0 comments, Reply to this entry
0 comments, Reply to this entry
1 comments, Reply to this entry
The screenplay (credited to Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer) reportedly reconciles two different Boston Marathon bombing projects, in order to split its focus between the victims affected by the terror attack and the authorities involved in the manhunt. Patriots Day is a full meal, exploring the lead-up to the marathon and showing the general reaction after the bombings, with many Americans taking it personally. Berg also provides a snapshot of the other side, delving into the strange relationship between the two perpetrators, on top of showing Dzhokhar's stoner college roommates choosing to protect their pal after recognising him in the photos released to the media. Wisely, the film doesn't pretend to know the brothers' motivation for the bombing - Tamerlan is seen watching terrorist propaganda videos online, and religious rewards are briefly discussed, but no definitive answers are presented.
0 comments, Reply to this entry
In a way, Dunkirk's lack of emotion feels like a conscious effort on Nolan's part to challenge his critics after Interstellar, which was drenched in forced sentiment that the helmer ostensibly struggled with. Aside from a few moments in Dawson's story and a touching closing scene, there's very little in the way of humanity here, and there’s no central character to latch onto. Characters are thinly-defined, with no backstories or personalities – hell, most aren't even given names! Again, you can understand that Nolan was aiming for an experience with minimal dialogue, but you need something more in a movie to make it feel more dramatically cohesive. With the cast mostly comprised of unknown performers, the film basically belongs to the recognisable veterans. Branagh is particularly exceptional, not to mention superbly naturalistic as a smart, dedicated officer, while Rylance again shows his terrific acting chops with an understated but flawlessly essayed portrayal of a kind-hearted civilian trying to do his bit. Poor Hardy, meanwhile, is stuck wearing a mask for most of his screen-time, making him tough to understand and severely limiting his expressivity. James D'Arcy (Agent Carter) is also on hand as a colonel who serves Commander Bolton, and he brings sufficient gravitas to the role. As for the casting of One Direction pop singer Harry Styles? The low-ranking soldiers are so generic and undefined that I couldn't even figure out where he was, and the casting decision does seem like a cheap way to boost ticket sales for the tween audience.
0 comments, Reply to this entry
It remains baffling that a terrible movie like 2001's The Fast and the Furious could beget a few equally terrible sequels before suddenly transforming into one of the most profitable franchises of all time. As a matter of fact, it's about as baffling as the primary characters graduating from street-racing reprobates who steal DVD players to skilled mercenaries saving the world from nuclear weapons. The Fast & Furious series probably should have been retired after 2015's Furious 7, especially with star Paul Walker tragically dying halfway through production, but its $1.5 billion box office gross guaranteed further sequels. The start of a proposed new trilogy of Furious pictures, 2017's The Fate of the Furious provides what fans are after: cars go fast, there are explosions, tone-deaf rap is blasted on the soundtrack, the scale is enormous, and credulity is strained to breaking point. However, unlike the leaden Furious 7, this seventh sequel actually manages to provide exactly the type of high-octane, entertaining action ride that it promises on the tin, despite its many flaws.
While honeymooning in Cuba as he contemplates starting a family with his main squeeze Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is visited by powerful cyber-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron), who blackmails him into turning against his "family." DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) recruits Toretto and his crew to retrieve an EMP in Berlin, but the now-rogue Dom betrays the team after the extraction, stealing the weapon for Cipher and promptly disappearing. The act leaves Dom's crew - including Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Tej (Ludacris) - bewildered that their faithful leader has ostensibly betrayed them. Enter covert government operative Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his offsider, Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), who enlist their help to track down Cipher and Dom, and stop a nuclear war. For extra muscle, Mr. Nobody also recruits former enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who wants revenge against Cipher.
