Tag: isabelle fuhrman

Down a Dark Hall

Down a Dark Hall (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Rodrigo Cortés’ “Down a Dark Hall,” based on the novel by Lois Duncan, is stranded between looking like a dark fantasy with a story that of a supernatural horror, creating a strange but only superficially interesting hybrid, an experiment gone wrong, probably never to be replicated again. On this basis, perhaps it is worth seeing, but those who yearn substance in storytelling, not simply a handful of unusual choices that work only occasionally, are certain to be disappointed in this mildly entertaining offering.

The story unfolds in a massive and isolated boarding school led by the mysterious Madame Duret (Uma Thurman, chewing scenery with a thick European accent). She has personally chosen Kit (AnnaSophia Robb) and four other girls (Isabelle Fuhrman, Victoria Moroles, Taylor Russell, Rosie Day) with a penchant for getting into serious trouble, from behavioral problems to downright criminal acts like arson, to attend the institution and be trained to reroute their paths toward a more fruitful future. It has been said those who have attended the school have gone on to lead financially successful lives. Or so it seems. It is apparent that the authorities in the establishment have ulterior motives; the poorly lit hallways, bizarre whispers, and ghostly beings appearing in the corner of one’s room being surefire signs that something is terribly wrong.

While the picture offers curious techniques—like placing the camera from the perspective of a group of apparitions as they watch the girls perform late-night perusals of old files—choices like these fail to elevate a deadly dull, clichéd dialogue. Although Robb is expressive and certainly capable of delivering a spectrum of emotions, words that come out of her mouth are not convincing. No, the performer is not at fault. Imagine anybody else in her place and realize that the problem persists. The weakness is the script itself—the words are forced, robotic, like a lousy first draft rather than a polished product. Its lack of an ear for dialogue drags down the material considerably because exchanges between characters matter in this story. Without them, it is merely a parade of creepy occurrences done better in other films.

Furthermore, we are asked to care about the troubled girls and yet not one of them is developed. Some of them are not even given more than ten lines. Even the protagonist at times is reduced to having nightmares or experiencing hallucinations in order to simplify her state of mind. The others, on the other hand, are shown merely as tools, seemingly possessed by overwhelming inspiration to create mere days after their arrival. Each person excels in a subject—such as art, mathematics, literature—but we rarely see them interact with one another in meaningful ways. What makes one girl connect with literature more than music, for example? Also, by failing to detail at least some aspects of their lives—like what they had done specifically to deserve being sent to Blackwood Boarding School or what they miss back home—when a few of them face gruesome deaths eventually, we feel close to nothing. It feels like a waste of space having them on screen.

Its special and visual effects are hit-or-miss. When they are subtle, like a figure disappearing suddenly at a hint of a candlelight, the images are most effective. It feels like the girls are truly trapped in a haunted school, no help for miles away. But when the effects are ostentatious—like a cloud of black birds smashing through windows or fire engulfing curtains and marble walls alike—it all looks so fake, so unconvincing that I caught myself wishing that the movie were over just so I would stop feeling embarrassed for it.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) was declared by fashionably ostentatious Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) as one of District 12’s two contestants to participate in a televised tournament to the death, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), Primrose’s older sister, bravely stepped forward and volunteered to be in her place. The next name randomly chosen from a fishbowl was Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) with whom Katniss shared a complicated history. The brutal tournament, officially coined as The Hunger Games, served as a yearly reminder of the repercussions of the twelve Districts’ failed uprising against the Capitol. Based on Suzanne Collins’ novel, although one could argue that the most jaw-dropping scenes in the film consisted of teenagers (Alexander Ludwig, Amandla Stenberg, Dayo Okeniyi, Leven Rambin, Jack Quaid, Isabelle Fuhrman) taking various weapons and using them to murder for their own survival, I was most fascinated with the rituals that the Tributes had to go through before they entered the domed battlefield. During the silences between dialogues, a great sadness percolated in my gut because it was similar to watching prisoners taking calculated steps before capital punishment was imposed upon them. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that a metropolis called The Capitol was the heart of the post-apocalyptic North America. The most obvious sign that supports this hypothesis was the amount and quality of food Katniss and Peeta were offered just because they were now considered special. Having grown up in District 12, the poorest among the Districts and most of its residents being coalminers, the actors did a wonderful job in masking their characters’ disgust of the system. If I were in their shoes, I’m not so sure if I would be able to eat. I’d be too aware that each chew was a countdown to my very public demise. The chosen ones also had to lobby for support via a parade, a graded demonstration of their skills, and a televised interview. If the audiences liked a contestant, they could send food, medicine, and other supplies when their favorite was in danger. Although Peeta had no trouble appealing to the masses, Katniss found it difficult to be ecstatic in being a part of something that she didn’t believe in. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a clothing designer and the winner of the fiftieth Hunger Games, respectively, provided much needed moral support. They were veterans to the game and Katniss was smart enough to listen to and follow what they had to say. As Tributes dwindled in number, the picture touched upon Peeta and Katniss’ potential romantic feelings toward each other yet it didn’t feel hackneyed. Considering their circumstances and what they had to endure to remain alive, it was logical that they yearned for something that reminded them of home. We were then forced to ask ourselves whether what they felt for each other was simply a matter of an illusory convenience or, in a fact, a truth in which they were just too young or too inexperienced to acknowledge. Fast-paced yet insightful, violent but never exploitative, “The Hunger Games,” directed by Gary Ross, kept my stomach grumbling for another serving of delectable bloody treats. Although we rooted for Katniss to survive every time she or a friend was attacked, almost immediately after a life was taken, a sadness washed over the reptilian part of our brains and we were reminded that they were all disposable pawns.


Orphan (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I was pleasantly surprised how effective this psychological thriller was. With a running time of two hours, it was able to build up the tension it needed to truly scare the audience when the evil child began to unravel what she was capable of. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Orphan” was about a mother who is still mourning for the loss of her baby (Vera Farmiga), a father who wants to help the family move on from a tragic loss (Peter Sarsgaard), and their decision to adopt a precocious girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) to join their family. Little did they know that Esther has a plethora of secrets of her own and it would take a great deal of effort and energy (and a whole lot of convincing) to unravel just one of them. It is really difficult for me to say any more about this film without giving away the final twist. But let me just say that this movie did not cheat (i.e. result into supernatural explanation or fancy camera work) to achieve that twist so I was impressed. This picture definitely reminded me of “The Good Son” and “The Omen,” just because a child was a villain in both. However, I think this film was on a different level of excitement because, unlike “The Good Son,” the villain’s methods are much more graphic yet insidious, and unlike “The Omen,” it is actually grounded in realism and that made the picture more haunting. I also liked the fact that the other two kids in the family (Jimmy Bennett and Aryana Engineer) had important roles that drove the movie forward. If I were to nitpick, the only thing I thought the movie could have worked on was the history regarding Esther. By the end of the film, I felt like there were a lot more that the audiences did not find out about her and what made her the way she is. Other than Farmiga as the mother who no one believes in and labels as paranoid (which brought “Rosemary’s Baby” to mind), Fuhrman is a stand out. I want to see her in more movies and her range of acting because she made me believe that a child was capable of doing all those horrible things. Even though “child-killer” movies have been done before, I enjoyed this flick because I could not help but imagine that if I was in the mother’s situation, I would do absolutely anything to keep that evil child away from me and my family.