Monday, August 19, 2019

White Chamber

White Chamber (2018)

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In the near future, the British government has gone tits up and martial law has been declared, with racism and xenophobia running rampant. The resistance, led by a charismatic and mysterious leader (Oded Fehr), is pushing back harder against the fascist government resulting in attempts to perfect experimental weaponry. Meanwhile, a woman (Shauna Macdonald) wakes up in a white room. She may or may not be tied to a government task force developing new extremes in chemical warfare. An unseen operator uses the room's controls to torture her for information. What she knows is then revealed in a prolonged flashback where an experimental drug is tested on the leader of the revolution.

Merits

  • White Chamber is, at its core, a sci-fi thriller about chemical engineering (+1)
  • Oded Fehr was a babe in The Mummy (1999), and he's still a babe now (+1)
  • The movie contains some genuinely surprising twists that I did not anticipate (+3)
  • White Chamber also contains some interesting ethical commentary, some of which is fairly standard issue - Milgram experiment type stuff, and questions about whether or not a war can be just - but also addresses how political apathy can lead to social breakdown, which is something that I haven't seen touched on a lot in science fiction (+3)
  • Movie contains face-eating action (+1)
Total: +9


Demerits

  • The movie opens with some introductory narration explaining this world's political clusterfuck, and then jumps right ahead to a woman waking up in a strange room with no idea how she got there, which feels a lot like a video game intro. I'm not opposed to that in movies based on video games, but this is one of those "smart" movies (-1)
  • The plot gets the female lead into her underwear in a hurry (-1)
  • The number one biggest issue that I had with this movie is that Oded Fehr is contained in the white chamber for five days and, despite eating on average once per day, never shits or pisses on the floor. At one point he throws up on the floor, and I have to wonder what their plan for cleaning the room is (-2)
  • Actually, that's a lie, the number one biggest issue is that White Chamber very obviously wants to say something about the current political climate, but it's too clean to make that point effectively. The ending leaves the impression that "there are bad people on both sides" but overall the movie downplayed the effects of institutionalized racism and xenophobia by, well, not showing the effects of institutionalized racism and xenophobia. One of the characters (Amrita Acharia) even remarks that, even though she is the type of person (i.e., brown) that xenophobes are targeting, her family were privileged enough not to suffer the effects. It's interesting because people like that do exist, but it also squanders the opportunity to really address what happens to brown people under a white supremacist government. Oded Fehr's character touches on it briefly as well, before turning around and being an evil monster. (-2)
Total: -6

Final Score: 3 thumbs up

White Chamber gets so caught up in trying to be clever (to be fair, it is really clever), that it loses sight of what it's trying to say about the world. It's got some interesting points, but ultimately it's too sterile to elicit any real emotions or strong feelings from me

Monday, August 12, 2019

First Summoning

1st Summoning


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A group of filmmakers are making a documentary about a legendary Satanic ritual supposedly performed in an abandoned factory in rural America every year at midnight on October 6th. They begin by interviewing the townsfolk, who don't seem particularly aware of the ritual. They interview a very weird pastor (Jason MacDonald) and make a whole bunch of really terrible decisions that result in strange things happening. A love triangle between the woman on the crew (Hayley Lovett) and two of the guys (Teddy Cole, Brook Todd) becomes apparent causing a whole lot of drama. Everything comes to a head when they enter the factory and perform the ritual.

Merits

  • The sole highlight of this movie is the one character on the film crew who is not involved in the love triangle (Ace Harney). He is literally the only likable character in the movie, and responsible for the only funny moment in the movie: he finds a Satanic necklace on the floor of the bathroom, says "fuck that" and flushes it down the toilet. Brilliant. (+2)
  • There is one decent scare when a bunch of cultists appear out of nowhere, but they make that horror movie squealing noise for no reason which cheapens it (+0.5)
  • Jason MacDonald is pretty good as the creepy pastor, but his character goes way over the top cheesy-creepy in a short period of time (+0.5)
Total: +3

