Tag: samara weaving

Mayhem


Mayhem (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Joe Lynch’s action horror-comedy “Mayhem” is supposed to be a satire of toxic corporate culture. But what is the point of it when there is no venom behind its sting? What results is violent but pointless movie that finds itself unable to move past its initial idea; it is a classic case of a film that never stops beginning, a bore, redundant, in desperate need of rewrite. Halfway through, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for co-stars Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving, talented performers with charm to spare but are given nothing to work with and so they rely upon histrionics in order to create a semblance of character substance. Matias Caruso’s screenplay is not worthy of their talent.

ID-7 is a virus that readily infects people, rendering them unable to control their deepest, darkest impulses. It is also called the “Red Eye” virus given that those infected tend to exhibit pink eye. There is no cure; it goes away on its own or it can be alleviated using a neutralizing agent. This is all the information we get concerning this virus—presented during the first fifteen minutes. Just like the dead script, neither the virus nor the concept behind it fails to evolve. Because of this, the material is drained of intrigue over time. Eventually, we are left with only violence.

Even then the violence is not all that entertaining. Recently fired Derek (Yeun) must fight his way to the top floor in order to try to get his job back. Surely if he could get an audience with the CEOs, they would be sympathetic to this plight. Naturally, he must face-off against those involved with his firing, from those directly responsible for placing blame on him regarding a botched multimillion-dollar case (Caroline Chikezie) to those who have knowledge of the facts but decided to look the other way (Dallas Roberts).

Scissors to the hand, fire extinguisher to the face, saw into a chest cavity—bloody, brutal, shock and awe. The camera moves with energy and seeming purpose, but the screenplay and the editing lack the synergy (and rhythm) required for these sequences to actually be engaging. Since there is a constant air of superficiality, violence often comes across fake and forced. Its shortcomings are especially apparent when Derek and Melanie (Weaving), a client whose home is on the verge of foreclosure, must take on a horde of office workers. There is lack of discipline in the framing, action beats, and catharsis. It’s all so exhausting and boring.

Thoughtful viewers will pick up on the possibility that the filmmakers have failed to ask themselves, “What’s the heart of the story we’re telling?” This should have been an accessible, relatable movie because millions of people out there work in soul-sucking jobs, thankless jobs, unrewarding jobs—which is not limited to being in an office or sitting in a cubicle. And that breeds anger—in oneself, toward others… So why isn’t the picture more in touch with its humanity? That is because it is easier, you see, to create images of destruction than to show violence within. Since this film is afraid to explore the latter, what we do see—which is the former—offers nothing worthwhile. Just empty busy work.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen


The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)
★ / ★★★★

If I could describe “The Babysitter: Killer Queen” in one word, it would be “interminable.” It is the very definition of a lazy sequel to a well-intentioned but middle-of-the-road horror-comedy which accomplished only one thing: It is made abundantly clear that Samara Weaving and Judah Lewis—babysitter and child, respectively—are stars. Since then, the former has had a breakthrough, but the latter has not. Every second of this follow-up, directed by McG, is a sobering reminder that Weaving and Lewis deserve far stronger material that is equal to their talent. Look closely and notice how it feels as though everyone in the film—veterans and relative newcomers alike—either looks or sounds half-asleep because the screenplay is not only dead, it stinks of putrefaction.

The story picks up two years following Cole’s encounter (Lewis) with a satanic cult. No one believes the boy’s claims due to lack of physical evidence from the crime scene. And so, Cole, now a junior in high school, is put on multiple heavy medications in order to get his “delusions” under control. His parents (Ken Marino, Leslie Bibb—in demeaning roles that require them to divide their individual IQ by 3) do not know what else to do given their son won’t admit that he made “all the cult stuff” up. They wish to send him to a school for troubled teens. Maybe that’ll fix him.

This could have been a powerful jumping off point for the story, an excellent chance to critique 1) how modern American teenagers are overly medicated and 2) how parents, usually from privileged backgrounds, crave easy fixes for their children. Instead, the material busies itself with hyperbolic—at times downright cartoonish—representations of American high school life: bullying from peers, blissfully unaware adults, how teenagers nowadays just want to get away from their parents and party. Are you asleep yet?

It is all supposed to be comic—hip because pop culture references are thrown onto our laps nearly every other scene—but the experience is actually empty because there is a deficiency of honesty to the material. Here we have Lewis who has the gift of being able to modulate minute facial expressions (observe closely during the rare dramatic scenes as Lewis relaxes his face, how he allows us to read precisely what Cole is feeling and thinking at the time) and he is forced into a character who did not grow emotionally or psychologically from his traumatic experiences in the predecessor. Why should we root for him this time? Yes, a new reason is required. It is not enough that his life is in danger. What about it?

