Tag Archives: thrillers

Run

Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a super smart teenager who’s hounding the mail carrier every day for some news of her college acceptances. With many medical challenges including diabetes, a heart condition, and paraplegia, Chloe’s been home schooled all her life by devoted mother Diane (Sarah Paulson), but that’s left her incredibly sheltered, with no friends and no other family, she has very little contact with the outside world.

Which makes it extra difficult when she begins to suspect that her mother might be dosing her with medication she doesn’t need…or medication that’s deliberately making her sick. The more Chloe tries to get to the truth, the more her mother tightens the vise. It’s not until Chloe is trying to escape that she realizes her mother has carefully constructed a prison.

Run is an incredibly effective thriller. Diane is inarguably deranged and psychotic but Sarah Paulson underplays her to such perfection that we never truly know what to expect from her, and the ambiguity makes her feel even more threatening because of it. Allen, a newcomer to the big screen, is surprisingly strong playing her opposite. Director Aneesh Chaganty runs a tight ship; Run’s pacing leaves you breathless, it keeps ramping up the stakes and then exceeding your expectations. Chloe is obviously a vulnerable young woman but Allen plays her with such grit and strength she’s got more staying power than you can possibly imagine.

If the film has a flaw it’s that it suffers from the heavy presence of the Munchausen by Proxy subgenre recently. But while the plot may be a little familiar, the suspense is taut and nerve-jangling, to say nothing of the worst terror of all, the one that speaks to our most base fear: that a mother could turn on her child, and hurt her.

Run is available to stream via Hulu on November 20th.

Big ups to Aneesh Chaganty who prioritized casting a disabled actor and found a very strong one in Kiera Allen. Even bigger props for writing a character, not a disability.

Survive The Night

Dr. Rich (Chad Michael Murray) has recently been humbled quite a bit. A mistake at work cost him his job, which cost him his house, which means he’s had to move his wife and daughter into his parents’ home and accept a job at a clinic that he considers beneath him. Living at home is a bitter pill to swallow; his parents dote on their granddaughter and daughter-in-law, but Rich and his father Frank have always had an especially difficult relationship. Frank (Bruce Willis) is everything his son is not: he’s a gun-toting, truck-driving, country-loving man of few words, but he’s about to be very good to have around, because if Rich thought his life couldn’t get any worse, he didn’t count on meeting Jamie and Matt.

Jamie (Shea Buckner) and Matt (Tyler Jon Olson) are brothers and thieves who are on their way to the safety of Mexico but Jamie is a touchy combination of trigger-happy and intelligence-deprived and before they can make it to the freedom of the border, he’s got them into some more hot water, and Matt now has a serious gunshot wound that needs treating. Which is how they come to hold Dr. Rich and his family hostage. They have correctly identified Chad Michael Murray as both feeble and insecure. Unfortunately they hadn’t heard that Frank is a retired cop just itching for an excuse to jump right back into the fray. Jamie and Matt provide quite an excuse.

The movie is better than I expected but still incredibly not good. It suffers fatally from pacing; the first half is slow to set things up, and then the second half is almost comedically over-stuffed with people escaping and getting caught in an improbable and quickly unentertaining cycle of dumb and dumber.

If you’re desperate for an undemanding popcorn flick, I suppose this might do, if you remember that a movie that has Bruce Willis in it makes Chad Michael Murray its star. Lower your expectations, and then lower them again. It may pass the time and fulfill a basic quota, but even if you like it, and that’s a pretty big if, you’re still bound to forget it, and believe me, that’s for the best.

