this negative talk, I in fact found myself enjoying this 2017 film more and more, if enjoy is the right verb to use. I felt the “see you C and bye bye B” sign off is quirky and cute and I liked it. The movie switches into a semblance of ‘Home Alone’ but R rated and I actually grew to like the film as it went on, it is trashy but it’s like a stupid joyride that you know you should jump out of but want to carry on with.

5/10

Hush (2016)

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I’m loving Netflix for these movies that I otherwise wouldn’t see. This psychological horror is fantastically written, deals with tension so well that I don’t think it lets up from the moment the killer arrives to when the credits scroll upwards. It’s even better because it doesn’t jump to jump scares for help, in fact I don’t recall any in the entire feature…hurrah!

Maddie Young (Kate Siegel) is struggling to write a second novel. She has multiple endings but cannot decide on which suits the story best. As she sits at her laptop she is unaware that a masked murderer (John Gallagher Jr.) is outside planning to kill her, he has an element of power because Maddie is deaf and mute from contracting meningitis when she was 13, however she won’t go down without a fight.

It is the tension in this that works so well, I read that director Mike Flanagan was originally going to have Maddie not hearing anything captured in complete silence, which he went back on realising the lack of sound would take audiences out of the picture. He is bang on, the echoing heartbeat effects drumming into recognition do enough to put you into her world but keep the tension brewing very nicely.

On the whole, this is a movie that cleverly plays with sound and flicks between the almost hollow scope of Maddie’s hearing and the louder life we are used to. It’s interesting giving the villain an advantage yet still having him not always being the almighty killer you’d expect him to be. The house is another character in a sense, as it provides our heroine with rooms of escape, crawl spaces and vantage points to try and win the night.

Though there is not a lot of dialogue, I must commend the writing of Flanagan and actor/wife/writer Siegel who both master a scene of superb tension between the killer and a neighbour who comes checking in. The levels of power play bounce back and forth and that dramatic irony of knowing who he is as he pretends to be otherwise is perfectly set up just making you want to shout out to John that all is not good. The inclusion of her as a writer is beautifully utilised as we see numerous choices for Maddie to possibly take, like her story left with many possible ends.

Katie Siegel is a great central character, her lost sense is never a weakness as she possesses a strong will and in her eyes there is that clear sense of determination even if she nicely showcases fear from time to time. Gallagher Jr. is great too, once he takes off the simple but damn effective mask, he goes to town on an unhinged murderer without needing backstory to create a well structured dynamic antagonist.

I was immersed into this taut and skilled movie from the offset and that connection was never lost. ‘Hush’ is an excellent home invasion release that is very smart and very tense.

8/10

 

The Little Prince (2016)

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Thank goodness for Netflix, because otherwise I doubt I and many other people would have seen this glorious and gorgeous animation. Mixing computer animated scenes with the true art of stop-motion sequences, this French-Canadian movie is colourful, stirring and magical.

Single Mother (Rachel McAdams) is a busy worker and wants her daughter to follow suit by attending the prestigious Werth Academy. However The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) befriends the much talked about nutty man next door leading her down a more adventurous fun path. The Aviator (Jeff Bridges) has stories to tell and interests the girl with a tale about a Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who he met in the Sahara Desert.

In a way, the 3D graphics of the animated world featuring the girl and her older neighbour reminded me of the look ‘The Incredibles’ provided. The shape of people and their faces harking to that sort of visual. The way this grey and busy landscape is seen is brilliant, just the times we zoom out to see ant sized cars all leaving on the dot for work shows how professional and disengaged to a more fun life these adults are.

The special moments are in the papery looking but also wooden style design of the stop-motion characters. I’ve always said that the whole process of stop-motion animation is something admirable and rewarding and I stick by it ever more so due to this beautiful exploration of the medium. There’s a great charm in seeing The Little Prince stories come into the fold during this film and it gives the story an extra fancy touch.

Having never read the source material myself, I couldn’t comment on what the treatment of the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is like. They me quite faithful or changed a lot but I enjoyed the story presented here a lot. His tale is moulded nicely and Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti create a lovely screenplay that fits for all ages, centred around the idea of growing up and forgetting childhood. At times, this theme gets dealt an emotional hand and I felt a little tingly at the ideas being put across.

Only one portion of this movie kind of felt off and that’s annoyingly the third act as the Little Girl decides to take action and flies off in the hope of seeing the much talked about prince. It could be viewed as an act that loses people because it gets off track from the better grounded narrative scenes that come before, which is exactly how I see it. I guess you could say that at the time the girl falls, what comes after can be interpreted how you like which makes more sense but still doesn’t stop the last act being slightly iffy.

The music gives you chills, with a wonderful score from Hans Zimmer accompanying the on screen action with suitable bounce and heart. Camille provides lush vocals during the film, in a way that echoes of the enchanting yet haunting sounds from ‘Coraline’. Another positive is the light comedy that hits well, the sad notes of loss and looking to the stars for laughter provides a lovely notion and the pairing of the girl and aviator are fun to watch.

All I can really say is, it’s a massive shame this won’t be up for an Academy Best Animated Feature award due to it not being theatrically released. If it was it’d certainly give Disney and Pixar a severe run for their money because it’s stunning, emotional and special.

8.5/10

The Invitation (2016)

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If you want something tense and eerily unsettling then this is the right film to go to on your Netflix scrolling binge. I say this because I found it on there the other week and I’m glad to have watched it because it’s a ticking time bomb thriller.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is on the way to a dinner party he’s been invited to. The host is his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) who is now with the nicey nice David (Michiel Huisman). As the night draws on and the multiple guests chat and eat, Will starts doubting the safety of the evening, believing a menacing secret to be tying them together.

The slow burning nature of this movie is incredible. A huge percentage of the run-time has characters set-up and dialogue back and forths making the whole party scenario more realistic. They tie in the bleaker, more uncomfortable feelings nicely as we stick with Will and his questioning persona on everything.

We think we know something but we’re not sure what it is. Also at times we believe something to be true and then the rug is pulled from under us making us wonder if Will is really correct in his judgemental stance on David and the two new guests in the home. The script bubbles and boils at an effective temperature and handled by director Karyn Kusama we get a neatly paced and suspicious atmosphere to nervously sit through.

It can be said also that the pacing suffers at times, as in the run-time could have been shortened. There are some flash-back moments or slower sequences that feel less attached to the slow burning flame and more a damp lull. The ending is snappy and makes the outside world more open compared to the claustrophobic feel thus far, but it’s also one that screams more typical not clever horror.

Marshall-Green is the central figure and he ensures the film goes well. He’s the heart and human point of contact for this movie and gives a watchful, quiet look on the house and people around him. Michiel Huisman is a great actor, GoT or Nashville but here he’s something much different as he delivers his odd group therapy beliefs on the narrative. John Carroll Lynch is one of the better cast members of the ensemble as he un-spoiler creeps the joint out with his appearance. Tammy Blanchard is also an intriguing figure as she plays along with David, has meaner moments but sweeter calmer times too. Every person in the film plays their part well contributing to the dinner party portrait in such a way that you feel like you’re there.

It’s most definitely best to see this feature without knowing much about it because the thrills will hit you harder. There’s chills, wine, blood and menace that teeters between normality and danger constantly.

7/10