It’s all slow weeks from now, if I had to guess. Other work is looming on the horizon, so I’m afraid my time will need to be devoted elsewhere for the most part. I am doubtful that I’ll be able to continue my trek through whatever 2011 films I have left to see. However, I will try and squeeze in a visit to the cinema here and there, so contemporary releases like the one below are not entirely out of the picture.
The Guest (2014) - 7/10
Ever since You’re Next, I have been closely monitoring Adam Wingard’s every move, eagerly anticipating his feature length follow-up. His recent segments for the anthologies The ABCs of Death and V/H/S (as well as its sequel) also made an impression on me, though I still need to catch up with some of his earlier work (A Horrible Way to Die comes to mind). In any case, The Guest was a logical next step as it had opened in theatres not too long ago. I was initially concerned about Wingard’s departure from horror to something veering more towards a thriller, but early reviews won me over and I purchased a ticket to the cinema shortly thereafter. Having now seen the film, I realise that I needn’t have worried, as Wingard knew exactly what he was doing with this latest directorial effort. Part The Terminator, part Halloween, and part Drive, The Guest is a sort of genre-bender—and a rather unique one at that. I’m not quite sure I’d even heard of an action thriller which transitions into slasher horror before, and so The Guest certainly sets a precedent in that regard. Moreover, the film is surprisingly funny thanks to some well-placed black humour, and features a lovely assortment of retro synth tunes on its soundtrack. Dan Stevens is something of a force of nature in the leading role, and I found Maika Monroe to be a bright young talent who I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing perform previous to this. Adam Wingard deserves another round of thumbs up for what he was able to accomplish with The Guest. The film is undoubtedly very good and I had an absolute blast watching it. I don’t necessarily consider it a truly excellent piece of filmmaking, but that’s all right, because the end result is more than enough, and for me The Guest already counts among my favourites of the year.
A discharged soldier is welcomed into the house of a bereaved family after claiming to have known their son who was killed in action, but subsequent events reveal that the stranger has a mysterious past.
+ Dan Stevens + mesmerising soundtrack + darkly comedic + unique blend of genres + suspenseful and unpredictable + well-realised 80s aesthetic + ambiguous final note
- underdeveloped characters - some scenes do not entirely fit - uninspired third act
• moderate level of violence and gore • very low level of scares and frightening scenes • moderate level of nudity and sexual themes • high level of profanity
things I learned from watching this movie (potential spoilers ahead)
1. Hospitality can get you killed. 2. If someone bullies you at school burn their house down. 3. Cold-blooded killers love synth-pop and mixtapes. 4. Don't run in a straight line when someone is aiming at you with a gun. 5. Mazes blocking entrances and exits are the worst idea ever.
The Guest is an odd but potent mix of genres from You’re Next director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. Benefiting from an intriguing premise and changing plot direction more than once, the film remains suspenseful and unpredictable all the way to its deliciously ambiguous final note. Dan Stevens is unrecognisable in the leading role and exudes self-confidence and screen charisma in equal measure. Furthermore, the 1980s are brilliantly evoked thanks to a mesmerising synth soundtrack, a retro aesthetic, and bouts of dark comedy in-between its thriller and horror tendencies. While the film’s third act is somewhat uninspired compared to everything before it, and the scenes which take place away from the story at hand do feel jarring and out of place, The Guest is decidedly another strong offering from Adam Wingard and co.
A late entry, this one. It’s been a particularly hectic week. However, I did manage to go through a number of films that I have been eyeing for some time now. Not all of them lived up to my expectations, though. As a matter of fact, it turned out that the one movie I had little hopes for left me the most impressed while another, very promising one resulted in some considerable disappointment. See below.
Anonymous (2011) - 7/10
Having not been the biggest fan of Roland Emmerich’s work in the past (his recent 2012 was downright atrocious), I did not expect Anonymous to amount to much. Still, I decided not to set it aside due to some positive voices amongst its mixed critical reception and the fact that it was nominated for one Academy Award—and I try to cross as many Oscar-nominated films off my watchlist as I can. And so I went into Anonymous cautiously and with little to no expectations, and some two hours later I came out of it terribly impressed with and thoroughly entertained by what I had seen. This is a film that plays with history boldly and in a tad ill-advisable manner, and it may well come across as being too close for comfort to some individuals. Undoubtedly, that is also the reason why Anonymous turned out to be such a mixed bag for critics and audiences alike—the film made little more than half its budget back at the box office. All of which is a shame, though, because beyond its controversial subject matter lies a captivating tale—factional though it may be—of political intrigue and artistic struggle. Furthermore, Anonymous is a visually astounding work of cinema; from the gorgeous costume design (a well-deserved nomination, to be sure, though I would not have stopped there) and immersive set design to the effective and moderately employed CGI, this film is an absolute feast for the eyes. Emmerich certainly has a discernible eye for visual detail, if nothing else. And then there’s the cast. Rhys Ifans shines in the leading role as the brilliant and tormented Edward de Vere, and Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, Xavier Samuel, and Sam Reid turn in strong supporting performances. Vanessa Redgrave makes for a memorable Queen Elizabeth I, and her daughter Joely Richardson handles herself admirably as a younger Elizabeth in flashbacks. Most of all, though, I was taken with Edward Hogg’s performance as the scheming Robert Cecil. On another note, Anonymous is not without its faults, even disregarding its problematic rewriting of history. First of all, the film is not exactly easy to follow due to frequent time jumps and occasionally lacklustre editing. Moreover, some of the characters are dangerously close to being cartoonish (Robert Cecil and William Shakespeare come to mind, in particular). Despite these shortcomings, I still found Anonymous to be a very good film and well above what its lukewarm reception would suggest. It’s a shame that some people took offence with the story it attempted to tell, though I can’t say that I blame them too much for it.
