Tag Archives: psychological thriller

Get Out – Review

13 Mar

When Key & Peele first aired on Comedy Central, I didn’t think the show was going to go anywhere, but then I watched it and realized that the two stars had an incredible talent when it came to comedy and satire. I loved their movie, Keanu, and when I saw Jordan Peele was writing and directing a horror film based on racism I was immediately on board. I knew that it would be a blend of horror and sharp satire, and at times probably even be funny, and that’s exactly what I got. Get Out is a really smart, eerie, and subversive film that has many different ideas and perspectives while also telling a creepy, and sometimes even gleefully campy, horror story.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) are at the point in their relationship where it’s time for Chris to finally meet her parents. Normally, this would be a passably awkward experience, but Rose’s parents have no idea that Chris is black. Despite Rose telling Chris that her parents, while being typically eccentric, are nothing to really worry about. Upon their arrival to their suburban home, Chris is whole heartedly greeted by Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) Armitage. Over time, Chris starts to notice strange remarks concerning both him and the Armitage’s black housekeepers. Things only get stranger when Missy hypnotizes Chris during a late night conversation, a session which ignites a furious paranoia in Chris that causes him to investigate what is really going on in that house and the real horrors that lie beneath the surface.

There’s so much to say about Get Out that I don’t really know where to begin. When this movie was first previewed, there was a lot of backlash for it showing this overt racism directed at one particular race to another. The thing is that this movie is not as clean cut as that. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface that trailers can’t convey, and I’d be pretty upset if they did because the way this movie unfolds is riveting. While Peele does explore the overt racism towards African Americans, it doesn’t really stop there. The story also delves into the realm of paranoia and preconceived notions of both races that arise because of these problems. It also goes in a pretty cool direction where certain actions from people, while they claim they may be trying to help, are only making certain situations worse or changing nothing at all and coming off as condescending. While not giving anything away, the last third of the movie goes absolutely haywire and only makes things more complicated with certain unexpected twists that come out of nowhere… Twists that just so happen to be awesome.

While this is definitely a horror movie through and through, there’s a couple really cool things that kind of help Get Out step outside of the box and escape genre conventions. For one thing, this film can be super funny. Like gut busting funny, and a lot of that comes from the hilarious performance by Lil Rey Howery, who plays Chris’ best friend. We all knew that Jordan Peele was a really funny guy, but it’s impressive that he can so seamlessly weave his off the wall sense of humor into a genuinely unnerving horror tale. I mentioned that the third act just introduces a whole new layer in terms of thematic material, but it also really shakes things up when it comes to style and genre conventions. I’m not going to say anything about what happens, but any B-movie fan will appreciate the story taking a sudden turn into that kind of territory.

What would have been a major problem for this movie was if it was too obvious. If Peele whacked you over the head with the messages and points he was really driving at, the movie would feel too preachy. While there are a few moments that do feel a tad bit heavy handed, they are completely out shined by the subversive nature of the rest of the film. This is mostly due to Jordan Peele’s fantastic screenplay and direction, but credit also has to go to the actors. I had no idea who Daniel Kaluuya was before seeing this movie, but he was outstanding. He gives a very natural and level headed performance that can be both shocking and funny. The other stand outs are Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as the older Armitages, who just seem to radiate the kind of eerieness this movie needs. I already mentioned Lil Rey Howery, but I just have to reiterate how funny this guy is and how essential he is to the entire movie.

I’ve been saying recently that we are living in a renaissance of horror, and Get Out only proves that point even more. This is a brilliant and wonderfully subversive film that gets under your skin while also succeeding at making you laugh. It has some really great thematic depth to it that will make any audience member with half a brain think about the characters and motivations, which is a great first step to making a great film. Add on some memorable scenes and a lead character that you can’t help but love and you have a winner on your hands. Get Out is a superb film that will challenge your mind as much as entertain you.

