Quick Hit: An example of an homage that adds little else to the picture or story.
I remember the sheer dread that emanated from the original Strangers film. When the words “Because you were home” were finally issued in answer to Liv Tyler’s desperately whispered question of “Why?”, I knew that I had watched something special. Indeed, despite the fact that the original movie came out 10 years ago, was beloved by most in the popular horror circuit and then forgotten about, it’s a movie whose influence is felt in many of the haunting films to follow with It Follows, Hereditary, The Babadook, and the like. I was against a sequel, especially a belated one such as this, so maybe I shouldn’t be the one writing this… but I am, so deal with it.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that it looks like a John Carpenter movie. The set pieces are expansive, the location is both gritty and stylized, and there are flashes of intense color that rip apart the grittiness in interesting ways. The worst thing I can say about this movie is that it looks like a John Carpenter movie. There is not much else that is different, and the blatant copying of a fellow director’s style without adding anything to the plate is something that I’ve maligned at length before. While there is still some value to be gained by following that style, it’s not worth the trouble for those that are watching it if there isn’t anything new for you.
The writing in this movie just comes across as lazy. I’m not sure if the point of the film was to make a critique on the slasher genre, or a loving tribute to it, or what. What comes across is cliché followed by cliché followed by more clichés. This horror family is on a trip, with a jock son and an angsty daughter. They stop somewhere without talking to the relative that lives there, in a mobile home park that is essentially deserted. When they start hearing things, they decide the best thing to do is split up. One of the things that I thought was so good about the original in this “series” was the fact that the characters didn’t really make any dumb decisions, and they still got got. If the horror movie villains outsmart you, well, that’s just your bad luck. But if you make stupid, cliché horror decisions, you deserve to get killed.
That, and the lack of characterization of these people, really make it seem like the 5th or 6th iteration in a franchise that has gone on too long and hasn’t yet reinvented itself. The horror is gone, and while you do get one scene worth watching in the movie involving a pool (it’s near the end and is the only reason this movie isn’t an “F”), it’s not enough to redeem all that has come before it.
I’m going to give this movie a “D”. There wasn’t much that I enjoyed about it, and I think it could have been decent had it just brought something, anything, new to the table.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Devastatingly real and tragic, this story shows the hidden cost of war.
Quick – if I ask you to name a movie about war, what comes to mind? Hacksaw Ridge? Dunkirk? Saving Private Ryan? Platoon? Or maybe something more like Pearl Harbor, or even Captain America is more your speed. Whatever your thoughts, unless you’re an anime fan, Grave of the Fireflies probably wasn’t the first movie to pop into your mind. But it is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the most effective war stories I have ever watched, and it had me ripped apart inside by its ending.
You can see where the story is going, and that still doesn’t prepare you for the emotions that follow. Seita is a young teenager who we see pass away in the opening shots of the film. The story of his life is told in flashback throughout the rest of the film – we see that he is from a town that the Americans firebombed, mortally wounding his mother. His father is a naval captain, nameless and away at war. This leaves Seita, himself barely more than a child, to care for his younger sister Setsuko in a town that is ripped apart by grief and the struggle to survive. This first leads him to live with an aunt, who eventually begins to resent the intrusion in her home – more on this in a bit – and so Seita and Setsuko begin to struggle on their own in a cave.
Grave is the work of Isao Takahata, who passed away earlier this year. He gives us some beautiful scenery shots, that are done in a lazy, realistic style (I use lazy as a compliment there). The animation of the characters is much like you’d see in most anime in the early nineties – think Dragon Ball or Pokemon. But unlike those shows, often full of manic energy, there is a quiet to this animation that helps bring the characters more to life. There are moments of intense joy in this heart-wrenching film, and Takahata brings them out with moments of silent reflection on our surroundings. The characters faces are still fluid and expressive, allowing the face to stretch in ways it never could, and give us a deeper reflection of certain emotions, like a child’s sadness or wonder at a firefly.
