Before I Wake (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
“Before I Wake” combines dark fantasy and horror with mixed results.
On the one hand, there is an interesting story involving a foster child, Cody (Jacob Tremblay), who has the ability to turn his dreams into reality, but he is not yet able to control it. There is a curious dynamic between the boy and his most recent foster parents (Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane) because there is immediately a question in our mind whether the couple would choose to use Cody’s double-edged gift so that they could see and interact with their recently deceased son (Antonio Evan Romero). The screenplay by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard, the former directing the picture, does not shy away from human nature—even at the expense of putting a child in danger.
The picture invites the viewer to look at it closely, especially during dream sequences. We are provided peaceful images of butterflies fluttering about in well-lit, well-decorated rooms yet the tone can pivot just as quickly toward darker territory. This is where horror elements come in. Silence is used effectively, particularly during tension-building early in the picture when the audience does not yet have an idea of the threat Cody mentions: The Canker Man, how it appears in his nightmares sometimes and eats people. Notice the careful use of shadows to prevent the viewer from seeing too much too soon. Flanagan has an understanding of how horror pictures work—not a surprise considering he helmed the excellent but largely undiscovered “Absentia.”
On the other hand, the film can be quite repetitive. Jessie and Mark trying to stay awake in the living room by drinking loads of coffee just in case Cody dreams of their son suffers from diminishing returns. Must we really endure yet another discussion regarding how much the couple misses their son? Must we look at yet another family picture with the smiling dead child in it? Perhaps the point is to establish a molasses-like pacing in order to communicate the crippling depression of the household. Repetition can work but the wrinkles in the formula must be introduced with great energy to keep the material from becoming stale.
Although the screenplay gets to it eventually, there is not enough investigation into Cody’s interesting past in order for the mystery to be resolved. For example, the reason why Gore Verbinski’s interpretation of “The Ring” works so well is because it works as a detective story. Time is utilized to soak us into its deepest secrets. Here, only about fifteen minutes is dedicated to stealing official documents, talking to the right creepy people, and going through red tape. As a result, the final third comes across as rushed and superficial.
With a few more passes of revision, “Before I Wake” might have offered a superior experience. The right elements are there, but fat needs to be shed in order to make room for meaty details. As is, it is tolerable but not particularly memorable.
The Predator (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
“The Predator” is a marginally entertaining but unmemorable action sci-fi flick that offers a welcome change in scenery. This time, instead of people being hunted in the jungle, the action, for the most part, takes place in the suburbs and a military research facility. However, a different setting does not save the picture from being generic. Although Fred Dekker and Shane Black’s screenplay attempts to infuse some level of characterization behind sheep to be slaughtered, there is a lack of a central presence strong enough to hold the picture together. While this approach can work, as if to build an impression that anyone can drop dead, the project is not helmed in such a way that the danger is constant and convincing.
Boyd Holbrook is given a challenging task of portraying a badass action star. I liked the casting choice because of the contrast between what we think a classic action figure ought to look like—sinewy, tanned, inclined to overact—but Holbrook is the antithesis. Clearly, he is a dramatic actor who just so happens to be very capable of being in action films because he can look good while shooting guns—or, in this case, sniper riles. One gets the impression that he has gotten so used to supporting roles that he does not feel the need to play it bigger than life. As a result, notice that when the performer is in a scene with the likes of Trevante Rhodes (who is so interesting here that I wished to know more about his character) and Thomas Jane, Holbrook almost blends into the background.
This is a weakness because the plot revolves around the sharpshooter who comes across alien technology that he then ships to his son (Jacob Tremblay) prior to learning that its owner would like to get it back. Note the lack of logic of this one-sentence plot description. Those looking for holes will find them—and will grow bored of the exercise. It is a true Hollywood blockbuster in that more thought is put into creating perilous situations than creating an intelligent roadmap of character motivations and the larger power—whether it be terrestrial or extraterrestrial—they fight against. Observe the presence of government personnel and how they are there only to amp up the body count.
The action sequences are standard but watchable. It is surprising that humor is used to allay some of the more hardcore images such as profuse gushing of blood from a gunshot, intestines spilling out of the gut, limbs being torn off completely. While humor does create a reaction, it is noticeable that the approach is double-edged in that because there is comedy embedded between terrifying encounters with the Predator, tension does not build as consistently. It does not help that the plot is pretty much an ordinary rescue operation. It offers no surprises when it comes to character deaths, revelations, or even the resolution.