What distinguishes Fate from prior instalments in the franchise is Dom going rogue, effectively reducing him to a supporting role (and keeping him as far away from The Rock as possible...), which provides a welcome break from the standard Fast & Furious formula. However, this aspect of the storyline is a bit of a letdown on the whole. See, it's made explicitly clear from the very beginning that Dom is being manipulated against his will, taking away any sense of intrigue or gravity that the story arc might have otherwise provided. Dom's "family" are kept in the dark about his motives the whole time, but the reveal to the audience comes far too soon into the game. This is not Captain America: Civil War. Furthermore, it seems that returning screenwriter Chris Morgan (his sixth consecutive Furious sequel) still hasn't mastered pacing or dialogue. Outside of some uproarious macho bantering (which was likely improvised), dialogue is stilted and uninteresting for the most part, and blatant exposition is lathered on. This is meant to be a fun action blockbuster, but these movies continually insist on unnecessarily exceeding the two-hour mark, becoming bogged down with flaccid dramatic subplots that are difficult to care about.
Pointing out the movie's lapses in logic, as well as its proud defiance of the laws of physics, is about as futile as writing a review of a critic-proof blockbuster. Suffice it to say, The Fate of the Furious is a huge, expensive cartoon, though new director F. Gary Gray often manages to make it look just real enough to sell the illusion. It's easy to understand why Gray was recruited for Fate, as he gained experience with car action on 2003's The Italian Job remake (starring Statham and Theron), and he directed Diesel in the underrated A Man Apart. However, there's still far too much CGI in a franchise that was previously so reliant on practical effects, and there are a few "nuke the fridge" moments which will likely have audiences roaring with laughter. Of course, the flick gets creative with its primary action sequences - Cipher even creates an army of "zombie" cars by hacking into self-driving vehicles, and the finale features a fucking submarine because why the hell not? There's enough mayhem here to please loyal fans of the franchise, though it's hard to shake the feeling that all of the big set-pieces are car-related because of pure contrivance and obligation - it would be interesting to see the franchise branch out a bit more. (Also, why continue to use beautiful multi-million dollar vehicles like Lamborghinis for dangerous jobs when they're just going to be destroyed?)
It goes without saying that Deckard's sudden switch to the "good guy" side strains all sorts of credibility, especially given that Deckard killed one of Dom's guys, and Dom left Deckard's brother almost disabled. But at this point in the franchise, and with Hobbs' allegiances having already changed, you just have to roll with the punches. It does seem that the arrival of a new, worse bad guy means that the gang's previous nemesis gets an invitation to one of the "family" cookouts. Still, Statham is so much fun here that he'll likely win you over, and his magnificent solo action sequence during the final act stands as the best set-piece in the movie, even though it doesn't involve cars in any way. It is pleasing to see Statham being given the chance to show off his insane martial arts skills as he fights his way through dozens of nameless goons.
This series is no stranger to humour, but the studiously unfunny Gibson (who's still completely useless) is usually given most of the "comedic" material. Luckily, Fate does right by letting the likes of Johnson and Statham pick up the slack. These two are, after all, highly adept at comedy but are rarely given the opportunity to flex these muscles, and it's an absolute joy to watch their riotous bantering as the pair try to hold back from pummelling one another. Diesel remains something of a dead-weight at this point, and could easily be ditched in favour of Johnson, Statham and Russell. (A spin-off with all three would be very enticing.) As a matter of fact, Diesel is the only actor who doesn't seem to understand what type of movie he's in. Even the likes of Eastwood seem to be having a good time, but Diesel delivers his dialogue (including his bizarre pronunciation of the oft-repeated word "family") as if he's appearing in an Oscar-calibre drama. At least Tokyo Drift star Lucas Black is kept away.
As perhaps is to be expected, the absence of the late Paul Walker in the group dynamic is really felt, as he functioned as the necessary glue to hold all the other personalities together as a unit. Certainly, it was wise to exclude Walker's Brian O'Conner given the circumstances, but none of the other performers can replace him, and the group is without a solid anchor. Still, efforts from most of the ensemble are acceptable, with Johnson again showing why he's become such a huge star in recent years, and Russell making a good impression as per usual. Theron could be mistaken for a James Bond villain due to her hammy performance here, even sporting dreadlocks to top off the image. However, Emmanuel's Ramsey (carried over after her intro in Furious 7) has no purpose, and only serves to beef up an already crowded ensemble. On a more positive note, Helen Mirren pops in for a brief cameo, espousing a hilariously uncivilised British accent that will remind you why we all love her so much. Mirren's scenes are some of the most charming in the whole movie.