I said that I would get back to the aunt, and here I shall. If most people picked a villain of this story (well, besides war itself), they would probably refer to this aunt. But can you really blame her? She’s just trying to protect herself and her family. Whilst most of us would probably protect our extended family as well, I’m sure she’s not the only one that would put her own children first. This sounds harsh, but that’s the truth of Grave – it feels extremely real because it doesn’t sugar coat it. People look out for themselves first, which, at extreme times, leads to terrible things. It’s why we love stories like Hacksaw Ridge, because even if they are based on real things, they are the extraordinary – they don’t happen regularly because most people aren’t like that. People are intrinsically sinful and selfish – just like Seita’s aunt.
Ok, finally, let’s take a moment to talk about what I guess is a spoiler (this movie is thirty years old, so you’re welcome for the spoiler alert), and typing this will give me a moment to pull on my big boy pants and try not to cry again.
So, the sweet little girl that probably reminds you of your little cousin, your little sister, or maybe even your own child (my case), dies. It’s inevitable – there’s not much to be done. I was ok when she first passed – but when Takahata took time to reflect on Setsuko’s moments alone by their shelter, I lost it. It was so achingly beautiful, and perfectly reflected a child’s grace and wonder in a world that has lost those qualities. The death of Setsuko is not just the death of a character, but reflective of an entire world losing its innocence with the advent of nuclear bombs. It’s haunting, and gorgeous, and it wrecked me inside.
If you are a fan of human stories, you should watch this. If you are a fan of war stories, you should watch this. If you are a fan of animation, you should watch this. I don’t think I could recommend this to enough people, only to have them hate me and say they’ll never watch it again. Grave of the Fireflies is an “A+” experience.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Bleak and powerful, but lacking in execution of overall story despite strong individual moments and performances.
Hello everyone! This is my first post in a while – I’ve had to focus on some things like the upcoming play and everything else, but it’s good to be back. Hopefully you checked out some of the extensive SLIFF coverage that quite possibly drained us leading up to this Thanksgiving week. That being said, I’m going to do some catch-up posts – movies I watched intending to review that never got around to being typed.
One of those was the Netflix thriller/horror Hold the Dark starring Jeffrey Wright (of Westworld and Catching Fire). This is a movie that you probably shouldn’t go into if you want cheery. From the opening moments of the film, it’s a bleak exploration into family and the role it plays in our lives. It’s also a step down from the last Jeremy Saulnier film I reviewed – the terrific Neo-Nazi filled Green Room.
Hold the Dark follows Russell Core (Wright) into the Alaskan town of Keelkut, in order to help Medora Sloan (Riley Keough), the young mother of a boy that was killed by wolves. Her husband, Vernon, is off fighting in Iraq – something we flash to in a harrowing experience that shows the true nature of war in an extremely Platoon like moment. And just like that – the plot shifts immensely, and what was turning out to be a fairly by the numbers wilderness story shifts into a plot procedural.
I think that is probably the biggest issue that I had with Hold the Dark – its inability to maintain any momentum in what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a vengeful revenge thriller? Is it a man against the wilderness fight? Or is it a drama filled with the effects isolation and race have on a small community? In the end, the film feels like an amalgam of all these genres, but never fully meshes them together. While the characters feel extremely real and developed, nothing seems to relate fully to each other – almost as if this is a small slice of a larger television show that has so much more to tell. I think Core, Wright’s character, has the biggest room for growth. Wright plays his typical quiet intelligent type, and while it is as wonderful as always, you can’t help but want more for him than he receives.
Saulnier’s normal violence is on full display here though, and at times it is once again mixed masterfully with quiet dialogue. This is perfectly exhibited in what could probably be described as the climatic scene of the film(definitely the most action filled), which involves a young lawman attempting to talk down a man on the edge. The result is a bloody massacre that shows us just how isolated you can feel in a crowd.
The ending is a bit of a mess, because it’s unafraid to leave us without answers. Some quick research tells you that the book this is based on gives you some more icky answers if you care to search for them.
I left Hold the Dark disappointed, if only because I felt the film had the ability to become more than it was. I’m going to give the film a “C+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"