Greetings again from the darkness. In 1904, J.M. Barrie finished “Peter Pan, or the Boy who wouldn’t Grow Up”, and since then the story has been re-imagined on stage, on the silver screen, and even with a live TV production. Every generation gets their version (sometimes more than one), and the most famous (or infamous) are the 1953 animated Disney classic, the 1991 Steven Spielberg live action version HOOK, the 2003 live action version that never really captured a wide audience, and the fairly recent 2015 flop PAN from Joe Wright. At the core of the story is that none of us really want to grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, and to avoid such a wretched future, we’d be willing to fly off in the middle of the night to a place called Neverland and fight an evil pirate while chasing great adventures.
If you want to explore the optimistic and playful aspects of the story, then Walt Disney animation and director Steven Spielberg are your best bets. On the flip side, you wouldn’t expect the director of A GHOST STORY (2017) and THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021) to follow suit. Writer-director David Lowery and his co-writer and collaborator Toby Halbrooks (Polyphonic Spree) on those projects wouldn’t be expected to dwell on the cheery aspects of the story, and they certainly don’t. Instead, we get exactly what they expertly deliver in their work – lush photography and a slightly twisted perspective on what makes people (young and old) tick.
We first meet Wendy (the talented Ever Anderson, offspring of Milla Jovovich and director Paul WS Anderson) as she frets over being shipped off to boarding school, while still finding the energy to stage sword fights with her younger brothers in all corners of the upstairs bedroom they share. Yet another piece of broken furniture results in the parents (Alan Tudyk, Molly Parker) lecturing Wendy about how her time for fun has passed and she should set an example for her brothers. This is the same evening (and very early in the film) where Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) and Peter Pan (newcomer Alexander Molony) show up to whisk the three kids away from drudgery and towards adventure and fun.
What to say about Neverland … the “lost boys” aren’t really living a carefree, desirable life, and fun seems to be a bit hard to come by. Their leader, Peter Pan, is certainly a moody dude. Adventure does strike every time Captain Hook and his band of pirates attack. Jude Law seems to relish the role and his handlebar mustache, gravelly voice, and grumpy demeanor is one of the film’s highlights – along with comedian Jim Gaffigan (underrated as an actor) as first mate Smee.
In this iteration, Peter Pan is a bit of a blah character, as the focus is on Wendy and Captain Hook. We do get the origin story for Peter and Hook, and the visuals (Newfoundland, Faroe Islands) from cinematographer Bojan Bozelli are matched by composer Daniel Hart’s score. Director Lowery has modernized the tale by having the Lost Boys include boys and girls of multiple nationalities, a biracial Tinker Bell, and a heroic Tiger Lily played by Alyssa Wapanatahk. Kids will enjoy the flying scenes, sword fights, and the giant crocodile, however, it’s fair to wonder if the film is too dark and joyless for youngsters … plus the focus on Hook’s disenchantment is more for grown-ups than kiddos. In fairness to Lowery and Halbrooks, they were also behind the excellent and underappreciated PETE’S DRAGON (2016).
We have come to accept that Disney classics are being re-made and re-imagined as live action flicks, and it’s no surprise that some are better than others.
Greetings again from the darkness. The opening credits have an “X-Files” look and feel. Newspaper headlines and redacted reports zip by … in fact, the rapid cuts are so quick that very few viewers will be able to keep up. Even if you haven’t finished your Evelyn Woods speed-reading course, the gist is clear: there is a (very) deep-water drilling lab located 36,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. Yep, that’s almost 7 miles deep for the crew of 316, and some mysterious bad things may or may not be lurking. That’s really our only set-up … unless you want to count Kristen Stewart brushing her teeth.
It’s literally less than 5 minutes in when the rig is rocked by an explosion of some kind. We are told the structure is 70% damaged. The survivors are quickly identified. Nora (Ms. Stewart) and Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) are together in the immediate aftermath. Nora is a mechanical engineer and computer whiz. They soon come across a co-worker buried in rubble. It’s wise-cracking TJ Miller and his (actual) stuffed bunny. Next up are the Captain (Vincent Cassel) and lovebirds Emily (Jessica Henwick) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr). With no time for early character development, we learn tidbits as their perilous journey hopefully leads them towards rescue. Of course anyone who has ever watched a movie can tell you, they won’t all make it. Maybe the 8 year old girl sitting in the row behind me wouldn’t know that … but no parent should take their 8 year old to a PG-13 movie that has “terror” in the parental warnings.
