Saturday, June 22, 2019

I Am Mother

I Am Mother (2019)

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After a cataclysmic event wipes out humanity, a robot (Rose Byrne/Luke Hawker) is left alone in a bunker with thousands of human embryos. She raises one human child (Clara Rugaard/Hazel Sandery) as her own daughter, taking care of her and protecting her from the desolate outside world. That goes surprisingly well, until an outside person (Hilary Swank) shows up.

Merits

  • Humanity goes extinct (+1)
  • I really fucking love robots and there's a robot in the movie. Also, the robot is not CG but a guy wearing a suit designed by Weta and I think that's neat (+2)
  • Robot moms are actually a very good idea. What I imagine are the hardest parts of motherhood are incubating a fetus for nine months, and not murdering it during the first year of its life, two problems eliminated by having a robot raise the baby (+1)
  • Both Clara Rugaard as the daughter and Rose Byrne as the voice of the robot are fantastic and play off of each other really well (+1)
  • The writing, pacing, and acting from all three actresses does a great job building suspense and paranoia. Hilary Swank's character and the robot are both excellently manipulative, and their intentions remain ambiguous up until the very end, and even beyond. What exactly either character hoped to achieve is, arguably, open to interpretation (+3)
  • The real human drama of the daughter being trapped between these two enticing and dangerous mother figures is very engaging (+1)
  • The overarching themes about the inherent value of human life are interesting and fairly well explored (+1)
Total: +10


Demerits

  • The kid being raised by a robot sort of reminds me of this really heinous experiment I learned about in first year psychology. The experiment went like this: baby monkeys were taken away from their mothers and raised alone in cages with two surrogate mothers, one made from wire with a bottle of milk attached, and one covered in a soft cloth with no milk. The primary findings of the experiment were that, even though the "wire mother" provided food to the baby monkeys, they actually spent more time on the soft mother. The other thing that happened is that when the monkeys grew up they were completely dysfunctional and couldn't interact properly with other monkeys. Where I'm going with that is, it's surprising to me that the daughter character could function socially when her entire life she had only interacted with a robot and old Tonight Show reruns (-1)
  • In addition to being extremely high functioning socially given her isolation, the daughter is also surprisingly blase about possible contamination given her upbringing. She is told that there is a deadly, deadly virus outside, and initially acts cautious about Hilary Swank, but later throws caution to the wind and touches her stuff. I get that this girl obviously really wanted to interact with another human, but... deadly deadly virus. One could make the argument that because she has never experienced anything from the outside world, she doesn't have a frame of reference for how dangerous it is. But then again, I've never personally experienced the bubonic plague, but I wouldn't touch anybody I thought might have it (-1)
  • Where does the food come from? There's a glimpse of some plants growing in a room at one point, and there's sooooort of an explanation at the end. But... is food brought in from the outside? If so, when does that happen? Or is food grown in the bunker? Doesn't that take a lot of work? Who does the work? (-2)
  • The bleak shots of the outside world, destroyed by human greed, are cool and all, but also kind of derivative. I get it, this is an Australian movie, you guys made Mad Max, well done, Australia (-1)
  • How the hell did a dog survive being stuck inside a shipping container for an unspecified but presumably non-trivial length of time, let alone for a decade and a half following a nuclear fallout? (-1)
  • It's disappointing to me that the daughter didn't just decide to team up with the robot. That's what I would have done. Then again, the whole point of her character is that she's supposed to have superior ethics or something and I'm a piece of shit, and I don't like that this movie made me realize that (-2)
  • Most of the twists are pretty predictable (-1)
  • That said, I wasn't really expecting the ending to turn out the way it did. That's because the characters are pretty much written into a corner and the ending that would have made sense is super depressing. So, the ending, not predictable but still a cop out. (-1)
Total: -10

Final Score: 0 thumbs up or down

Verdict: I Am Mother is a pretty solid little sci-fi horror/thriller, with an all female cast and some interesting ethical questions. It didn't blow my mind, and the plot twists were obvious, but it was definitely the best claustrophobic, paranoid, philosophical robot horror movie ever made.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Perfection

The Perfection (2019)


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A former cello prodigy (Allison Williams) returns to her mentor (Steven Weber) after taking care of her dying mother for nearly ten years. She meets her mentor's new protege (Logan Browning) and, despite the two of them having clear reasons for rivalry, they begin a relationship. The two women go on a back-road tour of China together and everything goes absolutely fucking haywire.

