Tag Archives: tension

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

Don’t Breathe – Review

19 Sep

It’s been gratifying as a fan of the horror genre to see some really cool, highly original horror films to come out in the past few years. There’s been something of a horror renaissance. That being said, I’m not completely opposed to a film maker taking a familiar approach or using familiar plot devices to create a unique and entertaining horror film. It just has to be done right. Enter film maker Fede Alvarez and his newest film Don’t Breathe. This film is a mix of ideas that has been seen in films like Panic RoomThe Strangers, and Wait Until Dark, but it’s important to note that this isn’t a carbon copy of any of these movies. Instead, Don’t Breathe is an unbearably tense, slow burning horror film that’s smartly written and very well executed.

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Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three Detroit friends who make a living off of breaking into and robbing houses protected by Alex’s father’s security company. After a while, the profits from these jobs are becoming less and less from what they have been, which begins making Rocky’s plan, along with all the other’s plans, of leaving Detroit almost impossible. One day, Money is told about a house in the middle of an abandoned neighborhood with $300,000 just waiting to be taken. The seemingly only defense is an older, blind man (Stephen Lang) who seems like he couldn’t do any harm to anybody. When the three thieves enter the house and come closer to finding the money, the blind man wakes up and realizes what’s going on. It becomes clear that he isn’t nearly as defenseless as he looks, which forces the three robbers to quietly maneuver around him in the house, but they soon discover the blind man’s darkest secret that he will kill for in order to protect.

For me, Don’t Breathe is one of those movies that really hits what a horror movie is supposed to be on the head. Fede Alvarez previously directed the remake of Evil Dead, which I have not seen, but after seeing this movie and seeing how well he understands the genre, I wouldn’t be opposed to it. This is an incredibly tense film that made me cringe countless times. There were even times where I was afraid to breathe and give away the characters’ location in the house. It a movie can make me tense up and not want to breathe, then I know that I’ve just experienced an excellent horror film. The first time the movie really got me was a quick scene where the blind man quickly walks down a hallway, forcing Alex to quickly hug the wall and remain absolutely silent. The actual scene lasts only a split second, but that’s what makes it so good. There’s no cue that this is supposed to make you jump or feel frightened. The immediacy with which it happens is enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable. And that’s just the beginning. There are so many memorable scenes that almost force you to watch the movie through your fingers.

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What makes the movie even more effective are the characters and the situation that they are in. I’m not so much talking about being trapped in the house, but more so the living conditions and fighting for survival in the dying city of Detroit. Similar themes were explored in It Follows, and Alvarez continues this exploration with Don’t Breathe. The film’s focus on the environment is really important to telling the story, and the actors play their parts in this world very well. They have more dimensions than what can be expected in most horror movies, even though their performances aren’t exactly out of this world. Stephen Lang on the other hand is outstanding. The outside world doesn’t so much affect him, which is why he is so threatened when outsiders enter his domain. He is a formidable presence, and while he doesn’t say too much in the film, it’s all about his actions. Like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees before him, the blind man is a nearly unstoppable force that gives you the creeps whenever he’s onscreen. Lang really was the only choice for this character and he’s excellent.

It’s also worth mentioning that Don’t Breathe is just an artistically and technically well designed film. The cinematography is perfect, and some scenes had me really loving the look of the film. The lighting is very important to the tension of this movie and without it done just right, the movie probably wouldn’t have been as effective as it was. A lot of attention was also given to the sound, and rightfully so. A large part of this movie is focusing and becoming paranoid about any little sound that may give away the location to the blind man. Every little click and whisper is magnified, which adds a sense of distress that I felt as a viewer. One great scene had such a quiet explosion when one character steps on a squeaky floorboard. The sound and the visuals all go above and beyond.

Don’t Breathe is not only a great horror movie, it’s just a great movie in general. The performances, especially by Stephen Lang, all work very well and it’s just a very well put together movie. The idea of someone breaking into my house and invading my space is one of the most terrifying ideas to me, and seeing that idea completely flipped on its head was interesting and made for a unique time at the movies. I really want this movie to be remembered years from now, as it’s a prime example of how to properly craft a suspenseful horror film.

Final Grade: A

The Witch – Review

28 Feb

Horror movies have been in a pretty sad state recently with the constant remakes, sequels, and reboots. Does the world really need another Paranormal Activity? No, it really doesn’t. There have been some diamonds in the rough with critically successful movies like It Follows, which is one of my favorite horror movies to be released in a long time. Now we can add another intelligent and beautifully made horror movie to the rankings of modern horror classics. This movie is Robert Eggers’ debut film The Witch. Without rambling too early on in the review, let me just say that this is exactly how horror movies should be made.

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In the year 1630, a Puritan man named William (Ralph Ineson), and his family are removed from a religious plantation. The family decides to start a new life by building a house near a large forest and living off the land and the blessings they believe to receive from God. The entire family dynamic is thrown when baby Samuel is kidnapped and killed by a witch lurking in the woods near the house. After another incident in the woods harms William’s middle son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), William’s wife Katharine (Kate Dickie) places the blame of witchcraft on their oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). As the days press on, the black magic of the witch torments the family more until the morning they finally reach their breaking point.

