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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Revenge (2018)

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Women are not to be messed with and ‘Revenge’ surely shows this, in an exploitation thriller bursting with female power.

Richard (Kevin Janssens) is a married man but has a young and attractive mistress called Jen (Matilda Lutz), who are both enjoying some time in Richard’s secret desert home. That is until two of his hunting buddies show up and drool over Jen, one thing to leads to another and then she’s out for revenge.

This is director Coralie Fargeat’s debut full length feature and if this anything to go by, then she’s someone I look forward to directing again. It easily could have been a schlock fest and gory sexplotation for the sake of it but the film rises above that simple route and provides an action thriller, led by a woman that messes with the genre and takes you on a sprint, almost making me need to catch my breath once the film was over.

There’s a brilliantly directed sequence where Jen suffers hallucinogenic nightmares which rivals ‘Dumbo’ for weirdness and it’s so perfectly edited that it becomes a frightening moment that worms into your very own head and plays tricks on you. It isn’t just that scene that’s scary, the blokes are obviously nasty too. The majority of the movie chooses to have close-ups which do a great job in adding engaging tension but also showing what disgusting creatures men can be; proved further by shots of a lizard cut after a shot of one of the men. Plus an extreme close up of a man eating a chocolate snack is a case in point of the ugly side of masculinity, that enhances the movie’s feminist spirit.

Colours pop with sharpness throughout this movie, but the saturation is truly turned up to the max in the house bound opening, with pinks, blues, reds and yellows searing the screen with vivid intensity. That bold play with colour comes back with attack come the latter stages of the film, with rivers of crimson red enhancing the revenge experience.

I was thinking, perhaps twice during the run-time, that it could have been a little punchier. It doesn’t ever feel long but it doesn’t zip along in the same vein as the zany ‘Mom and Dad’ did. I feel it could have been more energetic if ten or so minutes had been shaved off. There’s also a great example of needing to suspend disbelief at a crucial part in the story, that’s very far-fetched and I couldn’t shake it, but it doesn’t ruin what is a tense and explosive visceral flick that makes you squirm with imaginable pain at many points.

Lutz certainly goes through the ringer and has a tougher time of it than Alison Lohman in ‘Drag Me to Hell’, which is randomly what came to mind when I watched this Italian actress fight for her survival. She’s an incredible presence and does a mighty job in being believable, bad ass, vulnerable, motivated and someone to root for.

‘Revenge’ is a rip-roaring outing that’s soaked with so much blood, that the opening elevator doors in ‘The Shining’ look like a mere leaky tap.

8.5/10

 

Entebbe (2018)

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Inspired by a true moment in history, this biographical thriller from Jose Padilha has some nicely executed tension in places and a bold choice of book-ended dancing but isn’t as thrilling as you’d expect it to be.

Set over one week in 1976, we see the planning and execution of Palestine ‘freedom fighters’ hijacking a plane and keeping the passengers hostage at an airport terminal in Entebbe, Uganda. Hoping to lead and show they’re not radicals or dangerous is Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) who doesn’t reckon on the Israeli government strategising a combat response to their demands.

Considering the events being shown to us are based on real life ones, the film never really lifts off and becomes as deeply tense as it would have been in that scenario for the captives. There are some brief elevations of tension that help keep some interest alive, but these are at the beginning and end of the film, which leaves a hefty middle portion to sit almost stale-like.

For a film that’s tackling events previously shown in other TV films, this one bravely includes a sequence to differentiate itself and stand apart. This is the opening dance number that then returns nearing the end and becomes a unique bookend for the movie, that I did find to work well. It mirrors the alarming nature of what is happening in Uganda and is exceptionally edited, giving the film a much needed sheen of atmospheric style.

More than anything, this is a movie that doesn’t just slow burn like great thrillers do, but just feels slow. Come day four and five, ‘Entebbe’ begins to lull and dare I say ache with boredom but does pick up its pace and as day six and seven roll around, the film had me more attuned and awake. There wasn’t much emotional attachment within the film and that’s maybe why the film feels slow, they try showing us a dancer and her soldier boyfriend but it comes to late to capture any connection to them and generally, there’s no one really to root for.

Bruhl is interesting in his role as someone wanting to fight against the powers of Israel and free his people, it also lets him briefly shine as he desperately hopes to step away from the expectations of society viewing the fact he’s German and taking prisoners, as the unfortunate parallels it has to WW2 Nazism, but it’s not his best performance by any stretch. Rosamund Pike is great in this, she has such expressive eyes which are full of guilt, sadness and ultimately, a realisation of the situation she’s ended up in. A scene with Pike at a payphone rings with softly powerful words and a simple yet effective static shot over this scene really hits home the problem Brigitte Kulhmann has gotten into.

The issue of the film is that there are no sides to take and the complexity of the still ongoing Palestine and Israel conflict; sees this film mired with frustrating emptiness, only briefly saved by some snippets of style and tension.

5.5/10

 

Beast (2018)

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Stalking the screen with effective tension is this beastly feature. It certainly has bark and bite, as we see this dark thriller take hold and swallow you up, in a dangerously palpable mystery.

