The Purge (2013) – Film Review

The first instalment in the now-iconic horror franchise, the original entry in ‘The Purge’ series is a fantastic idea quickly ruined by its poor execution. As whilst the film’s main concept of one night a year where all crime is legalised is both a terrifying and intriguing notion, the entire series (in particular the first film) seem to explore the horrific world its story is set within in all the least-interesting ways.

In the near future, America celebrates ‘The Purge’ once a year, a national event in which all crime is legal for twelve hours. On this night of chaos and murder, a wealthy family soon find themselves hostages for harbouring the target of a murderous syndicate after he gains access into their fortified home.

Directed by James DeMonaco, this director has actually taken-on every instalment of: ‘The Purge’ series from the original film through to the latest entry: ‘The First Purge’ in 2018. According to DeMonaco, the idea for the film first came about during a moment of road-rage when he and his wife were cut-off in traffic by a drunk driver, resulting in DeMonaco wishing you could have one free murder a year after witnessing the driver’s complete lack of regret. While a creative and disturbing concept by itself, ‘The Purge’ series has also captivated many through its many themes. Although mostly focused-on in later films, the various themes of this horror franchise could be interpreted by viewers in a number of different ways, from political to psychological.

Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane portray the main family of the film: ‘The Sandins’, who unfortunately, with the exception of Ethan Hawke as the father: ‘James Sandin’, all give relatively weak performances, portraying the family as excessively mundane throughout. However, this is also heavily due to their characters, as nearly every-character within the film is written as either very peculiar or very cliché, with the son: ‘Charlie Sandin’ having a medical problem which he takes medication for, in addition to having a strange character quirk for building and driving a remote control car attached to a disfigured baby doll, which ‘Charlie’ uses to navigate his way around the house. But due to how specific the latter is, he (and his sister) end-up seeming like nothing more than plot devices to put the rest of the family in further peril.

Aside from one or two shots, the cinematography by Jacques Jouffreet is unsurprisingly quite bland. Mostly unitising mid-shots and close-ups, ‘The Purge’ never really attempts to do anything overly inventive with its cinematography, usually relying on rough hand-held shots. Alongside this, the lighting throughout the film is immensely dark. As after the murderous syndicate cut the power to the family’s home, the remainder of the film’s runtime is spent in nearly-total darkness, which can become a little irritating after a point as the constant dark corridors make the characters even harder to follow than they already were, as the cinematography doesn’t allow the viewer any understanding of the house’s convoluted and confusing layout.

Even though many modern horrors lack an ingenious score, the original score by Nathan Whitehead is fairly uninspired. As in spite of the soundtrack helping to build-up a tense atmosphere during a few scenes, the original score simply isn’t memorable in the slightest and is barely distinguishable from any other generic horror/thriller soundtrack, despite the huge list of tracks the film has to offer.

The most obvious issue ‘The Purge’ has been criticised for is its focus on being more of a home-invasion thriller than what most would imagine (and desire) a ‘Purge’ film to be, as the original film is actually extremely contained, being set nearly entirely within the family’s home and relying on only a small group of characters. While director James DeMonaco has stated this was mostly due to the film’s small-budget and lack of shooting days, you can’t help but feel the film isn’t exploring its chaotic world as effectively as it could whilst watching. Of course, being a modern horror, ‘The Purge’ is also littered with jump-scares throughout, many of which are very predictable due to the build-up to each-one, eventually making them feel nothing but tedious.

Whilst I personally don’t feel ‘The Purge’ series improves much even throughout its future entries. There are still some aspects I enjoy within this modern horror, from its interesting ideas and themes to its decently entertaining performance from Ethan Hawke and array of menacing costumes/masks, ‘The Purge’ does have great potential, but I simply feel it was just never fully-realised. Overall, a high 3/10 for the original: ‘Purge’. While this horror series does have a devoted fan-base, I’ve never quite understood its appeal. As for me, ‘The Purge’ franchise will always have its intriguing ideas spoiled by its dull filmmaking.

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Prisoners (2013) – Film Review

Combining some incredible performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal with some phenomenal cinematography by the legendary Rodger Deakins alongside an effective original score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. ‘Prisoners’ is truly a masterclass in both filmmaking and storytelling. Although some audience members may be turned-off by the film’s depressing subject matter and few graphic scenes, this story of two family’s lives being turned upside-down is nevertheless an enthralling thriller/drama throughout.

Shortly after their Thanksgiving dinner, ‘Keller Dover’s six-year-old daughter and her best friend go missing. After their families contact the authorities, the driven: ‘Detective Loki’ is assigned to lead the case. But as hours turn into days, knowing his daughter’s life is at stake, the frantic father: ‘Keller’ begins to take matters into his own hands.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner: 2049). Villeneuve is in my opinion, one of the best filmmakers currently working. As every-one of his films is always engaging and visually breathtaking, with ‘Prisoners’ being no exception. As throughout the entirety of its lengthy runtime, ‘Prisoners’ manages to be a compelling, tense and emotional experience that will leave most viewers on the edge of their seats. Making the audience long for the truth just as much as the film’s characters do, with the film’s main theme of parenthood even exploring the idea of how far a parent would truly go to protect their child, most notably through ‘Keller’s questionable actions later within the story.