Like I said before, The Witch is a prime example of how horror movies should be made. Since the very first frame there’s a feeling of dread and claustrophobia. I’m not talking about claustrophobia in the sense that the family is constantly in an enclosed space, but claustrophobic in the sense that they are completely walled in by the literal interpretations of their religious beliefs. Throughout the course of the movie, the characters all make these incredibly naïve and outlandish choices and accusations, all because they depend so heavily on God’s divine intervention and judgement. This extremist mind set is almost as scary as the witch that is cursing the family, and it mirrors real life in eerily similar ways.

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What I think really makes this movie is the subtlety of it all. Scenes in The Witch very rarely get loud. Instead, the intensity and feelings of terror come from the silences, what can’t be seen, and the inability of the family to escape the tortures that are destroying them. Isn’t the monster lurking in the dark scarier than the one that you can see plain as day? Sure it is, because your imagination never fails to show you the most horrific possibility. Isn’t the overwhelming feeling of dread and helplessness more terrifying than a jump scare that you could see coming a mile away? Once again, of course it is. The Witch doesn’t rely on getting your adrenaline pumping to keep you entertained. Instead it completely infects your body with a spirit of uneasiness that may come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Something became quite clear about this movie within the first five or ten minutes. I’ve didn’t watch the trailer for this movie, so maybe it was in there, but I had no idea that all of the dialogue in this movie is written in and spoken in old English. It took a little bit to get used to it, but once it did I really appreciated the effect that it had on the movie. It gives The Witch a very authentic feeling, along with the costume design and cinematography. It’s also really impressive that all of the lines were delivered with such ease. At no point was I confused about what they were talking about. I have to give much respect to all of the actors in this movie, but mostly to the younger actors who pulled off the dialogue just as well as the adults.

I went into The Witch not really knowing what to expect. I was just curious about it because all of the hype it got at the various film festivals. Now that I’ve seen it, I can definitely say it’s one of the better horror movies released in a very long time. It’s a very smart approach to the genre, both in the writing and execution. Robert Eggers has made a great start to his feature film making career, and I really hope he explores the horror genre some more. Plain and simply, The Witch perfectly encapsulates how a horror movie should be made.

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.

Knife in the Water – Review

12 Aug

When I’ve talked about debut films from major directors who have proven themselves in their field, I always say something about how greatness starts somewhere, but it isn’t always such an easy beginning for film makers. One person who hit the jackpot with his debut feature film was Roman Polanski, who amongst all of the controversy surrounding him has still managed to make movies that people want to see and that people will love. His first film, Knife in the Water, which he made right after graduating from the National Film School in Łódź in Poland. This film earned him worldwide success and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film.

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Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) and Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) are a married couple who are on their way to their boat for a day on the water. Along the way, they decide to pick up a young hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz) who explains that he just walks around until someone decides to pick him up. Both the couple and the hitchhiker are completely different kinds of people and it isn’t long before Andrzej and the young man begin butting heads. As the group head out on the water, the two men begin fighting and humiliating each other, all with the intention of getting Krystyna’s attention. As the tension boils for the day throughout the night, the inevitable climax of violence bursts which may spell the end of happiness and a life of peace for everyone involved.

What’s so impressive about this movie is the tension that Polanski is able to build so well, even though this is his debut as a feature film maker. At the time, he was already pretty well known on the festival circuit for short films that he made while a student. Knife in the Water, however, marked the official beginning of his career, and what a beginning it was. It isn’t everyday that someone’s first film gets nominated for an Academy Award. Of course, Polanski didn’t win the award since he was up again Fellini’s 8 1/2, which is objectively the better film, but I have to admit that I enjoyed Knife in the Water a lot more.

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Amongst other things, the main draw of this movie is the tension. I can’t stress that word enough. The whole movie, being shot primarily just on the boat, has a very claustrophobic feeling, and it provided much difficulty in shooting the film. The characters in this movie come from completely different lifestyles which leads to a lot of arguing and debating about how things should be done on the boat. The entire situation still feels very realistic though, as if this were really happening and we were just spectators to the conflict. It also helps that this is just a beautifully shot film with the black and white cinematography working wonderfully with the river and the sky. The jazz soundtrack also provides appropriate and sometimes humorous background music to the different scenes. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of music, but that’s probably why it’s so interesting.

Finally, there are a lot of things the movie is trying to say without actually being on a side. Both of the male characters all have positive and negative sides to them, with the negatives showing themselves more and more as the movie goes on. It was a clever way to show the economic situation in Poland at the time when the upper and lower classes were at odds with each other, as they normally are in any society at any time. It also gives a unique perspective into male sexuality and desires, making these supposedly strong men into fawning children competing over the attention of a pretty lady. This movie is a great example of style, story, and substance while still remaining minimalistic.

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Knife in the Water is a very interesting, albeit very slow film by Roman Polanski. There’s nothing particularly exciting that happens in the film, but that’s almost the point. Events play out as events would play out, and nothing more. While the style can surely be appreciated, it’s also easy to appreciate the simple yet smart story as long with all of the texture that goes along with that. Many critics say that this is one of Roman Polanski’s best movies. I’m not sure I would say that, but it sure is a damn good one.