Welcome the Stranger (2018): Drama / Mystery

The unexpected arrival of a young man’s sister in his mansion will make both siblings express feelings they have been suppressing for years.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people mistakenly calling experimental films or films with nontraditional narrative “artistic” as if traditional, formulaic narrative, namely Hollywood’s, isn’t. Narrative is narrative regardless of what you think of it or call it. Either way, it can be both effective and ineffective. And what might be ineffective for you can be really effective for someone else. Objectivity finds no application in art.

Welcome the Stranger follows, definitely, a nontraditional narrative where nothing is directly explicated (spoon-fed) but rather subliminally implied. In such storytelling, the director, who most of the times also happens to be the writer, is meant to explain their vision to the actors/actresses who, in their turn, are meant to transgress that vision and be part of something that will be, ultimately, interpreted in numerous ways. For example, see what happens at 00:31:50. Is there an explanation given? Is there an explanation needed?

Producer/writer/director Justin Kelly has created a performance-driven mystery/drama where the drama is caused by an unknown or unimportant to the viewer source hence, the mystery and the lack of our understanding regarding their paranoid acting. Abbey Lee, Caleb Landry Jones, and (also producer) Riley Keough play their parts extremely well, giving justice to Kelly’s vision and offering uneasy entertainment for the audience.

Trivial over-dramatization, unnoticed importance, involuntary(?) incestuous attraction, reality’s disillusionment, and oneiric time/space convolution are nothing but a few elements that, combined, they pay tribute to David Lynch’s legacy in the 21st century, and synthesise a nano fragment of our minds’ filmic projection.

Stay safe!

P.S. Abbey Lee and Riley Keough appeared in Mad Max: Road Fury (2015), and Caleb Landry Jones and Abbey Lee appeared the same year in To the Night (2018).

Ready or Not (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

As part of an initiation, a bride, on her wedding night, needs to play a sinister family tradition game.

The line between horror and comedy hangs in the balance. How much of each is needed to scare people but also make them laugh? But then, what kind of humour does one use against the gore? And what if it is psychological? These questions, and more, have no definite answers. Script, directing, editing, and acting, all need to work like a Swiss watch to evoke both feelings. I know that this applies for every genre but the emotions here are antithetical and, I guess, that makes, as I said, the balance is delicate.

Everyone plays their part brilliantly. Other than Samara Weaving who deserves every win for playing Grace, Nicky Guadagni, as the deranged aunt Helene is bloody hilarious. The script is tight, maintaining that “delicacy”, and the duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett do an incredible job behind the camera. Other than the upcoming Scream (2022) they are also responsible for the “10/31/98” V/H/S (2012) segment and Southbound (2015) which I will watch again and review it straight away.

Very interestingly, Weaving is playing the reversal of her role in The Babysitter (2017). Now, that I’ve seen her in both sides of the fence, as prayer and prey respectively, I can say with certainty that, other than impressive woman, she is an impressive actress as well and she’s been in two of my favourite horror/comedies that I’ve seen in recent years. She’ll be an even more sought-after actress as the years pass by.

Bloody gore, naive fatalities, fancy costumes, hilarious profanity, surrealistic family complexities, and limitless buffoonery will keep you entertained for an hour and a half, offering an escape from what you see on the news every day.

Stay safe!

Come to Daddy (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

A letter from his estranged father requesting a visit will make a young man go to his remote cabin in an attempt to reconnect with him.

I always find it intriguing how does one pitch films like this. Right off the bat, Come to Daddy gets you acquainted with two profound quotes:

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children” – William Shakespeare

“There is no one else like my daddy” – BeyoncĂ©

Go figure… Then, you get to experience Norval (Elijah Wood) with an atrocious haircut, sporting a pedo-tash, paying a visit to his… eccentric, and profoundly disturbed dad, Gordon (Stephen Mchattie). I’ll tell you this, both of them are awkward, their dialogues are awkward, their father/son relationship is awkward, the sheriff is awkward, the coroner is awkward, everyone is awkward, and the whole film is awkward… until the twist. Then it gets even more awkward.

