Review: The Snowman

TS

So-called Nordic Noir has been all the rage in recent years, with crime drama shows such as The Killing and The Bridge thrilling and chilling audiences across the globe with that specifically Scandinavian brand of incredibly dark, but highly realistic mystery. Aside from the popular TV shows, books by authors such as Jo Nesbø have been equally successful, and it was therefore only a question of time before one of Nesbø’s stories about detective Harry Hole would be adapted for either the small or the big screen. In the cinematic adaptation of The Snowman, Michael Fassbender portrays Harry Hole, the protagonist of several of Nesbø’s books, and Rebecca Ferguson plays his crime-solving counterpart as Katrine Bratt in a production lead by director Tomas Alfredson, effectively marrying talent of both Hollywood and Scandinavia alike. 

Since the film features a cast of competent actors and is directed by the man who has previously helmed critically acclaimed features such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let The Right One In, it should therefore be easy to hit the mark and satisfy fans of this particular type of thriller. However, aside from the icy scenery of Norway during winter time serving as a beautiful backdrop, The Snowman is an incredibly tedious affair, suffering from a severe case of cinematic frostbite. The performances are unengaging, with the cast looking either bored or lost, as if they either knew they were underutilized or that they did not receive sufficient direction. The biggest culprit, however, is undoubtedly the editing, which is what truly puts the film’s chances of succeeding on ice. Throughout its nearly two hour runtime, the editing serves no other purpose than to ensure that The Snowman is an incoherent, bland mess that is criminally lacking in the suspense department.
It should also be noted that as good as the source material is, even in the case of something as intriguing as The Snowman, there is always that issue of lifting imagery that is unnerving on the page and making in unnerving on the screen as well. Much like the hedge animals that spring to life in Stephen King’s The Shining are very eerie on the page, I think we can all agree that it was one of the better omissions Kubrick made when he took significant creative liberties for his adaptation of King’s book. Likewise, where the appearance of the killer’s snowmen outside his victims’ homes are ominous on the page, they entirely lack any unsettling punch in the film. Arguably, yours truly does find an unhealthy amount of enjoyment in the ridiculousness vessel that is Jack Frost: The Mutant Killer Snowman, however, while my connotations are undoubtedly tainted by a 1997 cheese fest, the plentiful chuckles several of the snowman scenes generated from the audience would suggest that the snowman imagery was simply not handled well enough to have the desired effect on the audience.

Considering how much success Nordic crime drama productions and penmanship has had outside Scandinavia in recent years, the film adaptation of The Snowman is an avalanche of tonal and narrative letdowns that serves as a reminder that all good things must inevitably come to an end. Thus, while winter may be coming in terms of the seasons, should you against better judgment decide to go see The Snowman, the only thing you should brace yourself for is an overwhelming sense of disappointment. 

Verdict: 3 out of 10.

Advertisements

Review: The Ritual

R

At the beginning of this millennium, British horror cinema brought a series of highly memorable offerings to the table. From the heart-stopping terror of The Descent to the hilarious Shaun of the Dead and the suspenseful Dog Soldiers, British horror was very much back on the map after the 90’s had been ruled by the American meta slasher. With The Ritual, many remarked that the trailer suggested that the tone and theme of the film would be similar to that of The Blair Witch Project. While the film does indeed feature a small group of individuals who experience increasingly terrifying events after they get lost in a forest littered with strange symbols and objects, The Ritual is fortunately entirely its own entity thanks to the source material penned by Adam Nevill.

The film starts out well by establishing the past events that are weighing down the moods of the quartet of friends as they go on a trip together, creating a strong foundation for the mounting tensions within the group. This generates an undercurrent of intrigue, but it never becomes emotionally manipulative or dull in terms of the character development of Rafe Spall’s traumatized and guilt-ridden Luke in particular. While the emphasis certainly is on the character of Luke, the rest of the group still feel more than sufficiently relatable, all playing their part in the group dynamic. Thus, as the horrors unfold, the unpleasantries hit home not only due to the haunting cinematography and skillful editing, but also because the characters feel like real people making real decisions in a deeply unnerving, paranormal situation that somehow manages to suspend the disbelief rather extensively.

As for those who are worried that the visual aspects of the storytelling may be too similar to The Blair Witch Project, rest assured that there is no shaky cam or ambiguously vague pay-off to be unearthed here. Instead, The Ritual takes it time to build its world, managing to maintain its eerie momentum for the first two acts, where the audience is left guessing wildly about what may be responsible for the horrors the protagonists are subjected to. However, while the first two acts of the film are equally intense and unsettling in terms of both atmosphere and visuals, the third act does lose some steam once the cause of the creepy commotion is revealed. This is not so much due to the reveal being underwhelming or bland as it is anything but, but rather because the film shifts genre gear from horror to survival in a way that leaves you wanting more of what made those first two acts so good.

