Posts Tagged ‘psychological thrillers’

MV5BMTcyMDkyMDA4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjE5MDExMDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,676,1000_AL_Because come on.  Come on.  No one is going to give The Eyes of My Mother less than five stars.  I don’t care how contrarian you are; I don’t care how much you hate “artsy” movies; I don’t care how opposed you are to all that is beautiful and clear and flawlessly done in a world where the ugly, the graceless, and the inept are increasingly lionized.  If you give this movie fewer than the maximum number of stars, you know in your heart that you are lying; and furthermore, that you are a bitter, cane-shaking old coot who shouts at clouds about those damn kids and their stupid making better movies than your favs from the 70s.

You are the enemy of the grim, gorgeous, monochromatic world to come, less-than-five-star-giver.  You.

The Eyes of My Mother is not just an astonishingly beautiful movie, though it is that; the cinematography, lighting, framing, arresting visuals, and weird, creepy grace of Kika Magalhães as Francisca are reminiscent of the utter gorgeousness of 2015’s Darling, a film I had to watch a couple of times before I could really process anything other than how beautifully shot the movie was.  Like Darling – and other recent entries into the horror genre like The Witch and The Blackcoat’s Daughter – The Eyes of My Mother steers back away from an 80’s-style reliance on gore and jump scares into gothic Shirley Jackson territory, depending for its effect not on the sudden shrieking of violins but on the quiet, unrelenting awfulness of every minute of the movie.

Not that I don’t love gore and jump scares, because I do – and The Eyes of My Mother certainly has gore enough.  But it’s not an end in itself; it’s a means to tell a story about a young woman whose life is as genuinely awful a place to be for herself as it is for anyone else who comes into her orbit.  I’m not sure the genre has seen a character as simultaneously horrifying and sympathetic as Francisca since Norman Bates, and while I doubt that appreciation of The Eyes of My Mother will be as widespread as appreciation of Psycho (because the world is a crappy place full of terrible non-five-star-giving people), I hope very much that it will be as deep and as long-lived.

So what’s the verdict?  Five stars.  If you do not love this beautiful, skillful, queasily heartbreaking movie, then you and I cannot be friends because you have no soul and you probably like tract houses with popcorn ceilings.  Go on about your wretched, empty  existence and watch Honey Boo Boo instead.

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There’s a regrettable tendency among filmmakers, even ones whose name is not Ti West, to confuse “slow build-up” with “exactly jack shit happens until the last ten minutes of this movie, when all of a sudden there is running and screaming.”  Those filmmakers should, as penance for the hours of tedium they inflict on the moviegoing public, be forced to sit down with a notebook and pen and watch Lovely Molly over and over until they can prove that they’ve learned something.

 
Now, on a certain level, no one is more surprised that I’m saying that than I am; because Lovely Molly was written and directed by Eduardo Sánchez, who is best known for the granddaddy of all jack-shit-happens movies, The Blair Witch Project.  I don’t know what he’s been doing in between the two movies, but by God, he’s been learning things.  Lovely Molly is both a more mature movie than Blair Witch Project and a more effective one; not as groundbreaking, but Sánchez is nonetheless the first director since, well, himself, to move the found-footage conceit forward in terms of its function in the movie.  Here, it’s more than just a gimmick – the home-shot video is integrated into the film in a way that’s purposeful and laden with meaning, not to mention creepiness.  I’m not usually one to haul out the liner notes and start pontificating on the arc of a filmmaker’s career, but when you draw a line from Blair Witch Project to Lovely Molly, it’s clear that Sánchez has cruised miles down that road in the right direction.

Newlyweds Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis)  move into her childhood home after her father’s death.  That never seems like a good idea to begin with, but it’s worse here.  Creepy things start happening, like the alarm going off in the middle of the night and the back door standing wide open.  Molly, alone in the house while Tim is away driving his truck, hears a child crying in a closet; she also takes to wandering around outside in the woods with a night-vision camcorder, humming creepily.  As the scariness of the house ramps up, Molly’s sanity starts to break down, and her history of drug abuse and mental illness comes to light, as well as a history of horrific abuse.  By halfway through the movie, it’s hard to tell which is scarier – the house and the weird things happening in it, or Molly herself.

