Tag Archives: thrillers

Searching

Searching Pie

1999. It was the summer that I graduated high school, started preparing for CEGEP, and took my first trip across the country without the parental units. If ever there was a summer that felt like I had my whole life ahead of me, that was the one and- even though it was that same summer that I saw The Goddamn Matrix for the first time, the movie that really brings me back to that feeling- the movie that I saw four times- was American Pie.

Looking back on that scene where three teens repeatedly scream “MILF” at a picture of Stiffler’s Mom, I’d call it misogynist. But 19 years ago, that didn’t stop my friends and I from laughing our asses off. And to this day (and I’m sure this would make him so happy) I can’t look at John Cho without thinking of “MILF’ Guy #2. (Wait, who was “MILF” Guy #1 then?).

It’s almost depressing to think about how long ago that was. Times have changed and a lot of those changes are good. Jason Biggs doesn’t have to watch scrambled porn anymore and Cho can find work without having to lick a framed photo of Jennifer Coolidge. And I’m proud that my sense of humour has gotten a little more sophisticated and hopefully a lot less sexist. Still, I don’t know many people who love thinking about how many years have passed since high school while they weren’t looking and in his new movie John Cho is back to remind me of just how old I’ve gotten by playing the father of a 16 year-old girl.

Searching 1

That Cho is now old and mature enough to carry a tense thriller about a father’s desperate search for his missing teenage daughter isn’t even the most obvious way that Searching reminds us of what a strange and different world we’re now living in. First-time director Aneesh Chaganty shot the entire movie from the point of view of a mock computer screen. So as Cho’s David Kim talks to his daughter’s friends and searches for clues on her laptop, the whole story is told through Google searches, text history, Facebook posts, Skype, and YouTube videos.

Searching 2

My first response to Chaganty’s experimental approach during the first few minutes of Searching was “Alright. I’m impressed so far and am on board for now but can easily see how this can get old pretty quickly”. It’s a testament to Chaganty’s storytelling that the novelty never wears off and is rarely distracting. It’s not a perfect film. I’m not sure all of the laughs it got at my Fantasia screening were entirely intentional and as a thriller one or two of the twists may be a little too far-fetched.

Not all of the changes since 1999 are great and Searching is at its best as an exploration of what a double-edged sword the internet can be. It shows how it can make it easier both to reach out and to retreat into our. How easy it is both to reveal and conceal our true selves. And, most importantly, how useful a tool the internet is for concerned parents and stalkers alike.

Despite its flaws, Searching is a much more gripping and emotionally satisfying experience than you’re probably imagining and Cho nails what I can only imagine must have been a challenging role. I highly recommend it.

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The Vanished

When director Chang-hee Lee saw Oriol Paulo’s 2012 film, The Body, he enjoyed it, but he also saw how he would make it differently, and perhaps more importantly, how he could inject it with some Korean spice. Chang-hee Lee introduces the film to us at Fantasial Film Festival, and appears overwhelmed to have traveled all this way for his first feature film, awed at the reception, abashed at the applause. After greeting us in French (garnering immediate rock star status), he reassures us that this is not so much a horror film as a thriller, and so of course the opening scene causes me to pee just a teeny, tiny, barely perceptible bit. It was hella scary.

OF COURSE it’s scary: a night security guard goes down to the basement DURING A BLACKOUT on a rainy night BY HIMSELF armed with only a flashlight TO A MORGUE where he sees – what? a woman? a body? a ghost? We don’t know, because someone (or something) shadowy gives him a crack on the head, and when the police arrive it’s night really the security guard who grabs their attention, but the empty drawer in the morgue.

Yoon Seol Hee, newly dead, formerly a young, successful CEO, has gone missing. Well, her corpse has. Bad-boy detective Woo Joong Shik is on the case, and he’s cynical as hell and casts an accusatory eye at her “trophy husband”, Park Jin Han, although he’s more concerned with murder than mere body snatching. Of course, since Park and Yoon run MV5BOTk0ZDAzOTMtMTg3NS00Y2Y3LWI4ZDYtNjE2MGU3NTRkNTc4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_with an elite crowd, the higher ups are cautioning Detective Woo to back off – but he’s much too much a loose canon to respect authority, isn’t he? You know he is. Meanwhile, if Park is looking inadequately grief stricken, he’s overly concerned about his wife’s missing body. And pretty soon he’s frantically claiming that she’s responsible for her own disappearance, and is somehow still alive.

