Quick Hit: Another Stanley Tucci vehicle that fails to live up to his name.
I’m an unapologetic Stanley Tucci fan. I continue to post different movies where he maintains the ability to be good in movies that may not be, and he consistently brings heart and humor to his roles. It’s, therefore, a bit of a shame to have watched a few Tucci films in the past year that didn’t quite land for me. The first was Patient Zero, which started with a good concept but failed in its execution. The second comes in The Silence, today’s film. In a world that feels a bit like a prequel to the smash hit A Quiet Place (more on this in a bit), there’s a lot that is left to be desired.
We start the movie following Ally (Kiernan Shipka of Sabrina and The Blackcoat’s Daughter), a young girl who recently lost her hearing in a car accident. She lives with her father (Stanley Tucci), mother (Miranda Otto), grandmother, and little brother. In short, we have a small family dynamic. The world gets topsy turvy when small pteradon like creatures are released from a cave. They’re deemed “Vesps” and quickly start to overtake the country and eat their way through humanity. The Andrews family runs from the city and eventually finds themselves in a house isolated in the countryside.
If it’s not clear why this feels like a prequel to A Quiet Place, I’m not sure what more I can say.
What I can say is that unlike that gem of a film, which manages to extract tension and family values from a monster movie, this film does not. It uses Ally’s deafness as a means to an end, and frequently at times seems to forget she’s deaf. Her deafness is portrayed as a ringing of the ears, and at times I found myself thinking she was going to go Daredevil and use it as a super power somehow in a fight against creatures that were her opposite. Instead, we slowly slog from one plot point to the next – monsters are bad, but people are worse – Mom is hurt and we need to raid the pharmacy – etc, etc. All of these things feel like things we’ve seen before, right down to vocal sacrifices.
It’s a shame, because the movie itself has some elements that do work. The acting team works with what they’re given, and there are a few tension filled scenes, the best of which finds them locked in their car with a barking dog. The director also gives us some fun ways of fighting these creatures, including a wood chipper. There’s also more than one scene of how humanity is quick to put themselves first – even if it means the loss of humanity that means sacrificing children. It’s these few gems that keep you interested in watching the movie further, but nothing past those is worth more than a shoulder shrug.
It’s always a shame when movies are so similar to each other, because it’s difficult to separate them, when sometimes, production budgets and scripts are totally different and put films on separate playing fields. But regardless, connections form in the human mind as neurons are lit up by things that are similar to what came before. I’m going to give this one a “D”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Outrageous and bloody with ambition to spare.
It’s impossible not to think of The Wicker Man when watching Apostle. Part of that is due to the subject matter – both deal with off-the-beaten path communities that harbor cults with murderous sensibilities. But the part that sealed the deal for me was that Dan Steven’s (The Guest, Beauty and the Beast) performance so incredibly invoked Nicholas Cage, who was in the remake of The Wicker Man – featuring of course, the meme-worth BEES scene. His (Stevens) wide-eyed and crazed performance is a lot of what works throughout Apostle, which appears on Netflix for those seeking something that is ambitious as hell and with an amount of blood to rival most. So let’s talk about it a bit further, shall we?
Apostle has the aforementioned Stevens as Thomas, a drug-addled brother with an insane backstory (as a missionary no less) who finds his way to Erisden, an island that contains a cult that is holding his sister hostage for ransom. There, he encounters their leader, Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen) and his daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton of Sing Street). Malcolm is an extremely interesting character whose own story is developed as the film goes on. That’s one thing that Apostle has in spades – it’s willing to go off and tell whatever stories it wants, in no particular order, with characters referring to past events that we then flashback to. It does get a bit tiring as the film goes on, and the film ends with a lot of plots that feel half-cooked, but the sheer scope of the mythology is impressive.
The first half of the film is the epitome of a slow burn. There is a lot of setup, and much is spent on Thomas getting absorbed into the community and attempting to discover his sister’s fate. Then, in one scene, which invokes more fear than the rest of the film to this point in a single moment (and gives echoes of The Descent), the film goes absolutely bonkers. From this point on, the film decides to let nothing stay. We have purification by screw, a human meat grinder, blood drinkers, faceless creatures, etc. This is just a small taste as to what the rest of the film has to offer, and it’s outrageous and incredibly entertaining, but definitely not for the faint of heart. It immediately reminded me of a small film I watched for SLIFF two years ago called Tonight She Comes that made me extremely uncomfortable for a few days.
