★ / ★★★★
The ineffectiveness of “Mara” brings to mind remakes of Japanese horror films that plagued the 2000s. There is nothing special about it, just a series of soporific incidents that lead up to an investigation followed by a would-be twist ending that leaves the viewer bewildered that the writers actually thought they could get with such mediocrity. Not even the look of the supernatural entity is inspired: long black hair, face rarely shown, body movements reduced to random ticks and convulsions. When it appears, the supposedly creepy score screams readily and directly at the viewers’ eardrums. Because it offers nothing new, the film, ironically, is a sleeping pill.
I wondered why the writer and director, Jonathan Frank and Clive Tonge, respectively, felt the need to tell this story. The opening seconds inform the audience that forty percent of the population experience sleep paralysis. It goes beyond culture; some accounts are so intense that there have been numerous reports of demon visitations. Despite a mildly intriguing premise, the filmmakers fail to get the audience to care. For most of the film’s running time, people end up dead and yet there is no suspense or intrigue. There is not even one character worth rooting for.
Olga Kurylenko plays Kate, a rookie forensic psychologist who is called upon to examine a woman whose husband passed away in his sleep. The wife is the prime suspect. We all know how this goes: a tyro investigator is thrown off the deep end, she begins to experience what she doubted, and by the end she ends up sounding and acting like a crazy person. Kurylenko does she can with the role but she is not given anything particularly interesting to do or say. Without a strong protagonist, or at least one with interesting thoughts or motivations, the mystery to be solved ends up feeling light and forgettable. There is no excitement injected in the dramatic parabola that must be followed. If you cannot forge a path, at least traverse it with zest.
So-called scares are as generic as they come. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In this case: a person sleeps, she walks up paralyzed, she feels pressure around her body like something is climbing on top of her but without making physical contact (at first), and she sees an entity from across the room. Throughout the course of the picture, this figure gets closer. And the whole charade is supposed to be scary. I guess if you’ve never seen a supernatural horror film it can be. Or if you have an extremely low tolerance for such nonsense. A rule of horror: It isn’t about the scare but how it is executed.
“Mara” offers a minefield of genre clichés. If you were to take a shot after encountering every cliché that is without a hint of freshness or an iota of intelligence behind it, you’d end up dead from alcohol poisoning. This is what results when a material lacks genuine inspiration.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★
It is a testament to the documentary’s power that although I have no emotional attachment to Fred Rogers, the host and creator of the beloved “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” or his television show, I was fascinated and grew to care for both the man and the series. Director Morgan Neville understands that it is not enough to talk about the subject’s influence or to simply show clips of him behind the scenes or in front of the camera. No, it is imperative to show Mr. Roger’s raw power. It is most appropriate that it happens early in the film: Mr. Rogers looks to the camera—almost through it, really—and addresses the inner child in all of us. I don’t remember the words he used but I remember the way he looked at me, at us. There is an honesty in those eyes, a warmth, a willingness to listen and impart wisdom.
The film is well-paced as it weaves in and out of Rogers’ childhood, his relationship with religion and God, the various stages of his career, and some of the controversies brought up by people who are unable to define or label him. These are punctuated by interviews with Rogers’ family, friends, and former colleagues. But most intriguing are clips of the man relating to another human being: the way he looks at them, touches them, how he carries himself around them. If the film were merely composed of clips involving Rogers simply connecting with others, it would be a fascinating work regardless. The power of the work, you see, is not in words but in thoughts, feelings, and possibilities.
Rogers’ motivation to create a television series for children is compelling. I admired how the picture highlights the trends of programs aimed at kids from the mid- to late-‘60s and onwards. While cartoons, comedies, and variety shows tend to speed up, Rogers decided to use time in his program as a tool to slow down; to breathe; to ponder, consider, and learn. Instead of showing people’s faces getting smacked by pies, he shows how a turtle crawls across a mat. Instead of showing violent cartoons, he employs sock puppets to express deep thoughts and philosophical musings, not at all unlike ideas and questions that children ask about themselves, of people around them, of current events that are unfolding.
