Saturday, May 18, 2019

Hereditary

Hereditary (2018)

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Plot

A woman (Toni Collette) seems to be haunted by the ghost of her mother following her death. Or is she just succumbing to the mental illness that apparently runs in her family? Either way, things are strained with her husband (Gabriel Byrne) and two children (Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro). This is basically the prototype example of "grieving mom horror", which should be a recognized sub-genre if it isn't already.

Merits

  • The dialogue is really good - from a scene of students clumsily answering questions about the themes of (I think) Women of Trachis, to the multiple passive aggressive every day interactions between Toni Collette and everybody else in the movie, the writing is incredibly realistic while also conveying a lot of information about the characters (+2)
  • Toni Collette is absolutely fucking great in this movie. Her grief and her anger are palpable. I sometimes like to complain about "slow burn" horror because a lot of the time it sacrifices character for mood. I don't like spending a lot of time with a poorly developed or uninteresting character on top of nothing really happening. This movie doesn't do that - Toni Collette's performance is so engrossing that the drama of the movie is fascinating even when there isn't much horror stuff happening (+2)
  • The other lead actors in the movie are also great - their fear, anxiety, frustration, is really well evoked (+1)
  • Not only is Toni Collette's acting mind-blowing, her character is also really interesting. Information is revealed slowly but it's like her backstory keeps getting more and more fucked up throughout the movie but it never seems like overkill (+1)
  • The dysfunction of the family is uncomfortably realistic, from the ineffective father, to the kind of dingus son, to the slightly scary daughter. (+2)
  • The movie goes in some... surprising directions. I won't say any more about it except that I was shook on no less than two occasions (+1)
  • So many decapitations. Even a pigeon gets decapitated. (+1)
  • The house they live in is really pretty. One of my favourite things about ghost/haunted house movies is the houses, man, they sure are great (+1)
  • Ants (+1)
  • Seances in movies really freak me out, probably because there are ghosts involved and I'm irrationally afraid of ghosts. It's weird because I would be totally okay with doing a seance in real life - in my rational daytime brain I understand that ghosts won't actually get me if I do a seance, but in my nighttime movie-watching brain, I am filled with fear (+1)
  • Overall, the movie is effectively creepy - it has approximately zero jumpscares and it's still scary as shit (+2)
  • And there's sort of a happy ending so that's cool (+1)
Total: +16

Demerits
  • One of my personal pet peeves is the use of mental illness to explain scary shit in horror movies, especially dissociative identity disorder, a disorder that's very often grossly misrepresented in media leading to fear and apprehension towards people who actually have it. On the other hand the movie implies pretty heavily that the central family is not, in fact, suffering from mental illness at all, and maybe they were just diagnosed with certain disorders because nobody knew what to do with them. I'm going to split the difference with a half point. (-0.5)
  • How come people in these movies never seem to have regular jobs? Toni Collette's character is an artist who makes really fancy dollhouses or dioramas or something. Gabriel Byrne does fuck knows what. Just once I want to see a sublime horror film where the main character is like "can't deal with demons today, I'm late for my shift at Burger King" (-1)
  • Nearly every single shot in the movie is perfectly symmetrical. Like, there's a doorway or a person or a telephone pole or whatever right dead centre of the shot. I'm sure given the tone of the movie that that has some symbolic relevance but it was visually monotonous. (-1)
  • Similarly, approximately half of the scene transitions are crossfades which is wholly unnecessary (-1)
  • There's a dog in the movie that shows up in like two scenes and then disappears for the rest of the time. Where is the dog? What happened to the dog? Why isn't the dog there? Also I think the dog died because there's what looks like a dead dog in one shot but it's sort of hard to see but I'm deducting partial points for possible dogslaughter (-1.5)
  • I don't understand how people in horror movies can just walk around their houses with all the lights off. There's one part where some weird shit has gone down and the son wakes up all alone, and he's scared, so he starts walking around the house in the dark. Man, I turned every light in my house on as soon as this movie finished and I have the awareness that this was just a movie (-1) 
  • Honestly, I wanted to nitpick this movie more but all of the shitty loose threads I had jotted down got resolved in the end, everything that seemed out of place was there for a reason, and what seemed to come out of left field was very cleverly foreshadowed early on. (+1)
Total: -5