Celebrating her birthday is Moll (Jessie Buckley), who ends up dancing the night away before crossing paths with the possibly shady Pascal (Johnny Flynn), the next morning. There have been a series of grim murders plaguing the island and it isn’t long until people suspect Moll’s new connection, as the man behind the disappearances.

This is a debut work from Michael Pearce; who unarguably knows how to layer on the tension. The film almost sweats out a deep and engaging psychological tale, as if Pearce is allowing us to peer through a magnifying glass at all the worrying little details possessed by Moll and Pascal, details that keep us questioning their relationship and the trail of murders.

Coinciding with Pearce’s fantastically hypnotic visuals is a score from Jim Williams that drips with almost spine-chilling strength. The entire look of this movie is that of a frightening British drama, with a cold dirtiness and a somewhat fun immersion into thriller territory that is enhanced by the plot. The narrative is one that definitely kept me guessing and the end is one I could talk about for some time yet, it’s visceral, unexpected and almost reaches the realm of being powerful.

Saying all of this, I don’t know whether it’s a film I’d watch again and it’s a story that I was a little disappointed didn’t end up being darker or more twisted. The film also slightly suffers from feeling like a slow tick-tock aspect, which does make it feel a little bit long. I’d definitely say the film is strongest in the first two thirds.

The acting is blindingly great, some of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen. Flynn excels at playing this secretive, maybe dodgy character that turns up in Moll’s life. There’s a great balance of masculinity and softer love he portrays as he gets wrapped up in the whirlwind of the flame haired Buckley. She is incredible, the emotions she goes through are numerous and each one is carefully performed, drawing you into her as a character. It’s almost a tour de force show that she puts on and Moll comes to vivid and horrific life thanks to this.

This could be bad or good but I still don’t really know how I feel with ‘Beast’ and perhaps that’s testament to how fearless and different it is. The movie is rife with tension and I can at least safely say that it’s two leading stars ensure you cannot look away.

7/10

Truth or Dare (2018)

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Let’s pay a game to see how stupidly we can squeeze horrors out of anything shall we? Truth or Dare, the typical drinking excuse to unearth dirt and see friends make out, is taken by Blumhouse Productions and made with no real oomph to keep us scared senseless.

Whilst on a Spring Break trip in Mexico, a group of friends enter some ruins and begin playing truth or dare. Unfortunately for them, one of their group has involved them in a life or death version, wherein each player needs to tell their truth or finish their dare to stay alive. As the teenagers start dying, the remaining numbers hope to work out how to end the game.

It’s never a good sign when the trailer alone for a horror film, makes you shudder with sighs and groans and the movie itself does nothing to make that just feel like bad promotion. There are insanely high levels of expositional chatter and cringe dialogue amongst a plot that is impressively dumb and progressively boring. It baffles me that a story so lacklustre, with characters so paper thin were brought to life by 4, yes 4 screenwriters.

Once the cursed game takes hold, the films first half rattles through each person’s turn so quickly that any hope of tension is dialled to zero. Then the second half seems to take an age to get anywhere and finally wrap up this lame, evil motive of a freed demon, with the mentality of a sadistic freshman. I honestly yawned so much and someone was asleep behind me, this film feels like it goes on for way too long and ends on a resolution so pathetic and it staggers belief why they didn’t just do something similar from the offset.

This whole idea of people who gain creepily elongated smiles and killer eyes is laughably bad. One of the characters mentions that they look like they were Snapchat filters and they do, in such a way that deletes any sense of scariness and makes the visual rather cheap. It further proves my thinking that bad horrors are so, because they rely on some identifying visual over narrative and fall back on jump scares; which this movie definitely depends on for numerous occasions. I don’t get why they didn’t have the actors, you know, act. It would have been far more disturbing seeing them perform in a manner where they suddenly switch and become imposing smiley freaks instead of the hokey stretched mouths.

Lucy Hale plays the central part of Olivia Barron, who is barren of any charisma. The character is pretty much a wet drip and a pushover who makes stupid choices as final girls often do, but Sidney Prescott or Laurie Strode she ain’t. Hale tries hard to keep some injection of interest in her role but it doesn’t quite work. Generally the entire cast are devoid of engagement because they’re playing characters that are mostly jerks or two-dimensional that I couldn’t root for them even if I tried.

‘Truth or Dare’ is an unintentional comedy laden horror, that feels long, uninspired and cheap on every level.

3/10

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Cashing up at the box office and treating critics and audiences alike with great fanfare, is this almost deathly silent feature. I was hooked from the get go and felt fully interpolated throughout, finally mustering courage to breathe out once the credits roll.

Set in 2020; a world ravaged by blind monsters which strike by sound have driven the few survivors to adapt and learn to be quiet in order to survive. The Abbot family reside out on a farm but their usual silent routine will be tested by a new arrival.

