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Snowtown – Review

5 Jun

You know that feeling you get when a movie just completely obliterates you? The credits are rolling and you’re just sitting there, numb to the world, with the film acting as a sort of pressure prohibiting you from doing anything at all? That’s how I recently felt after my viewing of Justin Kurzel’s 2011 film Snowtown, also called The Snowtown Murders in some parts of the world. This piece of unequivocal horror is based on the brutally true story of Australia’s worst serial killer, and the people he drew into his web of torture and murder. This is not an easy film to watch, and I’m sure there are some that may call it unwatchable, but I firmly believe that this may be one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in a long time.

Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is a teenager growing up in a poor suburban area of Adelaide. He has a couple of brothers and a loving mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), who despite the love has a hard time making ends meet. After the short lived relationship she’s in with her neighbor ends with her sons becoming in danger, Elizabeth doesn’t know where to turn. That is until she meets John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a charismatic man who has a sort of team of vigilantes who keeps a harsh eye on certain people in the neighborhood. Jamie takes and especially strong liking to John, and it doesn’t take long for John to become Jamie’s mentor and father figure. As Jamie spends more and more time with John, he begins to notice certain behavioral patterns that don’t seem quite right, and when more and more neighbors begin to disappear the pieces really begin to fall into place.

Snowtown is a ten ton punch in the gut, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Kurzel does not mess around with what he’s willing to show and it makes the movie all the more horrifying. There’s terror to be seen everywhere from the people living around this family to the actual members of the family and finally from John, who is a presence that’s hard to describe. It was also a smart choice to have this film shot mostly in a hand held style with the surroundings often times being close to colorless. This is a very down to earth movie in the way it’s presented, but the lack of color brings in a layer of hopelessness and the living situations make it seem impossible for these people to escape the horror that is plaguing their lives. This is how you do it, ladies and gentlemen. This is top tier horror film making.

It’s kind of hard to find really serious problems with Snowtown because they really feel very few and far between. There’s some unnecessary padding to the plot in a couple of scenes. A few bits go on a bit too long, but it’s really nothing that noticeable unless you’re really trying to nit pick, which I’m certainly not. The plot moves at a very certain pace, which boarders between being a slow burn and an edge of your seat thriller. The only thing that really sticks out to me that I can complain about is the way the passage of time is shown. There are a few cues to show that time is passing, but I feel like a lot happens in this movie without any sort of clue as to how much time has passed from one scene to another. This movie could happen over the course of years, months, or weeks. I’m really not too sure. This does add a layer of disorientation, which is kind of cool, but it still would have been nice to have seen progress shown in a more clearer fashion.

With this movie being told in the way that it is, the actors would really have to sell that they aren’t actors playing characters, but are the actual people they are playing. It’s clear Kurzel wanted the audience to completely lose themselves in this movie and not just switch off and watch it. That being said, he casted a lot of people who aren’t actors, but were rather people who lived in the area. Lucas Pittaway, who was never in any kind of film before this, is excellent as Jamie, who gets completely entangled in John’s plans. His mother, played by Louise Harris, was also virtually unknown before this and she does a great job at bringing this character to life in a realistic way. Finally, Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, was only known for some performances in television, but he gives a horrifying performance as the murderous mentor of Jamie. It’s something I won’t soon forget.

Snowtown is a prime example of true, excruciating horror. Justin Kurzel and his team do not hold back with this movie. Some truly terrible acts that really happened are depicted in this movie, which may turn some people off. It’s definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but it does tell a story that will guarantee to send shivers down anyone’s spine. I can’t emphasize enough that this is the way horror films should be made, even though this particular one is also filled with a lot of drama and true crime elements. If you ever get a chance and think you can stomach the content, I would highly recommend checking this film out.

Final Grade: A

Kill List – Review

23 Feb

I’m always up to the task of watching a movie that challenges the idea of genre and narrative form. It’s an excellent mode of expression to take preconceived notions of storytelling and flipping them on their head to create something new. For this to be a success, however, it has to be done right. Movies are archetypically based, so changing the formula can be a tough thing to do. This is exactly what Ben Wheatley attempted to do with his 2011 film Kill List. This was a very strange movie to watch, and I’m still kind of processing it, but it’s really a very interesting film to say the least, even if some of it doesn’t really work.

