The Devil all the Time (2020): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Dark, interweaving stories about faith, chance, innocence, and corruption that spring from the most corrupted part of the human soul.

West Virginia… WWII is over, the soldiers are back, and the Willards, not from West Virginia, have trouble adapting. As if the war hadn’t done enough damage, the understanding of Lord’s mysterious ways led people to be… set in their own ways. A result that brings irony and nemesis, a rhetorical device and a goddess respectively, from ancient Greece, that civilisations have been stumbling upon, in numerous shapes and forms, for millennia.

Almost an hour into the film, the new generation takes over the torch and builds on that wretched foundation, paving the path for and giving birth to menace and hypocrisy, two human “qualities” that the ancient Greeks “saw”chewing up man’s soul like locus. And there is only one offspring that can come out of such a sorrowful family tree… Tragedy!

Writer/director Antonio Campos, co-writer Paulo Campos, and editor and wife of the former Sofía Subercaseaux put their heart and soul into the film. The Devil all the Time has two strong suits. One, is the narrative. The exchange between the omniscient narrator who speaks people’s minds and connects interweaving stories, and the interchangeable restricted narration between the heroes and villains, and the audience.

The second one is the phenomenal casting: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennet, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, and Robert Pattinson. And guess what, most of them are not even Americans. Excellent chemistry between the actors and amazing work with the dialect coaching. Most of the cast and crew have worked together in other films before, with the most notable collaboration being Holland, Stan, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s wearing the producer’s hat – MCU. Donald Ray Pollock, the author of the homonymous novel, gets a special reference for voicing his first ever narration in the film.

I guess, in life, what goes around comes around. And The Devil all the Time is no short of literature on screen, believing, and strongly indicating it in the denouement, that we are trapped in an indissoluble delusion that we can run away from ourselves.

Stay safe!

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Having recently lost her husband, a young mother is trying to protect her children from poverty and her little town’s underworld.

Goddamn poverty! Goddamn misery! Goddamn drugs! Regardless which triggers which and in what order, the defining opening shot somehow is immediately understood by the shots that follow it. Or is it?

Writer/director of Road Games (2015), Abner Pastoll, directs a gritty Irish thriller with a realistic plague, a surrealist villain, and a down to Earth heroine that has to put up with both while protecting her children. And what a heroine’s journey that is…

Pastoll creates a dark for the audience yet healthy for the actors environment to showcase their chemistry and shine in front of the camera. Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, and Andrew Simpson lead the way but the rest of the cast follows and supports them as they should to create this thrilling crime/drama. Much respect for the whole crew that managed to bring this low budget, indie film to life.

Now… I cannot not comment on the dildo… probably the weirdest use(s) I’ve seen outside comedy. One is, unintentionally funny. Or dramatically funny – is there such a thing? Stealing your kids’ batteries from their toys to put them in your vibrator because you are a recently widowed young mum with urges isn’t funny… just funnily portrayed. Come on, I mean, I am sure they knew the mixed reactions the scene would stimulate. On the other hand, stabbing someone’s eye with the same vibrator you satisfy yourself to save yourself from rape is nothing but ironic (but relieving nonetheless).

Despite your feelings towards it, at least, you’ll witness a security system that uses VHS, and you’ll learn what a metaphor is…

Stay safe!

13th (2016): Documentary / Crime

The astronomical rise of the prison population in the US throughout the decades, through victimization of ethnic minorities and partnerships between correctional facilities and private corporations.

A brave new world! Well, not so new really. Well, not so brave either I guess. Writer, producer, and director Ava DuVernay hits the nail on the head with a revealing documentary on the, once inexplicable, rise of the prison population and its deep connections to the racial inequality, the capitalist system, and their common denominator which is none other than the continuously manipulative governments.

I am pretty convinced that DuVernay’s footage was dozens of hours long and she could probably have had about three documentaries like 13th. While evaluating her footage, she decided to narrow it down and tell the story the way she did. The documentary’s strong suit is the information it provides on the connection between the era of slavery to the media and cinema and The Birth of a Nation (1915) to the present era, and how is all connected to the rise of the correctional facilities industry. I for one, and not being American, I didn’t have the foggiest so that was, while unpleasant and disheartening, an eye-opening experience. The research was also solid and the archive footage was strong and extremely effective, it literally put a lot into perspective.

And even though I learned loads about the disgusting, filthy companies that profit from human suffering, I didn’t get around why the poor who can’t get out of prison have been incarcerated to begin with. I got an idea, don’t get me wrong, but instead on spending some time to expand on it, it expanded on movements and actions that were not related to the rise of the prison population.