The Ritual has a simple, but effective mix of horror, humor, mystery and creativity, giving the film its own distinct identity. When it is good, The Ritual serves as a welcome reminder of both the woodland eeriness and banter of Dog Soldiers as well as the devastating isolation and bewilderment of The Descent. Even when it does not quite manage to create those connotations to Neil Marshall’s better work – all the while avoiding being derivative of either film – it is just so plain strange that it manages to keep its audience interested.

Verdict: 7 out of 10.

 

Review: Blade Runner 2049

BR2049-

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has continued to intrigue and engage audiences since its initial release, and the dystopic neo-noir is widely considered one of the most influential films of all time. As the years passed and more alternative cuts were released, the film increasingly raised more questions than it answered, making fans eager for a sequel, and almost two decades after it went into development, Blade Runner 2049 has finally arrived. In the current climate of reboots and franchises galore, many were understandably concerned about which direction the new film would take, but Denis Villeneuve thankfully puts these concerns to rest, as Blade Runner 2049 not only is an incredibly impressive sequel to Blade Runner, it is also one of the best sequels ever made.

Boasting impeccable visual effects, immaculate color grading and seamless editing, Blade Runner 2049 is an absolute feast for the eyes, as it also has some of the most breathtaking cinematography in recent memory. Furthermore, much like Scott’s 1982 effort, the production design of Denis Villeneuve’s sequel also helps to believably establish the world of the film as not only being futuristic, but also as a place that genuinely feels lived in. There are the occasional callbacks to the original film in terms of sound effects, musical cues, familiar items and graphics as well as oddly clunky technology, but these connections are so minute that they do not interfere with the viewing experience and instead feel like the natural parts of the film’s world that they are. It is also through this thoughtful and measured balancing of old and new that Villeneuve manages to make Blade Runner 2049 entirely his own film, as he avoids paraphrasing the first film and instead builds on the foundations laid by Scott 35 years ago.

The film’s pacing may appear slow to some, but while Blade Runner 2049 takes its time to dwell on the details, it never meanders in terms of its narrative. As for the plot, potential viewers should be urged to avoid spoilers at all costs, but rest assured that the plot serves as a natural, yet deeply intriguing extension of the first film. As such, the story at the core of Blade Runner 2049 will therefore also likely appeal to fans of the first film, whereas the uninitiated may find it as meandering, dull and inconclusive as many found Blade Runner when it was originally released.

It should also be noted that while the marketing may have led some moviegoers to believe that Harrison Ford would be a significant screen presence, Ford is merely a supporting character compared to Ryan Gosling’s K, who is the undisputed main character. Utilizing his knack for expertly portraying externally stoic but internally chaotic characters such as Driver in 2011’s Drive, Gosling delivers a career best performance as the young Blade Runner. However, he does not mimic any of his past performances to achieve this, as he instead portrays K as a multi-faceted and deeply compelling character entirely in his own right. The supporting cast also play their parts well, but it should again be noted that Jared Leto has but a few moments on screen, however, he still manages to become a menacing presence, just as the various associates of various main characters are also clearly distinguishable and all serve a specific purpose.

Much like Blade Runner had a mixed reception when it opened in 1982 and only later gained the acknowledgement it deserved, Blade Runner 2049 similarly boasts groundbreakingly mesmerizing visuals, while also raising additional philosophical and existential questions. As such, the enjoyment the individual viewer will find in the film as a whole also relies on their interest in the themes that were introduced in the first film. This should come as no surprise considering other Villeneuve efforts such as Enemy and particularly Arrival clearly indicate the type of narratives the French-Canadian director enjoys working with. In conclusion, Blade Runner 2049 is not only Villeneuve’s best work to date, it is also a cinematic triumph that serves as a reminder of how much can be done with not only the science fiction genre, but also with the medium of film in general.

Verdict: 10 out of 10.

Review: Mother!

M

Written in a fevered frenzy over a period of five days, writer and director Darren Aronofsky has described writing the script for Mother! as a fever dream, which is coincidentally also a rather apt description of what it feels like to watch his latest effort. As seen from the point of view of lead Jennifer Lawrence for the majority of its runtime, Mother! tells a strange, yet compelling story that is incredibly confrontational not only in terms of its cinematography and imagery, but also in terms of how it challenges the viewer. By dealing with themes such as privacy, idolatry and the pitfalls of interpersonal relationships, the viewer’s own perceptions become part of the viewing experience, which makes watching the film a very subjective affair.

