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17
Aug

Julieta


Julieta (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, “Julieta,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is likely to frustrate viewers because it dares to end right at the climax. However, audiences with discerning eyes and minds will recognize that this astute decision exactly fits the material’s themes involving broken relationships and longing. It shouldn’t end any other way.

Followers of Almodóvar’s work may feel a bit disappointed because gone are the usual pavonine displays of primary colors or colors that complement one another. We do encounter his signature style of employing the color red to highlight an object, a living space, or an emotion, but this technique comes across as out of place, almost as a tool to get us to pay attention when there really is not much to see or even think about. Yet, again, I admired the filmmaker’s ability to play with expectations, even daring to alienate or render his niche viewers off-balance, because a feeling of disappointment and emptiness pervades the life of the story’s central character.

Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte play Julieta, the older and younger, respectively, and they command a fascinating way of being. Although the two may not look alike physically, they do share an air of vulnerability, almost a certain proclivity for sadness—which works effectively in dramatic scenes when secrets kept buried for years finally reach the surface. In Ugarte’s scenes, told in an extended flashback, there is a feeling of neediness to her, kind of like a wounded bird you’d want to take home and care for. In Suárez’s scenes, which take place in the present, she balances obsession and depression without playing extremes. We believe that the aging woman is the young woman we’ve come to know in the past.

As expected from an Almodóvar picture, there is generous use of closeups. This is a filmmaker who loves images of women—faces of women, to be exact—even if the characters, or the performers, do not look their best. The wrinkles around one’s mouth, dark shadows under one’s eyes, the asymmetry of one’s face—these make the characters’ histories all the more convincing; the more worn they look, the more we believe that they’ve lived the lives being portrayed. Sometimes the appearance of polish in a drama might as well be a physical wall between the audience and the characters.

The driving force of the film is a question: What are the circumstances that lead to Julieta’s crippling loneliness? Some might suggest that the story is about a mother and daughter’s separation. While this is partly true, it fails to encapsulate what’s already inside the lead protagonist before she had her daughter, that sadness already growing within her that makes us not want to look away. There is a reason why the title is simply called “Julieta” and Almodóvar’s hands create a stunning portrait of a woman on the edge.

15
Aug

The Belko Experiment


Belko Experiment, The (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Despite an intriguing premise, horror-thriller “The Belko Experiment,” directed by Greg McLean, fails to take the necessary risks in order to, at the very least, match its wild plot that promises B-level gory fun. Instead, like run-of-the-mill mainstream attempts within the genre, it employs violence for violence’s sake. One gets the impression that the filmmakers believe they are being daring when the camera employs close-ups on skulls cracked open. One would be better off watching videos of real-life autopsies. At least they’re educational.

There is not enough social commentary when it comes to office politics and how cutthroat it can be. While the material spends a few minutes to introduce characters we either will root for or against, not one is particularly compelling. Perhaps most problematic is the couple in the center of the story. Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) and Leandra (Adria Arjona) get one repetitive scene after another either being cute or checking in to see if either is all right. Neither Gallagher Jr. nor Arjona has the skill to make something out of a lackluster script. Those who are experienced with the horror genre are likely to guess that at least one of these two is the final survivor. Yawn.

I got the impression that James Gunn made concessions when it comes to what the movie should really be about in order to make the picture more digestible for the masses. To me, it should be about order versus chaos and yet characters end up being categorized simply as good or bad; whether they are willing to take a life or not for the greater good, initially, and, eventually, for themselves. It does not treat the audience as people capable of processing subtlety. It entertains by means of simplifying nearly everything in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

The look of the picture is standard. There is appropriate use of lighting when scenes take place under fluorescent lights, in dim underground locations, atop the high-rise roof where open space is seen for miles but there is no escape. The visual effects are minimal, which I found to be appropriate in a movie like this, and the cinematography captures how offices of a large company might look like. Over time, however, one notices a flatness when it comes to the overall look and feeling of the images and the emotions they create. This is because the plot moves forward but the story remains stagnant. For a picture clocking in at less than ninety minutes, it feels closer to two hours.

Its biggest mistake is not answering questions the characters and viewers deserve. That is, what is the purpose of the so-called Belko experiment? It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when a mediocre picture proves how mediocre it is by pulling out before giving us an answer—any answer—for the sake of a potential sequel. It reeks of pathetic desperation.