Final Grade: A-

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May – Review

30 Sep

With October being right around the corner, I can finally say that the Halloween season is upon it. I love this time of year just as much as I love watching all kinds of horror movies, so it makes sense to celebrate one with the other. I got this year started with a little horror flick by Lucky McKee that I’ve never seen before called May. It was a movie that always looked interesting to me and after hearing about the cult following it had, I was even more curious to check it out. Now that I’ve got around to seeing it, it definitely wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, in fact it was better than what I was expecting. May is an underrated gem of a horror film that left me laughing and cringing all at the same time.

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Ever since childhood, May (Angela Bettis) has had a tough time making friends and just interacting with people in general, with a large reason being a very noticeable lazy eye. This has led her to be a loner as an adult with a strong desire to just make one friend that isn’t her doll that her mom gave her for her birthday when she was a kid. One day May notices a mechanic, Adam (Jeremy Sisto), at work, but she takes special notice to his hands. With some newfound confidence unwillingly given to her by her coworker, Polly (Anna Faris), May tries to start a relationship with Adam, which works for a time, but ultimately and horribly fails. With this failure happening after coming so close to touching the sun, May realizes that if she can’t find any friends, she can make one instead, so she sets out to find the perfect pieces she can use to make her new companion.

So I really had no idea what this movie was all about or what its style was or anything for that matter. Much like what May is trying to do with creating a new friend, the movie May feels like an homage with references of its influences stitched together to form a whole. There are a lot of references to Argento films and giallo horror movies, which is appropriate because the look, story, themes, and atmosphere feel very much like a giallo film. I get this feeling especially from May’s room which is painted red and has dolls in various states of disrepair all around the room. I also see inspiration from movies like Frankenstein and the Universal films to Stephen Kind and his story Carrie. While there are plenty of references and inspirations to choose from, McKee uses them respectfully and has created a psychological horror movie for horror movie fans, and I certainly appreciate that.

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While May could have been just a straight up horror movie, there’s some creative bits that turns it into a little something more. Amidst all the scares and creepy atmosphere is a very sad, dramatic movie that also succeeded at making me laugh at times. There’s a lot of really funny, dark humor that is almost so pitch black you have to look and listen hard enough to even notice it. May’s character is such an innocent and naïve person at first, and some of the things she says are so outlandish, and that’s just hilarious at times. As for the other end of the spectrum, this is where the movie sort of reminds me of Carrie. May is just such a different and misunderstood person for a large part of the movie, and it’s sad to see people walk all over her. I in no ways condone her actions in the later part of the movie, but because of how upsetting it is seeing her get bullied or mistreated, or at least how she perceives that she is, there’s more depth to back up her actions and give them a point.

None of what I’m saying would mean anything if the character of May didn’t work, and thankfully Angela Bettis has scary control over her. This is a fantastic performance and one that I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by. It’s rare that a horror movie has a performances that’s as great as this, which makes this one all the more memorable. Her small ticks in her hands and her face and even some of her vocal inflections indicates a character that is fully realized and is then brought to life on screen. This makes every laugh and moment of sadness all the more effective since I firmly believe in her character.

I gotta say, May really surprised the hell outta me. It works great as a stand alone psychological horror film, but also does a great job at honoring the classics and showing that without those movies, we wouldn’t have some of the modern day horror classics that deliver the chills when we need them the most. Other than the horror, this film has a great sense of humor, true life drama, and a lead performance that is under appreciated even though it is startlingly realized. For those reasons and maybe some that I haven’t realized yet, I absolutely love this movie.

Final Grade: A

Bug – Review

26 Apr

I seem to be in a William Friedkin kind of mood recently having just reviewed his movie The Hunted and now coming back to review his 2006 film Bug. I actually remember when this movie first came out and how intrigued I was by the whole idea, but unfortunately it was 10 years ago and 10 years ago I would never be able to get into a theater to see it. I’m actually glad I waited so long, because now I’m a lot more familiar with the works of William Friedkin and his screenwriting collaborator, Tracy Letts. Bug is actually based off of Letts’ stage play, as was a later Friedkin film Killer Joe, which is now one of my top favorite movies. Like Killer JoeBug tells a nightmarish story of the south with very troubled human characters engaging in some very strange behavior.

