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

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BARBARIAN (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

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BODIES BODIES BODIES (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

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RESURRECTION (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

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NOPE (2022)

July 20, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. With his first two films, GET OUT (2017) and US (2019), writer-director-producer Jordan Peele already has an Oscar and has firmly established himself as one of the most innovative and visionary filmmakers working today. He has entered the revered class of directors whose new films are automatically ‘must see’. This is in spite of our knowing full well that he doesn’t strive for mass accessibility, and typically seems less focused on character development and more focused on what’s happening to those characters and how they react. Mr. Peele’s latest is a unique blend of Science Fiction, Horror, and Comedy, with a dose of horses, UFOs, and box store employees. At its core, the film is about chasing the spectacle of a spectacle, so that one might also become a spectacle.

A cold opening is a bit of ‘found footage’ from a horrific event on the set of a TV show featuring a chimp named Gordy. We have no idea how this fits in to what we are about to watch, but it’s shocking and disturbing. We then shift to find Otis Haywood Sr (Keith David) working the horses on a ranch with his son, OJ Jr (Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya, JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH, 2021). Dad founded the Haywood Hollywood Ranch to train and handle horses for the entertainment industry – movies, TV shows, advertisements. A mysterious death means OJ Jr and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer, AKEELAH AND THE BEE, 2006) must take over running the ranch; however, a hilarious scene on set highlights the differences between big brother and little sister. OJ understands horses, but is laconic and reserved. Emerald is hungry for personal fame and is bursting with energy and dreams. She has little use for the ranch, while OJ is devoted to carrying on dad’s work – knowing he needs Emerald’s personality.

The suspense is turned up to 11 when strange things begin happening on the ranch and in the sky. OJ (his name is a running gag) and Emerald recognize this is their opportunity to cash in by securing photographic evidence of UFO (or UAP) and alien activity. Joining in on the mission is Angel (a terrific Brandon Perea), a tech nerd from Fry’s Electronics. The trio is joined later by renowned cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott using a Tom Waits voice), who understands the importance of capturing what OJ and Emerald call “the Oprah shot”. Obviously, this is Peele’s commentary on how folks today long for their chance to shine in the spotlight – and capitalize monetarily on the moment. Also recognizing this shot at fame is Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), the owner of a local western-themed amusement park. Jupe is a former child actor whose career included “Kid Sheriff” and a role in the sitcom featured in the opening sequence with Gordy the chimp. He has tapped into the skyward activities, but longs for more.

Purposefully vague is my approach in writing about this, as director Peele and cinematographer extraordinaire, Hoyte Van Hoytema (frequent collaborator with Christopher Nolan) serve up some incredible visuals and high-suspense sequences, and it’s best if you know as little as possible going in. It’s easy to spot influences of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), “The Twilight Zone”, and other Sci-Fi classics, as well as directors Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock. In a tip of the cap to film history, Peele ties in the early moving picture work of Eadweard Muybridge and his 1878 clip, “The Horse in Motion.” It’s a brilliant touch that cinephiles will appreciate.

Supporting work comes from Donna Mills, Oz Perkins, Eddie Jemison, and Terry Notary as Gordy the Chimp, but it’s the chemistry between Kaluuya and Palmer that make a relatively thin story succeed as commentary on society. Peele even gets in a few pot shots at the media (TMZ) and the oversaturation of celebrity. The desolate setting of the hills and valleys outside of Los Angeles make for a perfect setting, as does the contrasting use of daytime and nighttime for certain shots. Peele proves yet again that he has a real feel for serving up commentary disguised as tension, or is it tension doused with commentary? Either way, I’m lining up now for his next film, whatever that may be.

Opening in theaters July 22, 2022

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SHE WILL (2022)

July 14, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Coming from the IFC Midnight stable, this first feature film from writer-director Charlotte Colbert and co-writer Kitty Percy, may be judged as a thriller or horror, depending on one’s perspective. By creating an ominous atmosphere, the movie highlights how certain events can grab hold and remain with us, often buried deeply, for our entire life. We don’t always know how these memories will manifest or how or when we deal with them, but if the scars remain, a reckoning likely follows.

Alice Krige is perfectly cast as Veronica, an aging movie star. She’s coming off a double mastectomy and is expressing more than a touch of grumpiness towards her much younger nurse Desi, played well by relative newcomer Kota Eberhardt. Veronica has booked an extended stay for rehabilitation at an isolated countryside manor, and though she and Desi have a private cabin on the grounds, Veronica is quite miffed that there are other guests in the main house … with odd therapy sessions led by Tirador (played by an almost unrecognizable Rupert Everett).