Margin Call (2011) - 6/10
J.C. Chandor’s feature-length directorial debut Margin Call is a fascinating movie in a number of ways. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at the very beginning of the 2008 financial crisis. It assembles a hefty cast of well-established and undeniably talented actors. It takes place over the course of merely twenty-four hours and mostly within the confines of office spaces. It doesn’t much attempt to hold the viewer’s hand, instead firing technicalities and discussing vague hypotheticals at considerable pace. That last part is the both film’s most admirable and most damning trait. Everything works as it should in Margin Call. The cast performs well all-around, though it’s ultimately nothing to write home about and certainly nothing any of the talent on-board haven’t done before—and better. The film looks good and is adequately directed throughout, though, again, does not exceed in any of these aspects. The script is suitable: the dialogue is occasionally inspired and then sometimes rather monotonous, and the plot has a certain urgency about it that is at times effective but often too tame to arouse proper suspense. There are attempts at social commentary here and there, and the finale has a useful message attached to it, yet it all lacks significant depth. In the end, Margin Call is entertaining, educating, and well enough put together from a filmmaking standpoint, but it feels like an empty movie. Like the investment bankers and corporate suits that it’s portraying, Margin Call is cold and emotionless.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) - 5/10
The trailers for We Need to Talk About Kevin painted the film as a disturbing indie fare, but the end result turned out to be far more messed up than any previews could possibly suggest. This is an incredibly tough watch—certainly one of the most uncomfortable cinematic experiences I’ve gone through in a long time. Every second of We Need to Talk About Kevin feels unnerving in some way, and in that sense this movie is a definite success and perfectly directed by Lynne Ramsay. However, the film’s relentlessness and deliberate pacing takes its toll, and I felt utterly drained by the time the credits rolled in. There are also other issues at hand: few characters in the film are actually sympathetic, some plot points are left unaddressed, and the music is completely on-the-nose and downright cheesy at times. Furthermore, Ramsay overdoes it with the suggestive imagery and chronologically disrupted storyline, and while Tilda Swinton is certainly emotionally resonant, her American accent is less than consistent. Ezra Miller, on the other hand, is chilling and once again proves himself as one of the most talented actors of his generation. His performance towers above the film itself, though. We Need to Talk About Kevin is ultimately an exercise in overindulgence—it’s crammed with the sort of transgressive content that is always on brink of an overspill if not handled properly, and unfortunately that’s exactly what happens in this case.
Another predictably barren week in terms of films watched. I find that nowadays I watch a lot more television (drama, that is) than I do movies. It’s been like this for a good while now, and yet I haven’t really written much about television. I don’t know whether or not that will change in the coming future, but it’s certainly an interesting thought.
Kill List (2011) - 5/10
Despite being a relatively little known British independent, I heard a lot about Kill List back when it was released in 2011. There was a good deal of discussion around it at the time, most of which was related to the film’s third act—apparently it was something quite special. It’s been a long time coming, but I finally gave Kill List a watch the other day. A fascinating experience it was; it’s a slow burn with a strong atmosphere. The sense of foreboding pervading throughout the entire movie is of a rare intensity. The violence and gore come in short bursts but are handled very well and are remarkably efficient. While the final act of the film is indeed something to behold, therein also lie most of the problems that I had with Kill List. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t make all that much sense and certainly doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. There are scenes which ultimately amount to nothing, and while I do enjoy ambiguity and things being left open to interpretation in cinema, too little explanation is given for the events that take place in the film. It’s definitely a bold effort from director Ben Wheatley, whose career I will be sure to follow from this point onward, but I found that Kill List sadly buckled under its significant shortcomings, even if the in-the-moment experience was packed with plenty of tension.