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Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is a waitress living in a shady motel on the side of a seemingly desert road. She’s in such a secluded location so as to stay hidden from her abusive husband, Jerry Goss (Harry Connick, Jr.), who is getting released from prison any day now. On a night like any other, Agnes meets a drifter named Peter (Michael Shannon), a quiet but caring man who only seems to care about Agnes’ best interests. As their relationship begins to build, Jerry returns and starts to harass Agnes, but Agnes is far too busy with learning about Peter and Peter’s strange beliefs that the government implanted millions of bugs into his skin and blood, and that they are now beginning to escape and make themselves known.

This is a very, very strange movie and definitely not what I expected it was going to be. It’s easy to see how this is a stage play since most of the action occurs in Agnes’ motel. Sometimes the characters go outside or are in a bar, but that’s really only for a couple scenes out of the movie. I love when stories happen in closed in spaces. It creates the feeling of claustrophobia and injects the fear of not escaping the horrors that will surface. What really threw me off is the pacing of Bug. I don’t want to say that it’s bad, it’s just weird. The first 45 minutes play as a straightforward drama with a lingering sense of unease. Then after these 45 minutes, the movie shoots forward into insanity. It jumps through time so strangely, that you can’t really know how much time has passed, which was jarring while watching the movie but after thinking about it, it was a clever way to tell the story.

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There’s no doubt in my mind that Bug features the best performances of both Ashley Judd’s and Michael Shannon’s careers. I always looked at Ashley Judd as an overall unimpressive actress, but after seeing her in this movie my attitude’s changed. I think with the write screenplay and direction, she can really deliver a powerhouse performances. Now, Michael Shannon’s history with Bug goes pretty deep. For years, Shannon has played the role of Peter off Broadway in both London and America. This role is so ingrained in his mind he seems to literally transform into Peter. It’s an amazing performance and I just assume that this movie was too weird to get any Oscar attention for both actors.

Over the years, Bug has torn critics and audiences into a couple different and completely polarizing categories. On one side are the people that absolutely hated the movie claiming that it doesn’t make any logical sense and that it’s the stupidest thing in the world. On the other side are all of the people who look down on the plebeians claiming that the movie is stupid and just rubbing it in that they “just don’t get it.” I honestly can completely understand how someone can both love and hate this movie. It’s really bizarre and often doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that’s sort of the point. The movie is designed to make the audience feel more distanced, confused, and paranoid as the story progresses which forces Bug to go through some jarring changes. I, personally, respect the hell out of this movie.

William Friedkin and Tracy Letts are two artists that just seem to be made for each other. I felt that way after I saw Killer Joe and I feel it once again after watching Bug. This is one of the most disorienting and jarring movies I’ve ever seen, and at first it made the movie kind of hard to watch and a little questionable, but after letting it all sink in I can understand why the movie had to be made like it is. It isn’t as powerful as Killer Joe, but Bug is a powerhouse of a movie in terms of directing, acting, and writing.

 

Don’t Look Now – Review

5 Apr

The late 1960s and the 1970s were a really important time for the horror genre. It was a time when new and exciting things were being introduced to this type of film making that really breathed new life into a genre of movies that didn’t yet reach its full potential. Auteur film makers were dabbling with new ways to make movies, and one of the most important experiments for horror was Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now. Based off of a story written by Daphne du Maurier, whose stories were used by Hitchcock for Rebecca and The BirdsDon’t Look Now was almost destined to succeed before it was even made, and after its completion it has become a cinematic landmark.

