Don’t You Shed A Tear (2021): Drama / Horror / Short

A man’s family throws a surprise birthday party for him, not knowing that he suffers from a terminal illness.

This is an exception to my style of writing as, arguably, it has no horror elements. Yet, my aim was to explore a dark side of ours that is kept secret even from the closest to us people, even from ourselves. A horrific side that can be our scariest foe.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short script, Don’t You Shed A Tear.

© 2021 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

Ballad for a Pierced Heart (2020): Comedy / Crime / Drama

After stealing her husband’s money, a woman and her lover flee to a small town, but greed, passion, and a series of wrong choices turn everything upside down.

Even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Yannis Economides is the best Greek / Greek Cypriot actor’s director alive. No one comes even near in the second place. He allows them to improvise to the highest degree, as he allows maximum profanity. This adds to his films’ realism and makes them unique additions to the modern Greek cinema, a cinema that, unfortunately, suffers from wooden acting and writing – even though I must say that, fortunately, this is constantly improving. No matter what, Economides leads the way.

The Ballad for the Pierced Heart, like every other film of his, is structured the way the narrative dictates to be. The three-act structure provides the formula that will lead you from A to B but the dialogue always prevails and, regardless where the A or B stand, it is everything that is said and done in between that matters.

The Ballad was quite unlucky as the moment it came out the pandemic was announced and cinemas shut down. Very highly recommended! It combines neo-noir elements with a Greek reality that is nowhere to be found in the Industry. When the end credits start scrolling and the enthusiasm starts fading, one realises that… OK… certain dialogue and circumstances were a bit surrealistic. How much that matters? Not a tad!

Other than Economides, all his crew deserves a round of applause as it does the brilliant cast: Vicky Papadopoulou, Vassilis Bisbikis, Stathis Stamoulakatos, Yannis Tsortekis, and the rest of the professional and non-professional actors who shine in front of the lens. Well done, everyone!

Shay safe!

The Hater (2020): Drama / Thriller

An overambitious young man uses social media, but also friends and family to achieve his immoral goals.

Two qualities stand out straight away: Tomasz’s manipulation skills and Aleksandra Gowin’s non-linear editing skills. Both of them unfold brilliantly along with the narrative.

Writer Mateusz Pacewicz collaborates once more with director Jan Komasa after the amazing Corpus Christi (2019) – review to follow – and, once more, shock society to its core. There are plenty of scary scenarios and people here… Tomasz Giemza is a person who shouldn’t be walking on the streets. Why? Men like him bring out the worst in people, and remorselessly manipulate them, individually and collectively. In both cases, since all of us have weaknesses, no one can blame us for that. Who is to be blamed though is the people behind the social media who provide support to that manipulation and enhance it by reaching out to larger masses. The social media are merely tools, platforms of communication, but the way the “puppeteers” operate them can shape, control, manipulate, and even tear apart societies. Sacha Baron Cohen very eloquently described one of them as: “the greatest propaganda machine in historythat would even allow Hitler to run his propaganda.

Besides the social media though, I believe The Hater‘s best achievement is Tomasz’s character development. A psychopath with the phenomenal ability to learn from his mistakes and constantly up his game, ending up manipulating the manipulators. Absolutely amazing! You’ll catch yourself loving the way he does it while hating him at the same time.

Last but not least, Agata Kulesza always deserves a separate mention no matter what she’s in. She shines in Pawel Pawlikowsi’s films as much as she shines in this one. She is an Oscar-worthy actress and I hope she wins it one day. Whether she does or not, she’ll always be a first-class thespian.

Excellent example of modern European cinema with profound filmmaking techniques, intriguing performances, plenty of visuals and food for thought. Definitely, a must-watch!

Stay safe!

The Contribution of Heroines, and the Role of Feminism in the Horror Genre – Part 2

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cinehorrizonsquare-1.jpg

Tonight, I’m releasing the second part of the interview with Michelle Satchwell. Michelle analyses Martyrs and its contribution to the horror genre but she also uses it as a reference for the role of women in torture horrors. Moreover, she talks about advertisements and gender roles in the 80s, and how females have been portrayed, could have been portrayed and how that has affected the present. Last but not least, she talks about the representation of ethnic minorities and non-binary people in the film industry and what potentially the future holds.

Feminism References
Evolutionary Psychologists (no specific names), they focus on reproductive success in mate selection in humans.

Tuchman (1978) Symbolic annihilation (narrow range of roles for females).

Glascock (2001) Leading female characters (e.g. Lara Croft).

Bristol Fawcett Society (2008) Imbalance in media representation.

Ferguson (1983) Forever feminine; focusing on womens’ magazines and the cult of feminity.  Women focus on “him, home and looking good (for him)”.

Johnson and Young (2002) Impact of advertising on children.

McRobbie and Garber (1976) Bedroom culture.

Heidensohn (1985) Social Control of women and crime.

Westwood (1999) Transgression and Gender. “Transgressive female roles that go beyond gendered expectations”.

Gauntlett (2008) The representation of gender roles in the media. “Do the traits of the characters challenge conventional masculinity?”

Julia Kristeva (1980) Powers of Horror: An essay on Abjection.

Freud (1905) Psychosexual stages of development (Pre-Oedpial stage). 

Frieda-Fromm-Reichmann (1984) Schizophrenogenic mother theory.

Further References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suburb

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woke

https://revisesociology.com/2019/09/02/media-representations-women/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragette

https://www.waterstones.com/author/sallie-westwood/8084

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_homogenization#:~:text=Cultural%20homogenization%20is%20an%20aspect,but%20customs%2C%20ideas%20and%20values.