Lodge, a newcomer to film, does wonders in a role that requires her to retain the audience’s sympathy while engaging in a series of increasingly batshit insane behaviors.  Alexandra Holden is also amazing as Molly’s long-suffering sister, who desperately wants to help her but has no clue even where to begin.  Lewis isn’t in the movie all that much, but considering that not long ago he (apparently) murdered his landlady and then killed himself during a psychotic episode, possibly the less said about him the better.

The movie has one of those open, let-the-audience-decide endings that, again, are murderously difficult to do well.  I think Sánchez pulled it off, but I know others disagree.  Agree or disagree, though, I think it’s clear that he at least knew what he was about, as opposed to movies that really look like they end because the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner and gave up.  The question that remains when the movie is over is what exactly happened.  Was Molly possessed?  Was the house haunted?  Or did she just fall through the ice into a spiral of addiction, mental illness, and paranoia?  I have an opinion on that.  You’ll have to watch and figure out what yours is.

So what’s the verdict?  Four stars.  Okay, it’s a low four stars, right on the three-star border.  But Lovely Molly made me think, which horror movies rarely even attempt to do; it did a number of very difficult things well, including a number of things that could have been done lazily, and days later I’m still thinking about it.  It’s not for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for a movie that’s creepy, uncomfortable, thought-provoking, and never boring despite the slow pace, this one’s for you.

I feel like there’s some really deep hook to YellowBrickRoad such that if you get it, the movie is amazing and brilliant.  On the other hand, it could be an awful lot like the annoying pompous drunk at the bar who goes on and on about some really esoteric topic like, I don’t know, the influence of Kierkegaard’s philosophy on the shaping of the modern Federal Reserve, where you can’t help suspecting that if you knew anything at all about Kierkegaard or the Federal Reserve yourself it would be clear to you that the guy has no idea what he’s talking about.

As I say, there may be some hook in the movie that you really have to get.  I did not get that hook.

YellowBrickRoad is, to be quite honest, a movie about a bunch of pointless people dying pointlessly in the service of what might have been a really interesting plot if it hadn’t been largely abandoned halfway through in favor of pointless  deaths. Pointless and badly filmed; at one point there’s a very graphic dismemberment scene that looks for all the world like the guy’s dismembering a muppet.

The basic story is this: in 1940, the entire population of a small New Hampshire town got up from the metaphorical dinner table and walked down a path in the woods known as the Yellow Brick Road.  Most of them were never seen again, except for the couple hundred who were left to litter the path with their mutilated cadavers.  A team of academics in some field or other, intending to write a book on the subject, walk up the path themselves.  Soon big band music is blaring at them non-stop out of nowhere, which would be enough to send anyone into a homicidal frenzy, and the team starts randomly offing each other and themselves.

There’s not even any joy to be found in watching their sanity degenerate, because there’s really nothing more to the characterizations than “Random people sent into the woods to die.”  Right to the end I had no idea who half the people on the team even were.  I have heard that the ending made sense in the filmmakers’ heads, but hell if it seems to have made sense in anyone else’s; it’s more like a non-ending that fits with the rest of the non-film but certainly isn’t any more satisfying for all that.

So what’s the verdict?  One star.  I will say this for it: the opening sequence is amazing.  If the whole movie had been like that, instead of descending into nonsensical indie pretentiousness, it would have gotten a lot more stars.  In that sense it’s a lot like Ghost Ship, and no movie should ever put itself in the position of being compared to Ghost Ship in any way.  You can get to the end of YellowBrickRoad, but there’s pretty much nothing there when you do and no good scenery along the way.