The cool thing about this movie is that it takes place over the course of just one night, which gives it a real sense of urgency. Movie detectives are often of this variety, the old “renegade cop” trope, the guy who plays by his own rules. He’s tough, a bit of a cowboy, a definite anti-hero, often with a side of alcoholism or anger (mis)management. But there’s something about seeing this Detective among his much more restrained, polite, effacing, perhaps more stereotypically Korean colleagues that’s intriguing and fresh. No one quite knows what to make of him, and he definitely shakes up the investigation.

Even if you’ve seen the original Spanish version, you’ll still get a kick out of The Vanished; the Korean setting of course makes for quite a change, but circumstances and even outcomes have been rearranged as well, for your viewing pleasure. And to be honest, it was quite a pleasure. I can’t believe this is a first feature for the director. It looks slick and cool and there are lots of visual details to admire, we get a sense of his style and aesthetic and the whole thing just glows. The cinematography is beautiful. As I mentioned, this film takes place over the course of a night, so DP Lee Jong-youl coats it in a cold blue wash that lends just a touch of creepiness to an already creepy scenario. But in flashbacks he floods us with warm, natural lighting, which is a bit cruel actually – it gives us a false sense of comfort when really we should never let our guard down.

The thing about The Vanished is, it’s a very compelling puzzle. And even if you’re very clever and you  manage to slot all the moving pieces into just the right places, you’ll find it’s one of those trick puzzles that only look complete – actually it just unlocks like 3 more puzzles to solve! The veteran cast (Kang-woo Kim, Hee-ae Kim, and Sang-Kyung Kim as the rumpled Detective) close ranks and draw us in with their institutional politeness – but something stinks in this morgue, and it’s certainly not the dead body. Because, you know, it’s missing. And maybe not even dead.

Our House

Our-House-TrailerOur House is a retelling of the age-old cautionary tale about the dangers of science. As we all know, science experiments’ most common outcomes are monsters, ghosts, and superviruses, with temporal paradoxes or dimensional portals being all-too-common as well.

Despite the known risks of science, Ethan (Thomas Mann) has to experiment and push the envelope anyway, consequences be damned, as he works on his wireless electricity machine. The Fly poster on the wall of Ethan’s garage/lab is a sure sign that his science project is a risky one, bound for disaster, and he should know better. Even so, for a while it seems like Ethan’s project might actually work, since when his machine is on his little sister can talk to recently deceased loved ones, but inevitably, much more sinister beings begin to make their presence felt.

IMG_2042Full disclosure: I was fortunate  to watch this film with a ferocious guard dog on my lap, so I knew I could handle whatever scares were thrown my way. You likely will not have that same advantage, at least while Our House is in theatres. But even without the dog, the first hour of this movie will be bearable for everyone, including scaredy-cats like Jay. There’s not any significant tension in this film until the final third of the movie, but that last third contains a very suspenseful sequence that made me wish the intensity had been raised sooner, to allow for a longer showdown with the ghosts.

Leaving me wanting more is not a bad thing, and the movie is right to lean heavily on the family drama aspect with its very strong young cast including Mann, Percy Hynes-White, and Kate Moyer. It’s just that a few more ghosts would have made this movie more memorable, because it’s when those ghosts are actively pursuing Ethan and his family that Our House is at its best.

 

 

Kidnap

If you’ve ever seen the film Taken and thought: this is cool and all, but I wish Liam Neeson was a soccer mom. Or, if you’ve ever seen Tom Hardy in Locke and thought: I like movies about people driving, but couldn’t there also be a child’s life at stake? Well, stop yer yammering, I’ve got something really exciting for you. Mind you, Kidnap is only exciting for those very specific individuals who put their hands up earlier. For everyone else, this is a generic movie at best.

Halle Berry plays the soccer mom who takes her eyes off her son for just one itty bitty minute and POOF! – he disappears. Only his kidnappers are just barely proficient so Halle Berry actually sees her son being stuffed into the back of a stranger’s car, and like Kidnap-movie-Halle-Berryany angry mama bear she takes off on a parking lot tear, totally prepared to outrun the car if only she can, but of course she can’t. So she hops behind the wheel of her trusty mini van and the world’s slowest, most meandering, and good lord most repetitive chase begins.

Halle Berry doesn’t have her cell phone so her only means of contacting the outside world for help is to drive erratically and hope that a cop will notice that something’s amiss. She’s pretty sure that every other missing child just wasn’t loved enough by his or her parents so she’s going to break the mold by putting the law into her own hands, which are white-knuckled on the steering wheel for a good 80% of the movie.