Sociological key terms:

Liberal

Marxist

Radical

Black Feminists 

Desensitised

Patriarchy

Agency

Power and Control

Malestream Criminology

White Knight / Saviour Complex

Male Gaze

Vicarious Reinforcement

Toxic Masculinity

Myth of Male Power (Strong)

Halo Effect

Heteronormative

Social Norms

Interactionism

Pluralist View (Reflects Taste of Audience)

Gatekeepers (Stakeholders)

Double Deviant

Takers of Shit

Dual Burden

Idealised Mother

Myth of Motherhood

Chivalry Thesis

Meritocracy

False-class Conscious

Ageism

Fatphobic

Cultural Homogenisation (of Western Individualist Views)

Cross-Cultural Research

Transgressive Sociology

The Little Things (2021): Crime / Drama / Thriller

A series of murders get the attention of a County Deputy Sheriff, a man with a dark past in the police force, and in collaboration with a young detective, they will try to find whoever is behind these crimes.

It is shocking how people even thought about considering comparing it to Seven (1995). The film’s biggest issue is not the cliché opening sequence that makes zero sense. It is not that Denzel Washington and Rami Malek don’t believe in what they signed up for – even though Jared Leto somehow does. It is not even the fact that all three of them are Oscar winners in a film like this. The biggest issue with the film is that the producers put all the effort to get A-list actors but then they decided to green light a boring, formulaic, predictable, flawed Hollywood three-act structure with yawning character and story development that makes you say: “it’s OK for the quarantine”. A film that you stop thinking about the moment the end credits start scrolling down. And once you thought the script is the worst thing that happened to The Little Things, the editing makes it a mission to dumb it down even more by explaining everything to you like it’s the first time you are watching a thriller. What’s more, it fundamentally ruins the film’s pace and rhythm with its discontinuity errors.

I know I sound bitter, but that was not my intention before I started watching it. But focusing (always) on the film’s intentions, I don’t like it when the audience’s intelligence is undermined. Watching the final cut before exporting it, the filmmakers should have seen that, for an over two-hour film, everything is rushed, and said and done before in a better, and a much better way. It is saddening me that, John Lee Hancock, the man behind great films such as The Blind Side (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013) was sitting on the director’s chair.

After pointing out the film’s biggest issue(s), it would be only fair to mention the biggest achievement: Jared Leto’s decent performance, even though ruined by bad directing and even worse editing, it managed to get a Golden Globe nomination and a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The only two nominations the film got. How about that…

To cut the long story short, go ahead, watch it, it is a yet another night in with restrictions left, right, and centre. Just don’t have any expectations as you’ll be severely disappointed.

Stay safe!

P.S. I mean… the editing is bad!

The Contribution of Heroines, and the Role of Feminism in the Horror Genre – Part 1

Tonight, I’m interviewing Michelle Satchwell. Michelle is coming back on the show to talk about the role of women in horror films. Class, gender, and race will also be analysed as to how they have been portrayed over the decades and if and how nowadays things have changed. Michelle analyses classic female-led horror films through sociopolitical theories and practices, and sheds light on how psychology examines these filmic portrayals.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abjection

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_actions

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactionism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus_complex

https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-319-15877-8_482-1#:~:text=Introduction,the%20illness%20(Hartwell%201996).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal_social_control#:~:text=Informal%20social%20control%2C%20or%20the,such%20as%20citizen%20patrol%20groups.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/evolutionary-theory#:~:text=Evolutionary%20theory%20highlights%20the%20adaptive,%2C%20health%2C%20or%20physical%20size.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slut-shaming

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Bandura

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_girl#:~:text=Clover%20argues%20that%20for%20a,the%20part%20of%20a%20male.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-white-knight-syndrome/200905/white-knight-commonalities#:~:text=White%20knights%20often%20have%20a,be%20hurt%20easily%20by%20others.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism

Come True (2020): Horror / Sci-Fi

One of the most intriguing and atmospheric opening sequences I’ve seen in a while. The first act’s slow pace, music, and cinematography betray a feel-good 80s horror that promises not to disappoint. And it doesn’t (to a certain extent)!

Writer/director Anthony Scott Burns has done his homework on sleep, dreams, and nightmares and carefully and patiently unfolds a narrative that, if you haven’t read anything about the plot, will most definitely surprise you. Positively or not you are about to figure out for yourselves.

The dream sequences are the most vividly and terrifyingly surrealistic images since Silent Hill (2006) and The Cell (2000) – the only Jennifer Lopez film I have got to enjoy. Jungian psychology, Escher’s portrayal of illusion, and Clive Barker’s horrifying vision of the human psyche’s darkness, all blend into one, bringing to life nightmares that make us question the way our mind, consciously or not, interprets reason and the way we understand and explain our fears.

David Cronenberg has been a tremendous influence on the Canadian cinema and Burns, having specialised in horror, adds his own personality and vision to intrigue you, get and maintain your undivided attention. In the end, I must say that I did get confused and found myself remorselessly scratching my head, and even though I love proper WTF endings, Come True runs out of steam before you start rolling your eyes in disbelief. Shame because for the 2/3’s of the movie, I had nothing negative to say. I guess the denouement is the toughest part of the script.

Stay safe!

P.S. Certainly, I am not the only one feeling like Riff came out of Hogwarts…

Breeder (2020): Horror / Thriller

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A doctor that conducts illegal experiments on women in an underground lab, kidnaps her partner’s wife making her one of them.

Photography and editing are the first two things that stand out. Very well shot and paced and very scientifically provocative. And then the torture comes…

I starting researching and analysing torture after the one film that truly affected me like no other, Martyrs (2008): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/11/24/martyrs-2008-horror/

Reason behind torture, or the lack thereof, offers a perspective on what you are watching. It provides explanation or gives none as to why people are suffering the way they do. In Martyrs, you only get to find out in the end and it’s just unthinkable. In Hellraiser (1987), Pinhead, and the rest of the crew, are sadistic, hellish creatures and live off the victims’ excruciating pain. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Leatherface and his family are a bunch of psychopathic killers. The problem presented here is that two innovative yet despicable scientists are behind everything that’s happening, and a couple of mindless humanoids that the film has the audacity to call “animals” commit further atrocities.