Final Score: 11 thumbs up

Consensus

This was all around a really good movie. It might not be for everyone - those who prefer movies where stuff happens at a fairly constant rate throughout probably won't be very entertained by this. But if you're into moody, atmospheric horror, or really engaging family dramas, this is worth watching.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Life

Life (2017)

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Plot

 A single celled organism is found in soil samples recovered from Mars. Aboard the ISS, the cell is incubated and rapidly grows into ravenous tentacle monster which rips its way through most of the station's crew. A battle of wits between scientists and a floppy alien ensues.

Merits


  • The movie is actually well made from a technical standpoint. I was expecting it to be kind of tacky based on the trailer (discussed at length below), but it opens with this rad eight minute long tracking shot which immediately impressed the shit out of me. The rest of the movie doesn't totally live up to how cool that shot was, but it was a good opener. This immediately led me to wonder how they simulated zero gravity in the movie - apparently, they did it with wires in a discreet but nonetheless impressive use of special effects. The filmmakers utilized the absence of gravity effectively by having people upside down, off to the side, wherever in the shot, which looked cool and was way more realism than I was expecting for a sci-fi horror movie. (+2)
  • The monster starts out as a single celled protozoan, basically a ciliate, and I think that's neat. (+1)
  • I can't really complain about the ship's biologist (Ariyon Bakare) deciding to revive the organism because I can strongly relate to becoming personally attached to funky microbes so I'm awarding a point for that I guess. (+1)
  • I have what I'm going to call a fixation with astronauts. It's not an obsession. I just think they're cool. So disciplined. Anyway, I'm giving the outer space movie a point for having astronauts in it. (+1)
  • The movie is genuinely suspenseful in places, and well paced. I didn't get bored at any point (which is saying something because I have the attention span of an easily distracted goldfish), but it never felt overwhelming or frenetic. It was also very responsible with jump scares (there might be, like, one? Maybe?), instead relying on building tension and dread to make me uncomfortable, which is basically the bare minimum I ask for in a horror movie (+2)
  • There are some grizzly-ass deaths in the movie jesus christ. The first two in particular are quite disturbing, so props there. I don't know why but in addition to being fixated with astronauts, I also think that dying in space is the absolute most terrifying way one could possibly die. Like, it consolidates my fears of drowning, suffocating, being trapped, and dying in a vehicle into one manageable super-fear. So that freaked the shit out of me, well done, movie (+2)

Total: (+9)