Evil Eye

Pallavi’s mother is a little overbearing. Or a lot overbearing, depending on your perspective. As far as Indian parents go, Pallavi’s aren’t so bad, maybe. They love her a lot. Mom Usha (Sarita Choudhury) calls every day, with good intentions and motherly concern. Pallavi (Sunita Mani) is nearly 29 and still single, a matter of daily discussion. There’s an ocean between them but no shortage of meddling, even if, as Usha points out, there aren’t a lot of Indian men in New Orleans. Pallavi is unconcerned with her marital status but she’s a smart woman and quickly judges that it’s easier to agree to yet another of her mother’s fix-ups than to argue uselessly. Fortunately or unfortunately, Pallavi’s date stands her up, but she ends up meeting someone else that day, and Sandeep (Omar Maskati) is everything both Pallavi and her mother have been looking for in a man.

I know what you’re thinking: Pallavi’s going to fuck things up. But not if Usha beats her to it! Yes, it IS ironic that the very mother who has preached marriage and family above all, stability over romantic love, partnership rather than independence, that same Usha who made her daughter feel like as long as she’s single, she’s a disappointment, that very Usha – well, now she’s trying to hit the brakes all the way from India. Usha’s astrologer assures her it’s a very auspicious match, and her husband Krishnan (Bernard White) does his best to soothe her, but Usha cannot be dissuaded. Her reasoning, unfortunately, is unconvincing: she’s pretty sure that Sandeep is the reincarnation of her abusive boyfriend come back to finish the job. Whether or not Usha’s tendency toward superstition is playing a part, or her PTSD is being triggered, Usha’s panic is as real as her desperation.

This is not your typical “horror” movie even if it is a Welcome To The Blumhouse member. It’s a mother-daughter drama with some seriously sinister supernatural overtones to it. Also, the fact that it’s set in both America and India gives it a unique structure. As much as Usha fears for her daughter, you bet Pallavi is also afraid her mother’s mental health is crumbling, and the distance only makes them both all the more distraught.

Choudhury and Mani both give compelling performances but directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani are less confident, and less inspired. Evil Eye doesn’t quite reach its true potential, but its strong sense of identity goes a long way in making this worthwhile.

Inheritance

Lauren Monroe (Lily Collins) is the privileged daughter of a white and very wealthy family. She seems quite young to be the District Attorney already, and yet that it what she is. You might think this is reason to be proud, but her father (Patrick Warburton), a banker, sneered at public service and would have preferred she work for a private firm where she could be defending her family’s interests. Her younger brother William (Chace Crawford) is a Congressman running for a second term. He also seems young for his position, but let’s just go with it. He’s vehemently denying that the family has made financial contributions in exchange for union votes, but his campaign has the slight whiff of scandal. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that William is his father’s favourite child, a valuation that seems starkly measured in his will when their father dies unexpectedly. It would seem that he loved his son about 20 times as much as he loved his daughter, if love can be measured in the millions of dollars inherited by them.

But Lauren doesn’t just get a slap in the face in the will, she also inherits a family secret. And boy is it a doozie. A serious, serious doozie, but I will refrain from saying anything more and I implore you to go into this film not knowing any more than this. A thriller works best when you allow it to thrill you, and thrills function best with the element of surprise on their side. Modern movie trailers seem to have forgotten this, but since Inheritance is found on Netflix, there’s a good chance you can make it there without accidentally spoiling it for yourself.

Netflix has vast resources and it churns out content at a truly remarkable rate. This results in both hits and misses, but I heard a Netflix executive tell their team that they weren’t failing enough, which meant they weren’t taking enough risks. Being Netflix means you can afford to take more risks on the kind of content that big studios have all but given up on: indie movies, untested directors, new formats, and more. Their deep pockets are attracting increasingly impressive talent, and it is quickly becoming a real Oscar contender. Audiences have largely learned to go into Netflix movies with low expectations; the movie might be great, but is much more likely to be mediocre, and quite often they’re very, very bad. But having paid a monthly fee rather than a per-movie rental, it’s easier to take chances on movies we’re not sure we’ll like. It’s movie watching with no strings attach. But once in a while, it achieves cultural zeitgeist; early on in our global quarantine, the world consumed The Tiger King together, and it united us even in our isolation. Before that, it was Making a Murderer that stirred us into disrupting the legal system. Inheritance isn’t going to be universally beloved. It is not a great film or an important one, but is a good, solid thriller, the way thriller should be made. It’s also an increasingly rare opportunity to go into a movie fairly blind, and allow one’s self to be surprised, and entertained.