The other thing that I have to commend this film on is that despite the fact that a lot of the beginning is frequently shot incredibly darkly, the film overall is incredibly beautifully shot. There are some horrific things that are set in gorgeous light and centered. The action scenes (of which there are several, increasingly mightily towards the end of the film) are shot with a clinical air, even as we watch spears and knives pierce hearts and chests galore. It is actually fairly similar to what you would see in a Kung Fu film, in that the righteous glee throughout the violence is taken with a pure shot with nothing to dilute it.
Is Apostle good? It has elements that work, mainly by virtue of throwing everything at the screen and seeing what sticks. Is it entertaining? That is an overwhelming yes. I’m giving Apostle a “C+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Invoking both Stephen King and the Nightmare franchise in equal measure, this film succeeds with a focus on dramatic growth of character.
A few years ago, very few people had heard of Mike Flanagan. He is the director for several films we have reviewed here on the site, most of them favorably – Hush, Oculus, Gerald’s Game are all in his rearview, but somehow, I missed this long shelved project. Released shortly after Gerald’s Game, but prior to the excellent series Haunting of Hill House, Flanagan showed that he was drawing heavily from his respect and love for the prolific author, but also was pulling on several heavily dread horror movie tropes. The best praise I can give someone though, is when they somehow make a trope feel more than that, and here is where Flanagan has succeeded and continues to.
Before I Wake takes a family that is grieving after the loss of their child, Sean. Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane, a Stephen King veteran himself – 1922, The Mist) decide that after being unable to have children that fostering a child would be an important step in the healing process. But Cody (Jacob Tremblay) is more than just a normal child – he has the power to pull his dreams into reality. Like any young mutant (because the parallels to the X-universe shouldn’t be forgotten here either), he is unpredictable with his powers. Sometimes he pulls butterflies into the world, and others he pulls a terrifying creature that he has deemed “The Canker Man”. So many pieces of this description feel as if they could have been lifted from a Stephen King story – the exceptional child, the grieving parents, etc.
While many will pick up on the themes of the film quickly, I’ll maintain that Flanagan deftly handles the films reveals and powers through in a way that both maintain the horror and the drama. His camerawork is superb, featuring a wide array of close-ups that highlight terrific acting from his leads. In particular, Tremblay shows why he continues to take the acting world by storm with a performance that is full of childhood wonder, fear, and yet, a breathtaking maturity. Cody is aware of things throughout the film – that he should attempt to keep the Canker Man away by staying awake, that he should keep his parents from finding out more about him by distracting them with questions about their dead son – and Tremblay sells every moment of that. Jane is good as well, but the best performance is from Bosworth, who manages to give a performance that is full of the grief of a mother who has lost her son, and the fear of a mother who could lose another.
Flanagan’s ability with a camera is shown once again when he frames a young Cody within the center of the screen. It gives off the inherent selfishness of a child, to put themselves in the center of the world, while also making Cody seem tiny and insignificant against what he faces. The drama is maintained here as well, allowing the Canker Man to appear at intervals staggered throughout the film, and throughout the screen, which at times feels almost as important.
That's not to say that there isn't a few wrinkles. There's a plot in the center of the film around a bully that goes missing, that seems only to be used as a vehicle to keep Tremblay at home and get other people involved in the story. While the scene itself is fairly scary, and invokes quite a bit of Nancy in Nightmare, it doesn't quite reach the same level and feels a bit distracting from the main plot. However, the parallels to the Nightmare franchise continue towards the end of the film where the lines between reality and dreams start to blur more and more as Cody is put into a deep sleep. It's a beautiful bit of set work and effects that really sets the tone for the final conclusion of the film.
Before I Wake was an excellent start to another month filled with horror films. It’s nice to be back everyone. I’ll happily suggest you take Before I Wake and check it out. I’m giving it a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"