The Fast & Furious franchise reached its peak with 2011's surprisingly solid Fast Five, and it's only been downhill from there, unable to maintain the same level of quality. Still, the fact that this eighth instalment is watchable in any way has to be some type of miracle, and it's worth watching if you're seeking a fun time without any brain power required. At this point in the franchise, however, it would be far more interesting to see a Fast & Furious sequel which doesn't abide by the "bigger is better" adage, and drastically tones down the scale in favour of intensity. After all, movies like Bullitt, The Driver and Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive didn't need $250 million budgets to provide thrilling car chases. (Plus, the original movie only carried a modest $38 million price-tag.) The Fate of the Furious may be enjoyable in fits and starts, but it's much too long and over-the-top, in need of some discipline. At least two more instalments are imminent, which is preposterous for a franchise as hit-and-miss as this.
0 comments, Reply to this entry
Science fiction movies about extraterrestrials have existed for decades, to the point that there's ostensibly very little in the way of originality to be mined from the well-worn "alien invasion" subgenre. Enter 2016's Arrival, a rare type of sci-fi drama which dares to realistically explore what might occur if otherworldly beings visited Earth, without resorting to battles or large-scale destruction. More than just another action blockbuster involving aliens, Arrival is endowed with a maturity in both its storytelling and cinematic technique that's rarely glimpsed, bolstered by an Oscar-nominated screenplay by Eric Heisserer (based on Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life") and shrewd direction by the ever-talented Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). Arrival is breathtaking from start to finish, necessitating deep thought and introspection to properly digest everything that's going on below the surface, making this a must-see for those who appreciate cerebral sci-fi. Much like 2015's equally magnificent Ex Machina, this is the type of movie which both benefits from, and stands up to repeat viewings.
Twelve mysterious alien vessels arrive on Earth, positioning themselves in countries around the planet, which naturally incites a global panic. With their intentions unclear, U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), giving her the daunting task of understanding and communicating with the alien beings. Joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise is taken to a ship hovering just above rural Montana where she is able to communicate directly with the giant squid-like "Heptapods" every 18 hours, when the vessel opens for a brief period. Dubbing the two aliens Abbott and Costello, Louise and Ian set about deciphering the advanced, circular symbol-based language of the Heptapods, seeking to establish a sufficient communicative basis to find out their purpose on Earth. But the pressure rapidly mounts, with world leaders fearing that the Heptapods aim to wipe out humanity, prepared to unleash military firepower on the visitors before they strike first.
Arrival is the first major motion picture to acknowledge that otherworldly beings may not make full sense to us, or conform to our ideas of scientific logic. It's a refreshing new perspective and a welcome change from the norm, and this sophistication feeds into the screenplay at large. The presence of aliens is almost inconsequential to the narrative - this is ultimately a story about the importance of communication and the nature of language, not to mention it's also about time, memory and tolerance, with thought-provoking philosophical undercurrents that nobody really expected (save, perhaps, for those familiar with the source material). Furthermore, Arrival doesn't lean on high school-grade science, instead providing genuinely interesting insight into complicated scientific and linguistics concepts, and the movie manages to convey this material without talking down to the audience. To be sure, there are more questions than answers, a fact that's basically acknowledged by the protagonists, but such uncertainty would likely plague a real-life alien visitation, and it doesn't ruin the experience to any degree.
Despite running a hair under two hours, Arrival is the very model of efficiency, with nothing in the way of dead weight. Initial encounters may be slow-going, but such sequences are nevertheless subtly enthralling on Villeneuve's watch, and the movie knows when it needs to start picking up the pace. It's superlative work from scribe Heisserer, whose previous efforts are predominantly horrors (including Lights Out, Final Destination 5 and 2011's The Thing), confidently forgoing expectations of spectacle and flippant excitement in favour of depth and thematic resonance. There is a twist of sorts once Arrival approaches its climax, but it's not a cheap gimmick by any means, as it feeds into everything that has taken place so far. It compels us to reassess and recontextualize much of the movie, and the powerful ending represents an emotionally stirring reminder of the sanctity of human life. Miraculously, in spite of its weighty undercurrents, Arrival is not preachy, pretentious or sanctimonious, and it breezes by at such an agreeable pace (thanks to Joe Kelly's judicious editing) that it never feels like a meandering mess.