13
Aug

Excision


Excision (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

In the hands of a filmmaker with weak vision and unfocused execution, “Excision,” written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., might have become a cheap gorefest, yet another tired effort with nothing on its mind but to deliver violence, screams, and shocking imagery. But here is a horror picture that explores the line between being teenager who just so happens to be both ravaged by hormones and a psychopath in-the-making, slowly but surely being taken over by irrationality. The ending is pitch-black perfect.

The subject is named Pauline, a high school senior with who we assume to have been bullied all her life because of her physical appearance. Her face acne-ridden, hair wild and uncombed, clothes almost dangling off her lanky frame, she is consistently ridiculed, both at school and at home. AnnaLynne McCord plays her character smart. Instead of making Pauline a one-note character by portraying the character as someone who is able to bounce back from all the insults hurled at her, those eyes communicate paragraphs. Take notice when Pauline is being chastised, mocked, punished by her peers, authority figures, her parents: she has a habit of rolling her eyes. But there is pain there; she questions why she is never good enough when her judges are extremely flawed themselves.

This picture reminded me of misfit adolescent pictures such as Todd Solondz’ “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko.” Both pictures embody a certain look and mood that fit exactly in the mold of the story being told. This is not just a story about a teenager with grand delusions. (Several peeks into Pauline’s dreams and fantasies are equally gross, beautiful, and disturbing.) This is about such delusions grabbing hold and taking over the mind. At first, we laugh at Pauline and her unlucky circumstances. But with each passing scene, especially near the halfway point, we learn to stop laughing, take her a little more seriously, and wonder what she is truly capable of.

I admired Bates Jr.’s decision to minimize scenes of violence and mutilation. By doing so, he guides us to consider what the movie is about rather than simply experiencing a genre. While it does embody numerous elements typically found in horror films, a strong argument can be made that this is not a horror flick but a psychological drama. It respects the characters but at the same time it is not afraid to skewer them for their own hypocrisies.

“Excision” will not work for everyone but it did work for me. I always look for interesting characters and this picture offers one that is worth looking into. While Pauline has a fascination with opening up people’s bodies, I wanted to crack open her skull and dig deep into the darkest corners of her psychology.

11
Aug

Night on Earth


Night on Earth (1991)
★★ / ★★★★

When I take a taxi, I make sure to communicate in some way that I am open for conversation. Cab drivers interact with all sorts of people and, in my experience, they almost always have an interesting story to tell. That is why the premise of “Night on Earth,” written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, captured my interest immediately: It is composed of five vignettes that take place at the same time in five different countries—all surrounding a taxi driver’s experience with a specific type of passenger.

It is most unfortunate, however, that its pair of aces is shown early on which results in a highly uneven package. The first and second vignettes are clearly the standouts because the energy and sense of humor are able to form a synergy. We feel that the interactions are genuine so the amusement that results from the interactions are natural. The other three—the Parisian story being the most palatable—are supposed to be funny but they are not. Forced just about every step of the way, especially that one that takes place in Rome, I sat there wondering when the unpleasant experience will be finished.

In the first vignette that takes place in Los Angeles, Winona Ryder plays a taxi driver named Corky whose dream is to become a mechanic like her elder brothers. Corky picks up Victoria (Gena Rowlands), a casting agent, from the airport after scouting for young women across the country for a role in a Hollywood movie. Over the course of the ride, it becomes clear to Victoria that the inexperienced actor with the potential to become a superstar is right under her nose. In a span of about twenty five minutes, there is never a dull moment. Ryder and Rowlands cherish every line uttered and allow the silence to settle when necessary so it really feels like we are watching a real taxi ride.

The episode with the most verve involves a taxi driver from Germany named Helmut (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and a New Yorker named YoYo (Giancarlo Esposito) who needs a ride to Brooklyn but no other taxi would stop for him. The first punchline is Helmut not being able to drive. The second is the language barrier. And yet despite the two men being so different on the surface, they find warm commonalities. For instance, they both like to laugh. When they laugh, even though what the source of the laughter is a bad joke or pun, we want to laugh with them nonetheless. There is so much joy in every frame that I did not want the vignette to end so soon.

When attention is turned to Europe, things start to get bizarre. While understandable that the writer-director hopes to deliver something different each time—mood, tone, the type of comedy—the bottom line is they need to work. They do not. While I was able to withstand the conversations between a blind woman (Béatrice Dalle) and a driver whose had a really bad day (Isaach De Bankolé), I found the Roman taxi driver (Roberto Benigni) to be intolerable. I found the whole charade of him talking in a robotic voice to be so annoying. His passenger is a priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and at one point I wondered if the customer would dare to jump out of the vehicle.

