February 23, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Dorothy Gale from Kansas may have been worried about ‘Lions and Tigers and Bears”, but even with a wicked witch and flying monkeys chasing her, she never faced anything as fierce as Cocaine Bear! The story is inspired by true events in 1985 when a plane load of cocaine was inadvertently dropped over a national forest in Georgia. Screenwriter Jimmy Warden takes that premise and imagines what would happen if a ferocious bear had ingested mass quantities of the drug and then rampaged while on the ensuing high. Elizabeth Banks, known mostly for her acting (THE HUNGER GAMES), adds this to her growing list of directorial outings (CHARLIE’S ANGELS, PITCH PERFECT 2), and her latest is sure to find a place in cinematic lore.

The film opens with a reenactment of the plane and parachute mishap that caused the drugs to dump into the forest. A crazed Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”) bonks his head on the skydiving exit, setting the stage for our bear to discover the scattered drug bricks. Of course, as we know from so many movies, TV shows, and national news reports, when a drug delivery goes sideways, bears aren’t the only ones on the hunt. A local drug dealer played by Ray Liotta sends his son (Alden Ehrenreich, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY, 2018) and henchman (O’Shea Jackson, son of Ice Cube) to retrieve the misplaced shipment … all while a detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr) is on their trail.

Looking-for-love Park Ranger Liz (the always great Margot Martindale) envisions a romantic hike with the Park inspector she fancies (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), but her plans are spoiled when a frantic mom (Keri Russell, “The Americans”) shows up looking for her missing daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, 2017) and her child’s friend Henry (Christian Convery, “Sweet Tooth”), who skipped school to explore the park. While all this is occurring, there is also a band of thugs wreaking havoc on park visitors, one of which (Aaron Holliday) gets looped in with the drug dealers. Once EMS workers (Scott Seiss and Kahyun Kim) show up, peak bear intensity is reached.

Now all of this may sound somewhat normal for a movie set up, but nothing prepares you for a rampaging bear desperately seeking that next hit of cocaine. I don’t have the words to express just how ‘off the rails’ this thing goes (in a riotous and fun way). What I can tell you is that it’s the ultimate crowd-pleaser, and certainly the most effective movie I’ve ever watched featuring a drug-fueled apex predator. I saw this in a crowded theater and the shared laughter and audience-reactions definitely added to the entertainment experience. Key elements have been omitted here because this is one of the wildest rides I’ve ever had in a movie theater … and my hope is that many other fun-seekers will agree. Not only is there humor, adventure, action, and violence, but there are also some brilliant ‘little touches’ that elevate the story (a cute dog, a double-cross, a broken heart, etc).

For almost fifty years, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) has ruled the Midnight Movie circuit. There have been a few contenders along the way (THE ROOM, THE WARRIORS, EVIL DEAD), but this Elizabeth Banks movie may finally be the one that reignites the late night movie crowd with this raucous, thrilling trip as a coked-up bear (a bear that looks fantastic) runs amok through a national forest, desperate for the next hit. On a side note, this was the final film for Ray Liotta before he passed away in 2022. With a legacy of memorable characters in SOMETHING WILD, GOODFELLAS, and FIELD OF DREAMS, Liotta’s final scene is quite a gut punch. COCAINE BEAR is a “hard R-rating” and not advisable for the 7- and 8-year-old kids brought along by their parents at the screening I attended.

Opens in theaters on February 23, 2023



February 9, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Horror films and religion are a match made in heaven … so to speak. The linking of demonic possession and religious artifacts pre-dates cinema, and yet has long been a key element on the big screen. The effect of the cross on Dracula is one example, and of course, the priest visiting young Regan in THE EXORCIST is one for the ages. So many other examples exist that entire books have been written on the topic. It’s because of this history that we quickly accept the setting and groundwork of this latest from writer-director Christopher Smith (TRIANGLE, 2009) and co-writer Laurie Cook.

Optometrist Grace (Jena Malone) lives alone with her cat when she is notified that her brother (Steffan Cennydd), a priest, is dead. Supposedly he killed a senior priest before committing suicide. Grace is immediately suspicious of the story and decides to conduct her own investigation. She travels to the convent, located on the edge of an oceanside cliff in a remote area of Scotland, where she discusses the case with Detective Harris (Thoren Ferguson). They both have serious doubts that Mother Superior’s (Janet Suzman) chronicle of events is accurate.

