Tag: mark o’brien

Ready or Not

Ready or Not (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

She picked up the wrong card. Nobody expected it because for years no one has drawn the “Hide and Seek” card from the mysterious box. In Le Domas family, who made their fortune in businesses involving selling sporting goods, board games, and owning sport teams, it is believed that when this particular card is drawn by someone new to the family, he or she is to be hunted like an animal and be sacrificed by sunrise. Failure to do so would cost Le Domas their lives.

Newlywed Grace (Samara Weaving), still wearing her wedding gown, has no idea that the game they are about to play is about to turn deadly. She smiles sheepishly and awkwardly to the family members she so desperately wishes to be liked by. Most of them regard her with bloodlust; a few are more upfront about it than others. Meanwhile, Grace’s husband, Alex (Mark O’Brien), remains quiet about the bear trap that his wife just stepped into.

“Ready or Not” is an entertaining thriller infused with dark comic moments. It moves briskly from one point to another, trusting that the audience would catch up to it rather than feeling the need to explain after every step just so we are comfortable in its universe. It is self-aware of the genre, especially concept-driven thrillers, and so the screenwriters, Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, actively look for opportunities to upend or skewer it. Particularly delicious are moments when characters, frustrated with the way the night is unfolding because everything appears to be going wrong, break their composed facade and go into rabid histrionics. Their suffering is our source of entertainment and yet, still, the material never comes across as mean.

Despite the murders and mayhem there is a joyous aftertaste to the film. Part of it can attributed to Weaving’s vibrant and enthralling performance as a woman who married into money. She is neither a damsel-in-distress nor a hardbodied Amazon; she sounds and feels like an ordinary person, a cool, sarcastic, good-natured chic you’d like to be friends and hang out with. Her face invites the viewer to stare at it because she is so beautiful and yet the performance commands no air of vanity—a strategy she employed, quite successfully, in “The Babysitter.” On the contrary, I relished the fact that the actor is more than willing to get down and dirty, to do whatever is necessary—silly faces and all—so that those watching can have an enjoyable time. She makes Grace easy to root for. I am interested to see Weaving in a comedy.

Part of it, too, is the direction by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. It could have been just another movie with a cool concept, a high body count, and not much else. Instead of emphasizing the violence, notice how the directors tend to underscore chases, evolving motivations, and creepy dialogue. It takes the time to regard portraits and weapons displayed on walls of the gothic mansion; how a room is lit a particular way; some of the participants’ bored expressions. Notice also it is rare when violence is shown overtly. Clearly, these filmmakers wish to invite us into this particular world, not to be repelled or disgusted by it like so many horror-thrillers do. However, it does not mean the work is low on gore.

“Ready or Not” has something to say about marriage: it is hard work, it can feel like prison at times, and it can be surprising in all the best and worst ways possible. I wished that the material had delved further into the fact that Grace, not hailing from a wealthy background and without a family, is marrying Alex, a man from a family that is not only rich, their name is a brand, a lifestyle, tradition. There are throwaway lines—especially when events get desperate—involving class and economic differences but most, if not all, are played for laughs. An extra dimension to the social commentary it broaches certainly would have elevated the material further. Still, it remains entertaining as is.

The Sessions

The Sessions (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When Mark O’Brien was six years of age, he had contracted poliomyelitis which resulted to his body being paralyzed from the neck down. As a man in his latter thirties, Mark (John Hawkes) wishes to know how it is like to be physically intimate with a woman. Unmarried and a Catholic, he consults with a priest (William H. Macy) to see if such a route is acceptable given his condition. To Mark’s surprise, Father Brendan gives him a green light. Cheryl (Helen Hunt) is hired as a sex surrogate. She informs Mark that they have a maximum of six sessions to have a chance of going all the way.

In the hands of someone who does not understand human drama, “The Sessions” might have turned out to be a cheap and dirty comedy where sex and nudity are treated as something to be feared or ashamed of, but Ben Lewin, the writer and director, proves to have the insight, focus, and vision necessary to turn Mark O’Brien’s story into something that we can all appreciate as people who yearn to connect and be understood.

It is candid in its attitude toward sexuality. The scenes set in the bedroom between Mark and Cheryl have an appropriate balance of awkwardness, at least initially, and sensitivity without being mawkish. Although we see flesh, it is not about creating an air of titillation. The focus is always on the client and the surrogate: what it means for the former to be touched in areas that have grown foreign even to himself and the wall of professionalism that the latter must maintain for the sake of protecting her personal life.

Hawkes and Hunt are most convincing in their roles. Hawkes acts from the neck up–in a lateral position, no less–and evokes, from within is character, a consistently sharp sense of humor about his disability, his friends, and the experience that he feels he must go through in order to lead a complete life. I wished there had been longer close-ups of the actor’s face. Meanwhile, Hunt is so elegant in portraying a woman who struggles to keep up her defenses. I felt her character’s need to want to open up to her client, probably more than usual, but at the same time keeping her private life at a distance without losing grip of it.

One of the most interesting questions it answers is the difference between a sex surrogate and a prostitute. Admittedly, I did not have an answer prior to diving in. I thought that perhaps it is a simple quibble over semantics. However, as the picture goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the two services are very different. I admired that the writer-director is confident with his material that he does not turn it into a debate. After watching the film, a lot of people may still find that both are neither respectable nor acceptable. In my mind, they do not need to be. What cannot be denied is that there is a need for them.

“The Sessions” is tender, insightful, and honest. Although the story involves a person paying another for a service in terms of sexual needs, the bigger picture, I think, is communication. We should be comfortable in telling our partner what feels good and certain things that can use some improvement. Because if these things are not communicated, we waste valuable time and energy reading minds.