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After their daughter (Sharon Williams) drowns in a pond behind their house, Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Sutherland) Baxter take a trip to Venice where John has been hired to help restore a church. While there, Laura meets two sisters, Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matania). Heather is blind but claims to have psychic abilities and tells Julie that she sees their daughter with them in Venice, and that she has a message of warning for John. John refuses to believe a word that anyone says about their daughter, firmly believing her to be dead and gone. As time goes on in Venice, the couple begin experiencing more strange and often dangerous supernatural events, while the city is also stricken by a mysterious and elusive serial killer that can strike anywhere and at anytime.

Don’t Look Now is a subtle trip down the cinematic rabbit hole that you may not even realize you’re going down. That’s probably the most brilliant aspect of this movie. While it’s on, I felt like I was watching a very straightforward psychological thriller, and in that sense, I felt a little disappointed as I was watching it. I wanted to see something that was really going to blow my mind as much as everyone says it would. It wasn’t until the movie was over that I realized that I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention as I thought I was. There are so many clues hidden in plain sight as to what is really going on, and if you aren’t a super perceptive viewer, they may go right over your head. After thinking about the movie and doing some research on it, the way Roeg made this film is truly remarkable and it demands a second viewing to really appreciate how he blends time, genres, and hides clues for you to find.

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What also makes Don’t Look Now a successful horror movie is the creeping feelings that lurk behind every dark corner and worried glance. There’s so much paranoia and grief that is caked on the entire narrative, and that combination makes for a very suspenseful ride. Don’t Look Now is comparable to Rosemary’s Baby, in that there are many times where you and the characters really have no idea what’s actually going on. Sometimes you may not even realize this confusion, but trust me, you will be confused at certain points. This a sign of a great horror movie. If you watch it and feel your hairs standing on end, find yourself breathing just a little faster, or thinking a little harder, you know you’re watching something worth while. This sort of true suspense is what’s lacking in the “spooky ghost” movies that have flooded the market as of late.

Having the story take place in Venice is also a fantastic idea. This isn’t the same Venice that you see in movies like The Tourist. No way. Far from it. This is the back streets of Venice in the winter, when things are gray, murky, and dead. The water also seems to be posing some sort of ominous threat or holding some unknown secret. Meanwhile, it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinthine alley ways that sometimes lead to nowhere. Venice transcends just being a location, and becomes something of a side character with its own living and breathing personality.

Don’t Look Now has firmly made a name for itself as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, but it would be unfair to just call this a horror movie. It’s a thriller, a mystery, and a family drama all rolled into one. This blending of time and genre set this movie above many, but the attention to detail and suspense is what truly make this film great. You may not realize how intricate it is upon your first viewing of it, but after thinking about it and watching it again, you’ll be completely entranced by its mystery.

Caché – Review

27 Oct

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (I’m partial to the 2007 version) is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’ve been severely slacking at watching some of his other works. I’ve finally gotten around to it with his 2005 critical success Caché. This film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and many critics call it one of the best films of the 2000s. All of those critics kind of have to slow down a little bit there. Caché is a very interesting and complex film when all is said and done, but it’s also extremely pretentious and often feels like a chore to sit through. The real joy of this movie comes through when you begin thinking about it after the credits roll.

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Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juiliette Binoche) Laurent are a upper middle class family living a relatively quiet life in Paris. Georges is a talk show host on a public television station, Anne works as a publisher, and they both have a 12 year old son named Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). That quiet life soon gets uprooted when they begin finding videotapes from an anonymous stalker showing up at their doorstep. Why they are being recorded and who is responsible forces Georges to look back into his past and come to learn that actions he did when he was just a young boy could be the cause of the family’s stalker finally taking his revenge.

