Quick Hit: A bit of a paint by the numbers horror thriller, despite strong performances from a spread out cast.
I’m going to be far from the first critic, or far from the last, to compare Bird Box to A Quiet Place. It does add a unique perspective to have watched this film so soon after watching the other piece, The Silence, as we seem to have dropped into a strange horror niche that includes the horror of having one of your senses away. Now, before Hollywood adapts my upcoming novel The Smell In The Wind, in which you must not smell the creature lest he attack you, I must preface this – Bird Box is an adequate film at what it does, namely give Sandra Bullock another vehicle for her terrific ability to bring heart into a film that doesn’t always have some.
A small summary of the story may be in order. Essentially what occurs is an unnamed monster/alien/creature that remains unseen (aha, see what I did there) by the audience causes people to off themselves in particularly gruesome ways. Think The Happening, but with much less Wahlberg acting horribly. That leaves Malorie (Bullock) pregnant and alone… until she happens upon a house of people that take her in. There are a number of decent scenes on this side of the timeline, including a supermarket scene that invokes some of the best tension from The Mist. But there’s also a separate timeline that consists of Malorie taking two children – Boy and Girl – down the river to an unnamed destination. As the two stories come together, we see that she is forced to go there, because some of the people don’t kill themselves, they instead go bad.
In a way, I feel like The Silence and Birdbox are better companion pieces because they both have this element in common. The “People are the real monsters” thing is something that Stephen King continues to manage to write stories about (God bless him and that wonderful state of Maine), and it is effective here, particularly when there is a “twist” (using that term very lightly, as there is absolutely no way people don’t see this coming) in the story. I think that the cast handles what they’re given very well, managing to build up their strawmen characters much better than less accomplished actors. John Malkovich has the ability to steal every scene he’s in, even drawing the eye from Bullock, simply by nature of being a grumpy old man who is (rightfully) distrusting of everyone. However, it's Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) that still manages to be the most interesting character in the whole movie, despite being just a handful of descriptive cliches.
I think what turned me off the most to this film was just how easy it was to see everything coming. The tension was there, hovering off the screen at times, but never fully explored. Instead, there is an obvious progression to the story from the very beginning, leading to the requisite happy ending. It’s very depressing for a film that manages to be entertaining even throughout its drabness. Which leads me to another point – sometimes using color filters and greying out everything to give things a dystopian look is not a good decision. Despite having a beautiful setting to work with in Malorie, Boy, and Girl traveling down a river, instead director Bier manages to steal the joy from nature itself… but in a bit of a boring way.
I’m going to go out and say that Bird Box is watchable, but I wouldn’t go back and seek it out. I’m giving it a “C”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
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.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"