The film’s main pairing of Hugh Jackman as ‘Keller Dover’ and Jake Gyllenhaal as ‘Detective Loki’ is the perfect combination of two talented actors, as both give brilliant performances as their respective characters with Hugh Jackman in particular, giving one of the best performances of his entire career. Especially in the scene: ‘The Interrogation’. In which, ‘Keller’ repeatedly tortures the potential kidnapper of his daughter, resulting in the scene soon becoming one of the film’s best moments mostly through Hugh Jackman’s incredibly intense performance. In addition to the two leads, the supporting cast of Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Dylan Minnette, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are all excellent, with each member of the main cast adding to the film’s realistic portrayal of two concerned families, going days without rest as their thoughts dwell purely on their missing children.

From the opening shot through to the very last, the cinematography by Roger Deakins is nothing short of phenomenal. As ‘Prisoners’ elevates its already gripping narrative through its many stunning shots, alongside the film’s absolutely superb lighting, which makes fantastic use of darkness and silhouettes wherever possible (a staple of Roger Deakins’ cinematography) which only backs-up the film’s grim tone and tense atmosphere further. Another element of the film that also adds to its visual aesthetic is its use of weather. Being set in a small town in Pennsylvania, ‘Prisoners’ makes great use of the state’s dreary weather for a number of scenes, meaning many shots are enhanced due to the constant barrage of rain and snow within them.

The late Jóhann Jóhannsson handles the original score for the film, most known for his work on: ‘The Theory of Everything’ along with plenty of other films from director Denis Villeneuve. The film’s score really adds to many of its dramatic moments, as the soundtrack mostly focuses on the story’s more emotional and tragic aspects, and while not overly memorable, the tracks: ‘I Can’t Find Them’ and ‘Through Falling Snow’ both fit the bleak tone of the film flawlessly. While the track: ‘The Keeper’ is also worth a quick mention simply due to its impactful feel.

Although it isn’t a major problem, my only real issue with the film is the lack of depth for some of its characters, as ‘Detective Loki’ and ‘Alex Jones’ both have many interesting traits, with ‘Detective Loki’ having a variety of tattoos, rings and facial ticks (many of which were actually Jake Gyllenhaal’s ideas). Whilst ‘Alex’ has the I.Q. of a ten-year-old due to his learning difficulties. Yet, even with these unique traits, I never felt like either of these two characters were explored enough, even with the film’s many attempts at subtle characterisation.

In short, ‘Prisoners’ is not only one of my favourite films from 2013, but one of all my all-time favourite thrillers in general. Through its spectacular cinematography, tense atmosphere and compelling plot among many, many other elements, ‘Prisoners’ is honestly unmissable. Being just another piece of the beyond-excellent filmography of director Denis Villeneuve, this thriller is certainly one I’d recommend to anyone in need of a memorizing mystery. A 9/10 overall. If you’ve never seen a film by Villeneuve, I’d say ‘Prisoners’ is a tremendous place to begin, despite the film not quite beating-out my personal favourite film of his, ‘Blade Runner: 2049’.

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Maniac (2012) – Film Review

Shot nearly entirely through a first-person perspective and lead by a timid yet creepy performance from Elijah Wood. ‘Maniac’ is in my opinion, a pretty creative and unique slasher that has been enormously overlooked when it comes to modern horror. While the film does still have its issues, I feel most horror fans will get something out of this discomforting dive into the mind of a serial killer should they give it a watch.

After working his day job at a mannequin restoration store, the mentally ill and isolated: ‘Frank’ takes to the dark streets of Los Angeles as a serial killer with a fetish for female scalps. But when a young artist asks him for help with her new exhibition, ‘Frank’s obsessions begin to consume him.

Although it takes a different approach to its story, ‘Maniac’ is actually a remake of the classic 1980 slasher of the same name. However, this is one of the rare occasions where I believe that the remake is possibly an improvement over the original film. As while the 80s flick does feature plenty of over-the-top gore, the film never manages to elevate itself from being just a fairly straight-forward slasher, and although it’s maybe not always successful. The remake does attempt to develop ‘Frank’ more as a character alongside exploring themes of mental health and loss of identity effectively throughout its runtime.

Elijah Wood, best known for his role as ‘Frodo’ in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series, portrays the serial killer protagonist: ‘Frank’ as awkward and almost quite dry at points, making ‘Frank’ feel incredibly deranged when he interacts with other characters. Most notably, the artist and photographer: ‘Anna’ portrayed by Nora Arnezeder, who is a clear contrast to ‘Frank’ in the way she portrays her simplistic yet likeable and innocent character, completely unaware of: ‘Frank’s dark deeds as she grows closer and closer to him. The performances are slightly dragged-down by writing throughout the film however, as whilst the dialogue is decent for the most part, the film does still have the odd unusual line.