I did not know what to make of the final vignette that takes place in Helsinki. Although it is nicely acted by Matti Pellonpää, who plays the driver, the sudden turn toward straight-faced drama feels completely out of place. Eventually, I felt bad for every person in that cab. I kept looking for the irony or punchline but found none. Aside from its conceit, what other quality tethers it to the previous stories?

“Night on Earth” is an unbalanced picture with some good writing and performances. Clearly, its strength is an ear for American dialogue in an urban area. I wondered how much stronger it would have been given that it had focused instead on Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Detroit, and New Orleans. And then perhaps a five- to ten-minute intermission that takes place in a small town in the middle of America.

9
Aug

La horde


Horde, La (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Benjamin Rocher and Yannick Dahan’s “The Horde” is yet another uninspired zombie apocalypse picture in which characters constantly argue while supposedly struggling for survival, but not one of them manages to offer a compelling angle. What results is just noise—screaming matches between the participants, sudden booming of the score and soundtrack, and the screeching, rabid undead from afar. Each passing minute is as unbearably subpar as the last.

The first act shows a glimmer of promise when four Parisian cops sneak into a rundown high-rise to get revenge on drug dealers who killed one of their own (Jean-Pierre Martins and Eriq Ebouaney portraying leaders of the police and drug traffickers, respectively). However, the opposite groups are forced to put aside their differences when they learn that the dead have risen and the building is already surrounded by the undead. At first, it appears that the filmmakers have an eye for action. It gets us from Point A to Point B with escalating tension. It knows how to employ silence and then break it at the right moment.

This promise, however, dissipates the moment hungry flesh-eaters are revealed. Despite excellent makeup, realistic-looking blood, and flinch-inducing violence, it is especially difficult to become enveloped into the reality of the characters’ circumstance since the screenplay lacks intelligence. For example, there is more than one occasion in which characters observe that one way to stop a zombie completely is to shoot it in the head. And yet there are numerous instances where they get trapped and start shooting the zombies at just about every place except the head—it is no longer scary, it turns silly and laughable. When characters are stupid, audiences tend to see right through the facade and it leaves a foul taste in the mouth.

There is a lack of variation amongst the personality of the characters. All of them act tough and hard—yet not one of them is especially smart, or sensitive, or commands a special will or knack for survival. Their differences are painfully superficial. There is no protagonist worth rooting for, but the writers decide it is necessary to create a final survivor simply because it is expected from the subgenre. The problem is, anyone could have predicted the identity of the last person standing from the moment a certain detail is revealed. We simply wait for everyone else to get picked off.

“La horde” offers nothing new to the table. It suffers from too many inconsistencies. For instance, early in the picture, one zombie commands such superhuman strength that not even three people are enough to take it down. Later on, however, a horde of zombies are unable to climb to the roof of a relatively small car to acquire their next meal. Not even zombie flicks are immune from having to establish certain rules and follow through such rules so that its universe makes a whiff of sense.

7
Aug

The Age of Shadows


Age of Shadows, The (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

To bomb Japanese facilities during Japan’s occupation of Korea, a seemingly straightforward goal in which the plot revolves around but writer-director Jee-woon Kim manages to helm an impressive historical spy-thriller in “The Age of Shadows,” a must-see for those entertained by suspense, interesting characters, and stunning set pieces. Here is a film that doesn’t waste a second, a beat, or pause—it makes a point that these elements can make the difference between success and failure in the tricky underworld of espionage.

Pictures from the west tend to be defined in a pre-packaged manner in that the audience can recognize immediately between the good guys from the bad even before the opening credits. This film, however, takes the time to establish a relationship with the viewers by simply presenting characters in specific situations. It asks us to consider who we think the central protagonist should be, whether the cause in which he is a part of worth rooting for, and if their endgame was something that we’d like to see come to fruition. From the get-go, the film drenches us into its world. By the end, we feel as exhausted as its characters, not because of its two-and-a-half hour running time, but because their harrowing journey is finally completed. Their nail-biting experience, never traversing a straight line, is shared with ours.

Kang-ho Song and Yoo Gong play Korean men, Lee Jung-Chool and Kim Woo-Jin, who find themselves in a country occupied by foreigners. Lee has chosen to work with the Japanese as a police captain while Kim helps to lead the resistance against the Japanese while masquerading as an antique shop owner. Their relationship, especially during the first half, fascinates because their interactions liken that of a chess game: every move is calculated and one mistake proves to lead to dire consequences. I found it amazing that a quick nod or a suspicious look can turn the plot over its head—which is most exciting.

