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 (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.

- 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

- 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.