The editing in documentaries such as 13th plays a catalytic role in narrative formation. Documentary is research. The filmmaker does not really know where it will lead or how it will really lead them where it will. It is a journey. O.J.: Made in America (2016) is a perfect example of that. 7 hours and 47 minutes, after editing, that focuses on the chronicle of O.J. Simpson, the anchor of the documentary, and only expands to the events that surround his case.

Regardless, 13th is a must-watch as is DuVernay’s previous work Selma (2014), and the biographical When They See Us (2019) – reviews to follow.

Panagiotis, this one’s for you mate. Thank you for the recommendation.

Stay safe!

Midnight FM (2010): Action / Crime / Thriller

During a radio producer’s last show, a serial killer invades her home threatening to kill her family.

The overwhelming suspense! Three thrilling acts that will keep you glued to your seats until the very end. There is not one dull moment throughout the film. Korean suspenseful narrative that, as usual, it does not hold back and does not disappoint. This is a story-driven thriller where all utterances and actions are held accountable for is going to happen next.

Excellent directing that the fast-paced editing unfolds the fabula and syuzhet exactly when the information is needed to be disclosed. Soo Ae and Ji-Tae Yoo shine on camera, creating a stimulating chemistry. Extra round of applause goes to the little girls for their equally brilliant performances.

Midnight FM is a must-watch and no matter what I say will not make it more appealing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Stay safe!

Antebellum (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

Slaves at a confederate quarter during the American civil war experience a horrendous reality, but nothing is what it looks like.

One of the most meticulous and intriguing opening shots I’ve seen in a while. Music, photography, and powerful acting set the tone for what is about to come. Unfortunately though, as we go through despicable times, for more than one reason, it is hard to focus purely on the artistic part and neglect the atrocious side of the human soul.

Leaving momentarily the politics and the comparisons with today’s depressing reality aside, I’ll go on with a disclaimer: I had no idea what I was signing up for. So, almost 40′ into the film, I started scratching my beard… I really wanted to see where the story was heading. And this is when my excitement disappeared. The story dragged and became so political that characters lost their interest. Janelle Monàe’s character became snobbish and everyone else indifferent. Nothing like the acting or story development of the first forty minutes. Politics were so forced into the film that became unwatchable. Whatever was not political, it was pure boredom. I’m particularly fond of both Jena Malone and Gabourey Sidibe and here their characters were, again, as snobbish and indifferent as Monàe’s – or worse. The reason I cannot relate to such characters is because I could never and I have never hanged around with so self-righteous and pompous people that like themselves that much and think of themselves so high, like they are Derek Zoolander. I am sure the people who value their ticket’s money feel the same way.

Half an hour after that, and having watched a particular film in 2004 (no spoilers), I kind of saw where the story was heading. But directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz just made it too obvious with the only difference that they over-politicised it. And that’s how the second part of the second act was doomed to fail. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever and undermined the audience’s intelligence. And the filmmakers should always keep in mind that the horror fans are extremely savvy. Ι can see how appealing it is to make a 12 Years a Slave (2013) meets Get Out (2017) but Steve McQueen and Jordan Peele have their own distinctive and unique style that it would be best to be left to them and not copied. Speaking of copying, did I mention the irrelevant reference to The Shining (1980) and the inexplicably identical poster with The Silence of the Lambs (1991)?

Stay safe.

Gardens of the Night (2008): Drama

Two little kids, a boy and a girl, after being abducted and mentally and physically abused, they become adults and live on the streets, doing whatever is necessary to survive.

As you may have figured by now, I’m a horror fan. Gardens of the Night, definitely not a horror film, addresses one of the scariest scenarios for every living human being, especially parents. The non-linear narrative tells the story in a way that sustains the suspense until the end. Producer /writer/director Damian Harris develops the plot in a way that will glue you to your seats and will make you want to intervene, to step in, to take action, and end the atrocity. The fact that you won’t be able to though, something that you know but you are willing to fool yourselves even for a second, will make you at least root for the kids but also the adults and pray for a happy ending. I personally hate happy endings. But not when I know that tragedies like the film’s theme are actually happening while I’m writing this review, right now.

It is a powerful film! There are shots that will make you cringe, and there shots, such as the one with the milk in the fridge and adult Leslie after the failed sex scene that will make you want to squeeze the chair your are sitting on and cry your eyes out.

My standing ovation goes to everyone: Harris for doing all the hard work. Ryan Simpkins and Jermaine ‘Scooter’ Smith, and Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross, for carrying the film on their shoulders. John Malkovich, Peter Evans, Peta Wilson, Michelle Rodriguez, Shiloh Fernandez, Harold Perrineau and Jeremy Sisto for having cameos that anyone could have done them and yet they decided to simply participate due to the film’s nightmarish nature. Especially, Tom Arnold who has experienced first hand this nightmare and took the most detestable part. Last but not least, the rest of the cast and crew who made this film possible. Bravo!