Villeneuve continues his astounding winning streak here, showing yet again that he's one of the finest filmmakers of this generation. Take, for instance, Louise's first session with Abbott and Costello; the suspense is almost unbearable, with Villeneuve capturing every tense step as the team ascend into the alien vessel, and the first reveal of the Heptapods is incredibly effective. It's all beautifully shot by cinematographer Bradford Young, who uses light, shadows, fog and silhouettes to astounding effect, creating an aura of otherworldliness. The visual effects are just as impressive, though Villeneuve uses practical effects and sets as much as possible, creating a tangible aesthetic which greatly enhances the cinematic illusion. Furthermore, the visuals feel utterly inseparable from Jóhann Jóhannsson's hypnotic score, which is brilliantly ethereal and yet subdued, further cementing the sense of awe and otherworldliness throughout, whilst also accentuating the story's emotional components. Performances across the board are excellent, led by Adams who carves out a relatable, charming protagonist, while Renner gets the rare chance to show his acting chops outside of a blockbuster setting.
Arrival is a superbly-woven piece of cinematic craftsmanship, and its box office success shows that not every movie needs to be dumbed-down for mass mainstream appeal. There is nothing inherently wrong with action-packed sci-fi productions - hell, Neill Blomkamp's District 9 managed to be both intelligent and exhilarating, while Independence Day is the definition of Big Dumb Fun™ - but Arrival is more gratifying in its approach, though it's definitely for a specific type of niche film-going audience and it's not for everybody. With this in mind, it's downright miraculous that a mainstream sci-fi drama as utterly bold as this was permitted a $47 million budget in a cinematic climate where summer blockbusters flourish. Haunting and difficult to forget, Arrival will be rightfully remembered in the grand pantheon of great science fiction movies, standing proudly alongside the likes of Blade Runner, Alien, and The Terminator.
0 comments, Reply to this entry
Mel Gibson's first star vehicle since the insanely underrated Get the Gringo all the way back in 2012, Blood Father is far more than just another subpar straight-to-video action flick. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Peter Craig (who co-wrote the screenplay with Andrea Berloff), this is a hard-edged thriller more concerned with characters than action, finding a solid emotional core which elevates the material far above more disposable B-grade trash starring the likes of Steven Seagal. It's a shame that some will most likely either underrate or simply ignore Blood Father on account of Gibson's presence, as such punters will be missing out on one hell of a gratifying movie, one of 2016's best. It's certainly better than most other aging-star action flicks like The Gunman, 3 Days to Kill and the Taken trilogy.
Out of prison on parole, John Link (Gibson) maintains a tattoo business out of his dingy trailer in remote California as he works through his addictions in a twelve-step program, supported by sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy). Out of the blue, Link's 17-year-old runaway daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) contacts him for help after she shoots her drug-dealing boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna) during a botched armed heist. Lydia is desperate for money to allow her to disappear, but Link demands that she stay with him at least for a little while, as he hopes to reconnect with his estranged child and eliminate her drug habit. Before long, the Mexican drug cartels catch up with Lydia, but Link is not about to give his daughter over to them. Breaking parole, Link goes on the run with his child, determined to protect Lydia at any cost as armed thugs relentlessly pursue them.
The father-daughter dynamic between Link and his daughter is unexpectedly respectful and free of hoary genre clichés. Lydia does not hate her father even despite his criminal history, and the film refuses to adopt the predictable "you sucked as a father" trope that's been done to death, which is certainly refreshing. Lydia is also wholly aware of the trouble that she's bringing to the broken, desperate Link, and she only wants to leave as soon as possible to avoid dragging him into the whole affair. However, Link is willing to take a bullet for Lydia, finding a renewed will to live when his daughter re-enters his life. Blood Father finds time for intimate character moments throughout, infusing Link and Lydia's relationship with an unexpected authenticity. If there's an issue with the movie, it's that some scenes are edited too quickly, which is most noticeably felt as the movie approaches the finish line, slightly hampering some of the more tender moments. Blood Father needed more room to breathe, and an extended edition would be enticing, especially since excised material reportedly exists (scenes featuring Lydia's mother were excised from the final cut). But this isn't nearly enough to undo the strengths of Blood Father, of which there are countless.