Underneath the relaxed nature of the documentary, there is a sense of urgency that juts out from time to time. It implies that since the show’s bow in 2001, there has been a void when it comes to such programming for kids. And it makes for a compelling case. I grew up with Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network shows and movies—not one of them offers a high level of insight or courage when it comes to tackling questions or subjects that really matter. I was amazed that “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” dared to discuss topics such as racism, divorce, death, and even how it feels like to have crippling self-doubt. It made me want to look into the show—entire episodes, not just clips—and see how they are handled. I caught myself thinking that surely there must be an archive of all the episodes because the show is willing to construct a bridge between parent and child so that they are more able to discuss difficult or controversial subjects.
This captivating documentary is about a creative, hardworking, and passionate man who looked at a television and recognized that it could be used as an empathy machine. Look at the way children are so enthralled when Rogers is in the room even without the puppetry. He never looks down on them, he is not afraid to employ multisyllabic words, he goes by the assumption that the children are smart and engaged. His body language is welcoming and upbeat. Children can read nonverbal signals exceedingly well. It is easy to see why Mr. Rogers became a household name for many Americans.
Mr. Jones (2013)
★ / ★★★★
To support her boyfriend’s career, Penny (Sarah Jones) agrees to to live in a cabin in the woods so Scott (Jon Foster) can film a nature documentary. While shooting on top of sizable boulders, Scott’s backpack is stolen by a hooded figure. Eventually, the two find the thief’s home. No one appears to be around so they go inside. They end up in the basement which is full of scarecrows, bizarre artifacts, and paraphernalia.
Penny knows exactly whose home they had broken into. She believes that they are in the domicile of Mr. Jones (Mark Steger), a person thought to be responsible for sending totems to random people all over the world. His work is so revered, but no one has actually met him. Scott’s project takes a little detour.
Written and directed by Karl Mueller, “Mr. Jones” inflicts an almost unbearable experience to those willing enough—or foolish enough—to sit through it. For a horror picture, it lacks the requisite scares and storyline that should inspire the viewers to ask questions or watch in careful anticipation. By the end, especially when it toys with the idea of dreams and reality, it is reduced to an incomprehensible mess: Although there are images on the screen, we watch a whole lot of nothing. To worsen the situation, it dares to confuse us.
The performers do an adequate job playing their roles but they are not given the chance to really make something of their talents. The screenplay lacks originality and inspiration and so we visit familiar set-ups like a person having to go to a place of obvious danger or arguing over what to do next. Combine such tired scenes with the camera shaking about plus headache-inducing rapid cuts and shrill or sudden noises, we realize that every ingredient from the How to Make a Bad Horror Movie recipe has been put in the pot.
It is a surprise to me that this is the writer-director’s first movie because it lacks passion. Usually, a filmmaker’s debut has so much energy—like he or she has something to prove. This one, however, comes across listless. I would rather watch a picture that is all over the place in terms of style, tone, or script but has a few good ideas on its sleeve than one that is barely alive, recycled from already recycled junk.
The one quality in bad horror movies that I find unforgivable is never giving the audience a chance to see, absorb, and appreciate the supposedly scary thing that the characters are reacting to. The camera moves so quickly that all we see is darkness and shards of glass flying when windows break. There is a difference between keeping a figure hidden for the time being and having nothing at all there. The picture stays with the latter throughout so the viewer feels robbed not only of the experience but also of his time.
As a habit of saying at least one good thing when it comes to bad movies, I will say this: I liked how the title of the movie neither appears in the opening nor the closing credits. That’s about it. I’m out of compliments.
★★★ / ★★★★
Director Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” is correct to be frightening, disgusting, eye-opening, and entertaining all at once because the subjects it broaches and explores, all falling under the umbrella of racism in modern America and our relationship with it, are meant to give us indigestion—so to speak—a strong visceral reaction of having experienced something we are not supposed to because it might be considered not kosher, or that it is offensive, or too extreme. But that’s exactly what I loved about the film, both in its vision and final product, because it strives to paint a complicated portrait of where America is right now through the scope of a real-life investigation that took place in 1970s. You will not walk away from this film without an opinion.
