Tag: Thriller

Hunted (2020) Review 4

Hunted (2020) Review

Fairy tales, grim and otherwise, make for the perfect campfire fodder. For a mother and son on a trip through the woods, the tales of men and wolves take center stage. Opening Hunted with her spooky tale, the mother warns, “the company of wolves is better than that of men.” Therein the direction of where the film will take us, a fairy tale homage that gives us men as the villain, not of the big eared and sharped toothed canine.

Eve (Lucie Debay) is a stressed-out working woman with a frustrating boss. On a business trip, after the relatable experience of work-related strain, she decides to take herself out for a cocktail. On her excursion, she’s approached by the typical relentless bar star, a man unwilling to take no for an answer. But soon, she meets a white knight, an unnamed man (Arieh Worthalter) who shoos the other away and brings fun to her dwindling evening. But this man, like the one before him, also doesn’t like being told what he can and can’t do. After inviting her to his car to make out, he locks Eve in with his accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien) and takes her on a ride. After some attempted escapes and moments that feel like she might have a shot, Eve is back on route to her supposed demise. A car accident gives her the opportunity to flea into the woods, setting off a hunt, the two men trying to get the woman in a red raincoat. Then it turns into a deranged tale of a woman refusing to be prey that bleeds from every orifice. 

Hunted (2020) Review 2
Hunted (2020)

Looking like a grown Red Riding Hood, Eve makes her way through the woods on an aimless journey for safety, while her attackers remain in desperate pursuit. What writer/director, Vincent Paronnaud, most known for his comic art, does so successfully is keep a cat-and-mouse game engaging the whole way through. There are twists, turns, and bumps in the road hard to see coming that make room for new characters to crop up and join the game. Eve, herself, becomes one with the woods in a way she’d never be expected to. Every moment she learns to eat and drink in the woods paints her as a woman of intuition and ability. Meanwhile, the hunter is being kicked out of the woods by every branch. He trips and gets scathed, spending more time watching his old snuff videos than trying to use the woods to his own benefit. The dueling performances keep it all together, Debay selling the otherwise average woman forced into becoming a feral predator, Worthalter as the over-the-top villain who buries natural rugged charm under the mask of a maniac.

Where the film leaps towards its themes of “men being the real predators” in its adult take on Red Riding Hood, it loses itself a bit in the comedy of subject matter. Sure, it’s intentionally reflecting reality by having men hunting women, but the hammering in of sexual violence makes it more difficult to enjoy the hammy performance and depravity. In one sense, that’s the point, a woman on the run from vile men, in another, its gratuitous sexual violence in a film that might have been a full-blown midnight blast if it was just about bloody carnage. It does well enough to equate “not taking no for an answer” with the violence that comes with it, but the dialogue gets confused with its associating sex with violence and doesn’t always land perfectly.

Hunted (2020) Review 3
Hunted (2020)

Taking place in an unnamed European country with a collection of accents among the characters, Hunted creates a fun take on the spooky European horror that is just a bit scented with French extremity. It’s really effective and sets the tone that works with the themes and visuals.

Hunted is a grown-up homage to an old fairy tale favourite that drives home the real villains and monsters hiding under our beds. It looks like everyone involved had an absolute blast with what they made, I am just not sure if I did.

Run (2020) Review 1

Run (2020) Review

The terror of relying on an untrustworthy caregiver is readily available for frights. Run, Aneesh Chaganty’s newest horror flick flips the terror of helplessness into a story of perseverance and capability, an important story of a wheelchair user who is anything but bound.

Chloe (Kiera Allen) lives with her mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson) in a rural house. She can’t wait to go to college and the only thing that seems to matter to the young budding adult is getting that acceptance letter and breaking free of the walls of her home. Diane is protective, something that seems reasonable for the mother of a child with special needs. Chloe is a wheelchair user shown to have asthma, diabetes, a heart issue, and a skin condition. Chloe is shown managing these things for herself in her daily routine, parts of which her mothers assists with, by preparing her food and doling out her medications. Wanting just a couple extra of the chocolates her mother meticulously divvies out to her, Chloe peeks into the grocery bags one day and discovers an unfamiliar medication prescribed to Dianne. When the mysterious green pill shows up in her cup later that day, Chloe grows uncharacteristically suspicious of her loving mother.

