Quick Hit: Taylor Sheridan continues his hot streak with Wind River.
Writer Taylor Sheridan stormed onto the scene with Siciario in 2015 and continued with a strong follow-up in 2016’s Hell or High Water. It was exciting to hear that he had decided to step into the director’s chair for Wind River, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. To give a rough recap, Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a Wildlife officer who discovers a body while out on a hunt. FBI agent Jane Banner is assigned to the case, and recruits Lambert to assist her.
If you’ve seen Hell or High Water, you’ll know that Sheridan really knows how to build characters that support his film. Wind River is no different – the characters carry the film. Whether it’s Renner’s stoic Lambert, frequently fighting with his own inner demons, or Banner, obviously frustrated with the bureaucratic system that she works for, the characters speak volumes without blatantly stating so. That’s not necessarily the case for Wind as a whole – Sheridan makes it very, very clear what the movie is about – but the characters are still built in an understated way.
A lot can be said for the beautiful shots within the film, and the periodic violence that punctuates and accents these shots. The film is wonderful to look at – with a lot of dialogue continuing to accent the weather. The dialogue is often simple, with very little extraneous wording. I particularly liked the character Ben (played by Graham Greene), the local sheriff on the Wind River reservation, and his delivery of different lines (he’s also given some of the very few humorous lines in the film).
Some of the things that drag the film down are its obvious pointedness. There’s times where the point of the movie is stated (and repeated and repeated). It even gets to the point where it is stated at the end of the screen. I’m not against this, particularly when it’s for a reason (like drawing attention to a plight of a people), but here it’s so direct that it feels a bit like brow-beating.
This is another film, kind of like the one that we put up on Wednesday (It Comes at Night) that has a distinct Cormac McCarthy feel to it. It’s bleak as hell, and really makes you wrench up your insides. There’re very few jokes in here to break up this film’s landscape, which is also reflective of the films cinematography. The film’s landscape is filled with nothing but snow (Elizabeth Olsen ended up with snow blindness as a result of this film – fun fact). But there is so much more than a blank landscape here. There's a rape scene in this that is indicative of The Last House on the Left, and hurts nearly as much to watch. I don’t mind bleak, but this week at DFP has been a bit of a downer.
All in all, Wind River is a terrific thriller with a message that you can’t miss. The film is terrifically acted, well-written, and beautifully shot. I’d recommend it if you have time. I’m giving it a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Slow burning and tense from the start to the finish.
There’s a large portion of horror movies that seem to be coming out that reflect back to an older time, when jump scares were less important, and a slow burning horror was more of the norm, rather than the exception. A large part of that is A24, whose recent releases of The VVitch, Green Room, and the like have brought this back into vogue. A24 continues this with It Comes At Night, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults.
This movie is the epitome of a slow burn, but it is wonderfully acted and presented. From the opening frames (which deal with the euthanization of an elderly man), there is an intense sense of unease that exists. The film is shot in a way that is indicative of handheld filmmaking, but it’s much cleaner than that. There’s also the movement and speech of the characters, which includes muffled speech behind gas masks, whispers, and yells. The film isn’t interested in explaining what happened, why it happened, or who it happened to. For all we know, this could be local, regional, or even global. All that matters is the survival of the family.
The family is led by Paul (Joel Edgerton). His wife and son follow his instructions and rules as if law, because they’ve made it thus far without being infected. This occurs until the arrival of Will (Christopher Abbott), who Paul doesn’t trust at first. Eventually, this icy relationship suffers, and the two families merge into an idyllic existence. Because you know this is a horror movie, it’s understood that this won’t last.
That’s further communicated with visions, or nightmares experienced by the son, Travis. If there is a person that exhibits the difficulty of this world, it’s Travis, and these reflect that. By limiting pieces of the scope of this world to Travis’s interaction, it’s a way of tightening the scope of the story. At times, this focus shifts from Travis to Paul, and the camera responds to this changing perspective. It’s a bold and brave technique, but it’s really effective at making the viewer uneasy – like you aren’t quite sure that it’s coming.
The acting in this is fantastic. Edgerton (who is now seemingly in everything we watch here at DFP – see Loving, Midnight Special, The Gift, Timothy Green) completely embodies the role of a father who is just trying to keep his small world together. Edgerton continues to play the role as much as old school knight as current father. He’s only doing what he can to protect his family. Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) also does well with some tricky situational acting – that of a young boy discovering his sexuality, of a young boy who enjoys eavesdropping, and of a young boy growing up in a world that is falling apart.
The best thing that I can say about It Comes At Night is that it reminds me of a Cormac McCarthy novel. It’s bleak. It’s devastating. And the ending hurts just as much as you would expect. This isn’t a film with a “final girl.” This is a film that hurts you emotionally, and doesn’t give you the payoffs you’d expect. But it’s also a thinking person’s horror film, and I quite enjoyed it. I’m giving it an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: A sadly oft-repeated premise that lands with more “thuds” than “splats”.
Ah, PG-13 horror, one of the most dangerous pitfalls that a filmmaker can fall into.
I don’t even those that make their careers out of it, because it’s got to be extremely difficult to make a horror movie and attempt to capture the teen audience. There are numerous reasons for this – the lack of ability to truly go to the next level with the violence, the lack of scares allowed to be in the film, etc. – but it really doesn’t allow for people to go to the next level at times.
However, at times, a movie comes along that does a little better than its station. Enter Happy Death Day, a movie from October of 2017. The concept is immediately borrowed from Groundhog Day: a young coed lives the same day over and over. It always ends in her murder by a man wearing a mask. The movie turns into a bit of a whodunit as Tree (played by Jessica Rothe) tries to determine who her masked murderer is.
Is it amazing? Not really. Are there enough humourous moments that the movie is worth a watch for horror fans? Probably.
Death Day unfolds in three predictable phases. One – Tree is a mean person. Two – Tree isn’t sure what’s happening, but enjoys the ability to live her life over and over. Three – Tree figures everything out and changes her life around. Pretty standard “live your life again” stuff. However, what manages to keep the film from turning into something like the terrible Premature is that it keeps its humor surprisingly above board. There’s very little humor that is wasted, and its violence, though obviously cleaned up from what would have inevitably been a better “R” version, is used to accent points.
I will say one of the qualities that makes it a bit fun are some of the transitions in between death and life for Tree. The above gif illustrates what I'm talking about, and shows that they directors and editors took some thought into the movie. They were attempting to go further than just a Groundhog Day clone, and the care is evident throughout the movie. It sure helps to speed the movie along - at only 96 minutes, the film is over almost before you really get going. But that also keeps the majority of the film fairly streamlined, which is for the better.
Unfortunately, The movie loses a bit of its steam as it rolls on, frequently forgetting that side characters exist, and ending on a note that is a bit of an obvious one. Had the movie cleaned up a few of the mistakes it made, it could have been a really good one. Instead, Rothe’s performance buoys this film up into average territory. I’m giving it a “C+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"