Even though it was shot in 2014 and spent over two years waiting to be released, Blood Father does not exhibit the recognisable hallmarks of a troubled post-production. On the contrary, it's astonishingly competent, thanks in large part to French director Jean-François Richet, here making his first English-language feature since the surprisingly decent 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13. Richet infuses Blood Father with his European sensibilities, elevating it above more standard-order American action films, making the most of the reported $15 million budget. Shot on location in New Mexico, the desert vistas are consistently stunning, while the action scenes are of a uniformly high quality. The shootouts are more realistic than the likes of Taken or John Wick, with an aesthetic closer to something like Sicario. The action sequences are loud, raw and edge-of-your-seat intense, once again showing that Gibson still has the moves for these sorts of productions. Best of all, the mayhem is smooth and easy to follow, without any shaky-cam or rapid-fire cutting. The blood is all gloriously practical, too, with squibs as opposed to phoney digital bloodshed, in keeping with the tangible aesthetic. (It appears there are also some references to Mad Max 2, which is a nice touch.)
Remarkably, Richet manages to create two fully three-dimensional characters who are easy to latch onto and empathise with, and the movie is further bolstered by fine performances across the board. This is one of the best roles for Gibson at this point in his career. He looks insanely ripped and rugged, and you can certainly believe him to be a legitimate threat. He capably sells the drama and emotion during the quieter character moments, but he's equally compelling when chaos begins to reign down. John Link is boldly introduced at an AA meeting, during which he discusses the guilt he feels about past transgressions, as well as his desire to remain on the straight and narrow, and the material is remarkably poignant coming from Gibson. It's been great to see Gibson play villainous roles in Machete Kills and The Expendables 3, but here he proves that he's still a captivating leading man who's able to carry a film. Moriarty impresses as well, never coming across as grating or irritating. And in the supporting cast, Macy is reliably charismatic as Link's best friends/sponsor, and his interactions with Gibson are just fucking magical. Also making a positive impression is Luna, recently seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, while Michael Parks almost steals the show as neo-Nazi psychopath who was once Link's mentor. It's a small but effective cast, and there isn't a single dud performance in sight.
Blood Father plays out like a contemporary western which substitutes horses with motorcycles, and cowboys with bikers/thugs. Perhaps the movie's greatest achievement is the fact that it manages to deliver ample character beats to add a genuine touch of humanity without skimping on the fierce action sequences, and all within a taut 85-minute running time. The very antithesis of both Hollywood blockbusters and B-grade action movies, this feels like the type of movie we used to see in the '80s and '90s, but with a coat of contemporary polish. In a way, Blood Father also feels like a fitting swansong to Gibson's career as an action star. It's a real keeper, folks.
0 comments, Reply to this entry
Returning to business-as-usual after supporting performances in Spy and Furious 7, Mechanic: Resurrection is an out-and-out Jason Statham action movie, an undemanding popcorn flick that bears absolutely no resemblance to its 2011 predecessor. (Or the 1972 Charles Bronson film of the same name that it was based on, for that matter.) Indeed, whereas the Simon West-directed first film was more of a 1970s-style thriller, Mechanic: Resurrection takes inspiration from the formula actioners of the 1980s, spotlighting Statham as he kills countless henchmen in a video-game-style fashion. Sloppily scripted and often cartoonish, it's indistinguishable from the likes of Crank and The Transporter, and unfortunately comes up dangerously short in terms of genuine thrills.