As previously mentioned, the remake of: ‘Maniac’ is also shot nearly entirely through P.O.V. shots, and its this cinematography by Maxime Alexandre that really makes the film stand-out from many other slashers. As whilst watching the film, you can’t help but feel the tension as ‘Frank’ goes on dates or has conversations with women who we know will soon meet a gruesome fate, as we as the audience are aware of his sinister intentions, the film almost makes you feel hostage to ‘Frank’s mind. That being said, the film does sometimes take you out of the experience when it leaves the P.O.V. format for a few seconds. While I understand why the film does this (as it’s usually at crucial points within the narrative). I personally feel keeping the audience restricted to looking through ‘Frank’s eyes would’ve made the film more compelling overall.

Serving as a great throwback to the classic 80s film its based-on in addition to adding too many of the film’s best moments. The original score by Robin Coudert or ‘Rob’ for short, is a synth soundtrack. Utilizing electronic waves, this underrated score is certainly a high-point of the film, with my two favourite tracks: ‘Doll’ and ‘Haunted’ both being incredibly memorable in their own right, almost feeling as if they were ripped straight from any of the iconic horrors of the 1980s.

Extremely violent and disturbing throughout, ‘Maniac’ truly pulls-no-punches when delving into the mind of its serial killer, meaning many viewers may be put-off by the film’s extremely gory deaths and unnerving murder scenes. As ‘Frank’ disposes of his victims with little remorse, as dark memories of his mother during childhood fuel his violent actions. This is also where many of the film’s more bizarre moments come into play, as although it may surprise some viewers, ‘Maniac’ is partly an art-house film as well as a slasher, as the film’s themes as well as ‘Frank’s broken mind is usually displayed visually throughout the film in a variety of ways. This unfortunately does lead onto the film’s weakest aspect however, as during many of these anomalous scenes, the film’s editing can become quite erratic, sometimes even placing cuts mid-conversation.

In conclusion, I really do enjoy ‘Maniac’. While the film is still quite problematic in areas, mostly in regard to its editing choices and occasional lines of strange dialogue. ‘Maniac’s memorable original score, intense violence and of course, captivating cinematography through its use of P.O.V. The film stands as definitely one of the better remakes in recent memory. Overall, a high 7/10. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend ‘Maniac’ to everyone, if you’re preferred realm of the horror genre is gory slashers, then this indie flick is certainly not one to miss.

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Joker (2019) – Film Review

Since even the first day of its release, ‘Joker’ has seemingly split audiences straight down the middle, being hit with numerous reviews all with varied ratings. Everything from the film’s violence to its intricate themes to especially its Oscar-nominations, have all been brought-up in recent conversation, as this film’s character-driven narrative focuses on the origins of: ‘The Joker’, arch-nemesis of the caped-crusader: ‘Batman’. Yet ultimately, becomes far more of an affecting and compelling drama/thriller rather than your standard superhero affair.

Set in ‘Gotham City’ during the 1980s, mentally troubled comedian: ‘Arthur Fleck’, is disregarded and mistreated by society. Over-time, this leads him to embark on a downward spiral of revolution and bloody crime, eventually bringing him face-to-face with his chaotic alter-ego: ‘The Joker’.

Being directed by Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover, War Dogs). Throughout the film you really get the sense that Phillips truly puts his all into it, pretty much leaving behind the realm of comedy flicks entirely to craft a film which puts more of an emphasis on character and filmmaking. As every-aspect of the film from its performances to it’s writing, cinematography and even original score, all feel as if they’ve been thought-over profusely. ‘Joker’ also attempts to back-up its story with plenty of thought-provoking themes of mental health and the cruel nature of modern-day society, which I feel are represented very well throughout the film, giving Phillip’s version of this iconic character more depth beyond him being a mysterious and lawless antagonist.

From ‘Joker’s laugh to his broken mental state, Joaquin Phoenix gives a true powerhouse performance as the classic comic book villain. Making the character sadistic and dangerous yet also sympathetic wherever possible, as even though ‘Arthur’ commits many horrible acts as the runtime continues-on. You can’t help but feel sorry for him, being beaten relentlessly by the world he lives within. In my opinion, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of this iconic character truly elevates the film as a whole, and I’d even argue is up-there with Heath Ledger’s beloved performance in ‘The Dark Knight’ many years earlier. The supporting cast of Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen are all also great within the film, with Robert De Niro’s character: ‘Murray Franklin’ being an obvious throwback to his character from the classic Scorsese film: ‘The King of Comedy’ from 1982.

All of the cinematography by Lawrence Sher throughout the film is very impressive, which is actually quite surprising considering ‘Joker’ is shot by the same cinematographer as the rest of Phillip’s work (which all contain mostly bland shots due to their focus on comedic writing). Featuring a variety of both stunning and memorable shots throughout, ‘Joker’s cinematography does serve its narrative and dark tone very well, with the now-iconic scene: ‘Staircase Dance’ since becoming one of the most recognized and celebrated moments of 2019 pop-culture.