I blame writers McG, Dan Lagana, Brad Morris, and Jimmy Warden for not understanding and loving teenagers—and for not wanting to understand and love them. What they understand and love is the money, the budget, the funds to make just another forgettable movie to pad their resumes. If they really did care, even if the end product turned out badly, we would have sensed even a whiff of it. I felt nothing from these filmmakers other than greed and pessimism.

And so we go through the motions of watching Cole and Phoebe (Jenna Ortega), the transfer student and eventual romantic interest, kill new and returning satanic cult members one by one (Bella Thorne, Robbie Amell, Andrew Bachelor, Hana Mae Lee). It usually ends with someone getting decapitated, run over, or maimed. Cue the painfully fake-looking blood and chunks gushing out of orifices. CGI and the like. Fake explosions. It is all so tiring. How many times must we be subjected to the same formula with the same outcome? How is this entertainment? What does McG want the viewers to take away from all of this? Other than to eradicate our brain cells, what is the point of this movie?

“The Babysitter: Killer Queen” is made by people who do not care if you throw away an hour and forty minutes of your life. They take you for an idiot because they expect you to be entertained by delivering material that belongs not at the bottom of the barrel nor directly underneath said barrel—but several yards deep into the Earth. This sort of passionless, flavorless, by-the-numbers dirge should not make it onto any film. It is an insult to sit through a project that lacks intellectual curiosity, the desire to show audience genuine humanity, the willingness to come from a specific angle and offer comments or critiques about where we are as a society. Film is not just a medium. It must be used—to show where we are (or were) and where we must go.

Effective movies within the horror and comedy genres are pointed—so pointed at times that they have the power to incite conversation. The filmmakers involved here possess no understanding or appreciation of this fact. And so this trash is a result. No one should be surprised.

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 Babysitter


The Babysitter (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

“The Babysitter,” directed by McG and based on the screenplay by Brian Duffield, is particularly difficult for me to review because I acknowledge that it offers a few laughs, the two leading performances are highly watchable, and the premise involving a preteen’s discovery that his babysitter is actually a part of a Satanic cult is so wild, I was excited how the story is going to take shape. But without a shadow of doubt, the film belongs under the category of children-in-danger movies, and it is most unfortunate that it keeps the protagonist under constant torment—so constant that right from the opening scene this boy is already being terrorized at school.

Children-in-peril pictures can work given a sharp, intelligent writing that functions as commentary. For example, it can tackle the subject of young people being so sheltered that modern parenting is essentially training future adults to constantly demand being in a safe space. In my opinion, children-in-peril movies rarely work as a straightforward horror-thriller, or even as a horror-comedy, because there is a tendency toward fetishizing not only the violence or gore but also our expectation that a child must not be harmed or mutilated in any way. In other words, films that generate thrills solely through the guise of the audience not wanting to a child being hurt can be considered as lowest hanging fruit.

And so throughout the film, I constantly had to ask myself what the material is saying behind the superficial entertainment. I found none. I suppose one can claim that the story is about a twelve-year-old, who is pretty much afraid of everything, being forced to to find courage in himself to stand up against bullies. But that is a stretch because the villains in the film, members of the Satanic cult (Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor), are purposefully written as walking stereotypes.

In real life, bullies are more than archetypes and in order for the film to have meaning beyond the images on screen, the writing must command depth and subtlety. Those who dare to compare this film, for example, to Joss Whedon’s writing (“The Cabin in the Woods,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel”) clearly have little to no understanding about why Whedon’s works possess cultural relevance. They aren’t just post-modern, have quirky premises, or tapping into zeitgeist. They are genuinely saying something beyond what we see and experience on screen. These works care about teenagers and young adults.

It is too bad because I really enjoyed the central performances here. Samara Weaving as Bee the babysitter reminded me at times of Margot Robbie’s ability to go from warmly intrigued to sexually electric, while Judah Lewis as Cole the fearful adolescent brought back flashes of Corey Haim in the underrated 1986 coming-of-age picture “Lucas.” A standout scene in the picture is a dramatic moment when Cole reveals to Bee that he feels such a weirdo at times that, essentially, he feels helpless in his own skin. This is such a moving scene that I wished the movie had been about the bond between the sitter and the preteen, completely throwing out the wacky chases, over-the-top gore, and absurd resolution.

The horror-comedy will certainly entertain some, but those looking for a more substantial story and character development with smart decisions throughout are best advised to stay away. And because of the title, it must be stated outright that “The Babysitter” is not at all a successful throwback to late-‘70s and ’80s slashers. There is no suspense to be had here.