Now retired from the contract killing profession, Arthur Bishop (Statham) endeavours to stay off the grid, consistently moving around whenever his location becomes compromised. Fleeing to a remote Thai island overseen by old friend Mae (Michelle Yeoh), trouble enters Bishop's life with the arrival of abused damsel Gina (Jessica Alba), who strikes up a relationship with the assassin. However, Bishop soon learns that he is being watched by international arms dealer Crain (Sam Hazeldine), who kidnaps Gina to force Bishop into completing three assassinations in remote locations around the world. Pulled back into the business of killing, Bishop has only a matter of days to pull off the near-impossible murders and make them look like accidents. It's a tough assignment, but the assassin cannot deny his feelings for Gina, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to rescue her from Crain.
The whole enterprise is about as preposterous as it sounds, spotlighting Bishop as he manages to hopscotch across the globe in a matter of hours, calling upon his seemingly unlimited arsenal and impossibly vast knowledge of computer hacking, chemistry and engineering to get the jobs done. Each hit honestly feels like a level in a video game like Hitman or Splinter Cell, as each assassination presents its own series of increasingly difficult obstacles for Bishop to overcome, and a single mistake would spell disaster. It's in these sequences when the movie feels most in line with the original Mechanic, as Bishop must rely on intellect rather than pure brawn, but the execution by director Dennis Gansel (We Are the Night) leaves a lot to be desired. The assassinations should be nail-bitingly intense and intricate (think Brian De Palma), but for the most part play out like throwaway action beats. Unusually, the movie endeavours to give real dimension to Bishop and Gina, as the first half is concerned with character drama and romance. However, it doesn't work; it's all very ham-fisted, badly-paced and dull. It feels like homework before we can get into the action stuff that we actually came here to see. When Alba is finally kidnapped, it comes as a relief.
A huge issue with Mechanic: Resurrection is that it's undeniably cheap-looking, but not "endearing low-budget 1980s" cheap - rather, it's “contemporary digital” cheap, which just makes the flick look lazy. Green-screening is uniformly terrible, while digital explosions look phoney and there is far too much obvious computer-generated blood. Hell, the movie even shamelessly moves to cheap, indistinguishable Eastern European locations for its final act. Even though the production budget is reported to be $40 million, this figure is surely an exaggeration - but then again, Statham probably took home a nice paycheque, and there are nineteen credited producers sticking their fingers into the pie. (Yes, fucking nineteen!) Mechanic: Resurrection lacks the flair that Simon West brought to the 2011 movie, but there is admittedly some enjoyment to gain from the action sequences when they do finally arrive. Statham remains a capable man of action (even though he's nearly 50), and here he punches, kicks and shoots his way through an endless succession of faceless enemies. When Mechanic: Resurrection works, it's cheesy fun, especially for fans of Statham or the action genre in general, but your mileage may vary of course.
As previously stated, Statham does well throughout the athletic action scenes, and his grizzled face makes him ideal for these sorts of roles. The Brit is one of the last old-school action stars, and it's fortunate that he's so watchable here, even if his dramatic chops are still merely so-so. As the token female of the piece, Alba serves her purpose as eye candy. She even rocks a bikini in a few scenes, and is given the chance to fight. As ever, though, Alba is not an especially good actress, and the other supporting performances are just as unimpressive - nobody is unable to give much spark to the hackneyed, lifeless dialogue. However, despite his appallingly limited screen-time, Jones manages to make a positive impression as Bishop's final mark. Decked out like a hippy in colourful clothes and sunglasses, he's hammy enough to make his scenes enjoyable, but don't expect anything in the way of gravitas, as this is strictly a paycheque effort for the veteran actor. Oh, and you are going to be incredibly disappointed if you're expecting Yeoh to show off her impressive fight moves here - she is utterly wasted in a non-physical role. Who the hell casts Yeoh just for her acting?
It has a few entertaining action beats here and there, but overall Mechanic: Resurrection is cheaper, not as stylish, and less involving than its predecessor. The 2011 Mechanic was endowed with edge and grit, but here Bishop is turned into an invincible superhero, able to accomplish impossible physical feats without breaking a sweat. Statham deserves better than this. The Mechanic underperformed at the worldwide box office back in 2011, but earned enough in the home video market to spawn this sequel. Mechanic: Resurrection wound up grossing over $100 million worldwide with a bulk of the money coming from China, and that's before home media sales, so we can most likely expect to see a third movie in a few years.