I walked away from the picture with a marginally positive impression—not because of the action, the characters, or the special and visual effects. Rather, I was surprised by the picture’s willingness to utilize politically incorrect humor, especially in this hypersensitive day and age. It is directed by Shane Black, no stranger to taking risks as writer-director. If only he took more risks with the material, perhaps by subverting it completely, instead of succumbing to Hollywood expectations. After all, the work is meant to revive the franchise which requires a massive jolt. This work is but a nudge.
★ / ★★★★
Four friends developed psychic powers when they were kids after they rescued a boy with Down Syndrome, Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), from bullies. They decided to camp in the snowy mountains but noticed an oddity. Animals seemed like they were running away from something and the military had quarantined the area. While Henry (Thomas Jane) and Pete (Timothy Olyphant) left to pick up some beer at a local convenience store, Beaver (Jason Lee) and Jonesy (Damian Lewis) invited a man inside their cabin, unaware that the man’s body encased an alien creature. Based on Stephen King’s novel, “Dreamcatcher” suffered due to a lack of flow. There were essentially three stories and their connections weren’t fully fleshed out. There was the aforementioned four friends dealing with nasty aliens in the woods, the flashback sequences when they were children and how they got their powers, and Col. Abraham Curtis’ (Morgan Freeman) desperation to solve the alien mystery, which he had been involved in for twenty five years, before he retired. The screenplay jumped one from one strand to another which often broke the tension. For example, when Jonesy and Beaver saw a trail of blood that came from the bedroom where the man slept, it was interrupted by a scene with the colonel delivering yet another speech about how driven he was to finish what he started. If the bloody trail scene had been allowed to finish without interruption, the horror would have been more effective. Adding a scene with a completely different tone allowed us to breathe and maybe even take a bathroom break. The CGI let the picture down immensely. I didn’t mind seeing the worm-like creatures (I have a weakness for creepy crawlers) but showing a full-bodied alien didn’t leave anything to our imagination. The aliens could take in any form because they had the ability to project what we wanted to see. One of the characters claimed that he had seen an alien in its natural form and it was horrific. The filmmakers should have stayed away from showing the extraterrestrials’ true form and let us wonder because I didn’t think they looked scary at all. CGI becomes outdated but the images we form in our minds do not. “Dreamcatcher,” directed by Lawrence Kasdan, failed to answer a number of critical questions. For instance, why did the four friends eventually stopped seeing Duddits? Their gifts seemed more like a burden in their lives so did they feel some sort of bitterness toward their childhood friend? The film lasted over two hours so leaving out answers was no excuse. Perhaps if there had been fewer scenes of military men and more scenes of the four friends’ struggle, I would have cared more.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★
As campy as this movie was, it had genuine thrillers and horror. Director Renny Harlin tells the story of a group of researchers who breed genetically engineered sharks in order to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The sharks’ genes had to be altered because their normal size did not produce big enough brains to store more proteins–proteins that activate inactive Alzheimer-ridden neurons. The researchers consisted of Saffron Burrows, Stellan Skarsgård and Jacqueline McKenzie. Thomas Jane was the person who wrestled with sharks in order to incapacitate them so the researchers could extract brain matter, Samuel L. Jackson was the funder of the project, Michael Rapaport as the physicist, and LL Cool J as the god-fearing chef. I liked the fact that this picture used humor in order to relieve some of the tension on screen. There were a plethora of very funny one-liners, especially from LL Cool J as he tried to fight off a shark in the kitchen. But the one character I had a big problem with was Burrows. For such an intelligent person, she made such stupid decisions, especially toward the end. It was as though the film wanted to note a sort of evolution in her morals, which really wasn’t necessary at all because, as a scientist, she must be objective and be able to weigh the pros and cons of situations. If I were in her position, I would not have felt as much guilt for creating very intelligent, giant sharks if it meant saving millions of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s. As a person who works with people who are ravaged by the disease, I can understand how serious it is and losing a few lives in the process would not have impacted me as much if I were to consider the big picture. Also, this might be a minor complaint, but the movie implied that one can “bring back” those who were in severe stages of the disease. In reality, it’s not possible because the memories have been lost. Stopping the degeneration and even prevention, on the other hand, are entirely possible. But granted, this movie was released in 1999 and we didn’t understand the disease as well back then. Overall, this is a thrilling film with several clever ideas but does suffer with a weak first few minutes and ending. “Deep Blue Sea” is simply a story of survival–a cross between “Jaws” and “Daylight.”