Those expecting standard action sequences are sure to be disappointed. While there are scenes involving shootouts, they are not choreographed in such a way that communicates violence is beautiful. On the contrary, it is shown as ugly, often occurring in quick bursts, messy, painful, at times tragic, sometimes necessary. I admired that right after these moments of catharsis, it is back to strategically moving the pieces on the board. Clearly, this is a movie for those who enjoy being completely immersed in a world. In a way, it teaches us how to think like a spy. It is a film about men defined by what they do and they happen to do what they do well enough to be thoroughly intriguing specimens.

With each passing minute the screws tighten. “The Age of Shadows” moves quickly and stealthily; its atmosphere thick with implications and suspicions; and it entertains under the assumption that the person watching is intelligent and has a knack for nuance. I found myself constantly leaning toward the screen, squinting at seemingly curious lines, attempting to capture strange behavior. I felt like I was studying something clever up close and having the best time doing so.

5
Aug

Umi ga kikoeru


Umi ga kikoeru (1993)
★★★ / ★★★★

The plot of the picture could have easily set the template for yet another typical romance between teenagers on the verge of adulthood, but “Ocean Waves,” based on the novel by Saeko Himuro, aspires to say something beyond love at first sight or romantic love. Instead, the material turns attention on events that unfold within and around the characters’ lives which then force them to undergo changes—even if, or especially when, they aren’t for ready these changes. The source of the story’s drama is so rooted in reality that this could have been made into a live-action film. But because the choice of medium is animation, it is elevated toward timelessness.

Notice that for the film’s entire duration, there is no sudden proclamation of love, no speech made in a public place, not one rose is handed out—not even cheap, bad-tasting chocolates because supposedly it’s the thought that counts. This is because the screenplay by Keiko Niwa had something else on its brain: how to make these animated characters feel as real as possible even though they are made up of lines and colors. The magic is in showing how an actual person might behave when confronted by her peers, when expectations do not meet reality, when he realizes that a male friend is more than “friend material” but a potential lifelong partner, a comrade, especially when life gets tough.

The push and pull of various challenges the characters face lead to unexpected solutions, at times lack thereof. More interesting is the latter circumstance. For instance, we get to a point in which we wonder whether a relationship can be mended. Suddenly the narration can be heard and the next scene denotes a passage of time. I admired that the film captures friendship, how fragile it really is even if for a time it feels unbreakable. The next thing you know, a year or two had passed since you’ve been on speaking terms and you’ve both grown, aware that what was can never be again.

There is something about Japanese animation that I find to be particularly brave. I know with certainty that there are certain subjects mainstream American animation will not dare mention, let alone touch. Here, characters are able to bring up that they are menstruating that day and that might explain the moodiness or that they are jealous of their best friend because he or she seems to have a better relationship with the opposite sex. These small, sometimes surprising, admissions or confessions add up and when the viewer looks back on the entire experience, these elements are loyal to the material’s overarching themes. They are not there simply for shock value or because it’s “daring.”

Also known as “I Can Hear the Sea,” “Umi ga kikoeru,” directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, features beautiful and highly expressive old-fashioned animation, and the material aims to respect young adults—its target audience—by consistently being true to what thoughtful teenagers care about when one belongs in that age group. It doesn’t manipulate the audience with plot points; the approach is gentle, honest, and understated. It inspires contemplation.

4
Aug

Man Vs.


Man Vs. (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

An occasionally intriguing creature-feature, “Man Vs.” appears to be about one thing but it turns out to be something completely different when the third act finally rolls around. Clearly, writers Adam Massey and Thomas Michael, the former also serving as director, have put enough thought into the material to be able to pull off a rather clever misdirect. But the picture is ultimately a disappointment because it fails to dig deeper upon its twist. By the end, I felt as though the real story is just beginning.

Doug (Chris Diamantopoulos) is a professional survivalist who appears on television. With two seasons already behind him and his crew (Drew Nelson, Michael Cram, Kelly Fanson), a third season on a new network means a possibility for their show to reach a wider audience. This time, Doug is dropped off in a forest somewhere in northern Canada where the nearest civilization is hundreds of miles away. By the end of his fifth day in the wilderness, he is to be picked up by the crew and they’ll head back home. That is the plan anyway. We already know something is about to go terribly wrong.