Almost immediately, strange things begin to occur and much of it is related to the earth and ground. The mud seems to have supernatural effects on Veronica’s visions and dreams. This is explained as healing power due to the heavy presence of ashes from witches burned at the stake many years prior. The memories of a traumatic event return to Veronica. She was a child actor in a film by the legendary Hathbourne (the always great Malcolm McDowell), and now he is re-casting for a remake of that film. So as Veronica faces her perceived loss of femininity at the edge of scalpel, she’s also dealing with fears of aging as the same filmmaker recreates a project she is now too old for.

Symbolism is entrenched in the film, and the approach to Veronica’s revenge on Hathbourne is handled through mysticism that can’t easily be explained … though it’s a welcome new approach to the #metoo movement. One of my favorite aspects of the film is how the initial gulf between Veronica and Desi gradually changes as the two generations of women bond over their strength. Italian ‘Master of Horror’ Dario Argento is a producer on the film, and though we don’t know what input he had, it’s quite a compliment to Ms. Colbert to state her debut film deserves to be mentioned alongside his.

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CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (2022)

June 2, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. So, what happens when society evolves to the point that pain barely exists? Well, of course, people will then desire pain for pleasure and will go to extremes to experience the new forbidden bruised fruit. Anyone familiar with filmmaker David Cronenberg’s 40+ year career is already anticipating ‘what else’ the master of ‘body horror’ and twisted provocations will add to the proceedings. And the answer is … plenty.

Viggo Mortensen stars as Saul Tenser, and Lea Seydoux co-stars as Caprice, his performance art partner with benefits (such as they may be). If you’ve ever wondered what a second career for a trauma surgeon might look like, well Caprice’s role in the live shows is to first tattoo and then remove the newest organ that Saul’s body has generated – all while the appreciative audience looks on as if Picasso were painting or Edith Piaf were singing. Wait, what? His body grows new organs? Yes, Cronenberg has set this in a future where a segment of the population has an evolved digestive system and mutations, pain has been mostly eradicated, and Saul’s body grows new organs that may or may not have a legitimate function – they’re never left in the body long enough to find out because it’s Show time!

An opening sequence features a young boy’s inexplicable action, which leads his mother to an unfathomable next step. We are clearly in a (not so bright) future and Cronenberg delivers his first crime. That boy is linked to one of the many sub-plots in the film, though it’s Saul and Caprice who are at the center of most. A secretive government agency is responsible for registering all new organs, and it’s run by Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart). Wippet worships Saul as an icon, while Timlin takes it a step further by whispering in Saul’s ear, “Surgery is the new sex.” Stewart plays polar opposite to her usual subtle on-camera style, delivering a humorous take on a curious, bird-like creature with tics and a lack of social graces.

Outstanding supporting work comes from Scott Speedman, Welket Bungue, Tanaya Beatty, and Nadia Litz. I’ll say little else about these characters or their story lines, because this film works best as you uncover each layer for yourself. A general description of the film would be what happens when anatomy and art collide with science-fiction. One can easily draw connective dotted lines between this Cronenberg film and many of his earlier ones. It has the bizarre sensuality of CRASH (1996), a nod to THE FLY (1986), common ground with EXISTENZ (1999), a line from DEAD RINGERS (1988), and social commentary in line from both VIDEODROME (1983) and SCANNERS (1981). This is Viggo Mortensen’s fifth collaboration with Cronenberg, but surely the first where he’s said, “I’m not very good at old sex.”

Carol Spier’s signature Production Design plays a significant part in the film, and best I can tell, she has worked on each of Cronenberg’s films since 1981. The two Canadians make a good team. It’s been 8 years since Cronenberg’s last film, and the 79-year-old filmmaker is already in pre-production for his next. The Inner Beauty Pageant and Accelerated Evolution Syndrome are elements within this film, and as you would expect, he delivers visual effects that will stick with you. That said, nothing is over the top, and if anything, the cult filmmaker is on pretty good behavior, though he fully expects “walk outs” within the first few minutes. While I’m not sure the twist is even a twist, this is vintage Cronenberg offering no apologies while choosing to leave us with yet more of his provocations … “don’t spill”.