Run (2020) – Hulu

This sets off an intense game of panicked investigations and a lack of trust, that ultimately turns into a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between the two leads. Chloe, learning of what she is truly capable, attempts to best her mother without ever letting on that she might be suspicious.

This film wears its classic horror influences on its sleeve. The overbearing caregiver smells a lot like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but it dives headfirst into classics when it not so subtly names the pharmacist “Mrs. Bates.” But though it leans on terror themes from films like Rear Window and Misery, Run is decidedly a modern feature that crafts scares we’re familiar with in more modern horror flicks, and uses the set differently by having it be accessible to our heroine, Chloe. 

Again, while its influences are palpable while remaining its own thing, Run exploits paranoia in ways that will remind you of Hitchcock thrillers. Aside from the protagonist being a wheelchair user, Run also borrows from Rear Window with its use of confusion and unsurety that will have the audience questioning what is real as much as Chloe does. The power of gaslighting and the loss of control are where much of the horror comes from, Chloe slowly discovering how much power she has given to her mother and her adaptability in trying to steal in back.

Run (2020) – Hulu

Co-writer and director, Aneesh Chaganty, known for Searching, continues the hot streak of suspense building. Though this film is less packed with twists and turns than its predecessor, it still oozes tension and reveals that keep you nervously tapping the entire runtime. It doesn’t bother trying to deceive the audience too much and ultimately uses a few tired tropes for exposition, but if Joker can get away with it, so can Run. A refreshing fact about this flick is that it’s scary. Point bank. It scared me. Though our heroine never once waivers, the fear stems from losing faith in the one person she was meant to trust completely. Setting off a hunt full of frantic and desperate attempts to break free from what was once comfort and is now a prison, Chloe’s situation stays terrifying and tense the entire way through. It feels like a full feature of a person frantically waiting for a file to download in time to save the world.

Newcomer, Allen, is herself a wheelchair user, a refreshing casting choice for a plethora of reasons that brings extra realism to her performance. What’s more is that she absolutely demolishes the role of the sweet heroine whose world has been shattered. Allen is likeable and warm, delivering a well acted performance balancing her fear with a ‘never say die’ attitude that will have you cheering for Chloe at every turn. Paulson continues to prove why she has become a staple in horror circles by delivering a dual performance as the loving mother and the batshit villain. Chaganty’s visual storytelling combined with her performance brilliantly uses things like open car doors, long pans, and empty hand reveals that will make you gasp at this new take on Annie Wilkes. The standoffs between Chloe and Dianne are a blast, with the two plucking lies from the ether in ways that turn a breakfast table into a battleground.

Run (2020) – Hulu

Though it doesn’t break a tonne of molds in its storytelling and themes, by centering on the heroine who is never positioned as over-coming her disability, but instead using her abilities, Run blasts through tired tropes on how different types of bodies are often used for terror.  

Munchausens by proxy has been explored in docuseries’ and dramatizations, most notably in the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and The Act. By centering this tale on the badass heroine and villainizing the abusive would-be caregiver, Run breathes new life into the trope that shows no mercy to the ill aggressor.

FANTASIA FESTIVAL 2020: 12 Hour Shift 5

FANTASIA FESTIVAL 2020: 12 Hour Shift

Even though many of us haven’t seen the inside of our workspaces in some time, there’s always an appetite for a workplace comedy. Is that what 12 Hour Shift is? Depends what part you watch. Sure, it’s about a working woman trying her best, but this is no Working Girl. The new genre flick from writer/ director Brea Grant is a mishmash of styles that culminates in a, pardon me, side splitting grim tale that’s the bloodiest take on the one night, one place movie.