Demerits
  • I generally don't like found footage horror movies for a lot of reasons, but mainly because they're very difficult to do well. This movie feels like a catalogue of how not to make a good found footage movie, for the following reasons (-1)
    • It includes a bunch of material that nobody in their right mind would a) record, or b) leave in a final edited piece (-1)
    • The audio is mixed so low at some points I had to just take the subtitles' word for it that there was audio. This issue isn't specifically tied to this being a found footage movie, rather it's because this movie is extremely cheap, but those two things go hand in hand anyway (-1)
    • Teddy Cole's character is supposedly an award winning documentary filmmaker but kept fucking around in all of the shots and never once instructed any of the crew to do anything useful (-1)
    • I don't understand why they needed four people on this film shoot. They had two people to film, one person to ask "are you getting this?" every fifteen minutes, and one entirely superfluous person (-1)
    • They weren't getting nearly enough material to make a documentary. For a found footage movie to work, the characters have to either be believable amateurs (in this movie they're not because it opens with some blah blah about the guy's last movie that won something), or it has to be convincing that the footage being captured is going to be used in a real documentary at some point. I can't even imagine what the documentary these people were filming would have even looked like. They have like three interviews, they dick around in the woods for a bit, and then they go to do the ritual. That's like ten minutes tops after editing. If they had been reporters doing a short piece for a slow news day or something, maybe that would have been believable, but I never got the impression that that's what they were doing (-1)
    • At one point, Hayley Lovett's character dons cultist attire in order to blend in and escape, but leaves the camera rolling under her robe. That would probably look super obvious, even if it's a small camera? At some point, you have to abandon the camera and just try to get away. (-1)
    • The glitchy camera effects don't make the movie scarier (-1)
    • Finally, how exactly was this footage found? The conceit is that this is a screener copy of the film, but who edited it? The main guy? Coz he's on camera brutally killing his friends, so I don't see why he would want to release it? (-1)
  • Horror movies don't work without their characters making bad decisions at some point, but the decisions made by the characters in 1st Summoning were overwhelmingly bad. Probably the worst offense was Ace Harney breaking into the pastor's house to get some information and filming the whole time? Like, okay, he brought the camera so he could record what they were looking for instead of outright stealing it, but recording yourself doing a B&E is beyond stupid and risky (-1)
    • In another shockingly bad example of rational thinking, buddy stops trying to escape from cultists to follow a naked dude around through the building. Why? (-1)
  • The whole love triangle thing injects a bunch of artificial drama and isn't even interesting. I don't care about any of the characters, I just wanna see some ritual cult murder (-2)
  • The "twist" is so predictable I had to put scare quotes around the word "twist" (-1)
  • The movie is just really boring (-1)
Total: -15

Final Score: -12 thumbs up

This movie is pretty bad, there aren't really any redeeming features

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant (2017)


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Either the sixth or eighth film in the Alien franchise, depending on whether or not AVP and AVP2 still count, has the crew of a colonist ship on their way to settle a new planet responding to a distress call in deep space. They go down to the planet and encounter a bunch of monsters and the android from Prometheus (Michael Fassbender).

Just as a sort of disclaimer, I really, really disliked Prometheus, so I was set up to hate this movie from the get-go. I felt bad about that so I went out of my way trying to find things I liked about it. This review is going to be a battle between my lingering ill will towards Prometheus and my guilt. Let's go.

Merits

  • I can't remember if I've already outed myself as a person with a weird, creepy robot fetish, but that's definitely a thing about me. Regular Michael Fassbender can get it, but robot Michael Fassbender can get it even more. What's better than one robot Michael Fassbender? Two robot Michael Fassbenders, which there are in this movie (+2)
  • A small mercy is that the characters in this movie are not scientists so I don't have to die inside every time they walk out onto an alien planet with their helmets off, or go around touching alien vegetation like idiots (+1)
  • There's a whole bunch of really gross stuff that I will list now:
    • Shot of the inside of a dude's ear. This might just be me, but ever since I watched that video of a cricket being removed from a guy's ear canal, I've been disgusted by ears (+1)
    • The aliens in this one are in the process of figuring out the chestbursting thing, so one busts out a guy's back dragging his lungs along with it, and another one comes out through a dude's mouth (+2)
    • There's a scene with so much blood on the floor a person slips in it (+1)
  • I'm pretty sure there was a gay couple in the crew and that's nice (+1)
  • The two robot Michael Fassbenders are also totally gay for each other and I am so here for that. There's a scene where the bad Michael Fassbender teaches the good Michael Fassbender to play the recorder which is as close to a graphic onscreen blow job as a mainstream movie is allowed to get (+2)
  • A neat part where the bad Michael Fassbender shows off all of the different stages in the evolution of the alien. I like monster design (+1)
  • There's a very strong Frankenstein theme going on from the bad Michael Fassbender's role as a twisted creator, to the quoting of Percy Shelley (discussed at length below), to a visual homage to the 1931 film when the first true chestburster is born. (I also suppose that's why Prometheus was called that) I like Frankenstein a lot so I'm into it (+1)
  • The bad Michael Fassbender's sketch book looks like a bunch of HR Giger drawings because of course it does (+1)
  • There's an action scene where the heroine (Katherine Waterston) smacks the shit out of an alien with a remote operated crane that's pretty cool (+1)
Total: +14