Father Romero (Danny Huston) arrives on assignment from the Vatican in order to re-consecrate the convent, and to do so, he must ensure that the truth in the case is disclosed. Adding an element is Grace’s admission to being “indifferent” towards God, which of course, makes her a target of the nuns, including a creepy “peek-a-boo” nun played by Elidih Fisher.

The initial set up with Grace and her arrival are extremely well done, and Ms. Malone proves yet again why she has long been a favorite. The good vs evil stage is set, and then filmmaker Smith begins the twists and misdirection. Flashbacks to Grace’s childhood are a bit heavy-handed and used to spell out a bit too much, and some of these are simply too obvious and generate a few too many eye-rolls. Mr. Huston is always solid in whatever supporting role he plays, but fans of Jena Malone will likely be somewhat disappointed in a movie that doesn’t take full advantage of her presence. Regardless of that, the Scotland countryside is shown in its full glory and that’s quite a sight. Just don’t expect as much from a horror movie that’s just trying too hard.

In theaters beginning February 10, 2023


M3GAN (2023)

January 5, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Dolls are the new Clowns in horror. Okay, that’s not actually true since there is a long history of creepy dolls coming alive. Do you remember “The Twilight Zone” 1963 episode “Living Doll” featuring Talking Tina (voiced by the late, great June Foray, known for Rocket J “Rocky” Squirrel, Cindy Lou Who, Granny in the Warner Bros cartoons)? More recently we have experienced Chucky in CHILD’S PLAY (1988) and ANNABELLE (2014), and in a much less frightening style, the many dolls and playthings in TOY STORY (1995). This new generation is brought to us by director Gerard Johnstone (HOUSEBOUND, 2014) and the writing team behind MALIGNANT (2021), Akela Cooper and James Wan. Of course, new generation means high-tech, so this one injects the Artificial Intelligence from Alex Garland’s EX MACHINA (2014).

The tone is set from the beginning as we open on a “Saturday Night Live” type parody of TV advertising for a product PurRpetual Pet, furry critters that talk and poop while being controlled from an app (like everything else these days), and are guaranteed to outlive their owner, thereby eliminating grief. The manufacturer is Funki Toy Company, where Gemma (Allison Williams, GET OUT, 2017, and the daughter of national news anchor Brian Williams) is the head of the robotics department. Gemma’s workaholic lifestyle and commitment to career is rocked when she must take guardianship of her eight-year-old orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw, “The Haunting of Hill House”). Having no clue how to parent or even relate to a child, Gemma fires up her advanced prototype, M3GAN (Model 3 Generation Android), a lifelike synthetic, learn-on-the go robot meant to bond with one person … and in this case, parent Cady in a way that allows Gemma to stay focused on work. And yes, things don’t go according to plan.

As a caution, the first half hour (after the fake TV ad) is a bit dull; however, the pacing and entertainment value jump significantly once M3GAN comes home with Gemma and Cady. Sure, it’s kinda campy, and even funny at times, but M3GAN’s look and mannerisms are sufficiently creepy, even if her subtle eye movements and facial gestures are much more fun than her over-the-top protection of Cady. Amie Donald and Jenna Davis combine to deliver M3GAN’s physical movements and vocals, respectively. Even with it’s too-obvious jabs at corporate greed and parenting via tech, the film is likely to be a hit with teenagers, especially once it hits streaming platforms. Grown-ups aren’t likely to find it as appealing, although most every movie lover will admit this one trumps the annual tradition of lousy horror releases in January.

Opens in theaters on January 6, 2023



December 15, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Given the onslaught of Zombie movies over this past decade, the release of a film about first love between two fine young cannibals barely raises an eyebrow in regards to subject matter. However, when the film is directed by Luca Guadagnino, the man behind such films as CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017) and I AM LOVE (2007), well the interest level is quickly piqued, as we know the approach will be one that’s unique. David Kajganich, who collaborated with Guadagnino on SUSPIRIA (2018) and A BiGGER SPLASH (2015), adapted this screenplay from the 2016 novel by Camille DeAngelis.