Halle Berry is good, even when she’s spouting cringe-worthy lines from a tired, uninterested script, she’s nothing short of panicky, breathless, desperate.  Her character goes through quite an ordeal as you can imagine, but the film’s 84 minutes feel like an ordeal for the audience as well. We must endure hardships together. But since you have a choice, let me help you make the informed decision: Kidnap is derivative, predictable, and horribly cliched. The only positive thing I have to say is I was grateful not to find the story encumbered by secondary roles, subplots, or a character development. The movie stays true to its one-word title. And then they beat you over the head with it.

You Get Me

If you ever wondered what Fatal Attraction would have been like populated with people you didn’t like in high school, have I got a treat for you. Well, not a treat exactly. You still won’t like it. But at least it’ll be partially your fault.

Tyler and Alison are high school sweethearts who are “taking it slow.” They attend a Bella1party one fine summer’s even where Tyler finds out that Alison has a slutty past and his adolescent jealousy rears its ugly head and they break up. Sexy Holly is there to help his penis though this difficult time. They share a steamy weekend together, but the minute Alison extends an olive branch, Tyler runs back into her welcoming arms. No harm done.

Except Holly shows up in school with them on Monday morning, and she infiltrates their clique. Suddenly Tyler’s revenge sex doesn’t seem like such a good idea! What if she tells Alison? And, perhaps more importantly, what if she goes on a murderous rampage?

Because she kind of does. She’s a bit deranged and stalky and decides that if Alison is what stands between her and Tyler, well, the only thing that makes sense is to mow Alison down, plus any bystanders for good measure. Note to Tyler: the hot ones are always batshit crazy.

The movie plays out even more ludicrously than this sounds, trust me. It’s predictable as shit and can’t even manage to plagiarize other movies correctly, “updating” the Fatal Attraction premise with texting and social media, which is a really cool and a great idea, SAID NO ONE EVER. The result is a psychological thriller weak on the psychological AND on the thriller – but pretty strong when it comes to cars no one would ever let a teenager drive, and high school students with suspiciously buff bodies. And don’t get me started on these little dumbshits never calling the police. If you ask me, the body count was far too low. They all deserved slow deaths. I was unsatisfied.

Shut In

Mary (Naomi Watts) is a single mother caring for her severely disabled stepson, Stephen (Charlie Heaton), alone in their home ever since her husband passed. Her work as a child psychologist supports them but she’s finding it hard to keep up since Stephen is her whole life but is really only an empty shell.

Meanwhile, Mary is preoccupied with a young patient, Tom (Jacob Tremblay). He’s deaf and her work with him has gone slowly but just as she believes progress is being made, shut1his case worker is yanking him away to yet another group home. Tom has bounced around in the foster care system and Mary’s compassion is inflamed. Tom runs away one wintry night, and the fact that he seems to have run to her home briefly for refuge preys on her imagination. As the days go by and a powerful winter storm pummels them, townspeople give Tom up for dead but Mary becomes haunted by his ghost.

Virtually alone in an old house save for her vegetative stepson, Mary’s nightmares become our nightmares. Is this movie heart-pounding? It was for me. I don’t watch scary movies very often but was drawn to this for the cast, and Naomi Watts does not disappoint. But even a relative novice to the genre such as myself can feel what a retread this script is; there’s nothing new or original here, and the fear factor dips because of its obviousness.

Some beautiful cinematography helps establish a sense of isolation here, but it’s largely useless when the script goes for weak jump-scares and ignores what should have been lush with psychological horror instead. I kept thinking of this movie as “the one with Vera Farmiga” which it is not – but it is an awful lot like the one that is, and many others besides. If you have a hankering for white-lady-haunted-by-child-ghost, well, here it is. Again. But I bet you could do better.

SXSW: Us And Them

Danny is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. He’s not as eloquent as Howard Beale, but he IS galvanized into action. Angry about the iniquities between the haves and the have nots, Danny decides to kick start a revolution by live-streaming an attack on a member of the 1%.

Danny (Jack Roth, son of Tim) picks Conrad (Tim Bentinck) as his target, a wealthy banker he holds hostage alongside his wife and daughter in their McMansion. Danny and his pals hope to inspire\terrify the elite into making change, forcing Conrad to choose between his wife and daughter. Whether or not this is a good idea, it certainly doesn’t go as planned. Danny’s co-conspirators are a little less “big picture” than he’d hoped, and Conrad refuses to play the game. The anger and frustration are palpable from both sides, raw with hard edges, everyone’s values questionable.