Personally, the reason here leaves me indifferent. What made me feel uncomfortable was its statement, or the way I perceived it anyway: She was looking for pain and that’s what she got. Maybe, I got it wrong but, ultimately, the film’s message is utterly confusing. Women are oppressed mostly by men but some women too? Men are disgusting beings? Shit happens? Together we are stronger than ever against the system that wants us subdued? Women are stronger together against… who?

Anyway, maybe Breeder has no message to deliver and I just missed on the “entertainment”. Maybe, you get a different vibe.

Stay safe!

Prisons: Depravity and Decadence in Horror / Sci-fi… and in Real Life

Tonight, I’m interviewing Dr. Neni Panourgia. Dr. Panourgia is Affiliated Faculty at the Program in Hellenic Studies. She is an anthropologist, Associate Professor at the Prison Education Program, Psychology Department, and Academic Adviser at the Justice in Education Initiative at Columbia University. Tonight, she is talking about the prison system in the US and how that has affected their current but also futuristic cinematic depiction. Without further ado, here’s the interview.

Biography

https://hellenic.columbia.edu/people/profile/388

Books

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020): Drama

A teenage girl, followed by her cousin, leaves her hometown to go to New York to terminate her unexpected pregnancy.

Never underestimate the power of independent cinema. Rarely disappoints. Sometimes it defies the traditional, conventional narrative. Always, though, offers a more realistic perspective.

The difference with the American studio level films shows, in this case, shows even before the narrative unfolds. Take a close look at the actors; they are everyday people, and not like underwear models. It’s (not) funny how studios nowadays indulge diversity and inclusion but don’t cast actors who wouldn’t be a fit for a fragrance poster. But this review is not about the industry’s hypocricy, so…

Eliza Hittman writes and directs a modern painful Odyssey about a girl that suffers in silence, has no room in her life for the baby she is carrying, and decides to make a journey to take the most difficult decision of her life, yet. Admittedly, I haven’t watched her other films, but I most definitely will after this one. Hittman mounts the camera on her shoulder and like an omniscient narrator closely follows Autumn and Skylar exploring The Big Apple for the first time. The close-ups and the extreme close-ups leave you no choice but to feel Autumn’s pain, to embark on that coach, share the experience of discovery, but, mainly, go through the shivering experience of what comes next.

The “never, rarely, sometimes, always” moment is the brutal realisation that facing the pain is a exponentially harder than imagining facing the pain. The editor Scott Cummings is onboard with this idea as he’s very careful where to cut when this conversation takes place. He cuts selectively and only for a few seconds to the counselor but mostly stays with Autumn’s close-up “forcing” you to look when she breaks. Why? Because it’s not pretty. And it’s even uglier when these questions are asked because only then the boys’ initial, hideous comments and gestures make sense. Think about it from the narrative’s point of view, it takes an hour to indirectly indicate why those comments were made and how they are related to the pregnancy. What is also astonishing is the “show, don’t tell” subplot of the bond between Autumn and Skylar which needs no soppy dialogue whatsoever to project the love one has for the other, without overshadowing the film’s delicate and sorrowful subject.

In a very disciplined manner, Hittman manages to not get caught in the ethics behind abortion and to focus on how it burdens an already suffering girl. It might seem like an easy task but rest assured that it is not. In fact, it is one of the main issues pretentious films are facing when they tackle too many issues, in the process address some, and finally delve into none. Never Rarely Sometimes Always brilliantly achieves that focus, and I can’t praise it enough. Speaking of praising, Sidney Flanigan deserves an Oscar for her realistic performance and I take my hat off to Talia Ryder who doesn’t let her natural beauty overshadow her acting and, surprisingly, gives “friendship” the meaning it always should have had.

I am doing this review now as my next one will be Promising Young Woman (2021) and, despite its success, unfortunately, I have opposite feelings compared to this one.

Stay safe!

Promising Young Woman (2020): Crime / Drama / Thriller

A young woman seeks out revenge against anyone who got involved in a tragic event that happened several years ago.

I’m in two minds here. I believe that’s because I was hyped up for weeks prior to watching it, even though I hadn’t even watched the trailer.

I’ll start with the good news: Carrey Mulligan is amazing, Bo Burnham is funny, and Clancy Brown is heartbreaking. And, for me, this is where the good news stops.

First and foremost, the film lacks structure. It’s pace and rhythm is all over the place. Secondly, it resembles a thriller with music video montages in between. Is that wrong? Not on its own. It becomes wrong, and, if not wrong, confusing for such a delicate issue that, ultimately, ends up taking the back seat. This wrongness/confusion causes indecisiveness and no film should be undecided about situations that have scarred women’s, but also families’ lives. Occasionally, it felt like a dark comedy accompanied by millennial, pop music that was not befitting so, I kept asking myself, how am I supposed to feel? And then, about who? About Nina or about Cassie? Does Cassie’s behaviour justify what happened to Nina? Was it that, that made her sociopath or did that event trigger it? How was she punishing the ones who were crossing her path? How was the level of punishment against the ones who were accessories to what happened to Nina decided? There are so many questions regarding the character’s arc and the hero’s journey, but I’ll raise one last one: How is one meant to feel about Cassie and her actions in the end?

The film is rated ‘suitable only for 15 years and older’, but I can’t shake off the feeling that is for 15 y/o ones alone. That excludes the two and a half minute shocking scene in the cabin (no spoilers). Writer / director Emerald Fennell, Carrey Mulligan, and Margot Robbie are wearing the producer’s hat as well and their effort is rewarded with 4 Golden Globes nominations, another 62 wins and 132 more nominations. I congratulate them and the rest of the cast and crew for their achievement even though it ended up not being my cup of tea.