Despite feeling a little unfitting during some scenes, the original score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is both very beautiful and also quite tragic. As the score really enhances the viewer’s journey into ‘Arthur’s depressing and broken state of mind. However, that being said, some of the tracks can begin to feel a little too similar over-time, with the signature track: ‘Bathroom Dance’ almost beginning to feel replicated later within the film, despite the soundtrack’s many attempts to do otherwise.

The main criticism ‘Joker’ has faced since its release has been its overreliance on borrowing elements from other films, most notably classic Martin Scorsese films such as: ‘Taxi Driver’ and the previously mentioned: ‘The King of Comedy’. As ‘Joker’ utilizes a style very reminiscent of: ‘Taxi Driver’ whilst also featuring a protagonist not too dissimilar to the protagonist from: ‘The King of Comedy’, and while I definitely understand these complaints, I also feel many films throughout history have always borrowed elements from others, and in addition to having Martin Scorsese himself on-board as an executive producer, ‘Joker’ does include some aspects of its own making to help it stand-out.

In conclusion, ‘Joker’ certainly isn’t perfect, but I do feel the film is successful enough, as while its occasional cheesy dialogue and derivative aspects may drag the film down, its stunning cinematography and haunting original score really lend themselves effectively to the already gripping story. Not to mention Joaquin Phoenix’s captivating performance, all of which leave ‘Joker’ an impactful and refreshing origin story for this cherished comic book character, and a low 8/10 overall. If you’re a huge fan of this iconic antagonist or just have a fondness for character studies/intense dramas in general, I’d recommend you give ‘Joker’ a watch in spite of its mixed perception.

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It (2017) – Film Review

Finally, after many years of waiting, horror and literature fans alike got their wishes granted. As director Andy Muschietti (Mama) signed-on to direct a new remake (or readaptation) of one of Steven King’s most iconic and beloved horror stories, this of course, being ‘It’, with some great cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung, and a very memorable portrayal of the demonic clown: ‘Pennywise’ from Bill Skarsgård. The film is one of the better King adaptations in recent years, even with the array issues the film still suffers from.

In the summer of 1989, a group of unpopular kids band together in order to destroy a shape-shifting monster known only as ‘Pennywise’, a creature which can disguise itself as whatever it’s victim fears most.

Following the film’s incredibly successful release in 2017, ‘Pennywise’ has quickly become a modern horror icon despite only having about four minutes of dialogue in the entire film. But its easy to see why, as not only does ‘It’ share the familiar fun tone of classic films of the 1980s such as: ‘The Goonies’ and ‘The Monster Squad’, but ‘It’ also manages to adapt the novel’s antagonist: ‘Pennywise’ fairly closely from its original source material, resulting in a mostly entertaining novel-to-screen transition.

The main cast of: ‘The Losers Club’ features Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff who all share pretty great chemistry with each other, as alongside the film’s terrific writing, the children truly feel like an actual group of kids, with the group constantly cursing and sharing-in plenty of quippy banter with each other. In addition to the younger cast, ‘Pennywise’ is this time around portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, and while I have always loved Tim Curry’s cheesy yet menacing portrayal of the iconic clown. Bill Skarsgård is a stand-out aspect of the film for sure. Capturing the eerie qualities of the character as well as his unworldly nature perfectly, really embracing the idea that ‘Pennywise’ isn’t just a psychotic clown, but something far stranger…

The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung is surprisingly brilliant for a modern horror, featuring a number of attractive shots which blend extremely-well with the film’s story. The film does have one recurring shot which is quite irritating however, as during many of the scenes where ‘Pennywise’ appears to his victims, the film utilizes a shot in which the sinister clown approaches the camera straight-on, sprinting directly towards the screen, and while I understand what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this shot, I feel it only comes-off as fatuous and looks very out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film’s visual pleasing cinematography.

The original score for the film is admirable for the most part, being composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, the score ranges from being your typical horror soundtrack to eventually becoming more emotional for the more character-focused scenes. The only issue I have with the original score are some of the tracks which feature deep bass-like sounds, as I feel these tracks really don’t fit with the film’s time-period. Regardless, the tracks: ‘Paper Boat’ and ‘Derry’ do serve the film’s story delightfully well, with one of the film’s final tracks: ‘Blood Oath’, also being a beautiful send-off for these characters before their inevitable return.