Maren (a terrific Taylor Russell, WAVES, 2019) lives in a Virginia trailer park with her father (Andre Holland). He’s extremely protective of her and even locks her in the bedroom at night. The one time she sneaks out to meet some friends at a sleepover, her gruesome actions clue us in to the reason dad worries so much. Soon after, dad deserts Maren, leaving only some cash, her birth certificate, and a cassette tape he recorded detailing all he knows about her past and her rare disorder (a need to feed on human flesh). We get to listen to the cassette right along with Maren, which gives us the background we need to follow along.

This quickly turns into an ‘on the road’ movie as she begins the search for her birth mother. Traveling by bus, and shooting through her funds pretty quickly, Maren heads through Maryland and on to Ohio. Along the way, she crosses paths with two who prove crucial to the story. Sully (played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES, 2015) is an eccentric oddity of a man with a soft-spoken manner who excels at twisting a phrase. Sully explains what it means to be an “eater” … how their heightened sense of smell allows them to identify others, and his own rule of “never eat an eater”, a rule Maren later discovers isn’t a true industry standard. The first Sully sequence is difficult to watch, yet Guadagnino finds a way to film this that minimizes the visible gore without losing any impact on viewers … or Maren. Sully also shares that he carries trophies of his victims, yet another creepy aspect of this full-scale creepy dude.

Maren’s next key ‘meet’ is Lee (Timothee Chalamet, a Guadagnino returnee from CALL ME BY YOUR NAME). Chalamet plays right into his strength as a low-key performer. This character just happens to kill people and eat them. It should be noted that this is a biological need for these characters … in fact, they have a conversation about being “nice.” Lee and Maren fall for each other much the same as any other young lovers fall for each other. It’s just that their dates often involve ingesting human flesh and blood. Lee’s only real personality seems to be his obsession with 1980’s rock, and he gets to cut loose on KISS’s “Lick it Up”.

The impressive supporting cast includes Chloe Sevigny, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Gordon Green, Sean Bridgers, and Jessica Harper. The road trip continues through Kentucky (where we see a Chia Pet at Lee’s sister’s house), Iowa, Minnesota (Maren’s roots), and Nebraska. A trip to the sanitarium brings unfortunate closer for one of the characters, and it should be stressed that these are teen cannibals, not zombies. These two lovebirds do not possess the giant egos of Mickey and Mallory in NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994). Director Guadagnino has remarkably produced a love story that springs from these most disgusting traits and urges, and he has done so with the unorthodox screen presence of his three lead actors.


NANNY (2022)

December 2, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from writer-director Nikyatu Jusu is a supernatural psychological thriller that may or may not belong in the horror genre. It’s filled with original concepts, innovative camera shots, and a truly powerful lead performance. Despite all it has going for it, the film never quite gels for us, instead creating a bit of confusion as to whether it was trying to make a point or not.

Anna Diop (US, 2019) stars as Aisha. She seizes the role from her first scene and never relinquishes control. Aisha is an immigrant from Senegal who has come to the United States for a better life. She left her son behind in the home country until she can send for him. Aisha is educated and overqualified for the domestic help job she takes for a couple in a swanky Manhattan apartment. However, she’s committed to doing what she must to reunite with her son Lamine, whom she sees on FaceTime. Rose (Rose Spector) is the young girl she is hired to look after, and her parents are Amy (Michelle Monaghan), an anxiety-filled working mom trying to ascend the corporate ladder, and Adam (Morgan Spector), a photojournalist who thinks he can relate to Aisha’s background. Amy and Adam have a strained relationship, and neither seems keen to be a parent to Rose.

We witness Aisha’s ease with Rose, as well as the tension she has with Amy and Adam who seem to take advantage of her in every possible way – including slow payment, cheating her on hours worked, last minute schedule changes, and even invading her personal space. All of this builds in Aisha to the point where her dreams/nightmares/daydreams become a real issue. Water is featured heavily, and we initially relate this to her feeling like she is drowning in the frustrating situation. However soon African folklore enters with spiders and mermaids, and the visions become more alarming. We realize the water has more significance.