Nothing that affects someone that much should be that stylised. Even though I found Revenge (2017) was quite ‘stylish’ until the inciting incident, in the second act, its brutality defined the film and established for the viewer that ‘shock’ was what it was aiming for. But cinema, like life itself, is not just black or white. There are numerous shades of grey and, one of my favourite genre mix, horror/comedy, falls under that category. Keeping that in mind, I’m constantly asking myself this: How much comedy does one mix with horror? Or, is it the other way around?

Stay safe!

P.S. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2021/03/06/never-rarely-sometimes-always-2020-drama/ is a counterexample of a (somewhat) relevant film that does not try to please everyone, has an established tone, and impeccably distinguishes the plot from the subplot. I can’t praise it enough.

Wrong Turn (2021): Horror / Thriller

A group of friends gets lost in the Appalachian mountains, but gets found by an off-grid community that hunts them down.

Ahhhh… The clash between the world we are very slowly leaving behind and the brave new one we are entering in warp speed. Bridging those two worlds will be one of the most difficult tasks societies globally will have to deal with. Anyway…

Wrong Turn‘s producers decided, in a six-member “gang”, to represent as many minorities as possible. And as much as I endorse diversity and inclusion, when it’s for ticket sales or any other form of profit, I don’t. It’s called exploitation. Moving on from the casting choices concerns… one realises, right off the bat, when the alleged action and thrill kicks in, that the educated youth comes up with the dumbest questions, ideas, and ideologies ever existed while people of unknown origin and skills are after them in the middle of the unknown… nowhere. Ultimately, what most of them say and do is nothing but contradictory, something that renders them undecided in life or hypocrites at best.

And if you are somewhat confused with the messages about the old and the new world and their people… boy… wait until the film’s revelation! I’m not going to spoil it for you. See for yourselves the mess the script is leaving behind. Honestly, wait until the very end; the script’s direction is more lost than every city boy and girl has ever been on these mountains throughout the whole franchise. And since you’ve made it to the very end, watch at least the last scene, it’s awesome.

To my surprise, that script is by Alan B. McElroy, the writer behind the original Wrong Turn (2003), and it may be a reboot but has nothing to do or has nothing on the original one. Emmanouelle Chriqui and Eliza Dushku are irreplaceable.

Stay safe!

Saint Maud (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A young religious nurse moves to a remote town to treat a housebound terminal patient, making her mission to save her soul.

Feature debut for writer/director Sophie Glass who, so far, directs only what she writes. Using a flashback in the opening sequence is not uncommon but Glass’ shots are, admittedly, impressive. The first half-hour is spent on Maud’s character development and her relationship with Amanda. The confrontation with Carol and Joy’s comment indicate how much we don’t know about Maud but should have suspected in the first place.

The moment she cannot pretend anymore… the moment she unleashes her true self… Glass’ lens pays tributes to Hitchcock and DePalma, while adding her own personal touch. She infiltrates Maud’s mind, dissects her martyrdom / schizophrenia, and restricts the narrative to only to her interpretation of signs. Consequently, this raises the question: How should I interpret those signs? Religion and mental health had been interchangeable terms for centuries, something that Glass manages to sink her teeth in, but mostly provoke, in less than an hour and a half.

Saint Maud is a phenomenal psychological horror that aims to shock you to your core and, Morfydd Clark, fully understanding Glass’ vision, goes the extra mile with a breathtaking performance. Jennifer Ehle plays also her part beautifully, resembling a younger Meryl Streep. Extra credits go to A24 that invested in the film, Ben Fordesman for the haunting cinematography, Mark Towns for perfectly controlling the pace and rhythm, Adam Janota Bzowski for his hair-raising soundtrack, and every member of the cast and crew who strived for perfection.

Saint Maud becomes a proud addition to the British horror genre where you don’t know what’s gonna happen until it happens. Turn off the lights, throw the phones away, and get ready to be blown away.

Stay safe!

Red Dot (2021): Drama / Horror/ Thriller

In an attempt to heat up their relationship, a couple travels to the north of Sweden only to become a target and fight for their survival.

I have to thank my good friend Shiying for suggesting this one to me, and I’m so glad she did. The film’s strong suit is hands down, the narrative. The script is solid and its two protagonists, Nadja and David totally relatable. Its horror works in two levels: survival against the forces of nature and survival against the forces of unnatural (?) human evil. As the story unfolds, the difference, not that is really needed, is broken down for you so you can reconstruct it yourselves in the end. But, please, let me for argument’s sake humour you. When we distant ourselves from nature, it is not nature to blame if it does what it has been doing way before we stepped foot on this planet that we ended up looking down on as if we owned it. Then, there is the other threat; us. The detached from nature beings who developed, amongst other things, ideology, philosophy, and politics and used them against one another, as well as… nature.

Leaving my ecological concerns out of the equation, Red Dot steps on these characteristics of ours and very manipulatively deceives you. The twist is well designed and the editing, of course, selectively discloses what it requires for you to fall into the trap. The second part of the second act could be easily analysed in terms of how the restricted narrative led to the moment of truth, but that would ruin it for you so I’m not gonna do it. Watch it and decide for yourselves whether you saw it coming and how ‘smart’ or not you thought it was. My major objection, and that’s the only thing I’ll tell you, is that the third act’s harshness would be far more breathtaking if the verbosity levels were dropped, even to zero. But that’s just me.

Have a go at it! It’s well worth it. From beginning to end, Nanna Blondell and Anastasios Soulis lead the way with their incredible performances. What also stands out is Oscar-worthy cinematography. Before everything goes tits up, see how it starts at the petrol station. My initial thought was: ‘As if they don’t have enough on their plate, them two… it’s just what they needed’. And that’s what makes Nadja and David totally relatable, as I said in the beginning. You are going somewhere with your boyfriend/girlfriend and they show up. How would you react? What would you have done differently? How would you cope with the consequences? It is how every good thriller/horror starts…

Stay safe!