Director William Eubank and co-writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad create plenty of tension, danger and suspense. The movie is at its best when they let the moment speak. It’s the dialogue that is mostly cringe-worthy, as well as the predictable and unnecessary jump-scares. These people are stranded miles deep in the ocean and are running out of oxygen and options … and are being chased by something they can’t identify. The visual effects are successful in generating the environment of danger and claustrophobia.
It’s in the little things where the film falters. When we first see the Captain, he has his arm in a sling. He’s obviously injured. Once the bulky underwater suits are donned, his bad arm seems just fine … he’s even pulling one of the others with a rope! Nora makes a big deal about being the “smallest” of the group and volunteers to explore a narrow passage. The problem is that they are all wearing the same suits – a fact that should negate any advantage of Ms., Stewart’s slim, toned body. Lastly, the film has borrowed heavily from James Cameron’s classic ALIEN. In fact, it has been referred to as “Underwater Alien”. Of course, this film isn’t nearly as well-rounded or complete as that one … but then few are.
Mr. Eubank’s film is a sci-fi/horror mash-up, but it’s really more a survival thriller than science fiction or creature feature, although the sea creatures have their moments. Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli does a nice job in keeping with the ‘play it straight’ approach, and his camera work is complemented by the electronic score from Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts. Ms. Stewart and her buzzed blond hair hold their own amidst the danger. A blatant lecture about how we are going places (deep sea) we shouldn’t go and doing things (drilling) we shouldn’t do is included for those who might not figure it out on their own, but mostly we spend our time trying to figure out how to survive the deep sea pressure with little oxygen and no escape pods. Just leave the 8-year olds at home.
Greetings again from the darkness. It might seem peculiar for the director of the Pirates of the Caribbeanfranchise, The Lone Ranger, and the Oscar winning animated Rango to be the driving force behind an atmospheric Gothic mystery-thriller, but Gore Verbinski seems to ignore any attempt to generalize or label his films. In fact, this latest film (written with Justin Haythe) attempts to challenge genre conventions by cloaking us in familiar themes and expecting us to be surprised by the late twist.
Dane DeHaan has established himself as an actor with no boundaries. He has played characters as diverse as James Dean in Life, and Cricket in Lawless. This time he dons a business suit as Lockhart, an ambitious, young, morally flexible, workaholic financial hotshot. By bending a few FCC regs, Lockhart has maneuvered himself into a plush corner office on Wall Street, and is now strong-armed by senior management into taking on the less-than-appealing task of traveling to a “wellness spa” in Switzerland in order to bring back the CEO whose signature is necessary to complete a lucrative merger.
The cinematography of Bojan Bazelli is gorgeous throughout, and it’s literally breathtaking as we view the Manhattan cityscape, and then follow Lockhart’s train streaming through the Swiss Alps mountains and tunnels. These are the “wow” shots, but the camera finds beauty even once the story takes us inside the sanitarium with the dark history … and confounding present. The building’s history seems somewhat sinister, but its current day secrets are every bit as creepy. What exactly is the sickness that “the cure” is treating? Why does no one ever leave? What’s with the eels? What’s with the water? Why are teeth falling out? Why are the townfolks so off-put by those on the hill? What answers do the puzzles bring?
Shutter Islandoffers the most obvious comparison with its similar tone and atmosphere, but others that come to mind include The Island of Dr. Moreau, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and especially, Hitchock’s Rebecca. Verbinski makes marvelous use of sound throughout – whether it’s Lockhart’s creaking crutches, the squeak of doors, the drip of ever-present water, or the metallic whir of machines. The look, sound, and feel create the tension necessary to prevent viewers from ever really relaxing, even if we wish the movie wasn’t so darn long.
Filmed at Castle Hohenzollern in Germany, it’s a perfect example of how on filming on location adds an element that no soundstage can hope to achieve. Support work comes from some familiar faces like Jason Isaacs as Dr. Volmer, Celia Imrie, Carl Lumbly, Ivo Nandi, Harry Groener, and Adrian Schiller. However, it’s Mia Goth (Everest, 2015) who has the biggest impact on screen outside of DeHaan. Her unusual look and slightly-off mannerisms are perfect for the role of Hannah, who is so crucial to the twist.
Spanning two-and-a-half hours, the film abruptly flies off the rails in the final 15 minutes. It acts as a release for the stress it has caused, and as a reminder that director Verbinski likes to have fun with his films. It’s quite possible that the film will struggle initially to find an audience, but later find success as a cult favorite and/or midnight movie. Whether you deem it silly or creepy, love it or hate it, you’ll likely appreciate the look of the film and the creative surge of Verbinski. At a minimum, it will generate some talk about Big Pharma and how we seem to always be searching for a “cure” of the latest societal ailment … or you may just have nightmares about eels in your bathtub!