Last Moment of Clarity

Sam’s girlfriend Georgia died three years ago and he’s still carrying around the ring he never got the chance to give her. Through his flashbacks we know that she was shot, and her body burned in a terrible apartment fire that took several lives. But Sam (Zach Avery) doesn’t talk about it. He shuffles around Paris all wounded and haunted, but to his friend and boss Gilles (Brian Cox), he rarely opens up. So it probably comes as a bit of a shock when Sam declares that Georgia (Samara Weaving) is still alive – he’s spotted her in a movie, and despite a slightly different look, he’s convinced that actress Lauren Clerk is actually his dead girlfriend Georgia. After going full stalker online, Sam decides to fly his particular brand of creepy obsession over to Los Angeles where there’s a chance he can do it in person. And he does.

Lucky for him he runs into old high school friend Kat (Carly Chaikin), who is just jaded enough not to be put off by his remarkably strong stalker vibes. In fact, she helps him track down Lauren, who does not answer to Georgia and denies knowing the man with whom she once shared an intimate bubble bath (a VERY frequent flashback). As poor Lauren’s privacy gets invaded time and time again, we start to learn a little more about sketchy Sam and how his troubles extend beyond the one dead girlfriend.

Colin Krisel and James Krisel write and direct, though this is a first for both in either discipline. Between them, they fail to generate a single thrill in what is supposed to have been a thriller. Last Moment of Clarity is not thrilling, nor particularly clarifying, but it is competently made and competently acted. If the movie was a dead girlfriend trying to assume a new identity, it would do a much better job than Lauren as it is unremarkable, indistinguishable, and totally forgettable.

The Postcard Killings

Jacob’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) daughter is newly married and on her honeymoon in Europe when he gets an awful call. She and her new husband have been murdered in London, their mutilated bodies posed with chilling exactitude and drained of blood. Jacob flies over to identify the bodies but he doesn’t stop there; he’s a brash New York detective and can’t help but step into the case. Interfering is what London authorities call it, but it turns out they’ve got a serial killer on the loose, a serial killer who’s targeting young newlyweds and posing them like famous art pieces.

The murders are sprinkled throughout Europe and heralded by a postcard sent to a journalist, which means Jacob’s got a trail of clues to follow and a new police force to pester every time. Along the way he meets a German detective (Joachim Król) and a Swedish journalist (Cush Jumbo) who are willing to bend the rules to help him out as the killer continues to evade authorities. The murders are gruesome, each fresh kill linked to the last by a dismembered body part. Jacob’s daughter’s hands still haven’t been found.

Director Danis Tanovic gives us a paint-by-numbers “thriller,” and Tanovic is no Bob Ross – there are no happy accidents here – just another uninspired entry into the serial killer mystery genre. And not much of a mystery either, since the story is told from the point of view of both the killer and the grieving father/detective. It’s based on a James Patterson novel, which just about explains it: pure pablum, an easy airport read that basically repackages the same story over and over, only changing the names of characters and swapping out, say, a knife for an ice pick, Munich for Stockholm, that kind of thing. It’s a thrill-less thriller but the crimes are extra brutal to make up for it. If you don’t expect much, you won’t be disappointed.

The Paramedic (El Practicante)

Angel (Mario Casas) is an ambulance paramedic who gives off major creep vibes as he snatches souvenirs from the accident scenes he works. He himself becomes the patient after an accident leaves him paralyzed, and angry. His accident has guilted girlfriend Vane (Déborah François) into staying longer than she’d like, caring for him even as he spirals out of control, suspicion raging, spyware engaged, but unsurprisingly his insane jealousy does not endear him to her and she leaves. Angel was an angry guy before the accident and he’s angrier now. Angrier still to discover that Vane has taken up with his old paramedic partner Rodrigo (Guillermo Pfening) and they are expecting a baby together. Rodrigo, who was driving at the time of their accident, has stolen his life.