“The Baby’s Room,” one of six films on Spain’s Films to Keep You Awake compilation, is an entertaining and worthwhile (if not entirely satisfying) film from director Álex de la Iglesia.  I mention the director off the bat because the only other movie of his I’ve seen is the incoherent and tedious The Oxford Murders, so now I consider myself compensated for having sat through the latter movie.

In all honesty, the storyline in “The Baby’s Room” is not a model of coherence either.  I’m still not quite sure how exactly everything happened that happened.  (Ghosts?  Demonic possession?  Quantum physics? What?)  Fortunately, though, it’s an entertaining enough journey that I didn’t feel like I enjoyed the movie less for not having had a cast-iron grip on every single plot detail.

Sports writer Juan, his wife Sonia, and their new baby – walking away with a hands-down victory in the Most Adorable Family in the Horror Canon competition – move into a very large, very old house that should be expensive but wasn’t because (a) it needs renovating, and (b) no one lives there for very long.  I keep trying to find a house like this myself but have thus far been unsuccessful, so I guess people in horror movies are better at house-hunting on Craigslist than I am.

Soon, though, things start falling apart.  Juan and Sonia hear voices from the baby’s room over the monitor, but there’s no one there.  Juan buys a video baby monitor, sees a man actually sitting by the crib, and justly freaks out.  He becomes more and more obsessed with burglars, then with the idea that the house might be haunted, until Sonia gives up and packs the baby off to her mother’s.  This leaves Juan at the house with a wall full of baby video monitors – through which, in a wonderfully creepy set piece, he watches a man murder his wife and baby, in real time, while in the world outside the video camera Juan is alone in the house.

(While all this is going on, by the way, Juan is also having to cope with the demands of his day job.  This is a rather wondrous departure from American horror movies, where hauntings seem to be largely a problem afflicting the independently wealthy.)

Half the fun of The Baby’s Room is trying to figure out exactly what’s going on.  Is Juan seeing an old murder enacted by ghosts?  Is it a recording of the murder stored somehow in the house’s very walls?  Is it a portal to a parallel universe where Juan is actually seeing some sort of mirror-Juan with more than a few screws loose?  Is Juan just cracking up and having hallucinations?  You only actually find out the answer to one of those questions, in a Twilight Zone-ish ending that feels more satisfying than it objectively should; but if you resign yourself to going “Enh, sometimes things are ineffable,” it’s a fun ride anyway.

So what’s the verdict?  Three stars.  I think half the reason I enjoyed this as much as I did is that Juan and Sonia are so engaging.  I’d probably have been a lot less forgiving of the film’s few weaknesses if it was framed around the typical, vaguely off-putting WASP couple beloved of most horror-movie directors, living a life of suspect affluence rudely interrupted by ghosts.  (Disclosure: I watched part of 1999’s In Dreams yesterday before Annette Bening and Aidan Quinn so got on my last nerve that I had to turn it off.)  I can deal with the occasional movie where even the people we’re supposed to sympathize with are pretty unpleasant, but not a steady diet of them; so the charming and unpretentious family in “The Baby’s Room” were a welcome breath of fresh air as well as just being enjoyable to watch.

Anyway, rants about unsympathetic main characters aside, “The Baby’s Room” is definitely worth the watch.  I may have to check out the other five movies in the release.

Usually when there’s a mismatch between a movie and its ending, it’s a fairly decent movie being ruined by an ending that makes a hash of everything that came before it.  (I’m looking at you, Deadline, and don’t think I don’t see M. Night Shyamalan hiding behind you either.)  Much rarer is the situation where the movie itself is fairly unimpressive but the ending fills you with glee.  Pathology is a fine example of the latter.

Dr.  Ted Grey (Milo Ventimiglia, who confused us by looking like Tobey Maguire)  has managed to score both a rich fiancee and a plumb pathology residency.  He gets off to a rocky start with the other residents, especially golden boy Jake Gallo (Tom Weston), but within about twenty minutes they’ve lured him into a game wherein each participant has to commit a murder and the others then have to guess how they did it.