From ‘Pennywise’s uncanny appearance to the abandoned house ‘It’ lives within on ‘Neibolt Street’, many of the film’s designs are also pretty memorable despite their limited screen-time. These fantastic designs are dragged down by the film’s poor CGI effects however, as the film always seems to resort to CGI visuals during many of its more tense moments, which can take away from their impact. This is also where ‘It’s most substantial problem comes into play, as ‘It’ has really split audiences down the middle when it comes to its focus on horror. As while the film does have a few eerie scenes and creepy visuals, this adaptation seems to be more focused on being the coming-of-age story the novel mostly is. Although many viewers may be disappointed by this, desiring a narrative based more around the story’s darker elements, I feel the film’s distracting CGI effects and constant barrage of jump-scares are made-up for by its interesting delve into the themes of childhood fears and growing-up.

In my opinion, ‘It’ is a pretty solid Steven King adaptation, as while certainly let-down by its weak CGI visuals, overreliance on jump-scares and occasionally inconsistent tone, the film still is a pretty enjoyable watch throughout its two-hour runtime, mostly due to the film’s great performances and general memorability, and with ‘It: Chapter Two’ turning-out to be an underwhelming experience for most. I’d say it further proves that this film is the direction to go when it comes to adapting King’s work, and is a decent 7/10 overall.

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Buried (2010) – Film Review

Ryan Reynolds impressively carries an entire film on his shoulders with ‘Buried’, as this fast-paced and extremely tense thriller focuses entirely on a single character trapped within an enclosed space, building-up a tension-filled atmosphere and displaying constant filmmaking talent throughout (especially since the film was shot in only seven days). ‘Buried’ manages to keep its audience on constant-edge as we experience this terrifying event right alongside our protagonist.

‘Paul Conroy’, a U.S. truck driver currently working in Iraq, wakes-up to find he is buried alive inside a wooden coffin after being attacked by terrorists, with only a cigarette lighter and a phone by his side, it’s a race against time for him to contact whoever he can and escape before its too late.

In concept, ‘Buried’ is truly a brilliant idea for a small-budget film, as the entire film takes place within a single location with only the protagonist ever being psychically seen on-screen, the film never breaks from its tension or narrative, with not even a single shot outside of the coffin itself, and yet, the film never fails at keeping those watching glued to the screen. As after the admittedly fairly cheesy opening title sequence, the film never seems to slows-down, almost refusing to give the viewer a moment to breathe as ‘Paul’ is faced with one difficult task after the next.

As already mentioned, Ryan Reynolds is the only member of the cast to physically appear on-screen, meaning he has the monumental task of delivering a very emotional and gripping performance to keep the audience engaged, which thankfully, he does a phenomenal job of. As throughout the film’s tight runtime the actor going against his usual comedic casting to mostly excellent results. ‘Buried’ even manages to give the protagonist some characterisation through his various phone conversations with the other characters, adding the film’s compelling story even further. The various characters who appear as voices through ‘Paul’s phone consist of his wife: ‘Linda Conroy’ portrayed by Samantha Mathis alongside José Luis García Pérez, Ivana Miño, Robert Paterson and Stephen Tobolowsky, who give the best performances possible even with their limiting roles.

The cinematography by Eduard Grau has a surprising amount of range despite the extremely restrictive location, as the majority of shots get uncomfortably close to ‘Paul’s face, almost placing the viewer in the position of the protagonist themselves, pretty much ensuring a feeling of claustrophobia by the film’s end. The film’s dim lighting also adds to its uncomfortable nature, as ‘Paul’ only has a cigarette lighter and small glowstick by his side, the film consists entirely of bright orange and green colour palette, alongside the occasional glow of blue from ‘Paul’s phone. That is, at least when the screen isn’t covered in complete darkness. Another small detail I appreciate about ‘Buried’ is how ‘Paul’ being underground is displayed. As when shots pull-outwards from ‘Paul’ within the coffin, nothing but total blackness is shown around him, really emphasising the true loneliness and desperation he feels in this situation.

Victor Reyes handles the original score for the film, and whilst the soundtrack is decent is some scenes where it is used quite subtly, the score is sadly one of the film’s worst aspects. As the original score for: ‘Buried’ is usually very generic and feels almost a little too over-the-top for a film as subdued and relentless as this one. Personally, I actually think the film would’ve been improved if more focus was placed on the film’s great sound design rather than its weak soundtrack.

The film also has some strange editing choices during its runtime, as although not present continuously throughout the film. Many scenes do have short moments where the editing becomes rather erratic, sometimes having shots which quickly close-in on ‘Paul’s face as he looks upwards, and whilst I understand this may have been done to add to the film’s tension-building, I feel it only really takes away from it in the long-run.

To conclude, I feel ‘Buried’ is a film you can truly immerse yourself in, as this film makes such outstanding use out of its simplistic yet effective script and small-budget. Although the film does suffer from an excessive original score and some bizarre editing choices, the remainder of film’s execution alongside Ryan Reynold’s tremendous performance is really something to admire, making an already compelling story even more interesting. A solid 8/10 for: ‘Buried’. If you’re a fan of thrillers in particular, then I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy this inventive flick.