Moving through its narrative with an increasing amount of tension and surrealism, Mother! takes its time to build its mounting layers of unease and mystery, at times raising the question of how much of what is happening is actually real and how much is potentially hallucinated by Lawrence’s character. Much like Rosemary’s Baby unfolded from the point of view of Mia Farrow’s character of Rosemary Woodhouse, the story of Mother! unfolds from the perspective of Jennifer Lawrence’s character, as we are constantly either following directly behind her or seeing her react to the increasingly frustrating behavior of her husband and the mysterious guests that continue to arrive at their house. As such, we know as little as she does, and the heavy use of close-ups and Steadicam pulls the audience completely into the film, forcing them to process any given event occurring on the screen.

The acting performances further drive home the odd mix of plausible reality and hellish nightmare, as the various characters slowly become exacerbated versions of various personality types that most of us have probably crossed paths with at some point. Michelle Pfeiffer makes an impressive return to the big screen as she plays a particularly obnoxious character with a subtly menacing undertone, and while Pfeiffer and the rest of the cast do very well as a whole, the standout performance is undoubtedly that of Jennifer Lawrence; she manages to convey the confusion and frustration of her character without losing any of the humanity or groundedness necessary for the audience to invest in such an intense role, easily making this the best performance of Lawrence’s career thus far.

There is much to take away from Mother! and mull over once the end credits roll, as the film is brimming with allegories and symbolism. However, while some viewers will enjoy sitting back for two hours to let the surrealist piece of cinema that is Mother! take them on an abstract, absurdist ride, this will instead be a drawback for others, who will find the viewing experience beyond tedious. It should also be noted that the film’s weird and winding story will require you to remain in your seat for the entirety of its runtime, as even the briskest trip to the bathroom or concession stand leaves you at risk of missing a twist or turn that will leave you completely lost as to how on earth everything managed to escalate this much beyond comprehension in just a few minutes.

Additionally, those who are expecting a horror film in the more traditional sense may also leave the theater feeling dissatisfied. While Mother! contains some hauntingly visceral imagery in the final act in particular, much like Aronofsky’s Black Swan was not an outright horror film, it still had hints of horror imagery, which added to the visceral nature of that film. Mother! once again uses this approach, making it more of a drama/thriller that cleverly blends reality and surrealism, which makes it that much more arresting in all its confounding glory. Love it or hate it, Aronofsky has undoubtedly created something quite special with Mother! as the film leaves an unsettling mark, which merits multiple viewings to even begin to comprehend the full extent of its meanings and metaphors.

Verdict: 9 out of 10.

Review: IT

I

Having been a kid in the 90’s, there are certain pop culture phenomena that will always remain with me. From the one-liners from Terminator 2: Judgment Day being quoted to death during recess to rushing home from school to catch the latest episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, I have as many fond and rose-tinted memories of 90’s film and TV as most of my generation, and I am sure that many of my peers will also be able to recall how they were traumatized by the Stephen King’s It miniseries at some point. Since it aired rather frequently, I remember seeing it several times back in the day, but I also remember that it was quite popular for kids to dare each to watch it. Sure enough, most kids cockily accepted the challenge and often came to regret it. You see, on Danish television, the national broadcasting service, Danmarks Radio, would show two-part miniseries every week with the first episode airing Monday night at 10pm after the evening news and the second episode at the same time the following evening. Thus, kids would arrive at school Tuesday morning with a somber look on their face after an uneasy night’s sleep thanks to Tim Curry’s iconic, coulrophobia-inducing performance. However, if they decided to brave the second half of the miniseries, they would arrive at school with a different facial expression on Wednesday morning, namely that of disappointment; as good as the first part of the miniseries is, the second half is a letdown, mainly because Tim Curry was the heart and soul of an otherwise mediocre production, and the lack of his presence in the second part makes it incredibly cheesy.

Due to the impact of his performance, the lasting popularity of Tim Curry’s Pennywise meant that the news of a new adaptation of Stephen King’s behemoth shocker was unsurprisingly met with substantial skepticism. However, as the release date drew nearer and the marketing campaign worked its magic, people began to warm up to the idea of the new, R-rated take on the horror classic, and IT thankfully succeeds well beyond clever marketing and an increased amount of gore. Being updated to take place in the late 80’s, there were understandable concerns that the film was merely going to be a cash grab riding the successful nostalgia train currently lead by Stranger Things, but this concern also turns out to be without merit. While IT even shares one of its main cast members with Stranger Things in the form of Finn Wolfhard, IT manages to stand on its own as it accurately captures the essence of Stephen King’s novel as far as the children and their friendship is concerned, making it easy for the audience to invest in the kids of The Losers’ Club.