FANTASIA FESTIVAL 2020: 12 Hour Shift 2
David Arquette in 12 Hour Shift (2020)

Mandy (Angela Bettis) is a nurse whose painted on sneer suggests she lacks any bedside manner. She has a habit of stealing patients’ pills, their clothes, and their organs. Tonight, she’s working a double. After lifting a particularly valuable kidney to pass off to her cousin, Regina (Chloe Farnworth), Mandy heads back to the job but as a result of Regina’s professional incompetence causing her to botch the parcel delivery and a sudden raise in kidney demand, Mandy gets roped into trying to liberate more organs from an empty patient buffet. If the night isn’t already off to a bad start, she’s trapped inside her ward with not just her dim cousin, Regina, but a needy patient and her daughter, a familiar patient barely hanging on from an overdose, and a killer.

12 Hour Shift is a bananas B-horror that makes me envy anyone who can see it after midnight with a crowd. The grimy pain jobs and gnarly hospital stage make you want to be watching the flickering florescent lights while in pure darkness. It feels gross. What a credit.

FANTASIA FESTIVAL 2020: 12 Hour Shift 3
Angela Bettis in 12 Hour Shift (2020)

The strongest thing about this movie is that it’s weird as hell. It takes place in 1999 for some reason, the characters are cartoony, bizarre plot devices pop in nonstop and sometimes people break into song. Though it’s certainly a bloody gross mess, it smells a lot like Birdman and feels a lot like Snatch as it’s a mess of intersecting characters whose lives only overlap because a bunch of people are chasing a difficult to acquire item in a case that was lost by a doofus. There are some cool tracking shots and drum music that evoke these titans, but 12 Hour Shift is most certainly something on its own.

Angela Bettis was just the right actress to execute this lead, being an unlikable protagonist you barely want to root for. Rare is it to have an unlikable female lead, so Bettis kicks ass as the trashy nurse with an irredeemable side hustle. Regina reads like the world’s dumbest Harley Quinn and I love her for it. Though not shown doing it on screen, you’ll swear you remember her fixing her ponytail in the mirror, no matter how much blood is on her scrubs. David Arquette as the killer, Jefferson, is a lot of fun here in his own Casey Becker role being that he doesn’t have a tonne to do but absolutely ‘kills’ what he does. Nikea Gamby-Turner as Karen was the standout for me and delivered her lines as a cartoony fed up nurse who is also a crime boss in such a convincing and warm way, you almost want to hang out with her even though she might force you to drink bleach.

FANTASIA FESTIVAL 2020: 12 Hour Shift 4
Chloe Farnworth in 12 Hour Shift (2020)

There are times where you might furrow your brow and think “is this just a mess?” but then the climax comes ringing and you’ll think “messes are good.” It’s so balls to the wall bizarre in every one of the best ways, you’ll hesitate wondering if it’s a slasher or a thriller or a heist movie, but you won’t care because you’ll it’s a blast. 12 Hour Shift is a perfect example of a film knowing exactly what it is and working within those parameters. It’s a nasty thriller that focuses on an unlikable woman struggling to manage a bunch of moving parts and remaining unphased in a way we expect a trauma nurse working a double to do. 

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Oak Room (2020) Review

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Oak Room (2020) Review

There is something oddly unsettling about the isolation and bitter cold found in the Canadian North. The moody atmosphere and sense of dread that comes from these conditions is only made worse when a storm rolls in, cutting all remaining connection to the outside world. This is the setting of The Oak Room, using the isolation and a bitter winter storm as the backdrop for a film filled with story, betrayal and violence, that will keep you on the edge of your seat as each new layer is pulled away.

Directed by Cody Calahan (Let Her Out) and written by Peter Genoway in an adaptation of his stage play, The Oak Room is a minimalist thriller that delves into the isolation and depravity that lurks just underneath the surface. During a bitter storm, Steve (RJ Mitte) bursts into a bar just as it is closing for the night. After years of being away, he is back to deal with the aftermath of his life, along with settle old scores with bartender Paul (Peter Outerbridge). As the two delve into past sins, Steve offers up a story as a form of payment for past mistakes, and what follows is a journey into mistaken identity, small-town grudges, and the brutality of strangers.

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Oak Room (2020) Review 1
The Oak Room (2020)

The Oak Room is ultimately a story about stories, with the different aspects of Steve’s tale giving a larger insight into the town, and the people in it. As more details about antagonist Michael (Ari Millen) are revealed, and reluctant Paul becomes more invested in the tale, the truth of how all the characters interconnect is slowly uncovered. As Steve reveals more, and the simple story becomes darker and more depraved, Paul finds himself demanding more, only to fear what these answers could mean. The Oak Room is a slow burn that demands it’s audience take each new aspect in, building to a crescendo of violence and fear. 

