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!

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!

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!

Relic (2020): Drama / Horror

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Mother and daughter visit the grandmother in her remote house but her suspected dementia’s sinister effects will make them question their own sanity.

One of the best psychological horrors with one of the most WTF endings in recent years. The moment I realised it’s Australian – huge fan of the Australian film school – I thought to myself: “That’s gonna be heavy.” Guess what? It was!

It all starts with Natalie Erika James’ and Christian White’s amazing script and ends with James’ exceptional directing. Charlie Sarroff’s claustrophobic cinematography will cut your breath short and the hair-raising performances by Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote will make you feel how they feel. Nevin, especially, makes one hell of a scary grandma that will crawl under your skin.

The film’s gut-wrenching psychological horror is the outcome of the fictional paranoia which directly derives from a real-life, agonising drama. It is the terror of what happens to so many people when they grow old while all of us wish that it is not us that it will happen to. And you would never guess who’s wearing the producer’s hat on this one. Jake Gyllenhaal and the Russo Brothers. Who would know…

Relic is a bone-chilling, metaphorical horror/drama, following (thankfully) no Hollywood narrative, offering no easy way outs, no glorified, ephemeral pseudo-heroes, and no cheap jump-scares. It is the proud representation of Australia’s film school. A school that teaches how to think outside the box and make films as harsh as life itself.

Stay safe!

The Way Back (2020): Drama / Sport

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A man is offered to coach the high school basketball team that he used to play twenty-five years ago, but personal suffering and alcoholism will only exacerbate his problems.

I watched The Way Back based on assumptions. I thought it would be a Disney-like film about a man who struggles and through the kids’ basketball team finds redemption where, in the end, everyone lives happily ever after, the family watching it turns off the TV, and everyone goes to bed with a smile. Without revealing too much, I will tell you that this is not the case. Not really. Watching it, I found the lines were blurring between the plot and the subplot. Is it him and the basketball team the plot and his suffering the subplot? Or the other way around? I’ll leave this one with you, food for thought.

The Way Back has many strengths. Ben Affleck, who has faced himself several personal issues, alcoholism included, is always mastering roles such as this. Roles such as this made him famous and films like these are the reason his presence in front and behind the camera is still holding strong. Director Gavin O’Connor does a brilliant job making it an existential drama and I guess his experience from his previous drama/sport Warrior (2011) helped a lot. Then, all kids from the team deserve a round of applause as their performance is astonishing. A very well-executed film with an ultimately dramatic soundtrack.

The Way Back took a huge hit at the box office as every film did that premiered in March 2020. And it may not be Warrior, but it definitely deserves your attention. Yes, there are Disney elements in it when it comes to the basketball team and their effort to climb to the top. But when it comes to daily waking up to an “intolerable reality”, an HBO-esque feeling knocks the walls down, revealing you that in real life there is no easy way out. And, some times, unfortunately, not even a way back…

Stay safe!

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019): Action / Crime / Drama

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A hard as nails cop joins forces with a crime boss to take down a serial killer.

Based on a true story, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil will get your undivided attention right off the bat from the opening scene. The South Korean film school proves time and time again that no matter what the genre, the outcome will be fulfilling and worth every minute you spend on it. Mu-Yeol Kim and Ma Dong-seok as cop and gangster respectively, develop excellent chemistry in their unlike partnership, offering a high-octane action / thriller trying to capture an unknown serial killer.

Captivating photography, engaging editing, and brilliant character and story development. Ma Dong-seok, after his amazing performance in Train to Busan (2016) comes back, punching above his league and comes out a winner stealing the show. Also, check Mu-Yeol Kim in Forgotten (2017) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/05/25/forgotten-2017-mystery-thriller/. Both films HIGHLY recommended.

Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the bloody ride.

Stay safe!

Possession (1981): Drama / Horror

Possession

At the peak of the Cold War, a man comes back from a mission to reunite with his family only to find out that their marriage has fallen apart and an eerie entity might be behind it.

Possession is the art of writing, directing, editing, and acting with no rules. No. Rules. It’s been at least a couple of decades since I last time watched it and the first time, not knowing how to properly “read” a film, I just found it bizarre and moved on with my life. Now that I know a bit more, I can tell you with certainty that no review or analysis can be adequate to make one understand with certainty how, what, or why everything is happening. In addition, there is no way to predict who will like it and who won’t. Personally, I couldn’t recommend this film more to horror / mystery / thriller fans but also cinephiles with whatever particular interest they have in films. If you decide to watch it, here’s what you sign up for:

  • Sam Neill’s and Isabelle Adjani’s best-ever performances. Theatrical, verbal, and non-verbal performances like anything they had delivered before and anything like they ever attempted again to this very day, almost 40 years later.
  • Andrzej Zulawski’s most intricate script. Where did Mark come back from? What is he so good at? What is happening to Anna? Why does Helen look like…(no spoilers)? Why does everyone speak and act in such a way? Are their responses somehow related to “the thing”? Where did that thing come from? The fear. The possession. The siren… Zulawski defied rules and conventions, making an unprecedented, satisfying, yet questionable horror, heavily censored in the US and banned in the UK.
  • Zulawski’s directing which haunted both Neill and Adjani, taking them years to shake off the extremely unpleasant experience they were put through. Reportedly, Adjani stated: “He [Zulawski] is a director that makes you sink into his world of darkness and his demons”. His lens is captivating and the photography mesmerising throughout all three acts.
  • Editing-wise, Possession becomes the Bible of when not to cut! The pace and rhythm are remarkable and as this is a performance-driven film, the editing is patient enough to move on to the next shot only after Neill and Adjani have given their 100% or more!

Think of Possession as The Last Tango in Paris (1972) meets Kramer vs Kramer (1979) meets The Thing (1982). And that’s what I’m going to leave you with. For readers who have watched it, if you want to, please read further.

Stay safe!

 

 

 

SPOILER

 

I cannot even begin to imagine the reactions to the introduction of hentai pornography in a live-action film, in the early 80s, in the Western civilisation. If you know any European, (North or South) American, African or Australian films including hentai tentacles prior to Possession please let me know in the comments. I believe that awe and shock don’t even come close to describing the majority’s feelings. Personally, I think that the concoction of feelings and emotions throughout the film does not fall under one category. To the point where, possibly, you won’t even be able to explain how you feel or why you react the way you do to certain stimuli. A daring cinematic experience!