P.S. Shiying, that’s for you! Thank you, luv!

Synchronic (2019): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

A new drug on the streets, causing obscure and mystical effects, will make two paramedics from New Orleans reevaluate life.

The trippy, otherworldly, and oneiric opening sequence pins you down and gets your undivided attention. Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) become immediately relatable from the get-go while you are trying to establish how is everything connected. As the incidents increase, the plot’s mystery and intricacy are accompanied by an equally dramatic subplot and both of them unfold together on Jimmy LaValle’s amazing soundtrack that expresses the characters’ psychosynthesis.

In my humble opinion though the film reaches its peak with the heartbreaking sequence of Steve’s dog, Hawking – honestly, I couldn’t breathe properly. Steve realises how the drug works and, from then on, it becomes too explanatory too fast for my taste, disillusioning too early an experience that stops raising questions anymore. Having said that, please, don’t let it discourage you. Watch it as it is a great low budget, indie sci-fi, and both Mackie and Dornan do a great job in front of the camera.

Behind the camera, writers/directors/producers/cinematographers/editors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead prove once more their unquestionable talent. From Resolution (2012) to Spring (2014), to The Endless (2017), to Synchronic, they constantly prove that filmmakers don’t need millions of dollars to bring to life something innovative; something that follows certain rules, breaks others, and, ultimately, still manages to be groundbreaking, didactic, and entertaining. Twenty years ago, Christopher Nolan started on small budgets and then the world became his oyster. As Steven Spielberg did thirty years before him. It seems that the filmmaking partners Benson and Moorhead, gradually, are given more and more funding. If they stick to their unique point of view – and don’t get sucked by Hollywood – they will keep performing cinematic miracles.

Stay safe!

Possessor (2020): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

A secret agent, who works for a shadowy organisation that has the technology to control people, is sent on a mission to assassinate a high-profile target, but with unexpected consequences.

As a huge fan of the Canadian film school, I will tell you that Possessor does not disappoint. Films like that need to be highly praised, if anything, for their boldness. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg is not to be compared with his father (David) as he has his his own distinct voice to narrate a story worth telling. The influences from eXistenZ (1999) and Videodrome (1983) might be visible but even these works are not parthenogeneric, and every generation “steals” from the generation before it, anyway. This has always been the case in art and science and that is the root of evolution (maybe of devolution too). My only “like his father” reference is the theme of “sex”. Brandon has taken over the torch of sexual exploration and mental darkness as projected through the lens, and I believe in future films of his we’ll see a lot more. The hallucination scenes are only the beginning…

Possessor‘s practical visual effects most definitely stand out, giving meaning to to the original purpose of visual effects before they became the means to overshadow a mediocre or bad narrative. Cronenberg’s high-concept, hi-tech, cinematic schizophrenia dictates what effects are needed and to what end, allegorically cautions the audience of the brain’s unknown vastness, and offers the thrill of its exploration by presenting the shock of the characters’ experiences through their own decisions.

Andrea Riseborough has proved time and time again that there is nothing she can’t do in front of the lens and mesmerises with her performance. Christopher Abbott, is a rising star and he’s terrific in everything he’s been in. Watch Sweet Virginia (2017), The Sinner (2017), and It Comes at Night (2017), if you don’t want to take my word for it – and that’s just within a year. As for Jennifer Jason Leigh, no introductions are needed as she’s been constantly offering her versatility to the cinema for over forty years now.

To conclude, Possessor is a must-watch that adds value to the Canadian film school and excites with its uniqueness and unpredictability. Regardless of the film schools though, it distinguishes itself from the traditional Hollywood narrative and blends the horror/sci-fi/thriller genres in a way you have not seen before. Pay attention to the opening sequence’s details. Gabrielle Graham, as a theatrical thespian, captivates with her performance and Cronenberg guides her character, Holly, to commit the poetic crime in a way that only Shakespeare would describe. From then on, it’s all uncharted territory.

Stay safe!

Ghosts of War (2020): Horror / Thriller / War

During WWII, five American soldiers are sent to a French Chateau to make a stand, not expecting to encounter a sinister supernatural force.

The “thriller” and “war” genres are indicative from the get-go. Even though it gets quite brutal but also comedic straight after, their arrival at the French mansion brings a certain mystery with it. Admittedly, the introduction of the interior of the mansion is quite spooky and entertaining, decently maintaining the balance between “horror” and “comedy” and, consequently, the audience’s attention. The “Nazi shootout” sequence becomes the film’s climax with all of us deeply enjoying their vicious deaths. The “facing the ghosts” sequence is also enjoyable and should have given the film the ending it deserved. That could be a happy ending, depressing ending, jaw-dropping-twist ending… An ending nonetheless. But the filmmakers thought otherwise! Before I move to the ending, I’d like to say that the acting is brilliant and all actors deserve to be praised. Excellent job!

Writer/director Eric Bress comes back as a director for his second film after The Butterfly Effect (2004) and, up to the point that I mentioned, does a very decent job. His directing still remains intact after that but his writing, eventually, damages the rest of the film. I cannot tell you why without spoiling it for you so, should you decide to watch it, stop here and see for yourselves. You are more than welcome to come back to my review after you have watched it.

Stay safe!

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Spoilers Alert!

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The ending is nonsensical because it tried to copy two films with similar, but successful for their narrative ending: The Thirteenth Floor (1999) and Dark City (1998). These fall under the jaw-dropping twists I mentioned earlier and, back then, gave the films the endings that everyone was talking about after watching them. In Ghosts of War this is most definitely not the case. It’s like Agent Smith (the ghosts) infiltrated the matrix and now Neo (Chris) would collaborate with the machines (the scientists) to restore the balance. It could not make less sense.