It has been a while since I felt the veteran director being so free with his craft, from the utilization of archival footages, dramatic but out of place music, shots clearly inspired by blaxploitation pictures, to fusing two genres with seeming ease. And yet the material commands cohesion. It does not rely solely on the comedy which involves Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrating the terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan’s local chapter in Colorado Springs. Instead, for instance, it also touches upon the dichotomy of Stallworth being a cop whose goal is to make real changes in a police station that tolerates racists—one of the cops is so proud of killing an innocent black teenager, he actually brags about it like it is some sort of achievement.
I enjoyed that the material exposes the main character’s blind spots and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that these blind spots need not be changed throughout the film’s duration. It is enough for the screenplay to acknowledge them and then trusting the audience to look inside ourselves and consider our own foibles. For example, at some point, I could not help but think about being an immigrant teenager who yearned to belong in America—white America, to be exact—so much so that for years I felt ashamed of my culture, the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, my accent, down the food I took to the school’s lunch table for everybody to see, smell, and ask questions about. To me, the material is so potent that it actually brought me back to when I felt insecure about my cultural identity.
And therein lies its greatest strength: Although it is a film told from a black perspective—in terms of original material, screenplay, and direction—it remains relevant to everyone who has felt like a minority. The institutional racism in America is so pervasive, it is almost inescapable; if it doesn’t erase us, we strive to erase ourselves in order to blend into the white.
Certainly the picture can be criticized over pacing issues, but its energy is taken on such a high gear that awkward pacing that leads to undercooked relationships, like Stallworth’s blossoming romantic connection to Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), Colorado College’s Black Student Union president, remains interesting nonetheless. Washington and Dumas share such smooth chemistry, I wished there were a movie of their characters simply talking about random things, like black music or black films, and perhaps even discussing serious issues like white fears in an increasingly multicultural, multicolored America.
I admired its use of language. It employs nearly every derogatory word and phrase not because it can but because we are meant to react to them. And, if, somehow, you find yourself inured to these defamatory and really vile language, it is a clue to get an education, an appreciation of the history of these words and why they are not okay to use. No, it is not just because people are being “snowflakes” or “the freedom of speech is being threatened.” The internet is at your fingertips.
★ / ★★★★
I suppose a congratulations is in order for co-writer-directors David and Nathan Zellner because they have created one of the most torturously unfunny comedies I have come across in a long time. It offers such a miserable experience that I noticed my body, spirit, and comportment wilting in unison about a third of the way through. I have no idea what possessed these filmmakers to go in the direction that they did; it goes to show that just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should.
“Damsel” is a mishmash of comedies: a spoof of grand Western pictures that Hollywood used to make, a satire of the often romanticized American frontier, and a slapstick comedy that pokes fun of the roughness and lawlessness of the era. But none of them works, together or apart, because the screenplay has a certain attitude about it, a knowingness that fails to ground the material in such a way that viewers recognize the heart of the story despite hurricane happening all around. What results is an episodic boredom, a dirge so excruciatingly painful to sit through that one could feel IQ points dropping by the minute. It inspires the viewer not to look closer at the screen but to walk away.
The plot is seemingly straightforward. The passionate Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) hires a preacher (David Zellner) to officiate a wedding ceremony, the latter unaware that the former’s love interest, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), must first be rescued from hooligans. Nothing is at seems initially, but the sudden left turns are not at all surprising. These so-called surprises have little impact, if any, because, without them, the audience would simply have to endure uninteresting characters engage in increasingly tedious conversations. Notice that although many words are used, they are not meaningful because the self-awareness in the script undermines what characters are expressing, especially moments that are supposed to come across even mildly heartfelt.
Pattinson has been great in other projects, particularly in the dystopian drama “The Rover.” Here, however, nearly every body language and distinct style of speaking comes across as a performance. Like the screenplay, the self-awareness is translated as fake at best and off-putting at worst. He has failed to create a character: what we see is merely a series of behavior that is supposed to be entertaining. And he has failed to create a convincing character because the screenplay is devoid of creativity or imagination. Wasikowska does not fare any better; it is like watching a mannequin take up space for fifty minutes.