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The Open House (2018) – Film Review

Netflix has always enormously ranged in quality when it comes to their original films and the horror genre, as despite films such as: ‘The Ritual’ and ‘Gerald’s Game’ displaying some great promise for the streaming service, many duds such as: ‘Cam’, ‘The Silence’ and ‘Rattlesnake’ just to name a few, leave ‘The Open House’ feeling like just another bland and (sometimes even brainless) entry into this ongoing trend.

Following a recent family tragedy, an athletic teenager and his mother find themselves besieged by a threatening force when they temporarily move into a new house currently-up for sale.

By far the worst element of: ‘The Open House’ is its writing, as in addition to the film’s extremely dim-witted characters and bizarre misdirections. ‘The Open House’ almost feels as if it has a disconnect from reality at points, as the main antagonist of the film, ‘The Man in Black’, lurks within the mother and son’s home unbeknown to them, usually hiding in their basement. Yet somehow, also manages to navigate through the house without ever being seen, even going-up and down the single staircase to the basement constantly. The closest ‘The Man in Black’ ever comes to being found is through the noises he makes at night, and although these moments do give ‘The Man in Black’ the perfect opportunity to depose of his victims, he never does for reasons that go unexplained.

Dylan Minnette and Piercey Dalton portray the main duo of the film: ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi Wallace’, a mother and son broken apart by the recent death of their father/husband, and although neither of the two actors give a truly bad performance throughout the film, none of the characters ever really feel that likeable or interesting, this even continues-on to the supporting cast of Sharif Atkins, Patricia Bethune, Paul Rae and Aaron Abrams. Who all attempt to give each one of the small-town residents a distinct and out-of-touch personality, which usually fall quite flat. ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi’ also suffer from one of the biggest issues for horror characters, that being their nonsensical decisions. As during many points within the story, the characters don’t react to situations how most people realistically would, sometimes even missing very obvious signs of danger.

Surprisingly, the cinematography by Filip Vandewal does allow for a number of attractive shots. Whilst still fairly dull overall, usually not really adding much to any of the film’s tension-filled moments (what little there are) through the film’s heavy overreliance on its static shot-reverse-shot formula during many scenes. ‘The Open House’ does at least attempt to use a variety of wide-shots and focus-pulls to make effective use of its isolated yet beautiful location in the snowy mountains of Ohio, despite the story itself barely utilizing this location aside from a scene nearing the end of the film.

The original score by Joseph Shirley is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, being the usual generic and sometimes even overbearing strings score composed for the majority of horror flicks. From the opening scene to the end of the film’s credits, every track is very forgettable and is barley distinct from each other. So much so that it seems that the soundtrack is barley even findable online, as it actually took me a while to locate the score afterwards.

Another poorly-executed aspect of the film is its many misdirections as already mentioned, as despite hinting at numerous different paranormal events throughout its runtime, ‘The Open House’ is actually a mostly grounded modern-horror. As whilst the film constantly alludes to supernatural occurrences, the film then always undermines itself by completely ignoring them. This also isn’t just limited to the paranormal aspects however, as the film also introduces a variety of loose-ends which the film never ties-up, and whilst some could see this as setting-up a layer of mystery, I personally feel its just lazy writing and bad red-herrings. This is most notable when it comes to the character of: ‘Martha’ portrayed by Patricia Bethune, who repeatedly refers to her dead husband throughout the film and always acts very unusual. Yet nothing ever comes of his, and by the end of the narrative, her character is almost completely forgotten about.

In conclusion, ‘The Open House’ is a truly dismal Netflix original horror, with some weak performances, a forgettable original score, atrocious writing and an enormous amount of clichés. Aside from the occasional piece of decent cinematography, ‘The Open House’ simply feels like a ‘nothing’ experience, as for me, these kinds of low-effort and low-budget horrors are only dragging the genre down further than it already has been in recent years. Overall, a definite 2/10.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016) – Film Review

Part thriller, part drama and part art-house film, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not appeal to every-viewer, but those it will, it will certainly leave an impression. As this extremely underrated thriller lead by some excellent performances from Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal is incredibly dark and compelling from start-to-finish. Directed by former fashion-designer turned director Tom Ford (A Single Man) and based on the novel: ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not be flawless in its execution, but it is definitely worth a watch.

An unhappy and lamenting art curator (Susan Morrow) begins to imagine herself within the pages of a novel manuscript sent to her by her former husband, whose negative associations of their relationship takes-on a fictionalized violent direction in a symbolic revenge tale.

Split between two different storylines, one set in the real-world and one set within the pages of the fictional novel. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ definitely has some changes in tone, as every-scene with ‘Susan’ usually focuses on her broken marriage and current lifestyle, which feels very different when compared to the tense revenge story of the novel, and yet, neither of these stories ever feel dull, as they both are engaging for different reasons. Director Tom Ford also makes brilliant use of this structure, as for those more keen-eyed viewers, there are a variety of visual links between the two narratives, the most obvious of which being how ‘Susan’ imagines ex-husband: ‘Edward’ as the father character within the novel, meaning Jake Gyllenhaal takes on two separate roles.