The beautiful thing about this movie is that it’s basically peak diversity. Not only is the main character disabled, the script offers equal opportunity serial killing. Anyone can murder if you make it accessible enough. He can’t enjoy sex anymore but he can stab syringes into basically anyone, which disables them enough to be handled. It’s genius, really, to turn the tables this way.

The Paramedic is dark and menacing well before Angel transforms into a murderous stalker. His injury doesn’t make him this way, it merely gives him the opportunity to indulge his most sinister thoughts.

It’s a slow burn, a thriller of a certain type, one you’ll no doubt recognize because we’ve seen shades of it many times before. It’s competent and well-acted but doesn’t distinguish itself from peers. Even if the quality’s variable, the character is chilling enough to give it a chance, and the final act just about justifies the whole watch. If you’re in the mood for a thriller, this is a viable option from Netflix.

Fatal Affair

Ellie (Nia Long) and Marcus (Stephen Bishop) are recent empty-nesters who have sold up, left the city, and are starting a new chapter in a beautiful new home by the sea. Ellie is finishing up one last case before she’ll quit the firm and put up her own shingle nearer to home. But this one last case presents a wrinkle: her boss hires an IT “consultant” to help out (ie, obtain some emails in a less than legal way), and David (Omar Epps) isn’t exactly a stranger. Ellie and David went to college together, and it seems as though he may still be carrying a torch. A night out together turns a little steamier than Ellie meant so she puts an abrupt end to things, returning home to husband Marcus feeling more than a little guilty.

As if you couldn’t tell from the title, this is an extremely generic entry in the thriller-horror genre. It’s not called Happy Trust Exercise or Successful Long Term Relationship. It’s called Fatal Affair because David is obsessed with Ellie and he’s not going to let her marriage or indeed his own come between them. Obviously, the only reasonable way forward is a killing spree. Because the way to woman’s heart is stalking her family and murdering them in the face.

For any such plot to work, you’re going to have to accept that no one will answer their phones when they should, no one will call the cops when they should, no one will turn on a goddamned light when they should, and nobody remembers that David is a conveniently (for him) master hacker. Who is also oddly good at murder.

You know this movie. You’ve seen this movie. I mean, it’s brand new on Netflix, but you’ve seen a movie exactly like it at least half a dozen times. Its only saving grace is that Long, Epps and Bishop are very watchable, but when Long is forced by the script to break into David’s apartment even though she already suspects him of murdering his ex wife, there’s only so much she can do. These tropes are tired and the actors can try to inject them with fresh terror but this audience has seen it all and we’re not impressed. The only new ingredient director Peter Sullivan brings to the table is David’s murder hat, and even that’s nothing remarkable: it’s not a beekeeping veil or a Burker King crown or a half-ironic “60 and Sexy” trucker cap (which I only mention because my 6 year old nephew Ben recently inherited one from his great grandfather and wears it quite proudly). There’s nothing glaringly wrong with this movie, it’s just so overfamiliar that it saps all pretense of thrill right out of it, and a thriller without a thrill is just an er, a disappointing er.

Secret Obsession

Jennifer (Brenda Song) is frantic for escape: it’s dark, it’s raining, she’s clearly terrified. Dashing from a payphone to an abandoned building, she’s eventually hit by a car, unconscious at the side of the road, and we still don’t know what or who she’s running from. Her husband Russell (Mike Vogel) arrives at the hospital while she’s still in surgery, unable to explain why she was so far from home, at an abandoned service station with no car or ID. When she wakes up, her memory is compromised. She doesn’t remember the accident OR her husband.