Demerits


  • In the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie there are no less than two callbacks to other sci fi movies - one of the characters, I think it was the biologist guy, says "I've got a good feeling about this" that sounds a little too much like a Star Wars reference, which is totally out of place in this movie. Ryan Reynolds also makes some Ryan Reynoldsian quip about Reanimator which was a little more appropriate for the tone, but felt out of character for an astronaut, or anybody, to say in that particular situation. This prompts one of the female characters to tell him something like "that was an obscure reference" as though the writers of the movie were patting themselves on the back for knowing what Reanimator is. Fuck off with that. I can't find the trailer I remember for the movie but I swear to god it had the tagline "Life will find a way" which is a paraphrase of a line from an obscure movie you might have heard of called Jurassic Park and also is totally the wrong tone for here. Alien quotes would be really appropriate in this movie because that's the movie this movie is trying really hard to movie (-2)
  • Speaking of the trailer, I had totally forgotten about the one that had a really somber reading of Goodnight Moon in it (here's a version where somebody dubbed in Christopher Walken's reading from The Simpsons). That trailer made me assume that this movie was going to be an absolute piece of shit (which, granted, turned out not to be so, so I guess I learned something today). The dramatic reading of Goodnight Moon is in the movie also and is as ridiculous as you would expect. (-2)
  • Ryan Reynolds is brilliant in Deadpool and he's funny on Twitter or whatever, but every movie I've seen him in he's always playing Funny Guy Ryan Reynolds and this is no exception (-1)
  • Similarly, Jake Gyllenhaal is a good actor but every movie I've seen him in he's playing Broody Sad Lad Jake Gyllenhaal. This time he's just Dr. Broody Sad Lad Jake Gyllenhaal, an Astronaut. (-1)
  • There's a scene where one of the astronauts is eating peas and I was of the understanding that you couldn't eat food made out of smaller food on a space station because the peas might go and gunk up the space equipment. (-1)
  • There were absolutely not enough safety precautions taken in the lab in this movie. Like, they made it pretty clear that they were expecting to find a living organism in the Mars dirt, and the security person (Rebecca Ferguson) at one point makes a comment about how they don't know what they're dealing with, it could be anthrax. So why didn't they have hazmat suits, or a decontamination chamber with some powerful UV shit? Why was the air circulation system in the lab connected to the rest of the station? It's like the people who make these movies have never even taken a lab safety course. (-1)
  • There's a single lab rat in the lab, strapped down, and they show it like fifteen fucking times, strapped down in the same position, over the course of many days, no food, no water, nothing. Its only purpose it seems is to eventually get eaten by the monster (-1)
  • Early on, the monster looks like an evil banana peel (-1)
  • More about the monster, actually, the rest of what I have to say is about the monster:
    • This organism starts out as a single cell. It then grows into a multicellular organism in which each cell is acting as a combination muscle, nerve, and photoreceptor. It eats as often as it can throughout the movie and nobody ever considers at any point that it might be reproducing. A SINGLE CELL can grow into this creature so the whole station could be completely infested with them and no one would be the wiser. (-1)
    • A followup point, the organism actually becomes less dangerous as it grows. Okay, so it's super strong and I guess impervious to fire (seriously they blast it point blank with a flamethrower and it just scuttles away, it's like the Night King) so yes, it is still very dangerous, but at least when it's big you can see it, and there are fewer spaces it can fit through. I'm not considering that a detriment of the movie, it's just an observation.
    • They don't try to bait it until way late in the game. They know pretty much off the hop that it eats glucose and coolant, why not try luring it somewhere with a large amount of delicious glucose? Just a thought. (-1)
    • Also, how much does it actually need to eat anyway? It kills people pretty much constantly throughout the movie. There's one part where the biologist says it's just trying to survive, but there's also another part where it kills the shit out of a bunch of people, then immediately goes after more people. It did not have time to eat all those people and the only conclusion I can draw is that it was mangling folks for what the hells. (-1)
    • The monster's name is goddamn Calvin. I know, they have a scene where they explain why it's named that, but the characters in the movie go around calling it that for the rest of the movie. There's a simple elegance to films like The Thing, The Blob, The Green Slime, and It! The Terror From Beyond Space. You don't have to name It! - you can just say "It!" and everyone knows what It! is. (-1)
  • Okay, I have one more thing, and this is less about this movie specifically and more about the trope but why, when a character proposes a plan that will ultimately lead to their death but the destruction of the bad monster, do other characters argue with them? Example, Person A: "I will pilot this boat into the sun to kill the vampires"; Person B: "No, let me do it". Like I guess they're trying to convey that Person B is a good person, but this exchange always comes pretty close to the end of the movie so that should be established at that point. Honestly, if I were in that situation I'd happily send Person A to their death so that I might live, I don't give a shit, I don't want to die. (-1)
Total: (-14)


Final Score: -5 thumbs up

Consensus

Generally, I enjoyed Life. Most of the problems I had with it stem from me being a biologist rather than inherent flaws with the movie. It's a reasonably well done sci fi horror flick. I would strongly recommend it if you want to watch Alien but you somehow don't have access to a copy of Alien, because this is on Netflix.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Movies I Watched in 2018 Ranked

I don't have time to watch a movie and actually review it before I go to work, so instead here's a digest version of the movies I already watched and reviewed in 2018 because... fuck it, am I right?