Throughout the film, I didn’t know whether be ready to get scared or laugh or… And while thinking about it, Dandy shows up pooing, getting off the crapper, and picking up a brutal fight with goofy Norval, unrolling the toilet paper stuck in his bumhole while at it – admittedly, the most enjoyable scene. Eventually, I didn’t get scared but I did laugh out loud with the occasional, inventive, and anything but inspirational, surrealistic tragicomedy.

Inspired by Ant Timpson’s dad’s passing, the story is a mixed bag that, in the end, you’ll just either turn it off and go to bed, say “that was fun!”, or facepalm sighing and wondering why you did that to yourselves. Personally, I like unpredictability, absurdity, and mixed genres. I just prefer it when there is something in the end to take away.

The reason I decided to watch it was the leading duo. Mchattie and Wood are very versatile actors and I have enjoyed them in most films they’ve been in. Wood, having been in numerous Hollywood films in the past, has left most of it behind him and has started focusing on roles like Norman. Wilfred (2011-2014) and I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017) are two previous examples of the kind of people he portrays with great success.

Anyway, Come to Daddy is highly recommended if you are really confused with your life, feeling lost, or having daddy issues.

Stay safe!

Powder (1995): Drama / Fantasy / Mystery

Born to a mom who was hit by lightning while she was pregnant with him, a kid grows up and shows abilities and IQ like anyone has ever seen.

The year draws to a close and, as always, I choose to watch films that, at some point in my life, they meant something to me. Powder is one of them.

From narrative’s point of view, it’s all about a boy who’s special and the physical and mental differences between him and the rest of the world make him a loner. Very well written and directed by Victor Salva, excellent performances by Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Flanery, Lance Henriksen, and Jeff Goldblum, and brilliantly composed by the late Jerry Goldsmith. Setup, confrontation, and resolution are meticulously developed, offering moments of self-realisation in regard to what we know and what we think we know and how we deal with it. After everything is said and done, in the last scene, just ask yourselves this: where does Powder return to?

From sociology’s point of view, it tackles quite a few aspects… Our schools are incapable of handling different and, consequently, incapable of teaching anyone how to handle different. Our society is still in the dark ages, on an ongoing witch-hunt with modern torches and pitch forks. Our level of understanding about what is going on around us or what lies ahead is laughable – Yes, that includes especially the people we entrust to guide us. Finally, our inability to comprehend the fact that we are not on the top of the food chain and we should stop acting like it and respect nature as much as we should be respecting one another despite our so many differences, quirks and foibles. You wanna make a change but you don’t where to start? I follow Michael’s advice: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”…

Stay safe!

P.S. I believe the film would have performed better if the director Victor Salva hadn’t been convicted for child molestation a few years prior to the film’s release. Thus, much of the “touching” in the film was misinterpreted or interpreted, after the wrap, in an inappropriate way. But, please, don’t see it that way because it has nothing to do with it. I don’t know how much that affected Salva’s career as he kept writing and directing.

P.P.S. It is not mentioned why Doug is not speaking to his estranged son. Why don’t you all take a guess…

A Christmas Horror Story (2015): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

It’s Christmas Eve, and five interwoven stories reveal the dark side of Christmas.

A Viking-looking Santa who is about to face something evil, a radio host who wants to lift your spirits, a student film crew that investigates a violent ritual school crime, a family who just wants a Christmas tree, and an Anti-Christmas spirit that is released, chasing wicked people.

Very promising and original opening sequence that will most definitely get your undivided attention. Every story unfolding is a treat and, despite their flaws, they are still dark, eerie, and enjoyable for, admittedly, mostly millennial horror fans but not exclusively. Surely not for the whole family, each and every one of them, twists the meaning of Christmas and explores the darkness within us in days that our light is meant to shine. The ending is a real twist that, unfortunately, is no fantasy and our world has seen similar in numerous variations. For the avoidance of spoilers, I cannot elaborate further and, personally, I feel like I shouldn’t do it anyway.