Some viewers may label this film as “weird” because it is a comedy but the end result is not funny. I, on the other hand, refuse to use this wonderful word to describe this most appalling work. The more appropriate word is “lazy.” The reason is because the Zellner bothers thought they could get away with creating a hodgepodge of sub-genres and the end product would be given a pass because it could be considered unique, something that had never been done before.
But I ask: What’s the point of striving to create original material when the work is without sincerity, without soul? Comedies, you see, often have a point—even the darkest, bleakest comedies attempt to make a statement about, for example, the current state of our society or where it might be heading. Some comedies are more specific or more pointed in assaulting the viewers’ ethics or morality. And some simply try to entertain by casting a wide net—there’s nothing wrong with that.
Being different is not enough; I am not interested in handing out participation trophies.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Leave it to director Steve McQueen to helm a heist film more interested in the people about to pull a job than the actual robbery itself. What results is an elegant, intelligent, character-driven work that commands the precision of high-end thrillers in which the viewer is dared not to blink in order to avoid missing a beat. Notice that the burglary unfolds for a mere five minutes and yet the overall experience is most satisfying. The reason is because seeing the theft is merely cherry on top. We already know that it must be done and how it will be done. And once it is done—I’d even go as far to say that even before it is done—we are more curious about how the characters will choose to move on with their lives.
The picture is filled to the brim with terrific character actors. The leader of the widows compelled to thievery is played by Viola Davis, doing so much and saying more than enough within the span of a few seconds in which the camera is fixated on her face. She need not say a word. Sometimes all she has to do is scream. Her silence, the anger in those eyes, the confusion, the frustration—and the depression—of being left with nothing can be felt with overwhelming clarity. And yet—her co-stars: Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo—shine on their own exactly because the screenplay by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen ensures that their characters have something important to do or say about grief and/or survival. It truly is an ensemble cast; everyone supports one another. Take away one performance and the final project is not as strong.
I admired how the director navigates through the chess pieces. There is a subplot about mayoral candidates (Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry) attempting to make deals and to pull off overt subterfuge. These players, too, are interesting. Although a heist film, I enjoyed that the material is able to broach the subjects of race, legacy, what power means—how to obtain it and how one plans to wield it. Intriguingly, the material is unconcerned about choosing sides. Both men are questionable and choosing the lesser of two evils is a herculean task. Even though these candidates are given less screen time than the widows, which is appropriate, they are memorable based on the actions they take on. Even a henchman (Daniel Kaluuya) can be fearsome.
The film also attempts to deliver great entertainment. Action scenes are well-executed and edited. They look and feel realistic; perhaps most importantly, we always get the impression as though something critical is at stake. The script touches upon professionalism and keeping emotions in check when performing a job. There is a cold detachment to the violence. It is all so matter-of-fact. And because it is this way, we get a sense that anything can happen, that maybe not all of the women are required to survive. We already know it will not have a happy ending. Their loved ones are dead. The best we can hope for is a bittersweet ending, but it feels out of reach.
“Widows” is based on Lynda La Plante’s crime series. It is amazing that the filmmakers manage to create a complicated yet believable world in a span of just above two hours, while at the same time making us wonder what might happen next for those who got what they wanted (or the opposite of what they had hoped for). Those looking for heist films that shatter conventions, look no further.
★★ / ★★★★
Celeste (Amanda Plummer) made the decision that she no longer wants to live. The problem is, now that she is dead, the household is left to Evan (Evan Sneider), her son who happens to have Down syndrome. Evan does not have very many friends, mostly people who feel as though they have to be nice to him due to his genetic disorder, despite the fact that he is a friendly guy. He has a crush on Candy (Shannon Woodward), a young mother who is having trouble paying the rent and under the watchful eye of her jealous ex-boyfriend (Jackson Rathbone).
“Girlfriend,” written and directed by Justin Lerner, is a brave dramatic picture but it does not provide the necessary layers to pull off a consistently engaging story of a person who is left behind and clinging onto a fantasy that he has a girlfriend. I liked that Sneider, who has Down syndrome in real life, is front and center and there is no compromise. However, there are a few of strands, potentially ripe for exploration, that are introduced but never given proper attention. Questions linger in our minds which distract as the material moves forward.