The Crescent (2017)
Score: +8
Consensus: It's a no-budget movie that never feels cheap, it's both an engrossing drama and a really distressing horror, it's my favourite movie I reviewed this year
Full Review

Self Defense (1983)
Score: +7
Consensus: Okay so I know it's kind of suspicious that my favourite two movies that I watched this year are both from Nova Scotia, but damn we make some good movies. I've watched this one twice this year so far and it's a fun, disturbingly plausible addition to the oeuvre of home invasion films
Full Review

Hercules in the Centre of the Earth (1961)
Score: +4
Consensus: Mario Bava made a Hercules movie. 'nuff said.
Full Review

The Bat (1959)
Score:  +4
Consensus: The Bat was a delightful, well written mystery/thriller with fun performances by the two female leads, and also Vincent Price was there
Full Review

The Babysitter (2017)
Score: -1
Consensus: I actually have no recollection of this movie so I'm guessing it was aggressively mediocre
Full Review

Parasite (1982)
Score: -2
Consensus: Parasite was a really stupid and boring movie set in a really interesting post apocalyptic world. It would have been a really cool movie if the characters weren't so stupid and the acting wasn't so bad
Full Review

Spookies (1986)
Score: -3
Consensus: Spookies had some genuinely inspired moments and really cool monster design, but was bogged down by superfluous plot lines. It was really two movies, crudely forced together in a loveless union that, like the marriage between the wizard guy and his bride in the movie, begat only grotesque monsters
Full Review

Star Trek 5 (1989)
Score: -3
Consensus: I don't remember if this is the one with Vulcan Jesus or the one where Kirk goes to Klingon jail but either way it wasn't as bad as the other one I watched.
Full Review

Extinction (2018)
Score: -5
Consensus: This was actually a really cool, high concept sci-fi flick until it got crushed under the weight of its own heavy handed allegory for racism or immigration or whatever the fuck
Full Review

Night of the Twisters (1996)
Score: -8
Consensus: Night of the Twisters was a painfully saccharine hallmark card of a movie, but the tornadoes were actually really fucking intense and scary so I'm calling this one a draw
Full Review

The Brain Eaters (1958)
Score: -8
Consensus: Of all the sci-fi monster movies made in the 1950s, why did I watch this one?
Full Review

Leatherface (2017)
Score: -8
Consensus: Leatherface is my favourite horror movie killer, and this movie made me feel ashamed of that
Full Review

Nightmare (1981)
Score: -12
Consensus: It's called "Nightmare" but it's really a right-wing fever dream. Coincidence?
Full Review

Star Trek 6 (1991)
Score: -13
Consensus: Jesus fucking christ, this movie
Full "Review"

Independence Day 2 (2016)
Score: -16
Consensus: I'll say it - the first Independence Day was okay and didn't need a sequel. All of the good parts I remember from Independence Day were actually from Mars Attacks. It's a travesty that there's an Independence Day 2 but no Mars Attacks 2.
Full Review

Lights Out (2016)
Score: -16.5
Consensus: This is the worst movie I reviewed in 2018, sneaking in just below Independence Day 2 on a technicality. Lights Out starts with sort of a cool idea and a decently creepy opening scene and then is just diarrhea inducing stupidity from then on.
Full Review

Sunday, September 23, 2018

9 Questions I Have For Star Trek 6

I watched Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country back to back with The Final Frontier. I don't really have anything constructive to say about it, so instead of a review, I've prepared a list of questions I would ask this movie if it were a sentient entity.

Why are the Klingons Dying?
At the start of the movie, there is an accident on a Klingon moon where they mine moon minerals or whatever. The moon is destroyed by the accident, and because of this, the authorities proclaim that the Klingon race is going to die out in fifty years or so, without ever drawing any strong connection between those two things. It's just like, ope, this mining planet blew up and now the Klingons are all going to die.

Why is the Federation so Fucking Racist?
So the Klingons are dying and stuff and they come to the Federation for help and every single person in the Federation is just like "mmmyeah fuck the Klingons". They're a galaxy wide federation of planets, presumably consisting of dozens if not hundreds of different peoples, and everybody except Spock is racist as shit.

Why is David Warner There?
David Warner appears in the film, but playing a different character than he did in Star Trek 5.

Why Do Movies Love to Use Out of Context Shakespeare Quotes?
Lots of movies do this, but this one ups the ante not only with its inappropriate name (in case anybody doesn't know, the "undiscovered country" is a euphemism for death from Hamlet. Here, it's a euphemism for... peace? I think?), but also by having the villain just spout memorable lines from Shakespeare plays seemingly at random.

