Tag Archives: thrillers

Lakewood

Some movies come out of TIFF as clear front-runners for this year’s Best Picture race at the Oscars (Belfast, The Power of the Dog), but others may stick with you for other reasons entirely. Lakewood is one of two movies I just can’t stop thinking about this year (Silent Night is the other, if you’re wondering).

Amy Carr (Naomi Watts), bereaved widow and mother of two, puts her young daughter Emily on the bus to school, tries unsuccessfully to rouse teenage son Noah, and then hits the trail for a beautiful autumnal run. It’s supposed to be self care, only Amy doesn’t dare disconnect, fielding calls from work, from mum, from the mechanic, and that’s before her whole world shifts.

Amy learns her daughter’s school is on lockdown. In fact, the whole town, small as it is, is pretty much on lockdown to do an active school shooter situation: a parent’s worst nightmare. Amy is miles from home, and as her worst fears play across her face as she struggles to catch her breath, realizing only her cellphone connects her to breaking news, both good and bad. The shooting is not at her daughter’s school. Emily is shaken, but safe. The shooting is at Noah’s school, but luckily Noah is still home in bed, or so Amy thought. The one time her teenage son listens to her and it’s to go to school on this day, the very worst day of days. Frantic calls to anyone who can help. Pleas for people step up. Pleas to the universe to keep her son safe. Frequent checks with Google Maps to try to navigate her way into town. Obsessive calls to her son, who never answers. Reaching out to friends, family, the mechanic, a 911 operator, the detective already on the case.

This is Naomi Watts’ show. Her hope, her anguish, her desperation. She is every emotion, a spectrum of feelings, cycling rapidly, overlapping constantly, reacting to the changing circumstances like an emotion chameleon. Fear. FEAR. Gripping, panicky fear. Fear that maxes out, subsumes everything, yet still finds room to grow when Amy learns consideration for her son have shifted from potential victim to potential perpetrator. Devastated, her urgency doesn’t relent. Still determined to reach him at any cost, Amy’s beleaguered journey forward is further complicated by flashbacks: her son being bullied, her son’s growing detachment, her son mourning for his father.

The gun in their home.

This role is every actress’s dream, requiring every tool in the toolbox, a chance to showcase talent and skill. It takes confidence to pull off; reaching such a vulnerable place also highlights flaws. Only the very best could properly execute it, and fortunately for us, Watts is among the very best. She doesn’t just pull it off, she plays it with considered subtlety. Melodrama is easier, hard to resist, even harder to avoid, but Watts finds the truth of her character: a mother gets shit done. She’ll fall apart later. Right now, for these 90 minutes, her son needs her, and nothing is going to stop her getting to him.

Intrusion

Meera and Henry have left the rat race of Boston for a small town and their dream home, which Henry, an architect, builds for them. But paradise is about to be, well, intruded upon. A break in rattles the couple, and Meera (Freida Pinto) starts to feel uneasy in her luxurious but secluded home. What’s more, it turns out those responsible for the break in were also suspects in a case of a local missing woman. Meera and Henry (Logan Marshall-Green) might have accidentally built their home in the middle of something complicated and violent.

I think most of us would be frightened by a break-in. It’s very invasive, isn’t it? To feel like someone’s been in the place where you normally feel safe. Meera’s uneasiness grows when it seems that she and Henry are healing along different paths; Henry is ready, in fact insistent, that they move on quickly, while Meera doesn’t feel so confident. She’s a therapist, perhaps more in tune with her feelings, and recently in remission from cancer, so she feels lucky just to be here. Henry was by her side through every treatment and every bad day, so it feels strange to suddenly not be united in this, and issues only worsen as their case gets more complicated.

This thriller by Adam Salky is new on Netflix. It’s a home invasion movie like many before, and many afterward too, I’m sure. They’re effective because they literally hit us right where we live. Intrusion isn’t any great addition to the genre, but it’s fairly benign, and Pinto is lovely to watch. Character in these types of films, especially female ones, tend to be one-note, shrill and terrified, whereas Meera is a little more determined, more pro-active; not merely a victim, but an agent in her own fate. Give it a go if you feel like sleeping a little less soundly tonight.

Sightless

After being attacked in a parking garage, Ellen (Madelaine Petsch) wakes up without her sight. The nurse at her bedside tells her the damage to her eyes is irreversible. Unable to see, she is now dependent on her caretaker Clayton (Alexander Koch), whose main job is to help Ellen adjust to her new reality. Clayton spends a fair amount of time with Ellen at her apartment, and when he is not around, Ellen is occasionally visited by the detective investigating her attack as well as her two next-door neighbours, one who is abused and one who is the abuser.

But even without her sight, Ellen sees that something about this situation is….off. She can’t figure out what exactly is wrong but as she pulls at loose threads, her whole world starts unravelling.

Writer/director Cooper Karl establishes early on that the viewer’s eyes cannot be trusted, and it’s a recurring theme on which Sightless’ twists rely. While that approach likely was intended to match Ellen’s experience of being Sightless, it left me feeling disconnected from the film since I kept being reminded that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. That disconnect neuters every one of this film’s attempts to shock, surprise and thrill, since nothing on screen can be trusted.

With Sightless lacking any edge due to its structure, you’re better off seeing what else Netflix has on offer.

Strange But True

Since their son Ronnie died 5 years ago on prom night, Charlene (Amy Ryan) and Richard (Greg Kinnear) have grieved differently, and separated. Charlene and her younger son Philip (Nick Robinson) still live at home and are surprised one day to find Ronnie’s girlfriend Melissa (Margaret Qualley) on their doorstep and even more surprised to hear her news. She’s pregnant. With Ronnie’s child. Yes, Ronnie who died five years ago. He’s the only boy she was ever with.

Charlene and Philip remain skeptical despite Melissa’s “proof,” ie, a recording of a psychic reading that confirmed it. Melissa’s been distraught ever since she lost her boyfriend, and has been obsessed with his death. Her parents have thrown her out because of her interest in mysticism so she lives with a sweet elderly couple, Bill (Brian Cox) and Gail (Blythe Danner), who have all but adopted her. But Bill’s health is questionable, and while Gail worries about him, we worry that Bill and Gail may not always be around to care for Melissa or her baby on the way. Meanwhile, Melissa isn’t totally healthy herself. She’s had blackouts recently and needs to take care of herself and the baby that’s growing in her belly. Shaken, Charlene has been researching furiously, but rather than learn anything useful about frozen sperm, but learns that her ex-husband Richard has been secretly been paying Melissa’s rent at Bill and Gail’s. Philip’s also holding on to his own secrets; there are so many threads to entangle that Charlene won’t be able to keep up, and frankly, neither will we.

Turns out, dead baby daddies were the least of our worries. Rowan Athale’s thriller isn’t thrilling in the traditional sense, but it did surprise and horrify me, and I did find it compelling and interesting. It’s a great cast, a little wasted, who take us to places far scarier than merely the supernatural. The film is indeed quite strange, unapologetically so, and while it is not and never was true, it is a pretty decent watch.

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.