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.

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!

The Initiation (1984): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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A college student who suffers from a recurring nightmare and her sorority sisters decide to break into a mall one night while a serial killer is out for blood.

One of the best mediocre 80s, slasher, nonsensical, American horrors made back then. Brilliant for American millennials to get educated on how their parents acted – and what they were wearing – during their college/Uni years. Well, up until blood starts splattering everywhere.

The acting is almost as funny as the haircuts; almost. The storyline is the perfect motive to stick popcorn in the microwave and put your feet up, the music and sound effects will make you laugh out loud, choking on that popcorn, and the editing will finish you off.

Have a friend around or a couple of good ones. Share your problems, concerns, and thoughts, and when you’re done, hit play, forget our horrible reality, and enjoy just over an hour and a half of unintentional fun. I know I did.

Stay safe!

Happy Death Day 2U (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

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Once she thought that she had fulfilled her purpose and closed the loop, Tree finds herself waking up once more on her birthday… but nothing is the same. 

Here’s an analogy for you. The first one was kinda scary and kinda funny. Now, this one is not scary and very funny. So, what do you think? Does that make it a better sequel? There is also an upgrade: The mixture of Groundhog Day (1993) and Back to the Future (1985). The good news is that there is no bad news. What you think you sign up for, it is exactly that. There is some suspense, the science is laughable but no one is trying to convince you otherwise, the editing adds to the film’s quality and creates the desired emotions, and everyone is playing their part as they should be. Speaking of, there is one surprise; a happy one…

Jessica Rothe! The film’s source of hilarity is also the cause of the heart-warming drama that will cut your breath short even for those tiny given moments. Director Christopher Landon does an excellent job directing the mother/daughter sequences so, congratulations are also in order for the actress Missy Yager.

Very enjoyable! It will definitely make you forget our miserable reality even for that hour and a half. 

Stay safe!

Knowing (2009): Action / Drama / Mystery

Knowing

A fifty-year-old list of numbers prophesying every major catastrophe that took place ever since will make a professor of astrophysics, and a single parent, to race against time to prevent the ones that are yet to happen.

Is pessimistic optimism a term? Does it make sense? It doesn’t, does it? Be it as it may, that’s the oxymoronic feeling you get out of Knowing. But first things first…

“Randomness vs Determinism”, from a philosophical and/or scientific point of view, will become the setup’s foundation, and your mind’s internal debate while watching the confrontation unfolding. One of my favourite Nicolas Cage movie from the noughties where, back then, I couldn’t find many flaws. Watching it now for a second time, eleven years later, I spotted certain plot holes and gimmicks but I didn’t let them get in the way. Yet, it answers all the questions it raises halfway there (not even in the end), and that feels a bit spoonfed for my taste. Regardless, Cage is the right man for the job, Rose Byrne delivers a great performance, the kids are surprisingly convincing, and Ben Mendelsohn, be it in a leading or supporting role, always nails it. Once again, it’s a shame that the film answers everything for you.

The man in the director’s chair is Alex Proyas, a director whose niche is dark fantasy/sci-fi. My personal bests are: The Crow (1994), Dark City (1998), and I, Robot (2004). Unfortunately, he has not been involved in many projects and some of them, I believe, were beneath him. I look forward to watching something of his ’90s style soon.

(Not)Fun fact: The film predicted the BP’s oil spill in the Mexican gulf the year after.

Stay safe!

The Vast of Night (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

The Vast of Night

New Mexico, 1948: A switchboard operator detects a frequency like anything she has ever heard before, a radio producer broadcasts it, and myth, reality, and paranoia start blending into one.

Act I: The phenomenal antithesis between fast-talking actors and protracted shots. To be more specific, we are talking about up to 10-minute dolly and steady-cam shots. Great set-up and character introduction along with made-up experiments that get you into the low budget sci-fi mood and make you chuckle with their “accuracy”.

Act II: Past the slow-burn intro, the clash between reality and storytelling of loneliness becomes as vague as the editing techniques pacing it. It takes yet another heroine of life to wind the pace down and get you comfy with another story from the “fortress of solitude”, the plot point that leads to…

Act III: A resolution with no twist, yet a worthy ending. An ending that the two previous acts promised and did not mislead you about.

Meet Andrew Patterson! The writer/editor/producer/director behind The Vast of Night. The filmmaker who is known for… The Vast of Night. I had never heard the guy before. Well, guess what? IMDb hadn’t either. So, here’s the question: Who cares?! The man made this film almost on his own (using three different names). An honest tribute to The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The War of the Worlds (1953), and The Twilight Zone (1959) with suspenseful sequences accompanied by, among others, Cretan (Greek) music!

You watch the film, then you look at his picture and you can’t help but wonder: “Doesn’t he look like one of them alien conspiracy bloggers/vloggers”? Again, who cares?! Patterson is a talent! He got turned down by, I don’t know, 15 major film festivals? Few of them accepted him though and shared his vision. And I’m glad Amazon Studios did as well. I take my hat off to him. He’s a living, breathing, walking proof that all of us need to stick to our dream and keep it real. Andrew, cheers for that geezer!!! Much appreciated!

An extra, special bravo goes to Sierra Mccormick and Jake Horowitz for being true thespians and delivering Patterson’s dream.

Stay safe!