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Jay (Neil Maskell) is a hitman who has been out of work for months after a particularly traumatizing assignment in Kiev. Shel (MyAnna Buring), Jay’s wife, talks their friend, Gal (Michael Smiley), and convinces him to recruit Jay to help in an assignment with a large payout. After some arguing, Jay agrees and the two hitmen meet their employer (Struan Rodger), who gives them a list of three people and all the information they need to execute the hits. As the two hitmen start their mission and begin working their way down the list, things seem a little bit out of the ordinary, and a dark secret connects the three targets on the list; secrets that contain brutality and sadism on such a level that it horrifies the contract killers and sends them spiraling into a mystery that they may not come out of alive.

I think it’s kind of a compliment to say that a movie keeps rattling in your brain and forcing you to think about it, even when you don’t particularly want to. That’s the relationship I’m having with Kill List. This film blends two genres together to create a mash of oddness. I can’t think of another movie that takes a crime thriller and puts it together with sadistic horror to create something that is as chilling and unforgettable as Kill List. I don’t think this movie is a masterpiece or anything like that, but I do have this feeling that Kill List will forever be somewhere on the back burner. I also have to give Wheatley credit in how he handles a lot of the subject matter. There are scenes that will make the squeamish leave the room post haste, but never does it go over the top into an exploitive affair. This movie effectively crawls under your skin without it being too much or overdone. It’s very well thought out film making and storytelling.

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At the core of this movie, though, is a really intriguing mystery. This is where I got really hooked. The film starts off easy enough with a story of a hit man forced back into the business, but it was enough to keep me watching. When things started getting strange for no reason is when I really started to pay attention. It was great trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on, and for the most part, there really aren’t any clues. You’re left to sit and watch and wonder. I was really dying to know what happened, but this is very ambiguous movie that is left for you to interpret. This might be where the movie falters for me just a little bit. I really wanted to know everything and have concrete answers, but Kill List has none of these to offer. That being said, this is an incredibly frustrating film that succeeds in leaving the audience baffled and freaked out.

When I say freaked out, I really mean freaked out. I’m a real sucker for well made and effective horror movies, so I do expect horror movies to go the extra mile. Technically speaking, I don’t know if I’d call Kill List a horror film. I really don’t know how I’d define it. Still, the last third of this movie is frightening, and I’m not ashamed to say it royally messed with me. I would love to get deeper into what happens, but the most fun you’ll have with this movie is the tension and suspense of it building to what is actually going on. Saying anything more would spoil some of that, so just know that I thought it was one of the creepier displays I’ve seen in a while.

To me, Kill List is a lot of things. It’s frustrating, stunning, difficult, but also extremely memorable. Despite all of the confusion I felt watching it and all of the questions left unanswered, I’m really thrilled that this movie didn’t remain under my radar forever. It’s one that I’m going to want to show to people just so I can see their reaction to it because there really isn’t another movie quite like this one.

Final Grade: B

The Samaritan – Review

22 Mar

It’s totally cool to take certain plot devices, concepts, and styles from other movies of the past. Part of the fun of watching movies is seeing styles evolve over the years. I’ve noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of neo noir movies recently, and I’m continuing this streak with David Weaver’s 2012 film, The Samaritan. Now, when I say that it’s fine for film makers to borrow from other movies in order to tell their stories, I mean it. The Samaritan, on the other handis pretty much just a walking cliche. Still, for being a B-movie of no consequence, it was still pretty entertaining to watch.

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Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) is an expert grifter who’s just got finished serving a 25 year prison sentence for murdering his old partner. Upon his release, Foley is determined to give up his life of crime and find a more decent way of making a living; a decision that is both made up of overwhelming guilt and logic. While trying to create a better life for himself, he continues to be harassed by Ethan (Luke Kirby), his ex-partner’s son who wants him to be part of a grift on a crime lord Xavier (Tom Wilkinson), and a prostitute desperate for Foley’s affection, Iris (Ruth Negga). While Foley begins forming a relationship with Iris, Evan starts coming at him much harder with his million dollar plan, but it isn’t until Evan drops an earth shattering secret that Foley decides to drop his plan for a new life and dive head first into his last and most dangerous grift.

So, a criminal who has been to prison is trying to reform his life but once again, and unwillingly, gets sucked back into a life of crime. This is a story that’s been told over and over again. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a classic tale that can be used time and again with different circumstances and events to make it still interesting. In this regard, The Samaritan sort of succeeds and sort of fails. It succeeds because there are a lot of twists, turns, and finely acted characters that kept my attention throughout most of the film. It fails because while there are a lot of different things layered on top of the classic crime tale, they are all pulled straight from other movies so that there’s nearly nothing new or original in the entire movie.