The first act, while hindered at times by slow pacing, is tolerable because we get a chance to measure the protagonist’s knowledge in terms of his occupation. While he knows he needs to be charming on camera, which his crew finds hints they find to be intolerable at times, the writing and the performer ensures that the character is not unbearable. After all, we must stay with him over the course of five days. While not much happens in terms of pushing the plot forward, we get the impression Doug actually knows what he’s doing as looks into the camera and explains how to set up shelter, make traps, and skin animals. I found it to be surprisingly educational.

It is a good decision to minimize jump scares. This way of scaring the audience is expected given that the story takes place in a remote forest and the protagonist does not interact with another human being. By allowing scenes to unfold naturally, sometimes in drawn out ways, we get the opportunity to focus on the surroundings. For instance, Doug begins to suspect eventually that someone, possibly a crazed fan, is following him. In daylight, we look a little closer at the greenery in the background. When there is a lake, our eyes dart to the land on the other side to check if anybody is watching. When it is dark and strange noises are heard, we squint a little bit to be able to make out what’s hidden in the shadows.

I wished, however, that its restraint when it comes to employing jump scares seeped into the visual effects department. CGI in horror pictures that are supposed to be grounded in reality is almost never a good idea even though the CGI is first-rate. (It isn’t in this case.) The jarring mix between real surroundings and heightened effects takes us out of the experience. The type of horror changes from one that is mixed with curiosity to one mixed with disbelief. The final five minutes is superfluous, unnecessary. I wished the writers had come up with a much more thoughtful way to finish the job.

2
Aug

Beyond the Gates


Beyond the Gates (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Jackson Stewart’s horror picture “Beyond the Gates” is not particularly well-acted nor is it ever scary, the third act is a sloppy mess, and it is clearly made under a limited budget, but it offers a good time because it is so charming in its simplicity. It is an underdog that you wish so badly to succeed. Perhaps most important: you can tell it is made with love—a quality missing from so many movies today across all genres.

Estranged brothers Gordon (Graham Hardesty) and John (Chase Williamson) are forced to pack up and close down their father’s video store seven months after Bob’s disappearance (Henry LeBlanc). While looking inside their missing father’s office, they come across a VHS tape with an accompanying board game. When the tape is played, a blonde woman with big eyes appears (Barbara Crampton), seemingly able to see through the screen and guide the players. Back at the house, the woman claims that if John, Gordon, and Margot (Brea Grant), Gordon’s girlfriend who is also visiting town, were able to successfully obtain four keys, Bob would be freed. Naturally, obtaining each key requires a sacrifice.

I enjoyed the way it takes the time to introduce the characters and show us where they are in their lives. For instance, instead of merely telling us that Gordon and John are opposites, it shows us how they are different, from the clothes they wear, how they attempt to solve problems, and the manner in which they interact with others. Although the character building during the first half is likely to displease some viewers because the pacing is slow and the expected jolts or terror are nowhere to be found, it is refreshing that the material strives for us to get to know its characters before pushing them to confront the supernatural.

The story takes place mostly inside Gordon and John’s childhood home. Too many horror movies these days, mainstream or independent, tend to use a place merely as a space where things happen. Here, the house has a personality. I appreciated how lived-in it looked. I felt as though I could go into a small town, pick a house to enter, and the inside would look like the interiors of the house we see here. In this particularly story, it is necessary that we get a complete feel of the house not simply because the mysterious keys are found in it but also since the dynamics between two brothers must undergo a change. They may be different, but what they have in common is they both grew up in this house. Thus, we must get a feeling of its history if we were to believe the character arcs.

It is forceful in delivering gore which I found amusing more than frustrating. Since the circumstances surrounding the strange board game is so interesting, we are likely to find ourselves attempting to figure out the rules (since the characters didn’t even bother to read the rules of the game before rolling the dice) instead of focusing on the level of gore, whether the violence is executed just right, the color and consistency of the blood. In hindsight, it is littered with imperfections but I didn’t mind so much while in the moment.

There is an audience for a movie like this. And I think some days I fall into that niche. But what I enjoyed most about “Beyond the Gates,” based on the screenplay by Stephen Scarlata and Jackson Stewart, is that it is not composed merely of cheap jump scares and accompanying sudden loud music. It is not afraid to be silent, to linger, to make us think of possibilities. With these in mind, I’m happy to give it a marginal recommendation.