The use of color is startling. Aisha’s workplace (the apartment) is washed out gray with cold stone surfaces, while her personal time features vibrant primary colors and music. A sweet romance with Malik (Sinqua Walls), the doorman, provides Aisha with hope. Unfortunately, the psychological character study that has been building through most of the film turns to mostly horror in the final act. The film excels, as does Ms. Diop, when the stress and tension and frustrations of the real world are in the forefront. Still, despite the often bumpy storylines, Aisha’s character and the visuals in the film provide high expectations for Nikyatu Jusu as a filmmaker, and announces Anna Diop as a true leading actor.

Opens on December 2, 2022



November 30, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. HO-HO-HO! Who is ready for the best ever Santa slasher movie? Admittedly, it’s a narrow sub-genre and anyone that knows me or reads my reviews, knows full well that this is not the type of movie I typically recommend. However, it’s the season for charity and director Tommy Wirkola (HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, 2013 – sequel in the works) and co-writers Pat Casey and John Miller (the screenwriters behind the “Sonic the Hedgehog” films) have gifted us an extremely violent and often very funny Christmas present, replete with a sledgehammer-slinging Santa Claus.

We first meet an inebriated Santa (“I’m on a break”) at a local pub, where he explains to a mall Santa why he has become so disenchanted with the job … greedy, self-centered kids who only want more video games. The booze numbs Santa’s disgust as he heads off on his sleigh … and Wirkola delivers the first shocking moment as Santa’s barf keys us into the type of twisted tale we are about to experience. David Harbour (best known for “Stranger Things” and HELLBOY, 2019) is absolutely all-in for this far-from-glamorous portrait of jolly ol’ Saint Nick. On his rounds, Santa raids household liquor stashes while chomping on cookies and eschewing skim milk. He’s a full-blown slob, yet still holds a soft spot for “nice” kids, while having little mercy for the “naughty” among us.

Most of the story takes place at the Lightstone family compound, where one-percenter Gertrude (CHRISTMAS VACATION alum Beverly D’Angelo) is the foul-mouthed matriarch ruling over her entitled and unlikable family consisting of daughter Alva (Edi Patterson) and her airhead-actor husband Morgan (Cam Gigandet) and their poser teenage son Bert (Alexander Elliot). Also present for the festive evening are Gertrude’s son Jason (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder) and their precious 7-year-old daughter Trudy (Leah Brady). Santa arrives at the Lightstone mansion not long before a team of mercenaries, led by Mr Scrooge (John Leguizamo), storm the place and take the family members hostage. Their mission is to break into the family vault and abscond with $300 million in cash.

What follows is a demented mash-up of DIE HARD (1989), HOME ALONE (1990), BAD SANTA (2003), and THOR (2011). Deadly weapons used here include your expected firearms, but also a finely-honed candy cane, an icicle, a skating shoe, and a Christmas tree star, among other holiday items. Most prominent is the sledgehammer wielded by Santa, and the flashback to his pre-Santa days for explanation. The violent action is plentiful, and it’s well-balanced with countless lines of comedy. Surprisingly, there is a story nestled in amongst the mayhem, and the heart of it revolves around the bond between Santa and young Trudy. She’s a true believer in him and that overrides his uncertainty about the job, and inspires him to stick around for the fight. Santa can’t explain the mystique of Christmas “magic”, but he does know an 1100 year marriage has its ups and downs.

Obviously, this is not one for the kiddos (it’s a hard R-rating), and they should be shielded from this Yuletide yuck. Director Wirkola has delivered an instant holiday classic for those seeking the bizarro world flicks contrasting to the more respectable family fare of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and A CHRISTMAS STORY. Who would have ever thought that Festivus might be the safer holiday?

Opens in theaters on December 2, 2022


BLONDE (2022)

September 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. For those who have studied Marilyn Monroe’s personal and professional life, writer-director Andrew Dominik’s (first feature film since KILLING THEM SOFTLY, 2012) interpretative adaptation of the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates may send them into the early stages of shock. In fact, regardless of one’s level of knowledge of the details of Marilyn’s background, shock and bewilderment are likely reactions. It should be made clear for all viewers that it’s a fictionalized account of her life, not a true biography. One should also know that this is cinematic artistic mastery to complement an incredibly in-depth and revolutionary performance from Ana de Armas (KNIVES OUT, 2019, NO TIME TO DIE, 2021).