The Unknown Woman (2006): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

The Unknown Woman

A woman’s promiscuous past becomes a constant reminder in the present and a motive for every obscure step she takes.

Giuseppe Tornatore proves time and time again over the decades that his diversity knows no limits. I remember watching Cinema Paradiso (1988) in the theatres as a kid and even though there was a lot I missed back then (I caught up the second and third time I watched in the years that followed), I believe it solidified the foundation of my love about cinema. The Unknown Woman, one of the three films he made in the noughties – with Malena (2000) and Baarìa (2009) being the other two – is a suspenseful, dramatic, physically but also thought-provoking mystery/thriller about the search of hope. About a woman driven by her past sufferings, in the hopes that life will smile at her for once. Tornatore though doesn’t believe that the past should be left in the past. He believes it will always be part of us no matter how hard we try to run away from it.

Kseniya Rappoport and Clara Dossena steal the show on screen. Ennio Morricone (over the last 60 years!) fills the atmosphere with doubt with his tachycardic music, amplifying and constantly prolonging the suspense until the film’s denouement. But here’s the thing:

“It’s not a film until it’s edited” – Michael Kahn

Massimo Quaglia, Tornatore’s loyal editor, is the one who “stitches” the film together with artistry. The flashback’s metric montage invisibly permeates the present with extremely meticulous match cuts. Outstanding chemistry!

Most of the time, we think we’ve had it bad in life. Guess what? While sometimes life gives us the shortest straw, to others she gives nothing but pain. Why? Because she can. The pandemic but also the unfathomable, bottomless human buffoonery have proved, once more, that life is not to be taken for granted. Make the most of it and…

Stay safe!

Forgotten (2017): Mystery / Thriller

Forgotten

Things take an unexpected turn for a family after a young man sees his older brother getting abducted and comes back days later with no memory of what happened, acting like a different person.

Narrative like only the Koreans know how to develop. Dramaturgy that knows no boundaries and is unconditionally unleashed to shock you to your core. Huge comeback from writer/director Hang-jun Jang who seems like not taking particular interest in the film industry. Regardless of the reasons, and even though it flew a bit under the radar, Forgotten is the type of film that will get your undivided attention. You cannot miss a thing otherwise you’ll have even more questions. Very intricate with numerous twists and turns, Forgotten does not hold any punches. It might not be Oldboy (2003) but it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

The South Korean film industry (Hallyuwood, informally) is a dominant player in the market. Partially, yes, because the government is heavily investing in it but also due to the produced films’ impact globally. Money might open a plethora of doors but it is the sheer talent that walks such filmmakers through them, stirring the focus once more towards the beautiful artistic side of the industry and taking it away from the ugly scandalous one that we have all had enough with.

P.S. I didn’t know it was a Netflix film until I accidentally stumbled upon the information on IMDb – no logos in the opening or closing credits.

P.P.S. That’s for you cuz! Thanks for the recommendation!

P.P.S. Jiyoung, if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. If you have, why didn’t you tell me about it??? 🙂

Stay safe!

The Hidden Face (2011): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

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Strange occurrences start happening when an orchestra conductor decides to move on with his life after his girlfriend ostensibly split up with him and suddenly disappeared.

Before I start saying anything, I want you to know that I was skeptical for the first half an hour. A skepticism that faded away past the first act.

It’s been years since I wanted to watch it and I’m glad I finally got the time. I’ll start with the acting which is shockingly convincing. Excellent job by all actors and actresses who convey the drama, the thrill and the horror portrayed, especially Clara Lago. Director Andrés Baiz handles the story cautiously through very restricted narrative so he doesn’t reveal the inciting incident until the time is right. And when he does, he makes sure that, through the editing, all information is very tightly revealed for what is about to happen. Of course, the round of applause starts with Hatem Khraiche’s suspenseful story.

If you are wondering why I was skeptical in the beginning of the film, I will only say that if past events are integral to the story and will be revealed to us anyway, we are accustomed to flashbacks opposed to getting the whole story at once and distract us from the main plot. Only later on it made sense from the editing’s point of view. It might sound incoherent as a sentence now but please watch it – without knowing anything – and think about it.

Stay safe!

Angel of Mine (2019): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

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Years after losing her daughter in a fire, a woman’s mental state takes a turn for the worse when she starts thinking that she is still alive.
Have you ever started watching a film not knowing anything about it other than something, down the line, somewhere is going to really go sideways and you just don’t know what that is?

Well, Angel of Mine happens to be one of them. A constant agony of what Lizzie (Noomi Rapace) is gonna totally screw up to the highest degree. The success of the film relies on that and it does indeed achieve it. Part of the reason is because kids are involved and part of it is because adults like her are involved.

As the slow-burn escalates, while nothing really substantial happens, you won’t stop wondering how far is she gonna take it?! And then it’s the ending… but I’m gonna leave that up to you. My only comment is that Fatal Attraction (1987) was that successful because of that kind of escalation; that climax. Anyhow, congratulations to both Noomi Rapace and Yvonne Strahovski for their remarkable performances.

Over the years I have convinced myself that a film should not have a single mood from the beginning till the end. Angel of Mine is unsettling and dead creepy throughout. And even though that’s not a plus, the abyss of the human mind, the vastness of its capabilities, the infinite goodness, but also its unfathomable limits to cause pain in any shape or form can be terrifying.

Stay safe!