Caché is a very smart and well executed thriller that definitely does not fit the Hollywood definition of what a thriller is supposed to be. I highly respect Michael Haneke for stepping outside what is considered to be the genre conventions. Haneke said in an interview that he didn’t want the viewer to figure out what the one possible answer is to the mystery of this movie, he wanted people to accept all of the possible answers. This makes for some ingenious movie making, but to me it didn’t hit the mark well in the entertainment department. In my opinion, there are two kinds of art house movies. There’s a movie like Drive or even Requiem for a Dream. Those movies are “artsy.” Caché falls into the other category that I like to call “artsy fartsy.”

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Technically speaking, though, the movie is really cool. The very first shot lasts a few minutes, and just shows the front of the Laurent’s house. It’s a great opening shot and got me in the mood to see how Haneke’s artistic vision would help tell the story, but this trick is used a few times too many. The film is also shot on video, which is actually an appropriate choice since the whole plot revolves around videotapes being delivered to this family. All of the artistic qualities that are in Caché do enhance it and halp it stand apart from more run of the mill thrillers. I’m just saying that for me some of it was a bit too much for me.

I will praise wholeheartedly the performances in this movie. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche work perfectly together and both of their performances are very natural and feel very real. The same can be said about everyone in the movie, even the younger actor, Lester Makedonsky. Someone who really steals the show every time he’s onscreen is Maurice Bénichou, and while he’s not present very much, every scene he’s in is memorable.

This was a strange review to write because I liked Caché more as I thought about it, but as I was watching it, it felt pretty tiresome. This may be because the real payoff is looking back on the entire thing and putting all of the pieces together instead of just being confused the entire time. There’s that and the fact that Haneke goes a little overboard with long takes of nothing, which he is actually also guilty of in Funny Games, which I love. Caché is a memorable movie that is in the same vein as Hitchcock, but watching it is nowhere near as entertaining as it probably should be.

Panic Room – Review

28 Jul

I have quite a love/hate relationship with movies that are labeled as “thrillers.” It’s not an easy genre, that’s for sure, since it relies on suspense and intensity rather than cheap scares or action and violence. Panic Room falls very nicely into that category, and luckily director David Fincher and writer David Koepp have proven themselves to be proficient at pretty much every genre put on the screen. Moving at a brisk pace and featuring a lot of surprises throughout the length of its run time, Panic Room is not only just an entertaining thriller, it’s one that will leave you thinking about all of its twists, turns, characters, and subtext.

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Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) is a recently divorced single mother looking for a new house in the Upper West Side of New York City. She soon finds the perfect house, and moves in with her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). On the night they move in, however, their house is broken into by three robbers: Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Junior (Jared Leto), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), who all expected the house to be empty. Luckily for Meg and her daughter, their new house has a super secure panic room which they run into for safety while they think of a plan to get the intruders out of the house. While their options become limited, the terror only increases when it is revealed that what the three robbers are looking for is buried in the floor of the panic room.

So, like I said before, an essential element of thrillers is to feature something that is inherently fearful. That’s why there’s different kinds of thrillers. Psychological thrillers explore strange horrors of the mind, political thrillers show the paranoia and dangers of politics, but I’m not sure where exactly to place Panic Room. It’s a movie that explores something that I think is the most frightening thing of all, and that is something or someone getting into your house to cause harm to you or anything in your life. That’s why movies like The Strangers and Funny Games stick with me so much. This is another one that can go hand in hand with those movies, even though I’d say this one is a bit more Hollywood and more entertaining. It still relies on intense elements of suspense and basic human fears that I think we can all relate to.

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Another really strong point of this movie, and surprisingly for me I think, is how incredible each and every character is. I thought that it was just going to be Meg and Sarah vs a trio of generic bad guys, but that isn’t true at all. Everyone in Panic Room is their own character and don’t resemble or come close to another. I can credit this not only to Koepp’s writing, but also to Fincher’s directing and all of the actors, who performed their parts very well. Possibly the only negative I can see in the performances is that Leto kind of became a cartoon at points, but I still had the most fun with his character because of that. So can it really be a negative if I still enjoyed myself? We may never know.

