Tag Archives: thriller movies

Movie Review: Hush

Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel create weave soundless horror in Hush
© 2016 Blumhouse Productions/Intrepid Pictures

Now Hear This

To date, director Mike Flanagan has helmed two successful horror films. The first is Absentia, a poignant and absorbing yarn in the style of a creepy urban myth. The second is Oculus, a blistering fable about family dysfunction (and haunted mirrors) told in parallel timelines. For his latest film Hush, Flanagan steps off the supernatural plane, applying his visual storytelling prowess to a more straightforward suspense thriller. Straightforward it would seem anyway, but the script by Flanagan and lead actress Kate Siegel (also seen in Oculus) has just as many sneaky tricks without conjuring ghosts or other forces from beyond. Brace for old-fashioned hometown horror with some keen new ideas.

Maddie (Siegel) is a novelist caught in the chasm between publishing a successful first book and the nebulous, looming horror of penning an equally brilliant follow-up. Her main stumbling block is the ending. Early in the film she agonizes over a suitably powerful and satisfying denouement for her new story. Are you getting a prickly feeling about where this narrative might be headed?
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Shoot Me Twice: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

by Dan Fields

Shoot Me Twice by Fields Point Review compares the 1956 and 1978 versions of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers has seen four high-profile adaptations to film, but only the first two share the essential link between film and remake. Abel Ferrara’s noteworthy Body Snatchers, and Oliver Hirschbiegel’s less noteworthy The Invasion, riff on different themes than the two versions fully titled Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Though their styles diverge sharply with the decades in which each was produced, these movies mine contemporary social anxiety to the same terrifying effect, thanks to skillful directing and acting in both cases. Given the number of disappointing remakes to be covered in the coming weeks, it seems like a good idea to begin the series with an unqualified success.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
directed by Don Siegel

Kevin McCarthy battles the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers in Don Siegel's original film
Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) pitches in.
© 1956 Allied Artists Pictures Corporation

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Movie Review: The Purge

by Dan Fields

James DeMonaco satirizes American violence culture in his thriller The Purge
© 2013 Universal Pictures

Oh, Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

You will be pleased to know that by 2022, America has been fixed. Violent crime is nearly nonexistent, as is unemployment. The economy is back on a boom. A governing body called the New Founding Fathers – never fully described, but evidently a successful compromise between radical high church and totalitarian state – has issued a directive under which once a year, for a twelve-hour period, virtually no act is illegal. By allowing those so inclined to commit any theft, murder, torture or other atrocity upon fellow citizens during this period, “The Purge” dispenses with the stress, rage and violent tendencies of the entire nation in a single night.

As dystopian high concepts go, this is an especially promising one. It allows for a polarized society in which half the population spend the year preparing defenses, and the other half build deadly arsenals with the same eagerness as those who devote months to making the perfect Halloween costume. It operates on the chilling notion that you are never completely safe, even from those you think you know best. It sets the stage for a moral wrestling match between the common good and the indulgence of humanity’s darkest, sickest parts.

Variations on the key themes of The Purge have already worked for films as diverse as Soylent Green, They Live, Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, The Running Man, and Series 7: The Contenders. Failing to break new ground is not a sin to be counted against The Purge. However, its scope is so narrow, and its message so shrill and forced, that it cannot measure up to its potential as a landmark thriller. Continue reading

Movie Review: Mama

by Dan Fields
First published January 16, 2013 by the California Literary Review

Mama Don’t Allow

For any director hoping to bring visions of terror and wonder to the screen, the patronage of Guillermo del Toro is a good place to start. Several years ago, director Andres Muschietti made a tiny and very creepy short film called Mamá about two little girls fleeing from something whose appearance is a crude mockery of what children should call by that name. Now, with del Toro as producer, he tackles the subject again at thirty times the scale. Mama is a movie of weight and a certain dark beauty. It is unlikely to change history, and has a handful of minor problems, but it deserves more than a January release, the exile by which many unwatchable horror movies go to die quietly. Mama is not only watchable, but engaging and at times even powerful.