The truth is, Danny is just as prejudiced against ‘them’ as they are against him. No one has the moral upper hand. Who do you root for then, as this thriller spirals out of control? Writer-director Joe Martin taps into the heart of outsider politics but muddies the water with unsympathetic characters. It’s also reductive, filtering the conflict only through the class system in Britain, working class vs wealth. Primarily played as a dark comedy, some of the flashbacks weaken the punch lines.  I can’t say I was ever truly on board with this one. The pacing is weird, sometimes frenetic, sometimes quite sedentary. But it’s the mixed messaging that’s most disappointing. This movie loses its thread and rejects its own cause. When you finally make it to the end you may just find yourself rooting for the wanker with the garden spade, and that’s not an enviable position for anyone.

Side Effects

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is trying very hard to be happy. Her husband (Channing Tatum) is newly released from prison and they can resume their lives together. But happiness isn’t coming easy: Emily is depressed, and suicidal. She begins seeing a new doctor side-effects-A032_C011_0101LT_rgb1(Jude Law) who prescribes an anti-depressant called Ablixa. Ablixa’s causing some strange side effects though. Worrisome side effects. Violent side effects.

Side Effects is a smart, well-crafted thriller by Steven Soderbergh. He’s heavily influenced by Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction and hits all the right marks for a taut, twisty little thing. He’s not big on making a statement about pharmaceuticals or psychiatry or mental illness, any of which might have been appropriate.

I forgot how much I liked this movie. It was supposedly Soderbergh’s last, 37B68FB400000578-3766104-image-a-41_1472601500752and it seemed one he could be proud to go out on. TV stuff notwithstanding. But now, at the ripe old age of 53, he’s “come out of retirement” to do Logan Lucky, the new Daniel Craig\Sebastian Stan\Channing Tatum\Katherine Heigl\Adam Driver\Hilary Swank Nascar-heist movie.

But back to Side Effects. The first half is about guilt and mental health: how they interact in a doctor’s office, and in a court of law. The second half is a little more Alfred Hitchcock than Adrian Lyne. Things come unglued. The second half is less successful than the first but a fun, b4b4cec15c78289caf1c4442df99b616engrossing watch. The anxiety is ratcheted up expertly, with Soderbergh always in control. Rooney Mara is a terrific actress and she coasts ably over any rough terrain. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jude Law keep up. Soderbergh stays at the top of his game as well – true, he circumnavigates truth and exploration in favour of entertainment, but it’s forgivable. It’s always forgivable when it’s this fun to watch.

The Girl on the Train

I felt such an affinity for Rachel, the main character in The Girl on a Train, that it was easy for me to love Paula Hawkins’ novel. Partly, it’s because I’ve woken up with a hangover more times than I’d care to admit with an instinct to immediately check my email, text, and call history to see if I need to apologizing to anyone. But, just as important, I love people watching and especially enjoy speculating about the lives of strangers.

So Rachel (played in the film by Emily Blunt) wakes up from a night of drinking to find that her favourite stranger to watch (Haley Bennett) has gone missing and she may have seen something that could help find her. If only she can remember what it is. As the story unfolds, her behavior is frequently frustrating and not always easy to empathize with but I’d be lying if I said that she didn’t feel completely real to me. A great protagonist is really all you need to make even the simplest murder mystery seem gripping and, told from Rachel’s point of view, I found this one nearly impossible to put down.

The best film adaptations are able to identify what worked best from their source material and build a story around those elements that suits the medium. Because the film version of The Girl on the Train is a shitty adaptation, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson try to pack in as many of the events of the book as possible without seeming to give any thought to how well the structure would play on screen. Neither seem interested in Rachel’s state of mind.

These may seem like the typical “the book was better” complaints but I can’t imagine the movie would impress anyone who hasn’t read the book either. Considering the popularity of the novel, the roll that Emily Blunt has been on lately, and the fact that just two movies ago Tate Taylor directed a Best Picture nominee (The Help), The Girl on the Train feels surprisingly TV-movieish. For a book that was marketed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, its film is curiously boring, talky, and whiny.

The good news, as you may have heard, is that Blunt is terrific. She makes Rachel a lot easier to sympathize with even when her actions risk making her unlikeable. She plays the various levels of drunkenness quite well. But her efforts are wasted in a boring, lazily structured movie.