This is also one of those movies that can be enjoyed at its surface, but I dare say it’s even more fun to dive into the subtext and try to pick it apart. You may be surprised with what you find in Panic Room. I’ve seen analyses of the film that say it’s a story of feminism, technology, and/or modern medicine. I can definitely see all three, but I have to say that this is a movie about feminism more than anything else. Foster’s Meg Altman, with no help from anyone else, takes on the people that invaded her home possibly threatens the life of her and her child. It takes a smart approach with its stances on its themes, which makes it even more of a respectable film.

Panic Room is yet another success in both David Fincher’s and David Koepp’s ever growing body of work. It works as a horror film, a psychological thriller, and a film that explores deeper themes that may be expected. Everyone gives incredible performances, all with the aid of Fincher’s expert direction and Koepp’s lean and taut screenplay. For any fans of the thriller genre, or really movies in general, Panic Room is a must see.

Terribly Happy – Review

22 May

For this review, let’s take a trip over to Denmark to take a look at the movie that swept the Bodil Awards (the Danish equivalent to the Academy Awards), winning 7 categories in 2009. Right from the title, I had a feeling I was in for a unique movie. I just can’t get over how great a title Terribly Happy is. It pretty much gives away that this is a very dark movie, but you will find yourself laughing at certain points. The comedy is pretty much as dark as it gets, which is probably why this film has been compared to Blood Simple and Blue Velvet. While I can’t really say it’s going to be regarded as classics like those films, it is an under appreciated European gem.

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After suffering from a mental breakdown, Copenhagen policeman Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) is reassigned to a small town in South Jutland. While certainly not looking forward to the assignment, Hansen does feel that it will be easy work and his main goal is just completing this job and getting reunited with his estranged daughter. Unfortunately for him, this town is nowhere near an easy assignment. Being based around a preexisting set of laws that is governed by the townspeople themselves, Hansen is immediately shunned by everyone except a woman named Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen). As Hansen gets closer to Ingerlise, he is made savvy to her husband Jørgen (Kim Bodnia), the local bully who also is known for abusing Ingerlise. While attempting to protect the woman he has grown so fond of, Hansen inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will forever change the town.

Like I said before, I definitely see how people can make comparisons to the Coen Brothers and even David Lynch. This movie has a very unique style that definitely seems to draw some inspirations from those and other film makers, yet the movie really stands out as its own piece. There are elements of classic noir here from the disgraced police officer to the almost obligatory blonde femme fatale. At the same time, there is also plenty to laugh at since this movie starts feeling so weird and uncomfortable, it’s almost like a defense mechanism starting to kick in. It’s as a dark a comedy as you will be able to find.

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So the plot of Terribly Happy starts off pretty normal, and it keeps on going for a while. I was with it and feeling pretty confident I knew what was going on and what may happen even though things did start feeling a bit off. Whatever, though, I was on it. Then something happens about half way through and that’s that. Take everything you thought you knew about the movie and what was going on and just toss it out the window because everything is different now. That is where I think this movie really shines. It doesn’t treat the audience like children and expects them to be able to handle a plot twist or change that is this dramatic. It threw me off, yes, but it still made me laugh.

After watching Terribly Happy, I couldn’t help thinking about how strange it was. That being said, it never got so strange that the movie became just about weirdness. There are some movies that are fun to watch simply because they’re odd, but that’s not the main point of this one. The plot, the characters, and the setting are always the main focus and the strangeness is only there to enhance all of those things. It felt like a very well written and executed movie all around, even though it certainly isn’t the most fast paced.

This is one of those movies that I feel should get more attention, but it’s hard to reach a wide American audience with a foreign movie that’s as odd as this one. Terribly Happy isn’t destined to be a classic, or even a cult favorite for that matter, but it’s a movie that I really can’t find any faults with that need to be discussed. There are definitely comparisons that can be made with other films and film makers, but it stands alone as it’s own unique movie, and for that I say it’s worth a watch or two if you ever stumble across it.