Demerits

  • There's this overarching theme of creationism and Christianity in the movie which really sucks. In the opening scene, Weyland (Guy Pearce) states that he can't accept that humans evolved on Earth through random chance. Later, the captain of the Covenant (Billy Crudup) complaining his crew doesn't trust him because of his faith. It seems very out of place in this new, jaded, atheist millennium (-2)
  • Speaking of Weyland, I'm still salty that Lance Henriksen isn't in these movies anymore (-1)
  • James Franco is in the movie for ten seconds for some reason (-1)
  • Michael Fassbender is a wonderful actor, but his American accent is... not good. He sounds like Christian Bale trying to pull off an American accent. I get why he's doing it is so we can tell the good Michael Fassbender (American) from the bad Michael Fassbender (British), which is another problem (-2)
  • The shipful of colonists (just for emphasis, that's 2000 people in cryosleep plus a whole bunch of embryos) are heading to a planet that they are not 100% sure is habitable for people. I wonder who exactly these people are? Are they part of some government incentivized colonization program? Are they one of Weyland-Yutani's "shake and bake" colonies? Are they a religious group? I wanna know what the fuck these people think they're doing (-1)
    • Furthermore, the captain of the ship risks the 2000 sleeping people to respond to a possible distress call that has nothing to do with them, which is stupid and also incredibly contrived. I'm guessing the reason his crew doesn't respect him is not because he is a Christian, but because he's a fucking dumbass (-1)
  • People in horror movies always go really far away to pee, which people in real life absolutely do not do. Granted, the guy who utters the deadly phrase "I gotta take a leak" in this movie was actually going off to blaze it, but still, it's the year 2104, smoke it if you got it bro (-1)
  • Aliens infect people through microbes or spores or dust or something now? Was that a thing in Prometheus? I thought in Prometheus it was a liquid? I got bored when the bad Michael Fassbender was explaining how alien infection works (-1)
    • I had to read the plot synopsis of Prometheus on wikipedia to try to understand what was going on and it explained nothing (-1)
  • The problem with prequels in general is that you already know how they're going to end. This is especially true of horror prequels - you know that the crew of the Covenant is going to get wrecked, so there's no real sense of danger, and no sense in getting attached to the characters. The fun in watching these movies is seeing how the crew gets wrecked by aliens, and it took a really long time to get there (-1)
  • Why, and more importantly how, does bad Michael Fassbender's hair grow? Okay, the why is probably to make him seem more human or whatever, but the how is more perplexing. Does he eat? How can he grow new hair without ingesting new material? What does he eat? Does he just go around eating random shit so he can grow his hair out for aesthetic reasons? What kind of monster? (-1)
  • The reason the good Michael Fassbender finds out that the bad Michael Fassbender is bad is because he misattributes "Ozymandias" to Byron because this movie is about ten miles up its own ass (-1)
    • I mean, it's called "Alien: Covenant" for fuck sake. What the fuck is that? Alien: Contract was a little too on the nose, I guess. Fuck it, I want to see Alien: Convent. Hire me to write that screenplay you assholes (-1)
  • Anyway, it turns out in this movie that the xenomorph was bioengineered by the bad Michael Fassbender from an alien virus. I don't know about you, but for me the alien is more interesting and scary when it's just some naturally occurring deep space monster. Why? Because our own planet is chock full of shit that can kill you in really horrible ways, so why shouldn't space be full of shit that can kill you in even more horrible ways? There's something very narcissistic and disappointing about the alien being effectively created by humans (-1)
  • Also, why do all of the androids in these movies have such a chub on for the alien? (-1)
  • Alien had a bad android, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien: Resurrection had a good android, Alien: Covenant has both a good android and a bad android. As much as I like watching robots hitting each other, the androids in this movie are identical and more or less evenly matched which is boring and futile (-1)
  • The revelation at the end of the movie that the good Michael Fassbender was actually replaced by the bad Michael Fassbender is the least surprised I've ever been in a movie (-1)
  • Ultimately, this movie is halfway between a straight up gross-out monster movie, and a slow burn meditation on the human condition. If it had committed wholly to either of these it probably would have been pretty interesting, but where it half-asses both of them, it feels, well, half-assed (-1)
Total: -20

Final Score: -6
This movie wasn't as terrible as I was hoping it would be. It was a technically fine film marred by some really stupid creative decisions and thematic compromises. As much as I hate to say it, I would be fine with the whole Alien franchise getting rebooted at this point.

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.