With the movie using a single set for the most of the runtime, The Oak Room boils down the narrative to the bare essentials, using the nuance and atmosphere to paint a picture of isolation, tension and hate with precision and care. It is a feat few films do with larger budgets or more elaborate concepts, and Calahan must be commended on doing so much with so little.

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Oak Room (2020) Review 2
The Oak Room (2020)

But even with a great setting, it will be the acting and tension built by the performance that makes or breaks a film, and thankfully Outerbridge and Mitte take to their roles with style and a sense of tension that will keep the audience glued to their seats. While The Oak Room is a relatively simple story, the performances of the main cast and supporting characters elevate it into something engaging, stressful and demanding your attention.

The Oak Room is a film about storytelling and uses that concept to paint a uniquely personal narrative. While minimalistic, it delves into the depravity of your fellow man, and while it may not be as bombastic as other movies in the genre, the subtle tension and attention to detail craft a viewing experience like no other. Premiering at the 2020 Fantasia Festival, if you have a chance to catch this little film, do yourself a favour and hunker down for a brutal slow burn of a stormy night you won’t soon forget. 

Uncut Gems (2019) Review

Uncut Gems (2019) Review

If you aren’t familiar with the Safdie brothers’ work, Uncut Gems might surprise you; and depending on your perspective, that could run the entire gamut of emotions. Good Time is probably the most distilled version of their style, consisting of utter chaos, a heavy focus on New York City as a character and a strong lead anchor. In the case of Good Time it’s Robert Pattinson, and with Uncut Gems, we get Adam Sandler.

Before you laugh, we already know that Sandler has dramatic chops. Beyond any number of low key films I could just list off, Paul Thomas Anderson was able to really introduce the real Sandler to the world in Punch-Drunk Love, but after 17 years the Safdies have resurrected that gravitas. Sandler is enigmatic as the hustling Howard Ratner: a jeweler who has a massive gambling problem and a hell of a personality.

The way Ratner is written and how Sandler portrays him really carries the film along, as we’re shoved into scene after scene of drama, most of which is created by Ratner himself. Ratner is an addict, sure, but he also has an interesting family dynamic, friends and a business to run. Selling an extremely rare opal from Ethiopia to the actual Kevin Garnett is probably one of the least wacky things to happen in Uncut Gems, just give to you an idea of what you’re getting.

Uncut Gems (2019) Review 1
Uncut Gems (2019) – A24

The Safdies’ signature avant-garde, and dare I say visceral style (as well as Darius Khondji’s camera work) suits this story to a tee; and dare I say it suits A24 as well as a distributor, allowing the film to breathe beyond the scope of a simple crime thriller. Ratner is a weird cat and so are most of the characters around him, adding an air of surrealism to the action as well as a great deal of comedy. Who would have thought: Adam Sandler’s talents elevate those scenes as well.

One of the most interesting things about Uncut Gems is that even if nothing of consequence (in the grand scheme of things) is happening, Sandler and the Safdies ensure us that it is indeed urgent. Ratner is believably unpredictable, and the extremely strong supporting cast all prop him up: including an unexpectedly great turn from Kevin Garnett and another great performance from the always reliable and mercurial Lakeith Stanfield.

Uncut Gems is another homerun for A24 and Adam Sandler, and is going to put the Safdie brothers on the map. Go in with an open mind and you’ll be just fine.

TAD 2019 Review: Werewolf (Wilkolak)

TAD 2019 Review: Werewolf (Wilkolak)

Evil plagued Europe during The Second World War, from the atrocities carried out by the Nazi regime to the way it displaced millions, forcing even the most innocent to do horrible things. Pushed to the brink, the best of people will do the worst things just to survive. This is the bleak visage crafted by writer-director Adrian Panek in his sophomoric feature film Werewolf. One part Lord of the Flies, one part horror, Werewolf blends genres to construct a desolate picture of human atrocities and compassion—to mixed results

Continue reading