The stories unfold in the fictional town of Bailey Downs. The same town where the Ginger Snaps franchise takes place but also, partially, Orphan Black (2013-2017). Filmmakers behind both projects collaborated for this one.

Last Christmas film review for this year! Stay safe and Merry Christmas!

Run (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

An ambitious disabled young girl starts getting an eerie feeling that her mother is not who she thinks she is.

Dark, dramatic, and promising opening sequence that sets the tone of Aneesh Chaganty’s suspenseful horror. A huge Stephen King admirer, Chaganty pays numerous tributes to him and co-writes and directs a down to earth, psychological horror about the strongest love in the world, a mother’s love, and juxtaposes it to a mother’s greatest suffering and its inconceivable effects.

Very well shot, very well edited, and very well acted! Sarah Paulson and real-life wheelchair-user Kiera Allen give quite the performances and should be highly praised. What’s more, the bold and provocative twist meets the expectations of the first act’s horrific drama and the second act’s build-up.

Run is yet another film whose world wide release dates were postponed due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Yet, even though it doesn’t really reinvent its kind, it definitely deserves a watch, and it does not disappoint! Some plotholes could be spotted throughout the story’s development but don’t let them get in the way as the film means well. I liked it better than Chaganty’s previous feature Searching (2018) – https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2018/12/06/searching-2018-drama-mystery-thriller/ whose target audience was for the… TikTok generation.

Stay safe!

The Call (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

Two women from a different time, living in the same house, manage somehow to communicate and befriend each other over the phone; a friendship that will soon become torture.

Korean narrative does not fail. Ever! The Call is a drama first, and a mystery/thriller second. The heroine’s background is as heavy as they come and the current paradoxical pain only builds onto it. Remember The Lake House (2006)? Well, not a bad film to be fair but… this is better! This is actually the psychotic, gruesome version of it! Where the tables turn more than once and the drama matches the suspense and the agony.

The film explores the unpredictability of human nature but also the consequences of our utterances and actions – especially, when we don’t know what we are dealing with. Time travel, in all its variations, is only scientific school of thoughts that clash with each other. Coincidentally, this is the third film I’m watching the last couple of months that explores the time travel implications. Tenet (2020): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/29/tenet-2020-action-sci-fi/ and Primer (2004): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/26/primer-2004-drama-sci-fi-thriller/ were the other two.

The Call is by far not an original concept. Frequency (2000) was the first, I think. But it is the perfect example of”old wine, new bottle” with a non-Hollywood denouement. If I’m being honest, the twist in the very end is nonsensical and should have been left out. Lastly, Jeon Jong-Seo and Park Shin-hye are just incredible!

Therefore, turn the lights off, sit back, relax and for a couple of hours just forget the word “pandemic”.

Stay safe!

P.S. Watch the trailer! One of the best trailers I’ve seen in a long time.

Come Play (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A creature called Larry, which uses mobile devices as portals, seeks to take an autistic kid back to the world it comes from.

The logline is not promising. We are talking about a creature that manifests itself through phones and tablets if one reads its illustrated story, blows fuses, and it’s called “Larry”. If that is not a millennials’ thing, I don’t know what is…

Where do I begin here…

  • Coming out of phones and tablets?! And a bit of a spoiler here, through TV programs chooses films to speak! I wish I knew what to say…
  • Who, how, and why wrote that illustrated that story? How did it circulate to other devices? And why now?
  • The “fuses” part is somehow explained but… called “Larry”?! Larry?!?!

Script aside, the filmmaking style is a pure homage to Tob Hooper (or Steven Spielberg) and Poltergeist (1982) and it’s a great feel seeing the low angle dolly shots, the protracted shots, the Dutch Angles, to say but a few, in a house that could have been haunted or include an old-fashioned monster. The experience of the horror through a kid’s eyes, especially autistic, would be something that would get my undivided attention in the blink of an eye. Young, Azhy Robertson is really great! Writer/director Jacob Chase does a brilliant job with the camera even though not with the typewriter. He adapts his own homonymous short horror Larry (2017) – which I haven’t watched – and, apparently, quite a lot of people liked it. Fair enough. Gillian Jacobs, other than obviously being an incredible woman, she’s an also incredible actress. If you haven’t watched Gardens of the Night (2008) you should definitely do so: https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/09/17/gardens-of-the-night-2008-drama/

To conclude, the directing is impressive, the acting is brilliant, the jump-scares not always necessary, and the script for people who never knew life without a phone.