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The casting and performances of the actors is one of those things that really got me into the movie. Samuel L. Jackson gives an outstanding performance as Foley. The role seems to have been written just for him and he fits it like a glove. It was also cool to see Ruth Negga in a more dramatic role outside of her part in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I thought she did a fine job as Iris. Luke Kirby and Tom Wilkinson ham up their villainous roles, as well, which makes them very easy to hate and it so much easier to root for Foley. This isn’t exactly a well written movie so it was good to see all of these fine actors really pull together and professionally handle some of the ridiculous dialogue and make the best out of what was given to them.

One of the main problems I have with The Samaritan is how long it takes to really get going. The real action and bulk of the story doesn’t start until after the half hour point, which means that there’s a lot of story crammed into a span of less then an hour. This made the first half of the movie feel really slow and the second half disjointed. Luckily, there are some pretty cool scenes throughout the movie and the climax was very satisfying to watch. It would have just been a much smoother ride had the movie been longer or if there wasn’t so many twists and turns mushed together in such a short time period.

The Samaritan isn’t a movie that I’m going to be talking about for the rest of my life, nor is it one that I’d put on again to watch anytime soon. There’s a lot of flaws with the movie but there are also some positive elements going for it that make it pretty entertaining. It’s a very simple movie that’s borrowed from films that have come before it to the point where it’s noticeable. Still, I can’t really say that this is a bad movie at all. It’s certainly an acceptable way to kill some time, but you really don’t need to go out searching for it.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – Review

14 Sep

There are times when I’m really excited about seeing a movie only to finally watch it and realize it’s garbage. Fortunately, there are also times where movies are better than I expected them to be, no matter how excited I am. Ever since watching the trailer for David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, I was set and ready to watch it. Of course, it takes me forever to finally getting around to watching a movie, but I have gotten to it at last. I was really worried that this movie was going to let me down, but luckily it’s a refreshingly gorgeous looking movie with an interesting take on the Bonnie and Clyde type of story.

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Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) are two young lovers who make their living as thieves. When one particular robbery turns violent, and Officer Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) is shot by Ruth, Bob puts an end to the shootout and gives himself up, saying he was the one who shot the officer. He does this so Ruth can stay free and give birth to their baby girl, Sylvie (Kennadie and Jacklynn Smith). Years later and as promised through letters to Ruth, Bob escapes from prison and begins making his way back to his family with hopes that they can run away together and start their lives over. What Bob doesn’t realize, however, is that that way of life has become distant from Ruth, who is now dedicated to raising Sylvie. When Bob does finally return to town, he brings with him his dangerous past and a lot of dangerous people.

Like I said before, I was really worried that I was going to hate this movie because I’ve been so excited and set on watching it for a really long time. I do that to myself a lot, but this one met the high bar that I set for it. It’s not only a movie about crime, but also about love, maturing, and finding what is truly important in your life. The film also succeeds at feeling like a sort of western movie, the main characters being thieves on the run. David Lowery also seems to have a keen sense on how to use subtlety and metaphors to make his story even stronger. For example, Casey Afflecks character can be seen as a metaphor for Ruth’s past, a past that’s trying to make its way back into her life, even though she knows it’s time to look forward.

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Watching and listening to this movie is an experience all its own, even if you take out the story. Bradford Young, the cinematographer, is known for using mostly just available light to light a scene, which is not an easy thing to do. There are parts in this movie when Bob and Ruth are walking through fields with the sun shining right into the lens. This lighting makes these scenes feel unearthly, like something you’d fine on the heavenly plane. The music also adds a lot to the movie and follows the same form of subtlety that I mentioned earlier. It’s quiet and atmospheric but still has a Western vibe when the scene is appropriate.

Probably the main draw I had to this movie at first was the cast. As far as actors go, Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster all stand out as outstanding performers. Casey Affleck actually gave one of my favorite performances as Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford. He proves himself more than capable once again in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and that goes the same for Mara and Foster. Rooney Mara nails the role of playing someone at a difficult transitioning point in her life, and you can’t help but sympathize with Foster’s character for trying to be a good person in world that’s easily corruptible.

I can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints didn’t disappoint me. It’s a modern retelling of a classic story that blends genres together that often times couldn’t seem farther apart. Everything from the beautiful cinematography, the ambient score, and excellent performances by the entire cast makes this movie not only an emotional ride, but one hell of an entertaining film. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves.