Blowtorch

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“A mother’s love is relentless.”

Ann Willis (Robbins) is a single mother, working as a waitress and trying to keep family together after the death of her husband from lung cancer. To help out, son David (Abrahamson) abandons his plans to attend college and gets a job in a local factory. But he falls in with some questionable company there and, lured by the prospect of easy money, starts dealing drugs for the local mobsters, run by Canarsie. Things go from bad to worse after his supposed “friend” Mike (Falahee) frames him for the disappearance of some product, and things end with David’s dead body floating in the river, having been beaten to death by his associates. The cops, and in particular, Detective Frank Hogan (Baldwin), investigate – but to be honest, aren’t particularly interested in one drug-dealer being killed.

Ann, however, is made of sterner stuff, and is determined to get to the truth; she doesn’t have the legal limitations which hamper the police either. She realizes that Mike, addicted to the drugs he sells, is the weak link in the cartel. She begins to pick away, relentlessly, at the guilt he feels for having caused the death of David. This brings her into conflict with Det. Hogan. He is not only concerned for her safety in this dangerous world – Canarsie is growing increasingly aware of Ann’s activity – but also the waves she is causing, that threaten to capsize his more measured investigation.

It’s not a terrible film, anchored by a very solid central performance from the thoroughly convincing Robbins. Her mother positively oozes steely determination, and refuses to back down, despite being faced by some authentically unpleasant bad guys. That’s part of a generally good sense of place here: Breslin is born and bred Big Apple, and comes from a family well aware of the scummy side of life. By which I should quickly explain, his father, Jimmy, was a long-time and renowned New York journalist who wrote about organized crime, and was also written to by the “Son of Sam” during the latter’s seventies crime-spree.

However, the script here contains too many missteps to be considered even somewhat successful. Not least is the relationship between Ann and Mike, with Ann acting unfortunately like some kind of revenge-driven MILF. I suspect the intent is to show her “by any means necessary” approach; yet it seems severely out of place with the character established in the first half. The final take-down of the perpetrators doesn’t ring true either, reliant upon that most obvious of saws, criminals who can’t keep their mouths shut – even when, as here, they’re talking to the mother of one of their victims. Really? The net result is a film which builds a solid foundation, and does a good job of populating its world, only to go off the rails increasingly, as it then moves through its story.

Dir: Kevin Breslin
Star: Lois Robbins, Jared Abrahamson, William Baldwin, Jack Falahee

Even Lambs Have Teeth

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“Romy and Michelle’s Vicious Vacation.”

Katie (Skovbye) and Sloane (Prout) are teenage BFF’s, who head off to spend time on an organic farm – though their real goal is the weekend shopping in New York which will follow it. On the way, they are distracted by a couple of bits of prime young, rural manhood. But before you can say “roll in the hay,” they are drugged, the pair waking up to find themselves chained to duplex shipping containers, from where they are rented out as sex slaves to anyone interested. Their sudden dropping off the grid concerns Katie’s uncle Jason (Richards), who happens to be an FBI agent. He heads to the area to investigate, unaware the local sheriff is in on the plot. However, there’s only so far you can push a person, before they break. When Katie and Sloane snap, and escape, rather than heading for safety, they decide to stick around, so they can get thoroughly medieval on those responsible.

This could have gone thoroughly grindhouse, as is the usual approach in the rape-revenge genre. Credit Miles, therefore, for zigging in another direction, with the actual assaults far more implied than actually shown. This is something of a double-edged sword: there isn’t the same resulting sense of horror or outrage, but on the other hand, I’m always far more about the revenge half of the equation. As the review tagline above implies, the film also manages to be surprisingly light in tone, given the subject matter. That’s particularly the case in the second half. For instance, the ladies get the shopping spree they want – except, it’s in the local hardware store, picking up tools for their vengeance, rather than going down Fifth Avenue.

It’s also as much about the relationship between the two women, with the switch in their characters between the two sections. Initially, Sloane is the outgoing and dominant one; however, it’s Katie who instigates the switch from passive to active, and takes charge thereafter. When they were making up alternative personas for the trip, shortly before departure, let’s just say there were apparently good reasons why she chose “Ripley” as the name of her alter ego.

The main weakness is likely the overall sense of restraint, which unfortunately applies equally as much to the revenge – precisely the aspect which needs to be ramped up to 11. And, really, given the entire town is apparently in on it, including the police department, I was expecting much more of a reaction from the locals. Even when Katie and Sloane drive through town in a stolen truck, dragging the body of one victim behind them… nobody so much as notices. There’s not any sense of escalation either. Arguably the worst fate, happens to their first target, although some credit is due for imaginative use of a weed-whacker.

The results are all amiable enough entertainment – and that’s probably the first time I’ve ever used the word “amiable” in regard to a rape-revenge flick. If these lambs have teeth, this movie is more an affectionate nibble than a fully-fledged bite.

Dir: Terry Miles
Star: Kirsten Prout, Tiera Skovbye, Michael Karl Richards, Garrett Black

Goddess of Love

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“My super crazy ex-girlfriend.”

Right from the start, it’s established that Venus (Kendra) is not the most mentally stable of creatures, alternating between emotional fits in the bathtub, drug abuse and her day job as a stripper. That’s pretty much the trifecta of Stay Away for any man. But she ends up dating one of her strip-club customers, Brian (Naismith), a photographer who likes Venus because… she reminds him of his late wife. Which as opening lines go, I’d imagine would rank highly as Stay Away for any woman. While initially working far better than you’d expect, that only makes the eventual crash and burn of their relationship, all the more brutal.

It begins when she sees the name “Christine” (Sandy) pop up on his phone, setting off a downward spiral of insecurity and paranoia. Brian admits it’s an old flame, whom he still uses as a model, but Venus suspects there’s a lot more going on than photography. This doesn’t endear her to Brian, who stops replying to her text messages, and tries to end their relationship. Which works about as well as you’d expect – especially if you ever saw Fatal Attraction. Venus decides that the best way to Brian’s heart apparently lies through… Well, Christine’s rib-cage – though getting there requires some ramping up of their rivalry. And it turns out Christine has a vicious streak of her own, when pushed far enough. But how much of what’s unfolding has any basis in objective reality – as opposed to being merely shrapnel from Venus’s disintegrating psychological state?

It’s a tale as old as time, true as it can be: don’t stick your dick in crazy. But it’s still a topic worth revisiting, albeit likely for entertainment value, more than any educational purposes. The movie benefits by a good performance from Kendra, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Knautz. That likely helps defuse some criticisms of exploitation – while the stripper angle does appear to exist, largely for titillation, Kendra the writer can hardly be exploiting Kendra the actress. On the other hand, it’s not exactly what anyone would call a sympathetic portrayal of mental illness. The only person who shows even some concern for Venus’s plight is colleague Chanel (Scott), and that doesn’t make it to the end of the movie intact.

Still, it’s not unpleasant as potboilerish entertainment, particularly when Christine and Venus start going at it. I also appreciated the gradual slide into a state where you can never quite be sure of the accuracy of what you’re seeing. Everything is experienced from Venus’s point of view (which is where it differs from Fatal Attraction), and the unreliability of that perspective becomes increasingly called into question as the film proceeds. Technically, it’s reasonably sound, though a few rough edges did stick out, to remind me of its low-budget nature. But it’s perhaps best taken as a modern-day version of a morality play: don’t cheat on your significant other, do drugs, or date strippers. Rules we can all strive to live by.

Dir: Jon Knautz
Star: Alexis Kendra, Woody Naismith, Elizabeth Sandy, Monda Scott

Bleeding Hearts

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“Not bleeding awful – but close.”

Stumbled across this low-budget horror flick almost by accident when I was Googling the similarly-titled but very different, Bleeding Heart. The premise was kinda intriguing: five successful half-sisters (doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc), living in a small town, take a month off each year together and vanish off the grid. What the townfolk don’t know, is they kidnap various obnoxious menfolk under the guidance of leader Leslie (Robbins), subjecting them to unspeakable tortures and eventually killing them, before returning to everyday life. Into this town comes documentary film-maker Oliver Jaffe (Diamond), who starts to investigate the odd situation, after his car breaks down in town.