At times, the film is surreal, while at others, downright hallucinatory. It’s certainly never boring. However, it’s a disturbing beatdown and a grueling watch for a single sitting at close to three hours long. The film begins in 1933 with a young Norma Jeane (Lily Fisher) living in poverty and misery with her single mom Gladys (a terrific Julianne Nicholson). Mom has obvious mental issues and would much prefer Norma Jeane not be around. It’s here where the ‘Daddy issues’ take hold – issues that stick with the girl for the remainder of her life. After being rejected by her father, her mother, and the friendly neighbors, Norma Jeane ends up in an orphanage. A montage takes us through her teenage modeling years, where we see the beginnings of her being taken advantage of and treated as a commodity.

There is an extended sequence involving the threesome of Marilyn and the sons of Hollywood legends Charlie Chaplin and Edward G Robinson (Xavier Samuel, Evan Williams, respectively), and a vicious rape scene with a studio head “Mr. Z” (hmmm). Marilyn’s first pregnancy leads to an abortion, which is the first of a few tragedies she will experience – and director Dominik finds an entirely new (and bizarre) method of filming these occurrences. The Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and Arthur Miller (Oscar winner Adrien Brody) marriages are noted, yet the men go unnamed, instead referred to as “former athlete” and “playwright” … as if somehow that will trick us.

Of course, all of these relationships are right in line with her “Daddy issues” … Marilyn even goes so far as to call these men “Daddy”, in hopes that one will finally give her the love and acceptance she so craves. One of the more uncomfortable scenes (and that’s saying something) involves her tryst with JFK (also unnamed), played by Caspar Phillipson, whose uncanny resemblance to the former President has resulted in his casting for the role in multiple projects. It’s likely this White House moment, replete with Marilyn’s inner voice, is responsible for the film’s NC-17 rating.

Dominik and cinematographer Chase Irvin recreate some of the most memorable film moments from Marilyn’s career … including the subway vent scene from THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. After capturing that film magic, the sequence seems to drag on with leering onlookers and what proved to be the final straw with DiMaggio. A recurring feature involves Marilyn receiving and reading letters from the father she’s never met – including promises of meeting “soon.” The payoff for this is disappointing for us and for her.

Perhaps the main point of Dominik’s movie is the enormous gulf and psychological contrast between Norma Jeane, the eternally-scarred young girl, and Marilyn Monroe, the iconic bombshell she created for public consumption. There is a sadness about her most of the time, even when she flips that switch to become Marilyn – the familiar sultress adored by so many. Toby Huss plays Whitey, a version of real-life Allan Snyder, who was Marilyn’s long-time make-up artist and confidant. Her famous diary gets a mention, and we see the price she paid for taking drugs to calm anxiety while dealing with the crushing weight of fame.

Ana de Armas delivers a performance for the ages. Of course, the scrutiny she will face playing one of the most famous women of all-time will be senselessly nitpicky, yet from an artistic standpoint, her work is supreme. Costume Designer Jennifer Johnson somehow manages to nail the different stages, films, and moods (of both the film and its subject). Is this exploiting the woman who made a career out of being exploited? Or is it simply telling a story? Norma Jeane was a fragile creature constantly victimized as she desperately searched for love. Has the filmmaker continued that abuse with this vision? From a moviemaking aspect, it’s’ a thing of beauty. From a human perspective, it’s torturous to watch. If you are in need of a ‘feel-good’ movie, keep searching. On the other hand, if you are in the mood for the work of a cinematic visionary and one of the best acting performances of the year, settle in.

Opens on Netflix September 28, 2022



September 9, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a dark, stormy night. If that’s not scary enough, Tess is in Detroit. She hops out of her car and dashes to the front door only to find the key is missing from the lockbox. Her Airbnb has been double-booked and a confused and sleepy man answers the door. When Tess agrees to ‘come in’, we veterans of the horror genre know exactly where this movie is headed. The only problem with our theory is that writer-director Zach Cregger has made it his mission to mess with our heads – and the genre – by confounding us at every turn.