Stay safe!

P.S. What about Spongebob, right?

Goddess of Love (2015): Drama / Horror / Mystery

Having found out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, a drug addict and mentally unstable woman starts losing sense of reality.

I find it intriguing when people ask me about films I am not aware of and then I wonder, “why don’t I know it”? Well, I don’t want to brag too much but, most of the times, there is a good goddamn reason. Of course, then, I have found myself being oblivious to films I should have known hence, I watch more or less, many of the films people suggest I should “definitely” watch.

Goddess of Love is a pseudo neo-noir that I should not definitely watch. Playing around with words, I could have said that it’s a film that I should definitely not watch. But I’m not gonna put it that way. I just found it awkward, meaningless, and boring. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone from the cast or crew so, I can’t comment on their past work. What I do know though for sure is that if I had a girlfriend like Alexis Kendra, I wouldn’t cheat on her (even with Elizabeth Sandy).

In all fairness, I have never cheated and if haven’t done it so far, I will most definitely not do it in the future. The film touches on infidelity, abandonment, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and eroticism but doesn’t explore any of it, approaching seriously epidemically the human relationships, making every character unlikable, unrelatable, indifferent, pitiful, and I’ll dare to say hateable. Even Venus – not the cat, luv…

I know, there is a twist. But by that point, for the viewer, it is a bit too late. Just to finish on a positive note, Kendra and Sandy are playing their parts quite well.

Under the Silver Lake (2018): Crime / Drama / Mystery

An unemployed, soon-to-be-evicted, for some reason bad-smelling, disheveled young man is looking for a disappeared woman who only met once, only to start getting obsessed with a Los Angeles conspiracy.

David Robert Mitchell… probably most known for It Follows (2014), comes back, still paying tribute to John Carpenter, but also Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma with a neo-noir mystery/crime about a lifestyle, only known to the City of Angels. If Body Double (1984) and They Live (1988) are films you haven’t watched yet, you must do so either before or after this. Under the Silver Lake is one of them films that can be interpreted in multiple ways. “Attacking” pop culture, being pedantic to the millennials, “accusing” the old guard for manipulating the youth, diminishing star system’s mentality, criticizing Hollywood’s lifestyle, touching on mental illness… all these, and more, are possible interpretations that one can give to Mitchell’s work.

Pay attention to the recurring themes, the coincidences, the resemblances with past popular films – especially Hitchcock’s, the REM song Sam dances to, the way the girl drowns (no spoilers)… Mitchell is an asset to the independent American cinema who implements techniques from studio level films to indies that are doomed to make any money whatsoever but add quality to the American cinema and give actors the opportunity to unfold their talents by fully expressing themselves and be seen to the audience in way that, more often than not, Hollywood deprives from them. Of course, critics were divided and, of course, Hollywood’s system rejected it. Leaning on Hitchcock’s tombstone and having drinks on Grace Kelly’s grave is an allusion to an, arguably, inequitable system that really respects no one and nothing.

I’ve never been to L.A. so, I’m not sure if that lifestyle is somewhat representative of how certain people live by. But not having a job, spending money you don’t have, not caring if you’re gonna be evicted, pay for hookers with the above mentioned money you don’t have, and all that in an astronomically expensive city where, somehow, everything and everyone is related to the movie industry, where they can go to parties that happen every night – uninvited, seems like a world within a world that only the people living there, and somehow can afford it (or not), understand it. Did I mention, disregarding at the same time killers been after you? But then, I guess, that very same lifestyle might also be the root of this superfluous paranoia…

Stay safe!