Nerve

No one’s more surprised than I am that I liked this movie. It received mixed reviews and I’m normally allergic to anything young adult, but for some reason, I enjoyed this movie. I’m assuming it’s because I’m much younger and hipper than my driver’s license would have you believe. Sure I don’t take selfies or speak emoji or know what “on fleek” means. I don’t constantly change my Instagram picture because I don’t have Instagram on my “new” (a year old) phone and I forgot my password anyway. I don’t bicycle ironically or wear nonprescription glasses or use a “lip kit.” I’m not saying I’m 17. But maybe a mature 21?

roberts-franco-a-scene-for-movie-nerve-05Nerve is about cool young kids who no doubt do all of the above. Emma Roberts plays Vee, the wallflower of her group of friends until she’s suddenly motivated to be bold, and signs up to play a new online game called Nerve.

The movie seems a little prescient now that Pokemon Go has swept the world off its feet. Nerve, however, is a little more intense than chasing Pikachu around a park. It basically consists of players and watchers. Players are fed increasingly difficult dares by popular vote of the watchers. The dares are good for cash, but ultimately it’s the number of watchers you attract, and your willingness\ability to hang in the game in the face of ever-escalating dares. Every dare has to be recorded live on your phone, and people anonymously peep. Vee’s first dare is to kiss a stranger for 5 seconds, and she does. It’s heart-pounding fun, exhilarating for a normally shy young woman. She’s proven her point: she’s not so boring after all. She’s ready to go home except the stranger she kissed is Ian (Dave Franco) and it turns out he’s playing too. Attracted and intrigued, they stick together long enough for the watchers to think of them as a couple and to start doubling up on their dares.

As you might have guessed, Nerve gets out of hand. How could daring teenagers to do stupid shit for money ever go wrong? And the movie takes some wrong turns too. The themes quickly become a little too on-the-nose. Teenagers are sheep. People do cruel things while hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. Culturally we have become accustomed to witnessing the world through the filter of our phones. When shit goes down, half the bystanders will be taping, but how many will intervene?

Stylistically though, this movie is kind of beautiful. It looks sharp. And the pacing is excellent. hqdefaultThe directors do a good job of pulling us into the action and the thrills are in fact thrilling, doled out at decent intervals. And I quite liked the soundtrack, although I have no idea who any of the artists are.  The characters, unfortunately, are not quite on fleek. They’re pretty reliant on some very broad stereotypes: nerd\slut\dreamboat\jock\hacker\ wallflower.

The movie also suffers when it asks us to take one giant suspension of disbelief. The game is played on your phone. Players are constantly recording. BUT NOBODY’S PHONE EVER DIES. I call bullshit. I also don’t want to be around the morning after when everybody’s parents are hit with INSANE roaming bills.

But Nerve is a cool concept for a film and well-executed. It’s meant for a younger demographic but I think you fuddy-duddies will manage to decode its youth-speak. Just remember that by the time you finish reading this post, “on fleek” will be old news. “Snatched” is the new “fleek.” As in: SnatchedDave Franco, your short-sleeved dress shirt and skinny tie combo is SNATCHED. And if you really mean it, you add “boots” to the end, for emphasis. As in: Emma Roberts, your Wu-Tang rap skillz is dope BOOTS. And if you super duper admire something, you say “Goals AF” (AF = as fuck). As in: Dave Franco hanging over New York City on one arm? GOALS AF. “Stan” is the new word for superfan. I’m assuming it comes from Eminem’s song Stan about his crazed letter-writing fan, but since that song is roughly the same age as the characters in this movie, I could be wrong. You could call me a Stan if I’m geeking out about how much I love Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, or you could say I’m stanning on her. And finally, you need to know about OTP. OTP is One True Pairing, as in, the couple you’re super emotionally invested in and would be devastated to learn they broke up. Like Jim & Pam. Or Pacey & Joey. Monica & Chandler. Luke & Lorelai. Zack & Kelly. Goddamn I’m old AF.

Anyway. The take away here is that this is not a terrible movie. It’s superficial but fun, a perfect Netflix and chill opportunity (technically I think if a guy asks you to Netflix and chill, he’s not planning on watching any movie, but let’s take this one at face value for now). And also feel you should remember that I am young and cool and snatched or something. You can take notes, but do not get caught reading them by anyone born 1990 or later. You’ll thank me someday. Boots.

 

 

 

Let us know who you’re stanning on these days, and who your OTP is.