Tag Archives: thrillers

TIFF18: Homecoming

Has TV been more exciting than movies lately? People have been saying so for some time and, given that we aren’t Assholes Watching Television, the idea sometimes makes me a little defensive. I have to admit though that the first four episodes of Homecoming were the most challenging and exhilarating two hours that I spent at TIFF this year.

The current legitimacy of episodic television is hard to deny when Julia Roberts, one of the biggest movie stars in my lifetime, starts turning to tv for interesting roles. In the new series directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, Roberts plays a counselor in a facility whose mandate is ostensibly to help American soldiers returning from their deployments to adapt to life back home. It’s clear from her first phone call with her superior (Bobby Cannavale, as awesome as ever) that there’s something more nefarious or at least more secretive going on at this facility. What is less clear is exactly what that is. Things start to reall get interesting when Julia’s favourite patient (If Beale Street Could Talk’s Stephan James, who will almost definitely be a huge star this time next year) starts to suspect something is amiss.

Homecoming may not be quite the best thing I saw at TIFF this year. That honour probably goes to Widows. But it’s definitely the most original. Just like in Mr. Robot, Esmail’s strange choice of camera angles and Maggie Phillips’ score which often doesn’t seem to match the tone of what we think we’re seeing all contribute to the feeling that there’s so much more going on here then we realize. I can’t wait for the show to finally air in November so I can watch the rest and find out what that is.

Somehow, Homecoming is an adaptation of creators Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg’s podcast which I’ve never listened to nor do I understand what it could possibly be. Together with Esmail, they have assembled an impressive cast that also includes Sissy Spacek, Alex Karpovsky, Shea Whigham, and Dermot Mulroney. Together they have made one of many compelling examples of how television can be just as creative and satisfying as an Oscar season feature film.

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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.

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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.

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 Fantasia 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.

Museum

Detective Hisashi Sawamura (Shun Oguri) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is having a rough go. He’s tired. His overworking, long a point of contention in his marriage, has finally culminating in his wife and young son leaving him. And now he’s got a serial killer on his hands.

A few things about this serial killer, because he’s unlike anything you’ve seen in film GAGA_C&C_A4_frontbefore, and yet draws from many familiar sources. The serial killer only works in the rain. He plans elaborate, gruesome kills that seem to be some sort of punishment to his victims. And – how do I put this – he also appears to be a man with a frog head. There. I said it. Moving on…technically, the source material here is the manga, Museum: The Serial Killer Is Laughing In The Rain. But you’ll find the movie remind you of Seven, Saw, and maybe even Oldboy. I can’t say that Museum is that caliber of film, but it’s plenty bloody.

The first half works much better than the second does. Once the serial killer is “unmasked,” for lack of a better word, a lot of the fun and the sizzle leeched out of the movie for me.  I worried that the frog head would seem cartoonish and silly but I did find it rather sinister and regretted it when we lost it. Some of the acting, though, veered toward cartoonish, and that’s particularly hard on North American audiences who are more used to subtlety.

Still, the Assholes managed to enjoy this one, more or less. It has a frenetic energy to it thanks to manic editing. And if you just give in to the weirdness, the slight foreignness, it’s a little fun to watch the whole thing go down. Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival focuses on “genre” selections, which means you always get something special. We get exposed to titles we’d otherwise struggle to find, and it’s honestly a lot of fun to be pushed out of our comfort zone once in a while.

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.