0 comments, Reply to this entry
Another low-budget fright film from Australian producer James Wan, 2016's Lights Out is one of the superior horror offerings of the year, and that's not simply by default. This feature debut for filmmaker David F. Sandberg is a slick, taut, well-made thriller featuring likeable characters who don't act like complete idiots, and it doesn't insult audience intelligence, which is a minor miracle. Whereas Wan's recent The Conjuring 2 clocked in at over two hours, Lights Out runs a refreshingly lean 75 minutes, with very little in the way of narrative flab. It's a taut succession of genuinely frightening set-pieces bolstered by strong performances and focused direction, and the dramatics of the story are more effective than expected. For a minor $5 million production, it does its job extraordinarily well.
A twentysomething woman with severe intimacy issues, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) has distanced herself from troubled mother Sophie (Maria Bello), who has long battled mental illness. Off her meds, Sophie gets worse after the mysterious death of her second husband Paul (Billy Burke), staying up all night and communicating with a malevolent entity she calls Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey), who can only materialise in darkness. Rebecca's brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) develops insomnia due to his fear of Diana and starts falling asleep at school, which forces Rebecca to get involved, taking her sibling back to her apartment to protect him. But simply going across town is not enough to deter the sharp-clawed wraith, and Rebecca becomes determined to uncover the mystery surrounding Diana.
A feature-length adaptation of Sandberg's 2013 short movie of the same name, Lights Out uses a unique premise which cleverly exploits humankind's innate fear of the darkness. Since Diana cannot attack whenever a functioning light source is available, many of the movie's most nail-biting moments involve characters struggling to turn on any sort of light to save their lives - not just lamps or overhead lights, but smart phones and car headlights are used as well. To Sandberg's credit, he establishes the rules surrounding Diana and strictly adheres to them, finding intense moments in exploring the often shallow border between light and dark. As with any horror film of this ilk, the protagonists set out to uncover the mystery surrounding Diana, but thankfully the reveal of her backstory in no way undermines her effectiveness as a monster. Furthermore, the familial dramatics serve to enhance the story, making this more than just a more run-of-the-mill horror offering.
Prior to making his directorial debut here, Sandberg had only helmed shorts, and repeatedly found himself unable to secure funding from the Swedish Film Institute. Yet, his inexperience with features is never evident at any point throughout Lights Out, which is endowed with staggering assurance and authority, especially with the layered, eye-catching cinematography by Marc Spicer (Furious 7). Sandberg may indulge in certain genre clichés and tropes, but such aspects are sold with genuine vigour to make them work. Take, for instance, Diana's first appearance in the opening sequence: an office worker turns off the lights for the night, only to see an intimidating figure silhouetted against the dim light of the next room. When the lights are flipped back on, Diana is gone. But with the lights off, the silhouette returns. The worker begins turning the lights on and off, until Diana is suddenly closer. It's a predictable moment, but on Sandberg's watch, it's terrifying nevertheless.
Lights Out doesn't muck around, working through a fast-paced routine of scary scenes intercut with character drama and investigation before spending its third act holed up inside Sophie's home, leading to a consistently riveting extended sequence as the characters find whatever they can to remain in some degree of light as Diana comes after them. More importantly, the tautly-edited climax is a immense fun, with scares and tension aplenty. Don't let the PG-13 rating fool you - Lights Out may not be bloody or gory, but Sandberg manages to frighten using unnerving sounds and images.
Performances are strong right down the line, led by Australian actress Palmer, who manages to sell fear and dread without breaking a sweat. It's a small cast, and thankfully all the actors help to maintain Sandberg's vivid illusion. The only real issue with Lights Out is its abrupt ending, which makes the resolution of the story almost feel too easy. It's not a deal-breaker, thankfully, and again the movie's tautness is a gift in an age of overcomplicated horrors, but the ending is a tad jarring nevertheless. Lights Out is a real keeper in spite of its shortcomings, signifying the exciting arrival of a new filmmaking talent, though it remains to be seen if it winds up sullied by endless sequels like most horror movies these days.
0 comments, Reply to this entry