The main cast of Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber and Armie Hammer are all brilliant throughout the film. As everyone one of the film’s characters gets plenty of development, usually all playing a crucial role within the film regardless of whichever storyline they are in. Although Jake Gyllenhaal does a pretty great job taking-on two separate roles, the plot of the novel mostly takes-place within the Texas desert, meaning the father character: ‘Tony Hastings’ does have a Texas accent, and whilst not terrible, it is a little inconsistent. This is easily redeemed by the stand-out performance by Aaron Taylor-Johnson as ‘Ray Marcus’ however, as this usually bland actor gives an amazing performance as a redneck delinquent who is just as intimidating as he is erratic.

Although the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is nothing extraordinary overall, there are still plenty of attractive shots throughout the runtime. As the film uses its cinematography fairly effectively to create a contrast between the two stories, as the film uses an array of wide-shots when focusing on the story within the novel adding too many of its tense moments. Whereas the majority of the scenes within the real-world mostly uses a large number of close-ups and mid-shots to add to the film’s drama.

Without a doubt however, my personal favourite aspect of the film is the original score by Abel Korzeniowski. Utilizing an ensemble of violins, the score for: ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is very memorable and excellently builds tension throughout the film, as the soundtrack always remains very beautiful despite also feeling quite haunting. The original score even manages to capture the feeling of loneliness and sadness from ‘Susan’s storyline, with the tracks: ‘A Solitary Women’ and ‘City Lights’ fitting this idea perfectly, yet neither of these two tracks beat-out my personal favourite: ‘Revenge’. Referred to by most as the film’s signature track.

Throughout either of the two plots, the film is also filled with plenty of themes and underlining messages, many of which relate to the idea of expression through art, which does help distract slightly from the main issue I have with ‘Nocturnal Animals’, this being the editing. As although it may be intentional. At points, the editing throughout the film becomes very fast-paced, usually cutting between shots quite rapidly, sometimes even using jump-cuts during some of the more drawn-out shots. If this style of editing was present continuously throughout the film, then perhaps it wouldn’t have been as noticeable, but as it was only occasionally, I personally found it quite distracting.

‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not be a masterpiece, but I do believe this film is very overlooked when it comes to thrillers, as the outstanding performances from the cast mixed-in with the array of very tense moments and wonderful original score make for a genuinely gripping and interesting experience, and overall, an 8/10. Whilst some audience members may not completely understand the themes and messages behind the story. I do feel this film will leave an impact on those it does appeal to.

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The Snowman (2017) – Film Review

Despite being directed by Tomas Alfredson, head of some great films in the past such as: ‘Let the Right One In’ and ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’. ‘The Snowman’ is a complete mess of a thriller from start-to-finish. Mostly as a result of the variety of issues it faced during its production, from a rushed shooting schedule to plenty of scenes and story elements being left on the cutting-room floor. Although the film’s isolated location alongside the visually pleasing cinematography by Dion Beebe may be very effective at points, they simply aren’t enough to save the film from its weak writing and boring/confusing narrative, even with the film’s decent source material.

As a rough detective (Harry Hole) investigates the disappearance of a woman whose scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman, he begins to fear an elusive serial killer may be active again. So with the help of a brilliant recruit, ‘Harry’ must now connect decades-old cold cases in the hopes of outwitting this threat before the next snowfall.

‘The Snowman’ is based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø, also known as: ‘Snømannen’ in Norwegian. However, although this is the first time audiences are seeing the character of: ‘Harry Hole’ portrayed on-screen, ‘The Snowman’ is actually the seventh entry in the character’s novel series. Making the narrative itself feel very underdeveloped and even a little out-of-place, almost as if the viewer hasn’t been informed of any of the film’s in-world events before the current story begins (this may also be why the film is brimming with overly-long flashbacks).

Michael Fassbender portrays the protagonist: ‘Harry Hole’ within the film, which is unfortunately one of his weakest performances to date, not only due to his poorly-written character (who is incredibly cliché as an uncaring alcoholic detective) but also as a result of his fairly bland line delivery. The rest of the cast featuring Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson and even a short appearance from J.K. Simmons, are all decent with what they are given, although they also suffer from similar poorly-written characters. Many of the characters throughout the film also never seem to react very realistically to situations, as characters usually just shrug-off horrific sights with ease. Never really delving into how traumatic these experiences would actually be for a person to witness.

The cinematography by Dion Beebe is undoubtedly the best aspect of the film however, as the beautiful yet isolated locations of the story really add to the film’s enormous array of wide-shots and uncomfortable close-ups. Needlessly to say, this doesn’t really help with the lack of tension within the film, as although the film makes more than a few attempts at crafting tension-filled moments when ‘Harry’ investigates various crime scenes, the film never quite manages it, usually failing to build-up much of an eerie atmosphere.