Georgina Campbell (“Broadchurch”) plays Tess and Bill Skarsgard (Pennywise in IT, 2017) is Keith, the settled Airbnb tenant. The two actors are superb during their awkward encounter, as Tess comes across as an intelligent and cautious woman, fully aware of the red flags in this situation. Keith is a bit shy, yet polite and accommodating – and also aware of what might make Tess uncomfortable. But Keith looks exactly like the guy who played Pennywise, so Skarsgard’s look results in the perfect contrast with this character’s demeanor … keeping us viewers (and Tess) on our toes.  

It’s really the structure of the storytelling that gives this one a creative punch. Cregger serves up 3 different perspectives and then tries to wrap things up in a final act. I actually found all three puzzle pieces well done and interesting, leaving only the wrap-up a bit lacking. In addition to Tess and Keith, we get Justin Long as a cocky actor named AJ cruising along the California coast in his convertible, singing along at full pitch. A phone call abruptly shifts the tone and soon AJ is on a flight leading him to the front porch of a rental property he owns in Detroit. Yep, the same Airbnb Keith and Tess double-booked. Thirdly, there is a flashback to well-kept homes with perfectly manicured lawns. Right again … the same house a few decades earlier before blight took over the neighborhood. It’s in this stage where we note the homeowner (played by Richard Brake) follows a young woman home from the store and gains entrance under false pretenses.

If this seems like a lot to tie into one horror film, that’s because it is. We’d like to know more about Tess. We welcome AJ’s natural sarcasm, and Brake’s early years could have been the creepiest of the bunch. Cregger excels at atmospheric tension and disorienting camera angles, especially in the always dreaded dank basement with hidden hallways and secret rooms. He’s also clever with his misdirection and inclusion of contemporary issues like immediate ramifications of accusations, and the defensive mode that women must maintain when deciding to accept a cup of tea. I certainly enjoyed the jolting cuts from one storyline to the next. However, I will admit to feeling frustration that Tess was set up as such an intelligent person, only to make multiple decisions that force us to suspend disbelief … a trait of far too many horror films.

Opens in theaters on September 9, 2022



August 11, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. This one works much better as satire than horror-thriller, at least for yours truly. With whodunnit elements drawn from Agatha Christie’s classic “Ten Little Indians”, the play-it-straight approach to riffing on Gen Z draws laughs right along with the expected annoyances courtesy of a bunch of entitled trust fund twenty-somethings. Actor-turned-director Halina Reijn and co-writers Sarah DeLappe and Kristen Roupenian (first feature film for both writers) have based the story on the party game known as ‘Body Body’ or ‘Murder in the Dark’, or perhaps you know it by some other name.

The film opens with a close-up of a passionate kiss between Sophie (Amandla Stenberg, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, 2001) and Bee (Maria Bakalova, BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM, 2020). A picturesque road trip takes the couple to an isolated mansion where they are meeting some of Sophie’s old friends for a hurricane party. They arrive as the storm approaches and the others are taking a last minute dip in the pool. It turns out they are surprised to see Sophie since she has kept her distance from the group (and been unresponsive to the group texts) for quite a while. We do find out her reason, and the group allows them to stay … mostly since the mansion is owned by David’s (Pete Davidson, “Saturday Night Live”) parents, and he and Sophie have been best friends for years. Also attending are Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), David’s wimpy actor-girlfriend who is prone to instant tears; Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), Sophie’s tough-on-the-outside former (and sometimes jealous) lover; Alice (Rachel Sennott, SHIVA BABY, 2020) a podcaster and easily the most entertaining of this crew; and Greg (Lee Pace, THE FALL, 2006), Alice’s much older boyfriend via Tinder match. Missing is Max (Conner O’Malley) who, we are told, left in a huff after an argument the night before.

As you might guess, booze and other mind-altering drugs play a role here, as does the house itself – with multiple staircases and hallways. Once the game begins, the question arises … is it being played for real? A dead body raises the stress level, as does the dreaded tap on the back required by the rules of the game. In addition to the cocaine and liquid spirits, pieces of the puzzle include: glowsticks, pot brownies, zucchini bread, swords, trust funds, insecurities, a dead car battery, a power outage, and the always-present cell phone flashlights. This is a group of narcissistic, social media-influenced, childlike adults who wear their emotions on their sleeves. Back-stabbing and belittling is common, as is (ironically) playing the victim. There is no way we would think this is actual dialogue between humans if we didn’t all know someone in this age group – or have accidentally stumbled on their exchanges via posts.