Frank (Dennis Haysbert), the detective on the case, is having a rough week. It’s his daughter’s birthday, but she disappeared when she was 10 and he still beats himself up for not finding her as he weeps in a closet with years worth of wrapped gifts. His guilt and grief push him to work this case more obsessively than usual.

In the meantime, Jennifer’s been discharged, headed back to a life she doesn’t remember with a husband who’s a virtual stranger. They have a beautiful home, but it is remote, and we constantly get that little tickle at the back of our necks that indicates that some sort of danger may still be out there.

Amnesia is a great way to create tension because the protagonist’s experience is ultra unreliable. Jennifer must question everything, and anything she fails to question is of course something that we, the audience, must sweat. And we end up sweating all the small stuff! You can’t trust anything, which is a very tenterhooky way of watching a movie.

So yeah, we’ve got a lot invested in Detective Frank. I mean, not as much as Jennifer does. She’s fearing for her life and I’m just kind of stressed out watching a movie that I’m technically allowed to stop or pause or walk away from, and unlike Jennifer, I’m not hobbled from a mysterious accident.

For Jennifer, recovered memories are a blessing and a curse. While every bit of information remembered is helpful to understanding her situation, it’s often quite distressing stuff. I think I’d prefer the bliss of ignorance myself. So yeah, Secret Obsession is a pretty suspenseful movie. It is not remotely original and it doesn’t really try to hide any of its twists and turns – this movie doesn’t so much keep you guessing as make you a jumpy pack of nerves.

Writer-director Peter Sullivan is known for making Hallmark movies, and while this movie is a step above, it’s also perhaps a step below what might normally get released in theatres. Of course, this movie is a Netflix original, so the standards are a little different. Maybe it’s not great, but it’s new, and sometimes that’s enough.

The Guilty

How many times in your life have you called 911? I hope the answer is none, but for some of you it will be higher than that, and chances are, it wasn’t exactly a happy occasion. Even if you’re calling on behalf of a stranger, you must believe that it’s an emergency situation, and those tend to be adrenaline-filled and on the harrowing side. I call 911 on a very regular basis, and I’m always grateful for the patient expediency of the person on the other end. Mining someone’s abject panic for important, potentially life-saving information, is not an easy thing to do. Distilling that information into its most salient components while managing someone’s fear and distress takes precision and control. Dispatchers will sound cool and confident on the phone, but that doesn’t mean their job isn’t getting to them. They assist people through the darkest of circumstances. They experience vicarious trauma. The Guilty is one of their stories.

Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is working what seems like a normal shift when he gets a call from what seems like a wrong number. A woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) is calling, pretending to be on with her young daughter. Because of his training, Asger manages to ask the right questions in the right way. Iben is making this phone call in front of her abductor, and trying to do it stealthily.

Asger gets more and more attached to the case as he speaks to Iben, to her abductor, to her daughter Mathilde who is not even 7 but home alone covered in someone else’s blood after having seen her mother be dragged violently away. He goes beyond the bounds of his position in order to fulfill a promise to Mathilde to get her mother home safely.

How do you think you’d stack up as a 911 dispatcher? They test for inductive (using specific observations to make broader generalizations) and deductive (using the info you’ve collected to come to a logical conclusion) reasoning, plus memory recall and the ability to read maps and a good old fashioned psych evaluation. And then there’s just necessarily personality quirks like the ability to be still in the face of chaos.

Asger is a flawed hero and not necessarily the best at his job. But he cares about this woman. Tonight, his job goes from hard to nearly impossible. It’s disturbing. The movie will break your heart in a million ways. But if you think it’s hard to watch, imagine how hard it is to live, to take these calls for 12 hours or even 24 hours at a time, day after day, weekends and holidays. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, and Asger is pure proof of the toll this job can take.

Jakob Cedergren is excellent, as he must be, acting almost exclusively against voices over the phone. Through the arc of one telephone call, he experiences a major shift, and almost every high and low on the human spectrum. Director Gustav Moller keeps things very simple and straight-forward, allowing the story’s natural tension to take centre stage.