Victoria and Lily are sisters who, when scarcely more than toddlers, become abruptly orphaned in the woods one day. The family crisis that got them there is rather graceless and contrived, but basically the standard parental element failed them in a big way. Alone and vulnerable, they come into the care of an indistinct but monstrous entity which they learn to call “Mama.” Over several years, the girls regress to a feral state in the idyllic squalor of the forest, little suspecting that civilization wants them back. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video #8: Kimble Rendall’s Bait

by Dan Fields
First published October 24, 2012 by the California Literary Review

Promotional poster for Kimble Rendall's Bait 3D

© 2012 Screen Australia/Anchor Bay

For The Pool Party

It is high time for a creature feature on this list, and Australia was glad to oblige. Bait (or Bait 3D if you are fortunate enough to see it in the proper venue) operates on a premise that sounds absolutely ludicrous… until you think about it. Rather than send blissful bathers into shark-infested waters, director Kimble Rendall brought the sharks to dry land.

Josh (Xavier Samuel, also of The Loved Ones) is a dour young man, but not without good reason. Haunted by guilt over the shark attack that killed his best mate and cost him his fiancée – the victim’s sister – he has given up his career of hunky lifeguard to work in a small seaside food mart. Through a series of cursory yet melodramatic introductions, we meet various neighborhood types as they go about their daily shopping. A local policeman’s daughter is caught shoplifting. Her boyfriend, a store clerk, has been fired for collusion. A more aggressive robbery is soon in the offing as well. A fatuous young couple has inexplicably stopped off to have sex in the shop’s dank underground parking lot. And worst of all, Josh’s ex is back in town with a new beau from her recent travels to Singapore. How could such a day get worse?

“Tsunami” is the correct answer. Dogs and birds in the immediate vicinity have been acting erratically, and it turns out to have been an omen that nobody noticed. On a clear blue day, the ocean decides to drown the coast with a massive tidal wave. In little time at all, the occupants of the bodega find themselves flooded in. From here, escape would seem like only a minor challenge, except that the sea also washed in a pair of great white sharks. Forced onto the highest ground they can find, the tsunami survivors must find a way out or be eaten.

The stock characters in this film are cardboard-thin, with dialogue and delivery that must have been written expressly to elicit groans from the audience. When a movie tries hard to be “bad” on purpose, matters can easily be taken too far. B-movie sensibilities can be urged, but not manufactured wholesale, and the downside of Bait is that every scene in which the characters speak is really, really dumb. In addition, prepare to marvel at how well-sealed all Australian doors and vehicles are. Improbably watertight spaces play a key part in several scenes. But none of these things are why you showed up.

In its core scenario of hapless folks trapped in a supermarket of watery death, Bait has frequent echoes of Piranha, The Mist, and Open Water without ever quite matching the strength of any of these. Nonetheless, Rendall finds a multitude of inventive ways to pit prey against predator. This is the movie’s saving grace. The resourceful use of everyday items as anti-shark devices drives Bait to a genuinely taut and thrilling climax. Also, despite a few CGI clunkers that had to be rendered in broad daylight exteriors, the interior and underwater shark effects are quite good.

In order to reach its full (niche) potential, Bait could have used a good deal more sex appeal. However, there is a simple and well-paced plot going on here, and the film’s refusal to rely on bouncy assets may make it a more sincere pumpkin patch, if you will, than something like Pirahna DD. As a more low-key specimen of maneater encounter, this baby definitely has teeth.

Halloween Home Video #2: Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man

by Dan Fields
First published October 10, 2012 by the California Literary Review

The Tall Man promotional poster

© 2012 Image Entertainment

For The Second Date

Pascal Laugier may be the most thoughtful and earnest of the filmmakers loosely grouped under the heading “New French Extremity.” Although his debut film Saint Ange has not enjoyed lasting success, his second feature Martyrs is a blistering philosophical rumination on the nature of suffering, both spiritual and profane. It is also one rough movie to watch. Do not go waltzing in unprepared. You might try a gateway film first, such as Laugier’s more subdued but very worthy third effort, The Tall Man.

Jessica Biel, the most notable star of Marcus Nispel’s abysmal Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, gets to stretch out in a more complex role here. As widowed town physician Julia Denning, she does her best to treat the wounds and deliver the children of an economically defunct mining community. These townspeople are not convincingly destitute to sell this point, but the stunning exteriors in British Columbia divert the eye and soothe us into accepting the story as it is given us. This movie does look very nice.