Opens in theaters on June 3, 2022

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MEN (2022)

May 20, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. This is only the third feature film directed by Alex Garland, but his creativity and innovative nature in the first two (EX MACHINA, 2014 and ANNIHILATION, 2018) established him as a writer-director to follow. His latest is certainly deserving of those descriptions, yet it’s also less assessable while being more open to interpretation and worthy of discussion. Reactions from viewers are sure to be varied.

Jessie Buckley, one of the finest actors working today, takes on the lead role in yet another of her unconventional projects. We absolutely respect and admire her risk-taking, and each project benefits from her presence. Some of her recent work includes THE LOST DAUGHTER (2021), I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020), WILD ROSE (2018), and a great arc in the “Fargo” series (Season 4). Here she stars as Harper, a Londoner heading to holiday in the English countryside after the death of her husband. When she arrives at her bucolic Airbnb manor, the serenity is apparent … right up until she meets Geoffrey, the landlord. He’s played by Rory Kinnear (Tanner in the recent James Bond movies, and excellent in the “Penny Dreadful” series and its spinoff). Geoffrey’s awkward social skills involve colloquialisms and country charm to ensure that Harper knows she’s no longer in London.

The country manor is walking distance to town (which apparently consists of a church and pub), and sits alongside a forest, seemingly perfect for nature hikes. Harper’s first walk in the woods has a fascinating scene as she experiments with the echoes of a tunnel by singing notes in harmony with herself. This simple pleasure ends when she notices a nude man apparently stalking her. After calling the local police, she heads to the church where she encounters a rude boy and a vicar who is unsympathetic to her plight. All of these interactions could fit into an interesting story, but filmmaker Garland takes things to another level. Geoffrey, the stalker, the cop, and the vicar are all played by Rory Kinnear … even the boy! Later, we see that Kinnear even plays the pub’s clientele. Since it’s obvious to us, and she doesn’t seem to notice, we can assume this is a major clue for how we are to interpret what’s happening with (and to) Harper.

Flashbacks are employed so that we are able to piece together the strained relationship between Harper and her husband, James (Paapau Essidieu). Her emotional turmoil plays into what’s happening during this rural getaway meant for relaxation, yet often this has a surreal or dreamlike feel, making it challenging to know what is real or what she is imagining. Harper holds the occasional FaceTime with her friend Riley (Gayle Rankin), and the broken signal on these calls may or may not be real … like so much of what we see. Garland’s third act goes a bit bonkers, and includes some icky body horror effects ala Cronenberg. The mythology of Sheela la nig and The Green Man (rebirth) are part of the numerous uses of symbolism throughout.

The film is beautiful to look at thanks to the cinematography of Rob Hardy, and the frequent use of vibrant green jumps off the screen during many scenes. The atmosphere created is primed for something that may or may not pay off by the end, but it’s certainly another artsy creep-fest in the A24 universe. Ms. Buckley proves again what a talent she is, and Mr. Kinnear joins Peter Sellers (“Dr. Strangelove”), among others, in mastering multiple roles. Lesley Duncan’s spiritual and melancholic “Love Song” is the perfect accompaniment for Harper’s drive, and Kinnear’s frequently appearing face enhances the myth that men are all the same – a constant threat lurking for women. Folk horror resurgence continues, and viewers will have to decide if they can reconcile the abundance of symbolism.

Exclusively in theaters on May 20, 2022

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THE INNOCENTS (2022)

May 12, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Norwegian filmmaker Eskil Vogt wrote the screenplay for last year’s terrific THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD, and that’s just one of his collaborations with fellow countryman Joachim Trier. The two seem to enjoy, or at least have a knack, for creating films that take viewers out of their comfort zone. This is Vogt’s second feature as director, and you will likely find yourself questioning your ideals of the complexities of childhood and debating what makes a kid “good” or “bad”.

A family moves to a new apartment so that their eldest daughter Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) can receive the best possible treatment for her non-verbal autism (seemingly trapped inside her own body). Anna’s younger sister Ida (Rakel Leonora Flottum) spends an inordinate amount of time on her own as their mother (Ellen Dorrit Petersen is also Rakel’s real life mother; THELMA, 2017) focuses on Anna. Immediately we are struck by how cruel Ida is to Anna, obviously envious of the time her parents devote to the child in need. The film moves meticulously as Ida befriends Ben (Sam Ashraf), a young boy from the same apartment building. Ben has an ability to move things with his mind. His telekinesis is in the early stages, and Ida pushes him to develop his powers. One particularly disturbing sequence involves the two kids and a local cat at the top of the building’s stairwell. Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), another young girl from the building starts hanging out with Ida and Ben. This also draws in Anna, as the sweet Aisha has a connection with her and a way of communicating telepathically. It’s at this point where our brains shift into overdrive as we realize there is something supernatural going on.