Other than nonsensical though, the ending is dangerous. What the filmmakers did here is dangerous. They associated the Nazis with ISIS. They “juxtaposed” their crimes as if that makes them the same. The Nazis and ISIS are not the same. I’m not going to give you a history lesson, but when the era is different, the culture is different, the history behind them is different, the motives are different, and then when one atrocity is related to war and the other (mostly) to terrorism… the comparison is not even wrong, it doesn’t exist. There is nothing to compare.

Filmmakers and studios need to be careful, nowadays. They hold responsibility for what they release and careers can be ruined in a blink of an eye.

The Dark and the Wicked (2020): Horror

After receiving news that their father was dying, two estranged kids gather at their parents’ remote farm to comfort him, but a sinister entity is lurking in the shadows for all of them.

From the opening sequence, the scent of the independent film forewarns that the absence of “formula” will fill you with dread of unknown origin and unknown for everyone involved consequences. Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. make an excellent duo in front of the camera and, Ireland especially, gives a breathtaking performance. Speaking of breathtaking, Xander Berkeley is absolutely terrifying! That role was him! He is a massively underrated actor so, I’m very glad he was afforded this opportunity.

As for the narrative, it is very restricted. The editing very meticulously unfolds the plot’s mysterious and horrifying elements, constantly making you wonder what the paranormal threat is and what does it want. Is it the devil? Is it a demon (with some vampire qualities)? Far fetched, I know, but pay attention to how it stands on the front door before asking for permission. Try and think why it has targeted the family and anyone coming in touch with them. If you want some answers you might find them at the phone call Louise is making to the priest – even though that will probably raise more questions.

Bryan Bertino, the man behind The Strangers (2008), and The Monster (2016), produces, writes and directs something between these two films; something between malevolent, external forces that subliminally manipulate our fears and the chaotic, internal abyss of the human mind that can prove more sinister than anything… non-human. I have never been a huge fan of jump scares, but Bertino uses them quite wisely here as there are other sequences that no music or sound effects are needed, just the visuals. Such sequences include (spoilers free), but are not limited to:

  • The carrot chopping.
  • The “hanged-in-the-barn” dolly out.
  • The priest at night.
  • The girl’s visit.
  • The nurse losing it.
  • The home arrival.

After everything is said and done, and the end credits start scrolling, among the rest of questions you will definitely have, ask yourselves this: Who is the dark and who’s the wicked?

Stay safe!

Run Hide Fight (2020): Action / Thriller

When a group of students invades their school with weapons and take hostages, a girl needs to use her skills to save those in need.

Read that logline and let it sink in before you read further…

The film is well shot and edited and the actors do a decent job. The setup prepares you for what is about to happen, it shocks you when it does, but then it gives you all the emotional space you need to relax and “enjoy” something that is not meant to be enjoyable. Immediately, it seems like a corporate-industry-hostage situation involving pompous adult assholes that doesn’t matter if few them die in the process like unimportant stunts.

Then, from the first plot point, quite a few issues are raised:

  • The van driving through the cafeteria’s front window that no one heard smashing.
  • The gunshots at the cafeteria that no one heard firing.
  • The relaxing verbosity after the van and the first shootings that lightens up the mood.
  • The parallel stories that take the focus off and go easy on the monstrosity that plagues the United States.

And these are jut the major ones. The Die Hard missionaries and the 17 y/o female John McClane give this ongoing toxicity a sweet Hollywood flavour when no word can describe the horror of kids turned kamikazes at the place that is meant to be the starting point to change the world. I know that it is trendy nowadays to portray women doing extraordinary things, but there is nothing trendy or extraordinary about exploiting scenarios that have deeply scarred people’s lives. That applies to boys, girls, men, women, and non-binary people. Keep the trends for the social media. People’s wounds are still wide open.

Elephant (2003), The Life Before Her Eyes (2007), My Friend Dahmer (2017), and We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) are but a few films that have managed to, somewhat, realistically capture that horror. But even, they are well made films. You wanna let horror crawl under your skin? Start with Bowling for Columbine (2002) and then go through the real-life mass shootings before and after. There has never been and never will be heroism in this ongoing heart-wrenching and soul-sucking tragedy.

Just death.

Followed by unspeakable, never-ending, inconsolable mourning.

Stay safe!

P.S. You wanna know who funded this film? This is the first film for the The Daily Wire, an American conservative news website turned TV/Film production company which, according to NewsWhip, is “by far” the top right-wing publisher on Facebook: “The Daily Wire is by far the top publisher among its peers in terms of engagements to its content, with more than 130 million Facebook engagements to its web content for the year”. Just saying…

Pieces of a Woman (2020): Drama

After losing her baby, a woman is trying to put her life back in order, but the intolerable suffering keeps damaging her and the people around her.

A protracted tracking shot in the opening sequence always raises the bar and expectations. The second one comes right after, and its twenty-four-minute realism and intensity stealthily build up to the point that will cut your breath. The preexisting knowledge that the sequence will end in the worst possible way, the attention to detail, and the meticulous preproduction planning will make you feel as ill as Martha does. Director Kornél Mundruczó mounts the camera over the shoulder, magnificently depicting the moment of tragedy, and Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, and Molly Parker bring his vision to life by doing an excellent job in front of it.

The film is not just that sequence though. The torn couple’s journey, understandably, goes down the mourning path anyone can expect, but the destination is unknown. And this is where Kata Wéber’s tight and focused script builds up next. The narrative is restricted to what everyone knows at the specific time you are watching. So, your guess is as good as everyone else’s. There are numerous external forces, i.e., the mother, the sister, the lawyer, the media, everyone in the surrounding environment, that can play a significant role in what might happen next. Can you feel Martha’s pain while sensing that the midwife did as best she could? The ending is fulfilling for everyone but Sean and, since I don’t want to spoil it for you, I will just say that he will unfairly pay the unbearable price, till the very end, on his own. And that is really unfair.

Two more people are worth mentioning at this point: Martin Scorsese, who is wearing the producer’s hat on this one and Ellen Burstyn who, despite her age, is still giving her 100% every time she stands in front of the lens. Interestingly, Burstyn won the Oscar for her performance in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) which was directed by Scorsese.