John Krasinksi directs this horror with a great eye…and ear for building a landscape filled with fear. He’s careful to let the setting briefly feel understandable for the audience and then most bets are off, as the film screeches from one clever jolt to the next. Assisted by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinksi also writes a screenplay that focuses on the human side of proceedings, ensuring the character drives the plot forwards and not typical cliched horror tropes. The family ramp up the scary aura because we worry for their predicament and it’s not too often you care for more than one character in a horror, but here you most certainly do.

‘A Quiet Place’ is a movie with scares but smarts. It truly grips you from the start with an alarmingly peaceful world, initially unseen creatures and a small, simple family story which you can feel for. I felt drawn in effortlessly and then it continued worming around inside me, like a pang of pent up nausea whilst we see the unseeing beasts stalk their prey.

It’s not just a brilliantly smart horror, it’s a gorgeous one too. There’s beautiful cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen as she brings this dusty, leaf ridden, barren environment to life. Marco Beltrami’s score is damn effective also, with the same rising sound used to confident effect in eliciting a sense of dread. Honestly, I felt like I was having multiple anxiety attacks watching this film but in the best way possible because it’s just wonderfully done. When talented individuals, including horror icon Stephen King begin singing your praises, then you know this is something special.

Fear is heightened in such a captivating way thanks to the minimal spoken dialogue. The majority of the film is divulged via sign language or subtitles, which is refreshing to see and is done in an engaging way, but an important way too, in sticking true to what it must feel like to be in that situation. It’s when music or diegetic sounds suddenly vanish and a wall of silence hits you, that the film enraptured me and made me swallow my breath. Adding the alien clicks and wails from the Demigorgon-like monsters is another chilling touch and their drip-fed reveal elevates the menacing presence they hold over this dystopian land.

Emily Blunt is a sensational force to watch, without a lot of speaking she conveys her part as Evelyn wonderfully. At one moment of dramatic irony, knowing she’ll hurt herself, she acts the visceral pain in such a way that makes you wince horrendously, her continued pain silence as she’s trying to stay out of danger is very powerful indeed. The children are great also and a scene within a silo is just another moment that added to my seat squirming anxiety.

It’s great to see a film like this, as a cinematic experience it’s something else because it frightens noisy eaters into silent submission and makes the film much more immersive. The scares pack a punch, the world and the angels of death are greatly realised in what I’d say is a quiet gem and a near masterpiece.

8.5/10

Unsane (2018)

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Completely shot on an iPhone 7, this psychological thriller from director Steven Soderbergh is an interesting tactic in terms of its execution, but is hugely let down by a narrative that is easy to pick apart and far from riveting.

After landing a new job in Pennsylvania, Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) can’t shake the feeling her stalker is still around. She visits an institution to speak about her fears and demons and inadvertently winds up admitted into this mental facility. Within these walls she continues to see her stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard), but is she to be believed or is she insane?

Well, I obviously won’t answer that because that will spoil the outcome but what I can say, is that the progress of the plot becomes more and more dumb. There are plot holes galore and how a certain character manages to gain freedom of movement without suspicion is insanity in itself. The writing pair of James Greer and Jonathan Bernstein have tried emulating some fraught, claustrophobic sense of horror akin to the wonder of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’ from what I can tell, but it’s miles away from that captivating and concerning plight of hospital entrapment. Understandably, it’s unfair to compare this film to that Jack Nicholson feature, because this 2018 release is meant to be a B-movie of intimate proportions, but there’s frequent moments that take you out of the picture as you question what is happening, due to the lack of sense it presents.

The technical achievement is worthy of some credit, to have shot the entire film on a mobile device is impressive and adds some kind of personal madness to the story. It also shows that just about anyone can make a movie whatever the constraints but on the other hand, a name like Soderbergh goes a long way to get a film of this nature green-lit for cinematic release. I imagine if a student with an iPhone had written and directed the same thing, it wouldn’t have got anywhere, the power of his name helps sell a film that is otherwise a gimmicky lukewarm feature.

Aside from the issues the story throws up, I found myself very distant from the film thanks to the way it was shot. It’s as if the filmmakers want you to be immersed in a gritty narrative and believe the craziness on show, which would be fine within a fantasy filled genre but the way that ‘Unsane’ looks and is created with the phone camera; adds a realistic close up touch which deletes the suspension of disbelief you’d usually retain for fantastical movies and truly makes the latter half of this film, far-fetched and coldly distancing.

Foy does excel and is by and large the best thing going for this movie. She commits and gets under the skin as someone your mind sways back and forth with, concerning the notion of her mental state. She manages to make a character that I didn’t connect with someone that I still empathised with. Jay Pharoah as Nate brings a needed level of light relief to the plot and gets some good scenes with Sawyer. Juno Temple is the right choice for an unhinged patient and Temple makes sure that Violet is worrying to be around but every character around Foy are less than engaging and serve as little more than script help for Sawyer to get through the film.

I wasn’t expecting to write so much about this Soderbergh release beforehand, but after seeing it I had a lot on my mind about how poor the story is that I can’t shake that off. Foy is great. Everything else is irritatingly not.

5.5/10