As Ben’s ability grows, so does his sadistic nature. He reacts (often violently) to situations where he feels disrespected. At the same time, Anna and Aisha grow closer, and Ida and her parents are thrilled with Anna’s improved demeanor. As viewers, we come to realize that director Vogt has made the apartment building a character itself. Is the building behind the special abilities shown by these kids?  Or is it the ominous nearby forest? Why are the powers strongest when the kids are together? For a film that mostly progresses very slowly, there is much for us to take in – although we do wish more time had been spent on the makeup of all four kids. We are only teased with what other kids in the building are experiencing, but the supernatural aura is clearly in play.

None of the four child actors have any previous feature film experience, yet each is superb in their own way. They perfectly capture the curiosity and confusion that goes with childhood, and there is an insightful “kid” moment when Ida shows her one ‘talent’ to Ben. We are left to wonder if the film’s identical title to the 1961 classic is coincidental or purposeful. It’s not a remake, but it works as an homage. The staircase shot is even similar in the two films. Filmmaker Voigt excels at ensuring we believe something evil is just around the corner, yet he never rushes to the next moment. An eerie, ominous atmosphere is perfectly complemented by these four kids. Vogt’s dark film sticks the ending, and stays with us for a while.

Opening May 13, 2022

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HATCHING (2022)

April 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. The exceptionally creepy creature leads us to believe this could be a terrific new addition to the creature feature genre. However, director Hanna Bergholm and screenwriter Ilja Rautsi expend so much time and energy on the metaphor aspect that we feel a bit bludgeoned by the end. Despite some wonderful horror elements, we find ourselves thinking, ‘alright, already … just stick with the creepy stuff!’

We open in a beautiful home with pristine design features, where a beautiful mother (Sophia Heikkila) is filming her beautiful family for her vlog, appropriately titled “Lovely Everyday Life.” Of course, we all know what happens to perfect little families in movies – the façade cracks. We get our first taste of beautiful mother’s not-so-beautiful true nature as she deals with the crow that flies in through an open window and destroys some of the beautiful decorations displayed in the home. Things get interesting when Tinja (a superb Siiri Solalinna), the 12-year-old gymnast daughter, recovers an egg from the intrusive bird’s nest and “mothers” it until the egg (the metaphorical façade) cracks open after growing to an enormous size. Out pops a bizarre looking “baby” bird that Tinja names Alli, after the song her family sings.

It doesn’t take long for Tinja (and us) to figure out what’s happening. The bird not only assumes Tinja is her mother, but it also takes on the emotions that Tinja keeps bottled up inside so as to not upset her overly-demanding mother. See, mom is a former skater and projects her dreams of glory onto her daughter through gymnastics. We never even get the impression that Tinja enjoys the sport, and it’s likely she does it because that’s the only closeness she gets from dear old mom … especially when compared to her little brother Mattias (Oiva Ollila) or dad (Jani Volanen). In fact, mom is so dominant over dad, that she’s taken on a side lover in handyman Tero (Reino Nordin), who she admits to loving in yet another inappropriate moment with Tinja.

Soon the bird is acting out Tinja’s private thoughts to extremes (a true monster in the closet), and no one is really safe. There are some creepy elements that tell us an excellent horror-comedy is in there somewhere. Watching Tinja sponge-bathe the creature and the replicant effects are both imaginative. Ms. Bergholm’s film premiered at Sundance, and if anything, it’s just a bit too ambitious with the metaphors. We can view this as a coming-of-age story for Tinja as she breaks the shackles of childhood for more independent thinking. And the most obvious interpretation is that of a mother so obsessed with perfection – especially as to how her family is presented to the outside world – that it requires an ugly incident (bird) as a dose of reality. This is clearly commentary on social media and how some become so committed to presenting and maintaining a certain image. As a horror-comedy, the film from Finland offers neither jump-scares nor laugh-outloud moments, but there is enough here for a decent midnight offering.

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