When such unfathomable pain takes over, it feels like passing it on to everyone, especially the ones we love, as absorbing it all, will completely consume us. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Whatever the intolerable pain might be, expressing it to and sharing it with our beloved ones, but also professionals, will help the healing process. Oh, and there is another underlying message in the film: Be kind to everyone, everywhere! We can never know what lies underneath the surface.

Stay safe!

Outside the Wire (2021): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

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A disgraced rookie drone pilot and a prototype android officer are sent to enemy territory to stop a nuclear attack.

Very bad from the very beginning! Having served in the special forces, let me put it this way: There is NO WAY you can get away with what Harp did! You are done! Finished! In and outside the army! From thousand of miles away, eating gummy bears, chilled, while marines in the battlefield drop like flies, and then you kill your own! NO. WAY.

I would say that from then on the film goes downhill but this would require for it to have started from a certain height. It starts from the bottom and stays there. It miserably fails to evoke any emotion at any level in all three acts. No suspense, no drama, no humour, no relatable action, no relatable characters, and then, no science, no reason, confused moral compass, and confused geographic compass. All the confusions and the no’s are nothing but the result of a bad production that is the result of a terrible script. It is like John Wick (2014) meets Terminator 2 (1991) meets Lord of War (2005) that finally meets none of the above and fosters a two-hour, old-fashioned, American, propagandistic, nonsensical, pedantic mashup of nothingness.

I do value Netflix, director Mikael Håfström, and Anthony Mackie and I hardly speak like that about the films I review. This one though undermines human intelligence and has immoral and dishonest intentions so, I’ll pretend I never watched it and move on. I suggest you do the same, and if you haven’t watched it, don’t!

Stay safe!

Shadow in the Cloud (2020): Action / Horror / War

A young, female WWII pilot boards on a fighter aircraft, but everything escalates when a creature infiltrates it.

The animation, in the beginning, is well-made but it shouldn’t be there. It has no place within the film and it gives away what is going to come next. I can’t guess its purpose for the life of me. There is a difference between foreshadowing an event and ruining the suspense. It’s like a self-mockery.

Straight after, like it started from the second act, the film’s visuals promise a horror that will raise more questions than answers but definitely, still, deserves the benefit of the doubt. There are two things that stand out positively immediately: Kit Fraser’s claustrophobic cinematography and Chloë Grace Moretz. Rumour has it that writer/director Roseanne Liang heavily rewrote Max Landis’ script (and removed him from the production) due to the latter having been accused of sexual misconducts. Regardless of the allegations, the heavy rewrites, kept the humongous plot holes, did nothing to favour the script, and heavily damaged the film with implausibility and charade. The best part of the film is from the moment the animation ends to the moment the gremlin gets inside the plane. From then on, everything goes to sh*t. Furthermore, Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s electronic, new-age, ambient, space, cyberpunk music is beautifully composed but, in my humble opinion, is way out of context in a WWII movie. But then, everything else is anyway so, I don’t even know why I bother.

Films such as Hidden Figures (2016) empower women and honestly portray human kind’s fortitude. The rest is just Hollywood’s moronic way to try and milk the cow and, thankfully, gets nada in the end. Moretz is an amazing actress, Liang seems to have a spark for innovation, and I for one, bet that I will see them both in something extraordinary soon again.

Stay safe!

Kajillionaire (2020): Crime / Drama

Petty crime runs in the family so, when an attractive outsider joins them, everything goes.

Can something be funny and depressing at the same time? I was about to say other than Kajillionaire which is funny and depressing at the same time but it is not really funny. Or, is it? I am not entirely convinced how or if it was meant to be funny but I didn’t get it. In a way, and don’t quote me on that, it felt like it was borderline mocking mental illness. And whatever that was, the whole family had it!

Once that was established, it just dragged. I think in an attempt to switch genre? Or, maybe, in an attempt for the audience to experience Old Dolio having a change of heart? Whatever the reason might be, Kajillionaire fails to find meaning but, ultimately, piles up all the eccentricity it can get. For a crime/drama – as per IMDb anyway – the plot is less believable than Independence Day (1996). Other than the family’s mental state, there is no chance on Earth a girl like Melanie leaves the plane with such people and go along with their plans. Yes, she seemed like having a dead-end job, no friends or girlfriend, but, personally, I don’t know anyone who would leave that plane with them. But then, nothing really makes sense in the film so, I think that trying to rationalise surrealistic characters and situations is the wrong approach. Which begs the question, what is the right one?

Writer/Director Miranda July is a magnificent indie filmmaker but I cannot (also) understand how she approached so many producers, among others Brad Pitt, and A-List actors such as Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Evan Rachael Wood, and Gina Rodriguez and got them onboard. What was the selling point? For the actors, I guess, is to try something different that not too many people will watch and be as awkward as they want. For the producers? They know they will lose whatever penny they put in and they still do it. And the recognition is next to nothing.

Maybe it’s just me not getting it and you find it far better than I think it is. I didn’t know how to feel throughout the whole film even though all I wanted was for Old Dolio and Melanie to find the love they deserved. And that is, at least, the film’s payoff.

Stay safe!

Redemption Day (2021): Action / Thriller

After his wife is kidnapped by terrorists, a war hero races against time to get her back.

I’ve written before about opening sequences and protracted shots and I’ve said that they raise the bar high for what comes next. In Redemption Day what comes next is, unfortunately, too American and too cliché for my standards so, it becomes the exception to the rule. Regarding the narrative, everything you are expecting to happen, does happen, the time you expect it to happen. There are no twists or no difficulties in completing the mission, really. The characters are forgettable, with the “good” ones being highly skilled, and the “bad” ones highly incompetent and stupid which makes an extreme disanalogy. The dialogue is worse than the “bad” ones mentioned above so, no further comment. Then, directing, acting, choreography, and editing, are mediocre, at best.