Why is Klingon Blood Pink?
In this movie, we learn that Klingon blood is pepto bismol pink. I want to know what possible O2 carrier they could have to make their blood that colour.

Why is Michael Dorn There?
Michael Dorn plays Colonel Worf who's like TNG Worf's grandfather (?) and also a really shitty Klingon lawyer. That pretty much answers my question, I still think it's a stupid idea.

What Terrible Sin Did Iman Commit in Her Past Life to Deserve Kissing William Shatner?
Iman is easily one of the most beautiful woman on the planet and she kisses William Shatner right on his nasty mouth.

Why is Christian Slater There?
WTF is going on with this movie.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Star Trek 5

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

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I have a confession to make. I've been a big ol' dorky fan of original Trek for as long as I've been able to be a fan of things, but when it came to the movies, I'd only ever seen 2-4. I still haven't actually managed to sit through Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but now I can say that Star Treks 5 and 6 have come along shit all over everything I hold dear.

In this movie, a rebel Vulcan (Laurence Luckinbill) hijacks the Enterprise and takes it on a quest to find God at the centre of the galaxy. Also, there is a Klingon (Todd Bryant) who is mad at Kirk and chases them for some reason. Also, David Warner is there.

There isn't a whole lot I can say that's good about this movie honestly. Even from the opening scene it's a bad movie - my boyfriend just put it on unannounced and for probably the first five minutes or so, until the bad Vulcan reveals he's a Vulcan, I was like "what is this? Is this a movie? Is this that scientology movie?"
To emphasize my point, according to Wikipedia
the first solo free climb of El Capitan was
in 2017, by this guy.

Don't get me wrong, the movie is 100% the fun kind of bad rather than the soul-crushing kind of bad (which, spoiler alert, the next movie almost achieves), and I enjoyed every minute of it, so bear that in mind I guess.

This is the one that Shatner directed and came up with the story for, so there's a lot more attention than usual drawn to how cool Captain Kirk is. For example, there's an early scene in the movie where he's just casually free-climbing one of the world's most challenging rock formations which is... I'm not going to say impossible but it's certainly not possible for a seriously out of shape 60-ish year old dude.

I was interested in the budget for this movie which, according to wikipedia, was 33 million dollars in 1989 money (or ~67 million dollars in 2018 money), which I guess is not that much money to spend on a movie. Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is that the production values are pretty low. That works well on the TV series, but doesn't really lend itself to a movie.

The acting and dialogue is awkward and bad at worst, and fucking weird at best. There's this whole thing where Uhura and Scotty act like they've been fucking this whole time, which is all well and good I guess, except that there was never any indication at any other point in the movies or TV series that I can summon to memory that Uhura and Scotty were fucking, or were going to fuck. One of the things I really like about old Trek is that, for the most part, Uhura is not a potential romantic partner for one of the male leads but a character in her own right (the sexual tension between Uhura/Spock and Troi/Riker are both things that annoyed the living shit out of me about the new Star Trek movies, and Star Trek: TNG, respectively). That said, if Uhura were to fuck another main character, fucking Scotty is less obnoxious than fucking Kirk or Spock. I have mixed feelings about the situation.

Speaking of weird and perplexing dialogue/acting, this movie has one of the strangest scenes I think I've ever seen in it. Here's the whole scene, totally out of context, but the part I really want to talk about is towards the end. Kirk and Bones are trying to decide what campfire song to sing. Instead of singing American Pie or Mr. Brightside like normal people, they settle on Row, Row, Row Your Boat of all things. Then they struggle to remember the lyrics. To Row, Row, Row Your Boat. But that's not all. Later, when some freaky space shit is happening, Kirk solemnly mutters, "Life is but a dream". Yes, the central theme of this movie revolves around Row, Row, Row Your Boat. The mind boggles.

There's actually one pretty good scene in the movie where Vulcan-Satan is revealing peoples' daddy issues and we get to Bones - turns out his father was dying of some horrible, incurable disease, so he mercy killed him just days before the cure for the disease came out. Which is like... holy fuck. It explains why Bones was always such a grouch through the series (fun fact, my personal Star Trek head-canon is that Bones was a closeted alcoholic and chain-smoker, which this pretty much corroborates).

Buuuuut there's also just a lot of other weird, poorly planned out shit. For example, the Klingon ship that's chasing the Enterprise is there at one point, and whoever's on the bridge is like, "There's a Klingon ship - they're cloaked!" I'm sorry, but is not the point of a cloaking device to evade detection? Ships can't fire when cloaked in Star Trek, so I don't understand the point of cloaking at all at this point. The whole subplot with the Klingon ship is just there. It doesn't serve any function, nothing happens because there is a Klingon ship chasing them, and the whole problem is easily resolved by a tertiary character who also doesn't serve any other explicit function in the movie.

I have a couple of personal problems with the main plot as well (that is, the search for God at the centre of the galaxy).

Problem 1: As the most rational people in the galaxy, do Vulcans actually believe in God? And if so, why?

Problem 2: If there is a God, why would it live at the centre of the galaxy rather than the centre of the universe? And when it turns out that the surface of the planet it lives on is just the American desert through a purple filter, why is nobody disappointed?

Problem 3: The crew of the Enterprise is awed and not at all suspicious when they first meet this God, despite having literally met fucking Apollo in *ahem* season 2 episode 2 (spoiler alert, he was kind of a dick).

Problem 4: The crew surmises that the entity is not, in fact, God, because it is needy and vindictive, which, having skimmed the Old Testament, sounds very much like God to me.

Anyway, this movie is stupid as fuck but I had a lot of fun watching it. Would recommend to fans of bad movies, and Star Trek completionists. Normal people probably won't get anything out of it.

Merits
- There's a cat/woman stripper with three tiddies (+3)
- David Warner appears in the film (+1)
- Uhura's fan dance (+/- 1?)
- The Great Barrier is brightly coloured and exciting (+1)
Total: (+5)

Demerits
- Movie wants us to believe that Shatner can climb El Capitan (-1)
- Horrible green screen (-1)
- People from earth are referred to as "Terrans", a thing that pisses me off (-1)
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat (-2)
- The dialogue is, like, 80% puns (-1)
- They go to Paradise City but there is no green grass or pretty girls (-1)
- Half of the movie is Sybok locking Kirk, Spock, and Bones in different rooms (-1)
Total: (-8)
Final Score: -3

Directed by: William Shatner.  Written by: David Loughery.  Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Laurence Luckinbill, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei, David Warner, Todd Bryant.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Crescent

The Crescent (2017)

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The Crescent is the story of a recently widowed woman (Danika Vandersteen) and her very young son (Woodrow Graves) who move into a big empty house by the beach to relax after the sudden death of their respective husband and father in a boating accident. The woman struggles with raising a little kid by herself, while being freaked out by the weird neighbours, and haunted by strange occurrences that may or may not be the product of her sleep deprived brain.

It was made in Nova Scotia and captures the desolate, foggy beauty of this province that's so perfect and weirdly underutilized for horror. I'm going to blame the dearth of Nova Scotian ghost movies on the NS film tax credit getting gutted a few years back. Thanks a fucking lot for that one, Premier McNeil.

But I digress. This movie is half grim, Maritime drama, half haunted house movie and works effectively as both. The two main characters aren't extremely deep, but are well written enough to be both likable and believable, such that I didn't want to see either of them come to harm, which makes the drama engaging, and the horror more dreadful.

The acting from the two leads is phenomenal. Danika Vandersteen does an excellent job as the young mom, increasingly exhausted, overwhelmed, and grief-stricken while hiding all of those things from her son and herself. Woodrow Graves (whose parents are the director, and producer of the film) steals the fucking show though because he's, like, two or something and manages to knock the role out of the park. I don't even know how it's possible for a two year old to act convincingly in a movie but goddamn does he ever. There's a chunk of the movie where Vandersteen's character is incapacitated and Graves carries the movie by himself which would be insufferable with a weaker actor but here is poignant and heart-wrenching.

The look of the movie is very stylish, alternating between bleak, grey realism, and trippy Mario Bava eye-fuck colour show which appealed to me strongly. It reminds me of the aesthetic of weird, experimental horror from the 60s and 70s, while feeling still modern and not derivative of older films.

The story moves slowly, but not in a way that feels boring or draggy. Instead, there is a mounting feeling of dread, which combined with the jarringly discordant and creepy soundtrack, actually made my stomach hurt by the end of the movie (this sounds like a bad thing but it is not).

The use of CG effects (or really any effects) is sparse but well executed, making for a real "what the fuck" moment towards the end of the movie.

The ending of the movie itself is kind of weak, taking way too much time (including an extended flashback) to explain what the fuck was going on. I'm not going to go into the details of it like I normally do because I want to encourage people to watch this movie, but I would have preferred for it to have been a bit more subtle, leaving the viewer (me) with a sense of unease and bewilderment at what I just saw. One of the great things about The Shining, which this movie homages very deliberately, is that the ending is open to interpretation and you have to decide for yourself to a certain extent what the fuck it's supposed to mean.

It does fall a bit into Stephen-King-too-much-going-on territory. Like there's ghost-zombies that make you kill yourself, AND the horror of trauma and grief, AND a freaky hermit crab man. Any two of those things would have been great, but all three is overkill.

That being said, overall this movie is good. It rises above being a run of the mill ghost movie due to the superb acting and creative vision of the filmmakers. I strongly recommend giving it a watch if you like "slow burn", semi-experimental ghost horror, and I look forward to more from this director. You can watch the official trailer here.

Final Score: I watched this movie in the theatre so I didn't take very detailed notes, I'm just gonna give it an 8.

Directed by: Seth A. Smith.  Written by: Darcy Spindle.  Starring: Danika Vandersteen, Woodrow Graves, Terrance Murray, Britt Loder, Andrew Gillis, Andrea Kenyon.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Extinction

Extinction (2018)

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In this practically brand new Netflix movie, a guy (Michael Peña) starts having dreams and hallucinations of an alien invasion, which distress his wife (Lizzy Caplan) and daughters (Amelia Crouch & Erica Tremblay). Then aliens invade and everybody has to survive and stuff.

Extinction seems like a generic alien invasion movie for the first act, but starts to get weird and interesting when the aliens land. The core family drama of a detached man doing what he has to do to protect his wife and children held my interest and made me feel invested in the characters.

When the events of the invasion diverge from what the guy saw in his dreams, my interest was thoroughly piqued as I tried to figure out what the hell was going on. There's an absolutely mind bending twist that I did not see coming at all and I feel like I can't really discuss the rest of the movie without revealing so... stop reading now if you don't like spoilers I guess?

Still with me? Alright, here it is: the dreams the guy was having are not actually visions of the future, but memories of the past. The aliens aren't really aliens but human beings. The people aren't really people but androids who defeated their human masters in a brutal war and exiled them to Mars decades previously. I spent a full minute going "wooooooaaaaaaaahhhhh", which isn't something I get from a lot of sci-fi action movies. So that was pretty cool.

It makes the main character, and his family, who were up until that point fairly two-dimensional characters, a lot more engaging. These people endured unspeakable trauma and had to straight up murder the shit out of a bunch of people in order to be free. By the end of the movie, I really wanted to see them be okay and not get killed which honestly is not usually the case for big sci-fi action explosion movies like this one.

It also raises the usual, but still interesting, questions about, you know, what is the value of memories and relationships, and what makes humans human. It's the baseline philosophical delving for any work with one or more humanoid robots in it, but I really like robots so I dug it.

That said, the movie has some issues which range from trivial problems to serious flaws.

First off, there's never any explanation given for why Michael Peña (and, briefly, one other guy) is having flashbacks at all. At the end of the movie, Explainatron McExpositionbot (Mike Colter) reveals to us that following the defeat of humanity, most synths had their memories of the war replaced with normal ones so they wouldn't be stressed out about the atrocities they had to commit, or the possibility that humans would some day return and wipe them out. He does not, however, explain why some people have spontaneous recall of those memories, while others (such as literally every other character in the movie) do not.

Furthermore, suppressing almost everybody's memories of the war seems like a really bad idea coz if the humans ever did come back nobody would know what was going on and would freak the fuck out, which is exactly what happens. I rest my case.

Moving on, at no point in the movie do they ever make clear what the technology level of the synth society is. It's obvious from the get go that it's set in the near future because all the buildings look like iPhones but people still listen to vinyl for some fucking reason. But there's a part where this drone descends on the city and I just assumed that it was a natural occurrence until it starts exploding shit because I had no idea what the norm is in this universe.

There isn't really any explanation for what technology the humans have either. For example, they seem to have the ability to produce a 3D hologram of the city (and the underground tunnel system) with which they can locate their stolen guns which have biometric security and some sort of tracking device. What would be vastly more useful would be some sort of... thing to detect where the synths are in the city/tunnels. Surely they could lock on to their... biosynthetic... signal? My point is, if you can some made up technology there had better be a good reason why you can't have other, different made up technology. Furthermore, there's no reason given for why the humans dress like alien monsters. Buddy says that they've been living on Mars for a couple generations so they weren't sure if the air on Earth was still breathable, but why not just wear a normal looking spacesuit?

The dialogue is mostly mediocre - there's a good stretch through the middle of the movie where somebody screams "what's happening?!" at least every five minutes despite it being very clear that aliens destroying the city is what's happening.

The majority of the action and danger in the story, at least in the first half of the movie, seems really artificial and manufactured to serve the plot. For example, there's a scene where an enemy is breaking into the family's apartment, and instead of hide in the closet like she's told to, the youngest girl sneaks out looking for her stuffed toy. That serves as the catalyst for the girl to come face to face with one of the human attackers (Israel Broussard) so he can be confronted with a moral dilemma about killing synths, but makes exactly zero sense in terms of normal child behaviour. No, I don't have any children, but I used to be one, and I had nightmares and/or hallucinations about alien invasions all the time which would leave me completely paralyzed and unable to get out of my bed let alone run towards where I thought the danger was coming from.

The same thing happens multiple times with the same character. At another point, the family is trying to get to this sewer opening and avoid being shot up by space craft, so they're running across the road one at a time to safety. When it's the little girl's turn, she stops in the middle of the road to look at the fucking alien spacecraft which, like, no, a child wouldn't do that, I don't give a shit how curious it is.

The main guy also has an inexplicably vast amount of control over what happens in the world. At one point, he convinces a team of robot resistance fighters to release Israel Broussard's character simply by saying "wait!" or something. At this point, I was convinced that the twist was going to be that the whole movie was a dream, but that turned out to not be the case so what the fuck.

Finally, the whole thing is a very thinly veiled allegory for international immigration tensions. I don't mind science fiction to be about more than what it is about (97% of the genre would be unreadable if I did), but this movie really fucking hammered me over the head with it. The whole issue between humans and "synths" started because humans were all shitty about synths taking their jobs or whatever and got violent towards them, which is like, okay, that's about the level of message I'm down with in a movie. But then at the end the main guy narrates this whole speech about how "we aren't so different, them and us" or whatever which is a great message, sure, but also annoyingly blatant, especially where it's preaching to the choir in my case.

So yeah. Extinction is a fairly compelling sci-fi drama and I enjoyed it quite a bit despite its major shortcomings and disinclination to explain itself.

Merits
- This has some Scary Door level shit going on (+2)
- Movie made me have feelings (+1)
- The wife actually helps fend off an attacker at one point, you go girl (+1)
Total: +4

Demerits
- Too allegorical (-2)
- The guy being up front and honest with his wife is almost as annoying as people lying to their wives (-1)
- Vinyl-spinning hipster future aesthetic (-1)
- The "alien" space ships pretty much just look and sound like the craft in War of the Worlds (-1)
- Shitty greenscreen shots (-1)
- What's happening?! (-1)
- Little girl is the absolute worst (-2)
Total: -9
Final Score: -5

Directed by: Ben Young.  Written by: Spenser Cohen, Eric Heisserer, Brad Kane.  Starring: Michael Peña, Lizzy Caplan, Amelia Crouch, Erica Tremblay, Mike Colter, Israel Broussard.