Well, I say “lured.”  It actually goes something like this:

Grey:  “Oh my god, what are you, a serial killer?”

Gallo:  “Okay, you know what, you can’t play.”

Grey:  “NO FAIR!”

Grey, it turns out, is just as much of a misanthropic psychopath as the rest of them, which lends a little interest to the proceedings.  Which is fortunate, because otherwise there’s not much interest to be had.  Aside from Gallo’s skeevy girlfriend (Lauren Lee Smith), whose boobs get a considerable amount of screen time, almost none of the other characters are anything but glorified extras.  (Literally, during one of the final scenes I was like “Hey, who’s that guy?”  My daughter informed me that he’d been a member of the group the whole time.  I’m glad she’s more observant than I am.)

Pathology takes on the immortal question: “Just how far can you push the crack-whore characterization while still having it be even remotely plausible that these people made it through medical school?”  The answer, by the way, is “Not this far.”

Pathology isn’t a bad way to kill time on a slow weekend, but there’s not much to it.  The movie spends way too much time establishing that the main characters are freaky in just about every way and not enough time on how they go about setting up the perfect murder, or indeed even solving the perfect murder, which you would think would be the point of the movie.  How many scenes of budding pathologists smoking crack do we really need?  The answer is a lot, apparently.  Also, a tip for future filmmakers: scenes of kinky S&M sex where the use of acupuncture needles has made one of the participants look like a porcupine are neither hot nor disturbing, but they are good for a laugh.  You do get bonus points for Wallace Stevens, though.

You know what would have been awesome?  Scorching, screen-melting chemistry between the two leads whose conflict is supposed to drive the whole movie.  Or, you know, any sort of chemistry at all.  Anywhere.  Between anyone.  By half an hour in I’d have settled for a vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano.

So what’s the verdict? Two stars.  Ventimiglia really should have been playing this role in a much better and more intelligent movie; he’s better than it deserves, and because of that his performance sits at a weird angle to the rest of the film.  Weston is not better than it deserves, and indeed his gloriously scenery-devouring performance is pitch-perfect for the movie he’s in.  I just would rather have been watching Ventimiglia’s movie instead.

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Well, that was a fun surprise.

I found Madhouse streaming on FEARNet, so we should probably establish that my expectations for movies that stream free over the internet are about as high as my expectations for the average YouTube video of a teenager singing into her hairbrush along with Mariah Carey.  As long as no one actually utters the words “Run!  Save yourself!” you’re pretty much golden.

This one looked like it might be kind of entertaining, though.  Joshua Leonard (also known as The Least Annoying Blair Witch Kid, Not That That’s Saying Much) plays Clark Stevens, newly arrived at Cunningham Hall Mental Health Facility to do an internship.  He quickly finds out that the staff are as strange as the residents, and in some cases hard to tell apart from them. The head nurse (Dendrie Taylor) is a taser-wielding Nurse Ratched type; the security guard (Christian Leffler) is a violent whackjob; the head doctor (Lance Henriksen, who has been in so many movies I think he must have cloned himself at some point) is clearly keeping Dire Secrets that probably involve Nazi medical experiments; and the Cute Social Worker (Jordan Ladd, otherwise known as Cheryl Ladd’s Daughter My God Where Does the Time Go) is on antipsychotics because she’s schizophrenic but just a little, okay?

Not long after Clark gets there, the head nurse is killed via a sort of do-it-yourself electroshock treatment that causes her to chew off her own tongue.  In the process of questioning the patients on the disturbed ward, Clark discovers a prisoner in an ostensibly empty cell who has a lot of cryptic Hannibal Lecter-like pronouncements to make.  Oh, and Clark starts seeing a kid who may or may not be a ghost.  The more he investigates, the weirder things get (and the higher the body count goes), until he finds himself seriously considering the possibility that the hospital may be haunted.

The introductory scene is one of those strange OMGGHOSTS montages with all sorts of fast cuts, fast motion, and stark lighting.  I love it, I’m not going to lie, but I have no idea what it had to do with the rest of the film.