As much as I enjoy a satirical look aimed squarely at today’s twenty-somethings, these characters are so extremely unlikable that most of us would leave the party in 2 minutes, taking our chances with the hurricane. Every possible buzzword is included as these self-centered richies take aim at each other. Of course, being older, Greg doesn’t really fit in – but then no one really fits in here. Ms. Sennott’s character provides the most fun for viewers, as these long-time acquaintances seem to have no clue what it means to be a friend. They don’t trust those they know, those they don’t know, or even themselves. This could be a contemporary version of SCREAM … well if that wasn’t the Timex of movie franchises. With no cell coverage for most of the movie, these folks are forced to have actual conversations and interact, exposing the lack of social graces which are enhanced given the situation. The ending is not likely to surprise you, but it’s quite fitting. This is certainly not amongst the best A24 offerings, but if you can put up with the lingo and irritating characters, there is some comedy to appreciate.

Opening in theaters on August 12, 2022



July 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. You never want to be the ex-partner who causes a panic attack for another person … especially after 22 years apart. Writer-director Andrew Semans puts a face to whatever you call the opposite of a dream partner or role model by casting Tim Roth as David Moore. However, before we first glimpse Roth’s David, we meet Margaret (Rebecca Hall), a woman who seems to have seized control over every part of her life. Her apartment is immaculate. Her business attire classy. Her glass-paned manager’s office efficient. Her married-co-worker-with-benefits at her beck and call. Her speedy runs through town keep her focused and fit. Her about-to-turn 18-year-old daughter is prepped for college. Yep, every aspect of Margaret’s life is under control.

Most of us know what happens when we are arrogant enough to believe we are in control – life usually slaps us with a dose of reality. For Margaret, the hints are there. A tooth found in her daughter’s wallet. A bike ride gone wrong. A glimpse across the room at a seminar. Another at the shopping mall. And finally, a confrontation in the park. This is how, after 22 years, David drops back into her life – a stalker creating turmoil, doubt, and anxiety. By this point, we’ve seen Margaret doling out advice to young intern Gwyn (Angela Wong Carbone) on how to handle a manipulative boyfriend – one she deems sadistic. Margaret appears strong and is counseling Gwyn on how to be strong and find someone worthy of her love. It’s this conversation, along with how Margaret hovers over her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman), that tells us Margaret has a past that’s not as perfect as her present.

Margaret’s backstory is told via a single-shot extended monologue where she recounts her relationship with David. It’s a stunning bit of acting by Ms. Hall, and filmmaking that not only explains the emotional baggage weighing down Margaret, but also makes her relatable. The moment is so taut with emotion that it ends with a kinda-sorta punchline from Gwyn. The first two acts build tension and hint at the bizarre nature of the long-ago David/Margaret relationship, and the “kindnesses” (twisted shows of loyalty and devotion) involved, but we simply can’t prepare ourselves for the ‘off-the-rails’ occurrences in the final act.

Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography and the muted colors of every scene and set, enhance the feeling of suspense and pending trauma. The film provides an excellent example of the long-reaching impact of mind-control, gaslighting, and sadistic manipulation as one person tries to control another. Since Margaret refuses to come clean with her daughter, Abbie is convinced her heading off to college is causing her mother’s breakdown. Instead, the psycho-thriller goes much deeper in showing just how Margaret’s vulnerability at a young age has stuck with her more than two decades later, and no amount of Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” can break the spell … it requires action to stifle a diabolical jerk like David.

Ms. Hall is outstanding and believable in the role, and without her performance, the story would seem like a parody of the genre. She has quite a career of playing the victim, which seems to come naturally to her, as she’s proved in such films as CHRISTINE (2016). Mr. Roth is a multi-talented actor and doesn’t shy away from becoming a despicable face of evil. Both are ‘all-in’ for these characters, as is Grace Kaufman, who has worked consistently as an actor since the age of nine, mostly in TV roles. While I’m not a huge fan of the third act or the ending, there is plenty here to admire.

Opens in theaters on July 29, 2022