I don't usually do this, but I'm going to include a content warning, not for this review but for the movie itself, because there's some kind of startling shit that comes seemingly out of nowhere and might be upsetting for people. Some potential triggers in this movie include: self-harm (specifically cutting and attempted suicide), hand mutilation, amputation, vomiting, uncontrolled urination/diarrhea, and rape.

Merits

  • This is one of those movies that is broken up into "chapters", which ordinarily I find annoying and pretentious - if I wanted to read a book, I would - but because this movie feels like about four different movies, it works to ease the tonal changes (+1)
  • The cello is the most sexual of the string instruments (+1)
  • The chemistry between Allison Williams and Logan Browning is phenomenal, especially in the first two "chapters". Honestly, this movie hooked me with the promise of bugs in the trailer, and held me with the characters and relationship I wanted to know more about (+2)
  • There are scary bugs in the movie (+2)
  • The situation that the two leads find themselves in in the first half of the movie feels very organic. The performance from Logan Browning especially feels very real and makes it that much more upsetting (+1)
  • Up until the final chapters of the movie, I was left guessing as to who was actually an absolute fucking monster and who was just damaged (+1)
  • Actually, through pretty much the whole thing I was asking myself "where the fuck are they going with this". The plot keeps going in unexpected directions and the whole tone of the movie shifts several times, which is interesting. At no point did I feel confident that I knew what was going to happen. I've said it before but I need to stress that I am a jaded fucking asshole and I get really excited when I watch a horror movie that is even a little bit unpredictable. The Perfection went beyond that, surprising me almost constantly. I didn't even pick up my phone through the whole thing, and I'm the kind of person who checks my phone while I'm on my phone, so I'm giving it the coveted Golden No Phone Award that I just made up (+6)
  • It's pretty tame on the gore, showing plenty of blood but keeping the hardcore stuff off screen, which makes the one time they actually show something shockingly horrible and gross (+1)
Total: +15

Demerits
  • While for the most part The Perfection is technically competent, there's something weird going on with the synch between audio and picture for the dialogue? With most movies that have any kind of budget, the audio is re-recorded after shooting, but it's one of those things that you never think about unless something went wrong somewhere, and something went wrong here. (-1)
  • The second chapter of the movie falls into the travel horror subgenre. As you can probably guess, travel horror movies are movies where somebody travels somewhere (usually either a foreign country or a remote domestic location) and something horrible happens to them. In this particular movie, it's two Americans having something horrible happen to them in a remote part of China. I have a certain disdain for this type of movie because it tends to frame other countries as, well, places where horrible things happen to people, feeding into American travel paranoia. That being said, The Perfection actually plays with this trope a little bit, touching on how travel paranoia can be overblown and more dangerous than travel itself, so I'm not going to deduct a full point here. Furthermore, this movie at least doesn't feature two white people having bad things happen to them in another country, so I'm factoring that in here as well (-0.25)
  • There are a couple of times where the film backs up to give more information by rewinding to a previous point, which is stylish but kind of tacky (-1)
  • As well, some of the cinematography (for example, in one scene a character becoming unhinged is signaled by the camera doing a full 360 degree flipsy centred on her face) is tacky (-1)
  • One of the characters loses a hand, rendering her unable to play the cello. She loses her right hand, and as horrible and traumatic as that is, most of the deft fingerwork of celloing is done by the left, at least for this particular person, while the right hand does the other part (sawing? I want to say sawing). Could she not have played the cello competently with a prosthetic? Why not? (-1)
  • Between the final villain being just cartoonishly evil, and the plot forcing the characters into the perfect position for the last shot, the ending is kind of clunky (-1)
  • There's a synth-pop cover of "Petals" by Hole at the end and I don't like it (-1)
Total: -6.25

Final Score: 8.75 thumbs up, plus the coveted Golden No Phone Award

Consensus

It's pretty good! The two lead characters are interesting, and well acted. It plays with some tropes for several different horror subgenre. And there's some blood 'n' bugs, what I like to call The Big Two. It's also moderately disturbing, so for anybody not comfortable with the triggers I outlined at the start, and anybody who straight up doesn't like getting utterly fucked with for an hour and a half, I don't recommend watching it. But if you're okay with all of those things, give it a watch, says I.

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.