Not once did I believe that Evan is able to live independently. After his mother’s passing, there are about half a dozen images designed to make us think that he will not be able to make it on his own for long. We are concerned for his well-being. However, when the relationship between Candy and Evan kicks into full gear, the survival subplot is thrown out the window. There is no transition. Did Evan learn to take care of himself and the responsibilities around the house after a day? A week?
In addition, since not one character bothers to bring up the idea that maybe Evan is not fit to live by himself, I had a difficult time buying into the reality of the story completely. Did no one really care about him or are the people around town simply not knowledgable about those with Down syndrome? Either way, I felt as though the screenplay cheats by avoiding the obvious.
Evan’s crush on Candy is presented with enough honesty. When it gets things right, it is enlightening but when it gets things wrong, it is borderline creepy or offensive. I consider it a good thing that I never made up my mind on how to feel about Candy. A case can be argued that she is simply using Evan because he is able to provide her money that she desperately needs.
Without that money, it is doubtful that she would choose to interact with him for long. Most of us will get the impression she is that kind of girl. On other hand, she is interesting because she is someone who is quickly running out of options. If we were in her shoes, would we have done the same: take advantage of someone’s innocence and kindness not out of malice but out of desperation? There are no easy answers.
The film captures the look of the small town, the people in it, the clothes they wear, and their lifestyles, but I was not emotionally invested in the unfolding of what should be a moving story because the reality we are provided is not a complete picture. If anything, “Girlfriend” supports that intimate, small-scale dramas can be very tricky to pull off. You can probably get away with disregarding one big detail, but overlooking several costs the material the necessary believability.
Eighth Grade (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” is a searing look at how it feels like to be a middle schooler who yearns for social approval and ultimately acceptance. It is able to be funny, empathetic, honest, and critical often in the same moment without having the need to introduce a typical story arc where everyone, including the audience, feels elated by the end. Life simply goes on because it must; it does not stop or make concessions for anybody just because he or she feels like an outcast. I admired its willingness to simply show rather than console.
Elsie Fisher plays Kayla Day, a lonely eighth grader who makes YouTube videos even though no one watches them. (One of her videos has one view, however.) She specializes in giving advice, like learning to be more confident or how to take more risks, even though she herself is socially awkward. Fisher portrays Kayla with such authenticity that I wondered if it was her first role—not because she is green but because nearly every moment of her portrayal is raw and convincing. I am convinced she has a bright future because she can play natural with seeming ease; far too many younger entertainers lean on quirks or behavior to paint a character. Or worse—they have to look beautiful to be in character. Fisher does not. She simply is and that is invaluable.
I enjoyed the film for its heartfelt moments. Standouts involve Kayla’s interactions with her father, Mark (Josh Hamilton), who wishes to know her daughter more even though sometimes it is like talking to a wall. (She is allowed to have her cellphone with the headphones on at the dinner table.) It is ingenious how Burnham’s screenplay and the camera manage to put us into the teenager’s headspace so effectively that we forget—and she forgets, too—how lucky she is to have a parent who wishes to be more involved.
But therein lies the material’s greatness: when you are in middle school, you feel everything is dramatic and every change could make or break your social life. It is all about you; you are laser-focused in trying to control everything even though none of it is really under your control in the first place. Or, at least that was how I felt when I was in Kayla’s shoes a decade and a half ago. Sure, there is social media now, but when it comes to that need—I suspect nothing has really changed. The longing to be liked is permanent in most people.
Even the portrayal of other middle schoolers in the story is never as cruel as they show in mainstream movies where popular kids go out of their way to bully. Sometimes one’s peers are popular for no reason. That’s just the way things are and I enjoyed that the writing is insightful enough to show that on screen. Lesser pictures so often feel the need to provide a reason why bullies bully or why popular kids are popular. Here, things just are. When things change, they simply must. No explanation is needed.
Although the target audience is people who have already gone through middle school, I think sixth to eighth graders are likely to find it entertaining, too. The reason is because the protagonist is so humanized, everyone is bound to recognize something in themselves in Kayla. We are right there with her when she feels ugly but looks in the mirror anyway, when she feels extremely lonely while liking her classmates’ Instagram pictures, when she feels so frustrated and helpless that nothing is going her way, all she can do is scream on the inside. At the same time, we are there, too, when someone else likes her for who she is without makeup or Snapchat filters. We may not find ourselves in the same situations as Kayla, but the feelings captured on film are timeless and universal.