Julia has private burdens to bear, and each weighs her down a lot. She finds herself constantly held up to the legacy of her late husband, the town’s previous doctor, and the comparisons are seldom favorable. In addition, she sees more clearly than most that the children of her town have very little to look forward to in life. As though the recession were not bad enough, there has also been a string of child disappearances in the area, believed to be the work of a local phantom known as “The Tall Man.” Things get personal in a hurry one night, when a figure fitting the Tall Man’s description comes calling at Julia’s own house. Julia, though, is not about to give her little boy up without a fight.

Just when this conventional thriller structure seems locked on course for the pursuit, confrontation, and harrowing escape we quite rightly expect, a complete reversal of perspective jars The Tall Man out of orbit. This is a good thing because it is an unexpected thing, but does it also injure the film? For some people, the answer will be “yes.” Nonetheless the movie bravely fights its way out the wreckage and continues down an intriguing side road. More than one side road, in fact. Too many.

In terms of both story and tone, The Tall Man takes at least one sharp turn more than it should. Laugier flirts with some very dark ideas, and although the narrative provides a perfectly grim stopping point, he throws in a few final thoughts nearly optimistic enough to be called hope. This film is tragic, but not as gratifyingly bleak or even logical as it would have been without its final fifteen minutes or so. That said, the befuddling and morally dubious conclusion does improve upon reflection. It is not anything like perfect, but it is surely one of the most thought-provoking thrillers you will see this season.

Movie Review: The Cabin In The Woods

by Dan Fields
First published April 14, 2012 by the California Literary Review

A Grim, Giddy, Ghastly Delight

The cabin in the woods is a familiar setting to movie fans. It usually signals hard luck for a group of sexy young people who, after all, just want to get away and have some fun. It seemed unlikely that a visit to such a cabin could offer many surprises, even from a pair of writers as famously inventive as Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. Well, guess what? They are still inventive – aggressively so – and The Cabin In The Woods has plenty of surprises in store. Continue reading

Blu-Ray Review: Battle Royale: The Complete Collection

by Dan Fields
First published March 26, 2012 by the California Literary Review
Battle Royale: The Complete Collection on Blu-Ray

Despite never having been officially banned in North America, Battle Royale suffered de facto censorship through non-distribution, despite its popularity in Japan and among lucky film festival crowds who caught it in rare runs abroad. Over the last decade or so, bootlegs and other mysterious video editions of the film began seeping into Western markets until, clearly, demand won out, and now Kinji Fukasaku’s visionary epitaph (his sixtieth feature film) takes its rightful place in international film history. This is no longer a film you should acquire in whatever third-hand, semi-legal format you can arrange. Battle Royale is yours for the asking in a handy-dandy, thoroughly excellent Blu-Ray package. Continue reading

Movie Review: Silent House

by Dan Fields
First published March 10, 2012 by the California Literary Review

A Poisoned Treat for Sick Puppies

Silent House is a fairly faithful re-staging of the Uruguayan horror thriller La Casa Muda, directed by Gustavo Hernández. In both films, a young woman and her father are fixing up a dilapidated family vacation home to sell it, only to discover secret horrors lurking in its dark corners. The scenario tidily seals its characters in a dilapidated, multi-level house with no phones or electricity, and uncertain means of exit. No good can come of that, as anyone who has seen a movie, or (heaven forbid) actually been trapped in a scary house, will know.

As far as Silent House goes in the remake department, those responsible have managed to pull the original film apart gently, sand off some rough corners, grease a few rusty plot twists, and present the humble horror tale in a more palatable form. Writer and co-director Laura Lau apparently realized that while La Casa Muda had several important scares worth preserving, the audience might appreciate a little more to digest. Continue reading

Movie Review: Unknown

by Dan Fields
First published February 19, 2011 by the California Literary Review

That’s a mighty big biscuit, Ma. Must I swallow it all?

It seems like Liam Neeson has always been around. He has crossed the paths of such well-known characters as Batman, Dirty Harry, Yoda, The Nazis, and many more. He has probably been in more films than either you or I could count at short notice, and he does not seem afraid to try anything — who would have thought Darkman, for example? Recently he has gotten into the business of action thrillers, and received notable praise for Luc Besson’s recent revenge drama Taken. The marketing of Unknown seemed geared toward the same fans, promising an extra measure of psychological mischief and a twisted tale of lost identity.
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