The same director previously made Scavenger Killers, which was kinda like a sleazy version of Natural Born Killers, also starring Robbins – this is similarly low-brow, apparently attempting to be as offensive as possible. If you’re not prepared to cope with a naked man in a cage on his haunches, being violated with a wire-brush, this is probably not for you. Though you’d be forgiven for wondering if there’d been some kind of mix-up with the DVD at the beginning, which starts as a social satire in which Santa (the late Charles Durning, in his last feature appearance), Jesus and Satan share a house, occasionally being harangued by God (Tony Todd). Turns out, this is a film-within-a-film, being made by one of the sisters’ targets this year.

Even as someone who IS prepared to cope with the extreme content, I found the results were actually kinda tedious: if ever a film is guilty of trying too hard, it’s probably this one. There’s no shortage of nudity from the actresses, to the extent I began to wonder if this was filmed in its entirety at an adult film convention. But it’s curiously uninteresting and ineffectual, since you’re never really given any reason to care much. The structure is weird too: there’s so little connection between the two halves of the story, right until the end, I wondered if Diamond and Robbins would ever meet (just as I strongly suspect Todd’s scenes were filmed separately from everyone else’s, since you don’t see him and anyone else in the same shot).

Instead, Diamond’s half feels almost like complete filler: there’s no real sense of “investigation” since the audience already knows the truth about what’s going on. Or, most of the truth, at least. While there’s a last reel twist or two, these are no more effective than most of the other aspects. You may be left to wonder why they bother having five sisters, when there’s no more than 2.4 personalities between them – Leslie, and perky foot-model Candy (Lorraine) being responsible for the great bulk of that. This is one of those cases where I can see how the various pieces of the jigsaw could have been fitted together into something potentially transgressive and interesting. It never gets there though, and the likes of Todd, Durning and even Robert Loggia, who plays the local sheriff, are not well-served by this at all.

Dir: Dylan Bank
Star: Rachael Robbins, Dustin Diamond, Suzi Lorraine, Melantha Blackthorne

Atomic Blonde

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“Truly a nuclear option.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new action queen in town. With Angelina Jolie apparently abdicating that title after Salt, the throne was vacant. Theron had already made a very solid case in Mad Max: Fury Road, then solidified it in The Huntsman: Winter’s War. But there were still doubts: could she hold the true focus of a genuinely action-driven film? There are doubts no more, for Atomic Blonde gives us Theron in the role of Lorraine Broughton, the baddest-ass heroine since The Bride in the first Kill Bill.

She’s an agent of British intelligence, sent to Berlin in the very last days of the Communist regime. Her mission is to retrieve a list which details the identities of every Soviet agent in the field, provided by a Russian defector. Before she has even met her contact there, David Percival (McAvoy), chief at the Berlin station, Broughton has been made by the Russians. Turns out, they have a mole, codenamed “Satchel”, who will stop at nothing to prevent the list from making it into Western hands, thereby revealing their identity. The exhortation of one of her bosses on her way out the door in London, “Trust no-one,” proves to be entirely accurate, as she makes her way across a landscape formed largely of moral rubble from the imminently collapsing Berlin Wall.

The story unfolds in flashback, during a debriefing in London, in which a severely battered Broughton recounts the events that unfolded as she tried to track down the list – and when that proves impossible, the defector, since he claims to have memorized its contents. It’s a perpetually shifting quicksand of allegiances, not least Percival, who has been in the city so long as to have “gone native”. There’s also Delphine Lasalle (Boutella), a French agent for whom Broughton falls, though it’s never clear whether their resulting spot of canoodling is for the purposes of her mission. It’s certainly not difficult on the eye [Boutella may be an action heroine to watch in future, having impressed both as the spring-loaded Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service and one of the better things about recent Tom Cruise vehicle, The Mummy].

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know why this was my most anticipated film of the year, and the action is every bit as slickly brutal as you’d expect from the co-director of John Wick – Leitch wasn’t credited there because the Directors’ Guild of America don’t like dual credits. This is ferociously hard-hitting stuff, clear from the opening scene, and escalating steadily thereafter. Broughton’s credentials are equally apparent immediately, as she escapes a kidnap attempt on the way from Berlin Airport, brawling her way viciously out of a car’s back seat. Yet this is merely an appetizer for what is to come, and one sequence in particular.

The scene in question sees Broughton escorting the defector, who has already been wounded. They take refuge in an apartment building only to be followed there by a bevy of Russian agents, whom she has to fend off with bullets, fists and even a convenient corkscrew. It’s nine minutes long, and appears to be shot in a single, unbroken take. Key word “appears” – if you look closely, you will likely be able to spot the moments where they cleverly blend the shots (about 20 or so, according to Leitch) together while the camera pans, tracks and zooms through the building. It’s still likely the most intense and hardcore battle in action heroine history, with the participants selling every blow impeccably. This is awesome, ground breaking stuff, and I haven’t enjoyed a scene so much since – again – Kill Bill, Volume 1.

For I’ve seen hard-hitting and inventively choreographed fights before. I’ve seen well-shot and technically impressive fights before. It’s the combination here which is almost unparalleled. Maybe the duel between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Zi Yi in Crouching Tiger is the only one that comes close, though it had a very different kind of artistry, one that was based on grace and fluidity. [Outside our genre, I was additionally reminded of the car chase in Children of Men, which was apparently an inspiration] This is Lorraine Broughton, doing absolutely whatever she needs to survive, from second to second and moment to moment. It’s raw, animalistic and moves the bar for future action heroines to an entirely new level.

This is actually a problem, because it there’s still a good chunk of the film to go, and nothing the rest of the way comes close. As a result, there’s a sense of letdown from the adrenaline high, even if the final attempt of the Russians to kill Broughton is by no means bad. I’m hard pushed to find anything else of much significance to criticize here. We’ve got an Oscar-winning actress going full-on into the old ultraviolence? What’s not to love? Admittedly, the actual spy plot is a good deal less inventive and original than just about every other aspect here. But it’s merely a backdrop, the canvas on which Leitch and Theron paint their bloody masterpiece. Oh, and if you can’t get permission to use Ministry’s version of Stigmata, find something else. Do not use Marilyn Manson to cover it. He is not Al Jourgensen.

Otherwise, though, I should devote a full paragraph to the soundtrack, since it kicked ass, almost as much as Charlize. I’m a child of the eighties. It was the soundtrack to my teenage and college years, and I even spent some time in Berlin, on both side of the wall, in the middle of the decade. While that would be a couple of years before the events depicted here, it still brought back a heck of a lot of memories. Part of this might be the music, which plays like they rifled my CD collection. It starts with New Order’s Blue Monday, then segues into the opening credits which play out over David Bowie’s theme from Cat People, as Broughton stalks through the London streets. If not the first time that has been purloined for another movie – Quentin Tarantino used it, inexplicably, for World War 2 movie Inglourious Basterds – it works a lot better here. Consider me sold.

This is an action heroine in its most literal of terms. Broughton has often been compared to James Bond, yet she’s even more cool, detached and almost emotionless in some ways. It absolutely deserves a franchise, with its central character chewing her way through post-Cold War history like a shark in human form, always moving forward – and if you get in the way, it will end up the worse for you. Every step is absolutely purposeful and deliberate, a means to an end, and that end is her mission. Broughton does not fuck around, and neither does this film. Such single-minded determination can only be applauded.

Dir: David Leitch
Star: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones

Bleeding Heart

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“When good yoga instructors… GO BAD.”

Yoga instructor May (Biel) is delighted when she finally tracks down her long-lost biological sister, Shiva (Mamet) whom she has never met. However, the reunion is soured because May discovers the abusive relationship in which Shiva is embroiled. Worse is to come, as she finds out that Shiva is actually a hooker, and her significant other, Cody (Anderson), is more pimp than boyfriend. May’s efforts to help her sibling run into stormy water – not just from Cody, but also her own boyfriend, Dex (Gathegi) and adopted mother, who think Shiva and Cody are just shaking May down. Eventually, the point comes where May has to come out of this middle-class comfort-zone, because the downward dog position isn’t going to help her and Shiva escape their increasingly perilous situation.

As director Bell – herself, once a yoga teacher – put it: “It’s easy to be peaceful and feel blessed when everyone around you is like that. But… what is the correct choice, when confronted with someone who doesn’t want to sit down and have peaceful talks?” For it’s a relatively uncommon, even subversive, idea proposed here, especially in a Californian indie film [although Bell is a fellow Scot, the setting here is 100% Los Angeles]. While non-violence is clearly preferable, any realist must admit, it’s not necessarily the solution to every problem, and there are times when more direct action is not only justified – it’s required. It’s also interesting that both the conventionally villainous Cody and “nice guy” Dex are portrayed as controlling their women: one physically, the other psychologically.

I guess “interesting” is a good word to sum this up in general – it’ll make you think, rather than feel. Not that there’s anything wrong with thoughtful film-making as a concept. It’s just that the particular topic is one which should affect the viewer on a gut level. I kept thinking, “Is this the scene which will make me angry?”, and it never quite gets there, with my emotional needle failing to go past “somewhat annoyed.” It’s perhaps partly a result of the two leads being almost stereotypical in their lives: May, in particular, embodies just about every trope of the happy hippie chick.

The film becomes rather more satisfying after she realizes that pacifism and chanting are not going to address this particular problem. Especially amusing is the scene in which she bursts into the house where Shiva is working, ending in May bidding the client farewell with a cheery, “Namaste, motherfucker.” It’s a cheap shot, for sure, yet it worked for me. More of this intensity would be welcome, though since we enjoyed her in Blade: Trinity, Biel’s credible performance as a bad-ass didn’t come as a particular surprise. The trailer and cover do pull something of a bait and switch, significantly emphasizing the thriller elements over the dramatic ones. However, I can’t confess to feeling cheated: what it provides over and above expectations, balances out those shortcomings, and the venture proves to be a satisfactory overall experience.

Dir: Diane Bell
Star: Jessica Biel, Zosia Mamet, Joe Anderson, Edi Gathegi

GLOW

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“Fully deserves a GLOWing review.”

I have only vague memories of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which never quite made the same cultural impact on the far side of the Atlantic as in their native country. I seem to recall seeing a couple of episodes, deciding it was a bit crap, and then slapping in a Megumi Kudo barbed-wire death match tape instead. But my interest was rekindled by the wonderful documentary, GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and it appears I may not have been the only one. [Incidentally, we re-watched the doc after finishing the series; it’s still very much recommended, and likely even better as a parallel version to this] The creators of the show were inspired by the same film to create their take, a heavily fictionalized telling of the show’s origin, from auditions to their first TV taping.

It focuses on Ruth (Brie), a largely failed actress, who goes to the audition out of desperation. There, she meets the motley crew of other women, whom director Sam Sylvia (Maron) – a veteran of B-movies such as Blood Disco – has to try to lick into shape. The main dramatic tension is between Ruth and Debbie (Gilpin), a soap-opera actress, with whose husband Ruth had an affair. Their spat inspires Sam to recruit Debbie, who would provide much needed star-power – but convincing her to get on board is an issue in itself. And there’s then the issue of her severely strained relationship with Ruth. While this may give their in-ring conflict credibility, it comes at a cost.

This is a great deal of fun, striking a very impressive balance between the drama, comedy and – to my surprise – the wrestling elements. For the show does a particularly good job of explaining both the appeal of the sports entertainment in question, and the work that goes in to making it look good. Here, it probably helps that real wrestlers were involved: Chavo Guerrero was the main consultant, and his uncle, Mando Guerrero, helped train the original GLOW ladies in the eighties. Fans will also spot John Morrison/Johnny Mundo, Brodus Clay, Carlito and Joey Ryan in various roles. It’s not at all a parody of the sport; to a significant degree, the original GLOW felt like that. But it also does extremely well at linking the wrestlers and the characters they play, and showing how the latter evolve and develop out of the former.

So Ruth becomes “Zora the Destroyer”, a Soviet antagonist to Debbie’s All-American “Liberty Belle”, whose frosty face-offs mirror the women’s real-life grievances. It’s these, along with the other characters, who are the show’s greatest strength: even relatively minor supporting ones are deftly sketched, and feel like real people, rather than caricatures. Special credit to Maron, who takes a character that could be a real bastard (far and away the most significant man) and gives him depth and humanity. Yes, he can be that bastard – but he knows what he’s doing, and genuinely cares about making the show the best it can be, even if he has to tread on a few toes to get there. Having been on the fringes of both B-cinema and independent wrestling, we’re aware of how true to life that is, and based on the doc, it doesn’t appear too different from Matt Cimber, the show’s actual director.

The two lead actresses did virtually all their action – there was occasional use of stand-ins, but mostly for reasons of fatigue. Brie said, “Wrestling matches are meant to be done once a day for maybe 20 minutes. But then we would shoot them for 10 to 12 hours so our stunt doubles became our tag team that we could tag in when we needed a rest.” Otherwise, it’s almost all the actual women, and that adds a level of authenticity to proceedings that helps. If no-one’s going to mistake the pair for Manami Toyota and Akira Hokuto, they’re perfectly credible, given the original show’s undeniable limitations in the area of actual wrestling. 

If you’re a child of the 80’s – and those were my teenage years – you’ll be in heaven, as this is a true period piece, from the music, through fashion, to things as basic as telephones. With wires. Attached to the wall. [It was a dark, dark time…] There is an occasional tendency to drift into feminist showboating, and some of the off-GLOW drama feels more like it comes from one of Debbie’s soaps. Otherwise, this is near-perfect, and certainly the best truly original series which Netflix have produced to date.

Created by:: Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch
Star: Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron, Sydelle Noel

Two Wrongs

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“…don’t make the ending right.”

twowrongsThe first half of this is actually well-written, asking some difficult moral questions that left me intrigued, and wondering how they would be resolved. The answer, unfortunately, is by an escalating series of plot twists, culminating in one of the more ridiculous climaxes I’ve ever seen. I could go on to say, “even in a Lifetime TVM”, but that would be unkind, since I’ve seen both good and bad examples from there over the past year. Though as an aside, I note Netflix being increasingly quiet about the ties of films to Lifetime, which is interesting; but given the severe inaccuracy of their synopsis (No, the heroine does not get “sucked into a dangerous underworld”), that’s more likely a Netflix issue.

Sarah (Zinser) is a single mom, devoted to her daughter, who also works as a nurse. It’s clear from the get-go that someone is stalking her, and eventually the daughter is abducted on her way home from school. Sarah is called by the kidnapper, but his demands are not anything like you’d expected. For it turns out, one of Sarah’s patients is trying to escape his own past, where he was accused of kidnapping a young girl himself, who allegedly died while in the trunk of his car. Acquitted on a technicality, he moved away, but the father of his victim – whose mother also suffered a complete psychological breakdown as a result – has tracked the perp down, and is now intent on using Sarah as a vehicle for his revenge.  How far will she go, in order to save her own daughter?

Like I said: it’s a difficult moral question, not least in the early going, when the film maintains a nice sense of ambiguity as to whether or not the target of her second-hand wrath is guilty. If so, then the entire situation becomes a cascading series of wrongness, potentially culminating in the death of at least one other innocent. While a fascinatingly dark scenario, it’s not exactly Lifetime fodder, and things start to go off the rails when Sarah’s mother [from whom she clearly gets her style of “helicopter parenting”] shows up, extracting a confession that removes any ambiguity. He’s guilty as charged, m’lud – and probably guilty of a lot of other things, too. Hanging’s too good for him. From then on, the script staggers from one ill-conceived mis-step to the next, through everyone going on a road-trip and an amazingly coincidental meeting at a gas-station, to an ending that literally drips everywhere. There is, apparently, no loose end which can’t be tied up by someone drowning randomly and floating off downstream, resolving all those tricky moral dilemmas. Though Zinser is solid enough as a mom prepared to do anything to get her daughter back, she could have been Meryl Streep here, and still wouldn’t be capable of papering over the glaring flaws in the later portion of the script.

Dir: Tristan Dubois
Star: Gillian Zinser, Ryan Blakely, Aidan Devine

Girl in Woods

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“Why we don’t camp, #273.”

It’s always interesting when reviews of a film are deeply polarized, and that’s the case here. The first page of Google results run the gamut from “I simply despised the film as a whole” to “The images are frightening within, and the only thing better than the scares are the performances.” While I lean toward the latter, I can see how this could have failed to make a connection with some viewers, and if that happens, then there isn’t much else to prevent the former opinion. It’s the kind of film where there isn’t likey to be a middle ground in reactions.

Following an awful childhood trauma, Grace (Reeves) has grown up into a troubled soul, but has finally found some peace, through her boyfriend (not without his own issues) and pharmaceutical help. However, that’s all shattered on a weekend trip to a cabin in the forest; on the way there, an accident (or was it?) occurs, leaving Grace stranded, alone, in the woods and very poorly equipped to survive. For what follows is a gradual and relentless shattering of her sanity, as the stress builds up and the drugs run out, and she tries to get out of her predicament. Grace’s personality splits into three distinct versions of herself – then there’s the darkly aboriginal creature who appears to be stalking her.

Meanwhile, we get flashbacks to Grace’s life with her mother (Carpenter) and father (Perkins), shedding some light on the cause of her mental fragility. It’s not much of a stretch to see Grace’s lost physical state as a metaphor for her psychological one: the title (and yes, that is it – I didn’t miss out a “the”) suggests the same. Since her character is on screen in virtually every scene, it’s a movie which really stands or falls on whether you buy in to Reeves’s performance – or, more accurately, performanceS, since many of these have her interacting only with her other selves. After some shaky moments early on, I found the approach kinda crept up on me, and some of the three-way scenes are near-impeccable, both technically and dramatically.

When your story largely involves watching someone lose their mind, keeping it interesting for the viewer is not an easy task to pull off. Benson succeeds, even if you’ll be reluctant to commit too far, because it’s clear that what Grace remembers, and what actually happened, may be radically different things. There’s a sudden effort at the end to tie everything together into urban legend, which I’m not sure is particularly helpful. It seems to come out of nowhere and feels like pandering toward a sequel. Trim those few minutes off, because you’ll know the “true” ending when you see it, and it would be a tighter overall product. Yet, there’s still enough of merit here to make it worthwhile, if admittedly this could be seen as merely confirming our strong preference against woodland wandering.

Dir: Jeremy Benson
Star: Juliet Reeves, Charisma Carpenter, Lee Perkins, Jeremy London

47 Meters Down

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“Nobody expects the sharkish inquisition!”

Stealing from both Open Water and The Shallows, this takes two sisters on a scuba-diving trip in Mexico. There’s Lisa (Moore) and Kate (Holt): the latter is all gung-ho about the chance to dive with sharks, while the former is considerably less enthusiastic, about life in general, being on the wrong side of a break-up. And, whaddya know, her concerns prove to be entirely valid, as the chain of the observation cage snaps, sending them plunging 150 feet down into the water. Air is limited, the sharks are circling, and they’ve fallen out of radio range with the boat above. How are they going to survive?

I’ve read thoroughly scathing reviews of this from scuba divers, criticizing a number of technical aspects – for instance, their air would be woefully insufficient. As someone who has never even snorkeled, I can only acknowledge these and move on, since they didn’t impact my opinion much. Though I have to say, I did notice how novice diver Lisa becomes remarkably proficient over the course of the film, even swapping out her tank on the fly, something I imagine isn’t a novice task. It is necessary to accept that the entire thing is inevitably going to be highly contrived: the sharks appear only when required, and don’t attack when that’s needed, too. These are creatures, strictly necessary to the plot, and it’s a mechanism which is largely par for the genre course. Who needs motivation? They’re freakin’ sharks!!!

Still, for what it is, this does the job, the director pushing the appropriate buttons with a degree of competence. After a somewhat shaky opening reel, where you wonder how much of the film is going to be emotion-driven, it settles down to what matters. This means a straightforward Problem → Solution → Execution cycle, with the sisters having to come up with strategies for the issues as they arise. Having two leads does help avoid the awkward structure we saw in The Shallows, with the heroine speaking to a conveniently wounded seagull, largely in order to avoid 80 minutes without dialogue. Fortunately for this film, Lisa and Kate are conveniently wearing masks with radios, so they can emote to each other, instead of being limited to enthusiastic hand-signals.

The ending is certainly reminiscent of another movie you’ll find on this site. I’ll avoid explicit spoilers, but it got our seal of approval, and if you’ve seen the film in question, you’ll certainly look askance at the wholesale hijacking carried out here. It’s this general lack of many ideas entirely its own, which prevents this from being as successful as it might be. The performances and direction are good enough for the job, and it laudably avoids any romantic interest worth mentioning at all. This film instead has a single goal, much like sharks are machines with one purpose: killing… Killing and eating. Their two purposes are killing and eating. And making little sharks. Their three purposes are killing, eating, and making little sharks. And an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. Er, among their purposes are such elements as…

I’ll come in again.

Dir: Johannes Roberts
Star: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt
a.k.a. In the Deep