This is the American style of filmmaking that reveals a layer of our society that no one wants to admit it exists. That no one wants to know it exists. A layer that is not buried deep under but right in front of us and yet we willingly turn the goddamn blind eye because it would shake us to our core. And then we would have to overlook ourselves just to do something about it. My utmost respect to the unknown, suffering heroes who do… and the poor souls who have to endure it…

Stay safe!

The Deeper You Dig (2019): Drama / Horror

A terrible accident haunts the man who caused it and blurs the line between the living and the dead.

This is why I love indie films. No major studio busting the cast’s and crew’s balls… only the director’s creative decisions… narrative that doesn’t have to abide by conventional rules… You know what I mean? If not, watch The Deeper You Dig and you’ll find out.

The tight script, shot and edited in an experimental American style, will get your attention from the opening shot. The music and the sound department get credits aplenty for truly understanding the writers’ and directors’ vision and creating an eerie and at the same time awkward atmosphere. For that awkwardness though and the weird dissonance there are two more people responsible: the two leading actors, John Adams and Toby Poser, who guess what? They are also the writers, directors but also the producers, editors, and composers. To top it up, they are also husband and wife in real life, and the daughter in the film, Zelda Adams, is their actual daughter as well. A family affair indeed. You wouldn’t believe how their production company is called… Adams Family!

Kudos to all three of them, they’ve done a brilliant job in every department. I wouldn’t call it a horror but definitely an interesting thriller. I will admit that past the… deep supernatural information (no spoilers), the convolution got me to scratch my beard more than once and the ending is nothing like I expected. This merely means that it’s a good or a bad thing but that’s how the creators envisaged it, that’s how they executed it, and I take it as it comes. Extra kudos to the photography and editing. That means, the quirks with the foibles. I hope you do the same.

Stay safe!

The Town (2010): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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A band of thieves terrorise the banks of Boston but when personal feelings and the FBI get in the way, everyone’s loyalty is at stake.

10 years old and not outdated a bit. Thrilling action and suspenseful drama to keep you pinned to your seats for two hours. Since the beginning of his career, Ben Affleck has been proving time and time again his undeniable talent both in front and behind the camera. Think of The Town as Heat (1995) meets Good Will Hunting (1997). An exceptional mid-90s action film, fifteen years later. Next to Affleck, Jeremy Renner will make you wonder, “is he actually such an asshole?” He is meant to be one and he nails it as he nails the accent. One of his best performances to date. Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, and Blake Lively couldn’t have been a better choice, and Titus Welliver, Chris Cooper, and the late Pete Postlethwaite are as hateable as they were meant to be. A-list form head to toe!

I know that you probably have watched it. If you have, watch it again. It is most definitely worth it. If somehow you’ve missed it, make it your next film!

Stay safe!

The Rental (2020): Horror / Thriller

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A relaxing weekend’s getaway is ruined by dishonesty, lies, and secrets and turns into a living nightmare by… someone watching.

Excellent directorial debut by Dave Franco who seems to have put his heart and soul into the film’s writing and production as well. Perfect opening shot, red-flagged suspicion from the second shot, straight to the point right after, excellent pace and rhythm, believable dialogues and reasonably stupid decisions, no Hollywood heroism or character development, and last but not least, raw and unexpected violence. Furthermore, Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, and Toby Huss create incredible chemistry, increasing the film’s realism.

As a huge fan of one-location horrors/thrillers, I can guarantee you that this is a must-watch! As mentioned in the beginning, Franco really does an excellent job and it’s good to see people who “grew up” in Hollywood, to avoid certain Hollywood conventions that, unavoidably, lead to decadent clichés.

Stay safe!

Valley of Shadows (2017): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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After his dog ran away, a little boy’s quest to the unknown leads him to a forest where urban legends and reality blend into one.

The obvious achievement is Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen’s cinematography. And by that, I mean Oskar-level cinematography. Young Adam Ekeli plays the part exactly as he should be and for that, other than his skills, Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s directing is to praise. The amazing Zbigniew Preisner’s music adds the final touch with his mesmerising and atmospheric composition. The very slow-paced rhythm and the lack of action should not put you off. Valley of Shadows is the definition of a hero’s journey told in a Scandinavian (Nordic) way. 

I stumbled upon the film completely by accident and I am so glad I did. The narrative is extremely restricted, making you experience the aforementioned journey through the kid’s eyes alone. Travel back to that age and try to remember how you perceived reality when you were little. Then, and only then, come back and interpret the events the way you see fit. I repeat, do not expect action. Pretend you are that kid having been lost in that eerie, yet dazzling forest, knowing nothing about conscious or unconscious elucidations.

Stay safe!