Madhouse is a fun movie; at 90 minutes there isn’t really a chance for the pace to drag, and it doesn’t.  It’s direct-to-video for a reason, make no mistake.  I can’t even tell you the movies it’s derivative of without giving away the plot twist, but there are so many of them that you could make a drinking game out of spotting them.  (There’s one character billed as “The Tranny” who I think is more of a drag queen, but all I could think of whenever he was on the screen was “He’s not a transsexual.  He thinks he is.  He tries to be.”  Well, that and “Dude, he’s in lockdown in the basement of a mental hospital, where the hell is he getting all that makeup and the eyebrow tweezers?”)  The production values occasionally make it look made-for-TV.  The very end doesn’t actually make any sense.  But the acting is good and it’s entertaining, so my conscience would be clear recommending it for a rainy afternoon when you can’t face playing Silent Hill one more time.

Ghost Kid is pissed because he has to spend eternity in the suit he wore to his cousin’s wedding.  In 1842.

So what’s the verdict? Three stars.  I don’t mind if movies are hugely derivative, usually, as long as they’re entertaining while they do it, and this one is.  If the only Silence of the Lambs you want to watch is the one with Anthony Hopkins in it, though, you’d probably better do that instead.

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Shutter Island is one of those films that demands an immediate second viewing, just so that you can go through and pick out how the filmmakers did what they did.  It’s also brutal and heartbreaking, with one of the finest last lines I’ve heard in I don’t know how long; gorgeously filmed, atrociously scored, not flawless but it shouldn’t be – it’s a movie about beautiful, broken things, after all.

This is the kind of movie that’s difficult to review without giving away too much, because the plot starts its slow twist almost from the beginning.  In one sense, the plot summary is very basic: Character X goes to Place Y, and Things Are Not As They Seem.  In this case, US Federal Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are called to Ashecliffe Hospital – a gothic fortress for the criminally insane – to investigate the disappearance of a patient who killed her children. The patient’s disappearance gets resolved rather surprisingly;  but by that time, Teddy, haunted by the liberation of Dachau and the death of his wife, has his own ideas about what’s going on on the island, and he’s not giving up that easily.

It will take you about ten minutes after you leave the theater to start going, “Wait, that setup is sort of outlandish.  I mean, really?”  And it is.  But you won’t even care, because Leonardo DiCaprio will have broken your heart into a million pieces with his grief and his love and his war flashbacks.  He is the heart of this movie and he carries it beautifully.

A word about the twist.  I’ve seen all sorts of people complaining that they saw it coming in advance, as if that were a strike against the film.  I think too many of us have come to define “twist” as the kind of thing M. Night Shyamalan tries to bludgeon us over the head with in every one of his movies.  I’m pretty sure the twist in Shutter Island isn’t supposed to blindside you.  It’s the sort of twist where you’re supposed to start suspecting early on that something’s wrong and then slide right along with the movie to an ending that, while you wouldn’t have seen it coming when you stepped on the slide, seems inevitable by the time you get to the bottom.  That’s tricky, people.  It’s not hard to fool the audience up until the last five minutes of the movie and then say “Ha, psych, we lied to you, it’s really like this instead.” (Though, admittedly, it’s hard to do it well, a thing proved on a yearly basis by Shyamalan’s post-Sixth Sense career.)  It’s a lot harder to bring the audience along with you, every step of the way, and still not lose the magic like you were David Copperfield explaining how he gets those rings to stick together.  Scorcese and DiCaprio between them pull it off beautifully.

Is this Scorsese’s best picture ever?  Well, no.  But it’s a pretty damn good Scorsese, a slow, creepy tribute to film noir in which the political message is as out of date as a vintage issue of True Detective and the message about human frailty will never not be relevant.

So what’s the verdict? Four stars, because I want to beg Scorsese to take it back and have it rescored by someone who’s not deaf and doesn’t hate humanity and freedom.  Countdown to the DVD release starts now.

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