My distaste for the film has nothing to do with anything I’ve mentioned so far though. People do what they can, with what they have. My distaste is because of its propagandistic intentions. The film’s oversimplification of who is “good” and who is “bad” is borderline insulting. The world doesn’t work this way and Islam, or any other religion for that matter, has nothing to do with the monstrosities the human species is capable of. That is something that the film is trying hard to show but fails to do so.

I would prefer if co-writer/director Hicham Hajji made a film on the two innocent, young, female, Scandinavian hikers who were found beheaded in Morocco two years ago. That would be a challenge, wouldn’t it? No superfluous heroism, no formulaic scripts, no childish gunfights, no need for constant background music to dictate to the audience how to feel, and no goddamn propaganda that nobody needs. Filmmaking should be, among others, challenging, intriguing, and innovating. As fun and entertaining the days of Commando (1985) may have been, they are long gone and all of us have moved on. I hope some studios do the same.

Stay safe!

P.S. Andy Garcia has no place in this film.

The Midnight Sky (2020): Drama / Fantasy / Sci-Fi

A dying scientist, based at a remote arctic research centre, needs to warn a satellite’s crew members not to return to Earth due to a mysterious cataclysmic disaster.

People sent me a lot of negativity about it, negativity that bore a lot of resemblance to Ad Astra (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/12/05/ad-astra-2019-adventure-drama-mystery/. Now, I’m not saying that that was a perfect film but it wasn’t remotely as bad as they made it to be. How about this one, then? Does it worth your time?

Producer/actor/director George Clooney has put his heart and soul to it. He might not be appearing enough lately – his last feature film was Money Monster (2016) – but in front of the camera he is as great as he meticulous behind it. Suspense’s favourite narrative technique is “delay of resolution”. The journey of Augustine and Iris to the weather station will make your heart skip a lot more than a beat as will the meteor shower’s sequence in space. Extra credits go to the sinking container scene. Both the journey on Earth but also in space, go through various tribulations and the dramatic parts in between will give you the time to bond with the characters. Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone, and introducing Caoilinn Springall, give amazing performances and enhance both the drama and the suspense.

But I believe the film’s strongest suit is the narrative structure where the fabula and the shyuzet are organised in such manner that reveal only what you need to know, when you need to know it. Keep postponing what you want to know. What has happened will not be revealed to you that easily and will you definitely need to read between the lines. The levels of knowledge vary throughout the film. You don’t know exactly what Augustine knows but you still know a lot more than the crew does. On the other hand, you know almost everything that is happening on the satellite when Augustine knows nothing but you know as much as they do when it comes to the global disaster. No matter what the narration remains restricted at all times and you are not the omniscient spectator you would like to be.

After most of it is said and done, it all comes down to what your expectations are prior to hitting ‘play’. It is not an action film. It is a cosmic journey to finding a place to start anew and it an esoteric journey to remorse, redemption, and our deepest regrets. Yet, people found the ending… unfulfilling.

It is not the ending that is unfulfilling. It is the connection with ourselves, and, consequently, the connection with the people we love and they love us back.

Stay safe!

Honest Thief (2020): Action / Crime / Drama

Having met love, a bank robber decides to quit, turn himself in, and cut a deal but nothing goes according to plan.

My issues with the film started with the first act as everything happens too fast, too conveniently. The character development is not even minimal. It jumps straight into it not having shown us how good he is in what he does or anything really about him. Then, he just happens to move into a new town and, right off the bat, he finds a single, attractive woman around his age who, cut to a year later, she decides to move in with him. And then he wants to surrender. I found it like no rapport is build whatsoever. It feels as if no investment in character or story development has been made.

Past the interesting first plot point though and moving into the second act, I must say that things get a lot more… engaging. The action is solid, the explanations given are adequate even convincing, the acting is just about right, and the chemistry between Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh appealing. The story is still not very factual but well shot and well edited, and entertaining nonetheless. With them, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos, and Robert Patrick complete the film’s interesting cast. Of course, the one that steals the show is none other than… Tazzie!

Finally, most of what you think would happen, does actually happen, leaving nothing much to talk about past the end credits. Regardless, give it a go. For the type of action it is, and in times like these, Honest Thief will keep you entertained and make you forget for a couple of hours how many new cases were announced today.

Stay safe!

In the Middle of the Night (2020): Horror / Thriller / Drama / Short

A son calls his parents in the middle of the night, but his gradual disorientation gets them really worried.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language and violence, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short horror script, In the Middle of the Night.

© 2020 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

Fatman (2020): Action / Comedy / Fantasy

When a rich boy is let down by Santa, he hires an eccentric hitman to kill him.

Well, isn’t that a Christmas film… A pistolero Santa who has a dodgy contract with the government of the United States of America ends up in a gunfight with an assassin.

How can I put it… it’s like a Christmas western shot in the North and Santa is the wanted man on the bullet hole poster. While the hitman tries to track down Santa, here’s what you get: the military outsourcing elves to produce more weaponry and the logistics behind Santa’s operation on Christmas Eve. You know what you get when the hitman actually tracks down the Republican, training-like-Rocky-Balmoa Santa? That’s something you need no commentary on. Writers/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms know exactly the kind of film they want to make and the final cut’s tone and pace give justice to their cause. Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste understand their vision and offer nothing but pure entertainment.

Feeling stuck in your own house on Christmas day? Fatman is your unconventional Christmas movie that will keep you company for an hour and a half. Can you take it seriously? No. Is it meant to be taken seriously? No. So, sit back, relax, and digest the turkey.

Stay safe!

Driving Home for Christmas (2020): Horror / Thriller / Drama

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After a long day’s work, on Christmas eve, a man calls his family on the way back only for a stranger to pick it up.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language and violence, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short horror script, Driving Home for Christmas.

© 2020 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.