Marco Beltrami handles the original score for the film, and although this composer usually does terrific work, his score for: ‘The Snowman’ is mostly very dull. As with the exception of the tracks: ‘Main Titles’ and ‘Down the Harry Hole’, the entire soundtrack feels as of it could’ve been taken from almost any other generic thriller, which is a huge shame, as I personally feel a more impactful score could’ve really helped with the film’s overall lack of tension.

The film’s location probably intrigued a large number of viewers just on itself, clearly taking inspiration from films such as: ‘Deadfall’ and the dark comedy classic: ‘Fargo’ from 1996, the film’s snowy Norway setting really gives the film a distinct look, with the bright red blood from many of the killer’s victims standing-out immensely amongst the white snow. These visuals also help to distract from the film’s slow-pacing, as the film’s main mystery usually feels like quite a drag, with clues only being revealed very slowly over the course of the film.

In conclusion, ‘The Snowman’ definitely fails in more categories than one, as despite its interesting location and pretty fantastic cinematography, the film’s messy story and bland performances make the film pretty unappealing when considering it’s over two-hour runtime. Whilst I’m sure ‘The Snowman’ had the potential to be a great semi-Noir thriller at some-point in time, especially considering it was initially going to be directed by the legendary Martain Scorsese, who eventually left the film to pursue other projects. ‘The Snowman’ is still far from the chilling crime tale it attempted to be, and overall is a disappointing 3/10.

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Contagion (2011) – Film Review

Strikingly similar to current events in the world, ‘Contagion’ explores a scenario in which nearly every-country is rapidly infected from a freak virus, eventually leading to a large number of deaths. Utilising some decent performances and unique story structure alongside its effective original score by Cliff Martinez, the film is both very bleak and very realistic through its eerie portrayal of a worldwide pandemic.

After her return home from a business trip to Hong Kong, ‘Beth Emhoff’ dies from what is believed to be flu or some other type of infection, soon leading to an enormous outbreak across the world. For doctors and administrators at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, several days pass before anyone realizes the true extent of this new infection. Leaving most of the world in the midst of a pandemic as the CDC works to find a cure.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Side Effects, Unsane). ‘Contagion’ is truly dripping with the Soderbergh’s usual style as a director, as the film is constantly tense and unnerving throughout its tight runtime, with the film even having an element of uncertainty during many scenes, as any of the various characters we cut between within the story could be infected without even knowing it.

Despite the film jumping from character to character during its story, the all-star cast of Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow are all great in their portrayals of various characters thrown-into this chaotic event. As our perspective changes throughout the narrative, from the eyes of an average family isolated within their home, through to high-up government officials scrambling to devise a plan. However, due to the film being structured like this, the film also displays plenty of wasted potential, as Bryan Cranston actually appears in the film as ‘RADM Lyle Haggerty’. Who is only given a few short scenes and is hardly utilized within the story, making the brilliant actor feel incredibly wasted. There is also a similar issue with the internet blogger: ‘Alan Krumwiede’ portrayed by Jude Law, as this character actually adds very little to the overall story and barely interacts with any of the other characters, resulting in most of his screen-time feeling like more of a distraction than anything else.

The cinematography within ‘Contagion’ is surprisingly by Steven Soderbergh himself, under the fictional name of: ‘Peter Andrews’, and whilst nothing incredible overall, it is fairly effective throughout the film. Having said that, I couldn’t help but feel whilst watching that the film could’ve made much better use of close-ups during many scenes. As due to the film’s focus on a spreading virus, I really feel these shots would’ve further added to the building of dread and uncomfortable nature of skin contact the film puts an emphasis-on at many points.

Cliff Martinez’s original score does help to add to the drama and tension throughout the film however, as the score usually appears during key moments to add more impact to the film’s montages of footage. This is most effective during a scene set in the early days of the initial outbreak, or when the film finally reveals where the virus originally came from, and although the soundtrack itself may not be incredibly memorable, I do still feel it suits the film’s tone very well. In particular, the film’s opening track: ‘They’re Calling My Flight’, which starts the film off strong by jumping straight-into the narrative.

My main issues with ‘Contagion’ are mostly related to the film’s structure, as the pacing nearing the ending of the film seems to slow-down drastically in an attempt to wrap-up every-aspect of the story, and although I feel cutting between multiple different characters is an interesting way to approach a story like this, I could see it being frustrating for some viewers if one character’s plot is more compelling than another. Yet this is somewhat redeemed by ‘Contagion’s realism. As the film has actually been proven to be very accurate when it comes to its science, even receiving praise from ‘New Scientist’ magazine when the film was initially released in 2011.

Whilst ‘Contagion’ doesn’t break-any-new-ground when it comes to filmmaking, the film is still fairly entertaining and frightening throughout most of its runtime, while it definitely has its weak aspects, I would say ‘Contagion’ is certainly worth a watch, and is most likely a 7/10 overall. However, do bear in mind that I probably wouldn’t recommend this film if you are already in a panicked mindset over current events, as I feel this film could make those who are already concerned panic even further through its mostly realistic execution of a story like this.

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