Much like the novel, the young cast and their dynamic are essential in making the film work, and while the kids of the miniseries were also memorable and relatable, the Losers in the new IT are allowed more depth, putting their chemistry and performances on par with those of Stand By MeSuper 8 and indeed also Stranger Things. They behave and speak like real kids with plenty of expletives and crude jokes from Wolfhard’s Richie Tozier in particular, and while the character of Richie is as annoying and inappropriate as he should be, the kids’ mannerisms as a whole never feel forced. Richie is hardly the main character among the Losers, though, and the three Losers awarded the most screen time and character development are all very impressive. Jaeden Lieberher leads the pack as stuttering Bill Denborough with another great performance that further attests to his talent. Jack Dylan Grazer is also good as Eddie Kaspbrak, serving well as the preppy, hypochondriac contrast to Wolfhard’s wise-cracking loudmouth Richie, with whom Grazer constantly and sassily spars. Sophia Lillis channels Molly Ringwald as she breathes new life into Beverly Marsh, portraying her as a multi-faceted character who is both confident and vulnerable, thereby adding renewed depth to the heartbreaking reality of Beverly’s home life.

As for Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise, those who are familiar with his other work know that the versatile actor is not riding the coattails of his family’s success. Having shown plenty of times that he is not only talented, but also fearless and invested in his work, Skarsgård does not seek to paraphrase Tim Curry’s effort in his performance, instead making this incarnation of the killer clown entirely his own brand of eerie, unsettling, weird and scary. It is therefore not a case of who is the better Pennywise, but rather which performance you prefer. It should also be noted that where Tim Curry’s Pennywise was the focal point of the miniseries, many other forms of It get screen time in the new film, thereby lending Skarsgård much less screen time, which does not enable the audience to explore his performance as thoroughly as that of Curry.

While IT boasts several great elements, it is, however, far from faultless. Where the novel jumped back and forth between The Losers’ Club as children as well as adults, the new IT focuses solely on the children, seemingly leaving the adults’ bout with the evil of Derry to be addressed in an as of yet unscheduled sequel. While the more linear format of focusing on a single time era eliminates the risk of tonal confusion and ensures a smooth progression of events, it also becomes part of the film’s pacing issue. As the kids each get their terrifying encounter with one of It’s forms, these encounters veer on the verge of becoming montage-esque, doing less and less to move the narrative along. Arguably, the encounters are well-executed and memorable, but while all the kids work well together as an ensemble cast, the Losers are not given equal screen time, which results in the character arcs of Stan Uris and Mike Hanlon being particularly neglected.

Pacing issues aside, IT manages to be a fun, engaging and heartfelt story about friendship, coming of age and facing your fears. As a Stephen King adaptation it places itself as one of the best so far, leaving you curious to see what can be done with the adult Losers. While the horror occasionally relies on tired tropes such as jumpcuts and hyperactive editing, it is largely done well with a few genuinely jaw-dropping sequences bringing to mind some of the most creative scares from the A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise. All in all, IT very definitely floats, and the amount of heart and skill it showcases suggests that any sequels will likely float too.

Verdict: 8 out of 10.

Review: Annabelle: Creation

AC

If I recall correctly, I was about six years old when my mother was given a small, antique porcelain doll by our neighbors after they had gone through a bunch of stuff to declutter their storage space. What made this doll so special was that it seemingly kick-started my parents’ collection of vintage toys and antique knick-knacks. Once they began collecting, my parents would routinely go to flea markets and thrift stores with me in tow to hunt for new treasures, which would not only teach me how to haggle, but also how to estimate the value and age of old toys. Eventually, my parents ended up having one of the largest private collections of vintage and antique toys in Denmark, and my mother actually ended up losing track of exactly how many dolls she had. All I knew was that she probably had over a thousand dolls, and that they really freaked out my friends. Thus, whenever I had friends over for movie nights in my teens, they would at some point start daring each other to see who could stay locked up in the doll room the longest before wanting out. Having grown up around the dolls, I never found them creepy, and I thought my friends were being silly, just as I never thought horror movies centering around dolls were particularly scary. While films like the first Child’s Play definitely deserves its status as a horror classic and the sequels that followed had varying degrees of entertainment value, personally, I never found the idea of an evil, sentient doll all that scary, and 2014’s Annabelle certainly did not manage to impress me either.

Continue reading “Review: Annabelle: Creation”

Review: Atomic Blonde

AB

When John Wick made its debut, it instantly got directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s flair for thrillingly intense action with perfectly choreographed stunts noticed, and it paved the way for Stahelski to elaborate on the John Wick universe with a successful sequel released earlier this year as well as a third installment on the way. Uncredited co-director Leitch was not overlooked, however, and with the movie world currently abuzz with the recent reveal of the look of Josh Brolin’s Cable in the Leitch-helmed Deadpool 2, his second feature-length effort Atomic Blonde is opening to plenty of interest as to what the director is capable of on his own.

Continue reading “Review: Atomic Blonde”