30
Jul

A Cure for Wellness


Cure for Wellness, A (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Gore Verbinski’s “A Cure for Wellness” is yet another example of a horror picture that boasts beautifully haunting images but, upon closer inspection, is actually hollow on the inside. If presented only with select individual scenes, it would pique our interest and we’d yearn to discover its deepest mysteries. But with a running time of almost two and a half hours, it is instead padded with scenes that do not consistently push the story in the forward direction. We get a sneaky feeling that its many ideas often get in the way of properly executing a concise horror-mystery with something important to say about modern society’s relationship with pseudoscience despite well-researched, scientific information being available right on our fingertips.

Its most memorable moments involves the protagonist being in an enclosed space. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious employee of a financial firm tasked by the board of directors to acquire a superior from a sanitarium in Switzerland, being stuck in a sensory deprivation tank as eels slowly surround his vulnerable near-naked body is what nightmares are made of. And yet despite the terror happening inside of the tank, there is a dark, macabre humor unspooling right outside it. It is a classic setup involving gasps of horror turning into laughter, vice-versa. Clearly, Verbinski understands how to execute an effective action sequence that plays upon the audience’s deepest fears. If only the rest of the film functioned on this level.

Part of the problem is it feels as though it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” emphasis is placed on establishing a creepy, slithery atmosphere. Almost every person Lockhart meets in the Swiss Alps is highly suspicious. Nearly each room wishes to whisper its history. Knickknacks on desks and files inside drawers beg to be explored or read into. And yet, for some reason, it is stuck on delivering one hallucinatory moment after another. We get it: There must be something in the drinking water. But if we cannot trust our own protagonist in an increasingly untrustworthy place, what is there to hang onto?

I found the answers to the mystery to be generic, something I’ve seen too often in smaller pictures and have been told better in those movies. There is no surprise to be had here in terms of revelations; one simply has to listen closely and pay attention to whom the camera, other than Lockhart, tends to give the suspicious eye. But perhaps I’ve seen one too many mysteries, especially on the television show “Criminal Minds,” that the denouement feels rather trite, spineless, safe, television-like.

While performances are solid all around, one cannot help but feel an aching disappointment (and frustration) especially because it seems Verbinski had access to nearly every element that could help to make a highly watchable, spine-tingling horror film. It would have been interesting if Verbinski had only less than ten million dollars to tell the same story. I bet that the results would have been less beautiful visually but with a far more interesting internal details.

29
Jul

The Barber


Barber, The (2014)
★ / ★★★★

John McCormack (Chris Coy) seeks a man that he believes to be a serial killer who got away with seventeen murders twenty years ago. This man, Eugene Van Wingerdt (Scott Glenn), is now in his fifties, possibly sixties, and is working as a barber in a small town. John hopes to gain Eugene’s trust and become the man’s apprentice. In doing so, it is like confessing to the crimes he had in fact committed. However, it is no easy task considering that Eugene is a very smart, careful, deeply private person.

Based on the screenplay by Max Enscoe, “The Barber” is a mystery-thriller that never gets a chance to truly take off. Although the premise of a cop pretending to be a novice murderer is interesting, he undergoes no inner transformation as his journey requires him to visit dark places. Glenn’s decision to underplay his characters’ yearning to kill is the best thing about this underwhelming movie.

John is not written as a protagonist we cannot help but root for. The problem is that his personality is between a really good guy and an antihero. There is no substance to him; there are flashbacks of his childhood involving a drunk father who became so obsessed with his work that it ultimately consumed him, but these do not detail the inner sanctum of a law enforcement officer who had gone rogue. Coy is good at looking glum and moody but it all comes across as artificial.

More frustrating is how Audrey, John’s girlfriend who also happens to be a cop, is represented. At first she is introduced as a strong woman who is intelligent and knows how to handle herself in tricky situations. Over time, however, she turns into an object requiring to be rescued by her man. Because she makes such a strong first impression, I was excited because I considered the possibility that perhaps she really is the central protagonist all along, the secret ingredient that must be introduced into the small town in order for the serial killer to finally get his comeuppance. It would have been a fresh move, but alas, it did not turn out to be that way.

Not enough detail is put into this specific serial killer’s methods. Although the character’s obsession with neatness and cleanliness is more of the point, we never see if he has any rituals or signatures he cannot help but perform or inflict upon his prey. This makes the character a less interesting subject.

Directed by Basel Owies, “The Barber” offers neither standout cinematography nor does it employ eye-catching or creative camera angles when we are supposed to be engaged in the action. Moving at a leisurely pace from beginning to end, it is a bit of a bore because it fails to offer anything new, surprising, or exciting in terms of character and visuals when it comes to the serial killer genre.