★★ / ★★★★
Although psychological horror picture “Delirium” is not entirely intolerable, one gets the impression that it could have been a more potent work had a director with a critical eye for what makes images especially scary or disturbing been at the helm. Director Dennis Iliadis leads the film with emphasis on thrills but he forgets to invest on a convincing, emotional, or perhaps even a humanistic rising action. The execution is pedestrian, clearly made for viewers who must receive a punchline—even if it is weak—every five minutes or so.
In a way, a more classical approach of horror filmmaking—patient, precise, rooted in implications rather than ostentatious displays—is more appropriate given that the story revolves around a former mental patient of twenty years who is required to serve a month of house arrest prior to freedom. But the house is no ordinary house—it is a mansion whose owner had recently committed suicide. Not even a week into his house arrest, Tom (Topher Grace) becomes thoroughly convinced that the house his father left him is haunted.
The mansion’s interior is beautiful, spacious, and each room is well-decorated. Some of them offer a specific theme so moving from scene to scene piques our curiosity. However, once the initial tour is over, the screenplay by Adam Alleca gets mired in presenting one potential delusion after another. The approach is to bombard to audience with visions but these are never scary because the emphasis is on getting big reactions rather than small but lasting ones. If we were to be convinced, too, that the house is haunted, we must feel a sense of foreboding in every room. We must feel there is a history there. Every hallway must emit a sense of danger, uncertainty. It is most unfortunate because the setting is terrific. Like the best haunted house pictures, a strong and specific vision is required to transform a place into a personality.
Questionable characters that Tom interacts with during his house arrest are not written in a smart or memorable way. A potential romantic interest (Genesis Rodriguez) is given a backstory more appropriate for television, the case officer (Patricia Clarkson) tends to make decisions so extreme that we do not believe someone like her exists in real life, and the brother’s (Callan Mulvey) motivation is so conventional that it feels like he is from a completely different picture. Couple these poorly written characters with the question of whether certain interactions are simply a part of Tom’s delusions—these are elements that plague terrible horror films: because just about anything can happen, anything can be real or not real, investing in the material proves difficult. Somewhere in the back of our minds, we cannot help but wonder if we are being duped.
The saving grace, pardon the pun, is Grace who appears to give it his all in order to create a character we should care about. An underrated performer, Grace excels when the camera simply rests on his face and his eyes are left to tell a story. But notice a pattern: As Tom explores creepy closets with one-way mirrors and comes across hidden rooms, the film is quick to introduce deafening noises rather than taking it slow, presenting us, teasing us with Tom’s range of bewilderment. Clearly, creating a high level of suspense is not the film’s strength. At times I felt it is rather uninterested in suspense, strange and off-putting for a horror film.
★★ / ★★★★
Boy (James Rolleston) and his little brother, Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), live with their grandmother and cousins. Their father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), is in jail and their mother passed away after giving birth to Rocky, the latter convinced of having superpowers so strong that he ended up killing her. While their grandma is out of town, Alamein comes for a surprise visit. Boy is over the moon, but Rocky is reluctant. To him, the man before him is a complete stranger and so ordinary compared to how he imagined his father.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi, “Boy” is largely seen through a lens of innocence, its darker themes just barely sprouting above its desert hopeless landfill. Upon closer inspection, the ratio of children to adults in front of the camera is about one to ten. Though the characters live a simple life in a rural area of New Zealand, there is enough evidence to suggest that the story is also about what neglected children do on top of the brothers having a chance to forge a connection with family member who is not emotionally mature.
I enjoyed the natural look of the picture. Simple shots of children playing tag around a ramshackle house, kids walking around barefoot, and someone embracing a goat on the verge of death go a long way. It feels as if the person who helmed the film has a personal relationship with the earth. There is a nice balance of humility and majesty in the images without necessarily drawing attention to themselves.
The dynamics among the father and sons hold certain truths especially in the way Rocky looks at his father when they lay eyes on each other for the first time. It reminded me of the past. My father went to America a few weeks after my brother was born. When he returned for vacation several years later, my brother thought our father was just a friend who stayed with mother in the next room. Eketone-Whitu does a good job avoiding hyperbolic sentiments. Instead, he plays Rocky as almost confused, not fully connected to what is really happening or what it means to have a parent figure—who is not grandma—in their lives.
Scenes designed to communicate that Alamein is not ready to raise his two boys become repetitive eventually. Since the drugs, alcohol, and even being a part of a gang are expected, the screenplay spends time on them for so long that the material ends up on autopilot. Alamein’s two friends are supposed to be doofuses, but they are neither particularly funny nor are they given anything remotely interesting to say.
The film digresses from the brothers’ perspective too often and so its power is only effective in fits and starts. However, “Boy,” I think, makes an excellent companion to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “The Return“ because both tell a story of two brothers dealing with the reality of their absent father suddenly returning in their lives. The two embrace completely opposite tones. The latter is much more at ease with its darkness, its world mostly drenched in shades of gloomy gray, while the former is more jovial on the outside because the land’s colors and residents’ lifestyles are allowed to pop out.
He’s Out There (2018)
★ / ★★★★
This cheap and disgusting movie does not deserve to be seen by anybody. I am appalled that it received the green light to be made. Not only is it a badly conceived and executed slasher flick, the content is bottom-of-the-barrel, brainless death march in which the end goal is to show as many people suffering as possible. I suppose if you’re into children-in-danger movies where little ones are threatened to get run over by a car, to get their eyeballs cut out of the sockets, to get their limbs chopped off by an ax, congratulations, this is for you. Consider reevaluating your taste in movies. Maybe even consider booking an appointment with a counselor.
As for the screenwriter, Mike Scannell, and director, Quinn Lasher, I would like to ask what in the world they were thinking by turning such a shameful idea into reality. Violence in horror films is not new. There have been hundreds of them since the late ‘70s. But there is a limit, lines not to be crossed. I cannot recall a film in which a masked killer is left to terrorize children for an extended amount of time once the parents have been mutilated and disposed of. We watch these kids thrashing and shrieking in the masked killer’s arms. He knocks them unconscious. He puts sharp weapons over their faces afterwards. It is supposed to pass as entertainment, but I just felt rotten having to sit through it. I wanted to yell at the filmmakers involved.
Its depravity aside, I would like to take a moment to comment on the stupidity of the material. It begins like any other generic horror picture: a family (Yvonne Strahovski, Justin Bruening, Anna Pniowsky, Abigail Pniowsky) goes on their annual trip to the lake house. At first, a masked psychopath (Ryan McDonald) observes from afar. Come sundown, he begins to terrorize his victims. Clichés pile up like clockwork: the landline stops working, cell phones go missing from the place they were last placed, children go investigating in the woods while mommy isn’t looking.
Even the children are not written smart. They seem to read a lot of books with life lessons in them. I guess they skipped those that warn of not eating food prepared by strangers. Their lack of common sense is astounding, but they are especially annoying: screaming during the most inappropriate times, especially when they are supposed to be hiding and quiet, and rebellious when their mother urges them to be brave so they can make an escape. And yet—we are supposed to root for these girls… How? The answer is because they are children. Nothing else. The film uses the fact that they are kids so that we care for them on an instinctual level, nothing about their specific personal characteristics. This lack of ambition, this general lack of effort, is offensive to me.
Also insulting is the picture’s lack of creativity, a lack for an artistic eye. Look at the picture and notice how cheap it looks. Observe the opening minutes and notice how oversaturated images look. A filter of some sort is used to make it look like a cloudy day or that the movie is moodier or more atmospheric than it actually is. As for its so-called scares, there is a lack of rhythm to them. Tension rises but it is often that moments of catharsis occur off-screen. Why? I want to know what kind of horror movies inspired the filmmakers, if any. Because they have seen the wrong ones.
“He’s Out There” deserves to be forgotten because it is junk, artistically and morally. Do not make the mistake of investing even one second of your precious life in this garbage.