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!

Castle Freak (1995): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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After inheriting a castle in Italy, a man moves there with his family to start anew, only to face unimaginable horrors created by an eerie and sinister presence.

Fancy watching a loosely-based-on-a-Lovecraft’s-short-story-B-movie? And by B-movie, I mean following-all-the-80s-conventions-kitschy-as-hell! Damn, that film took me back years… Castle Freak is exactly what you would and should expect from the poster above. Yes, it is that enjoyable and it’ll take you down the memory lane or will introduce you to the 80s and early 90s horror era where plotholes do not matter and mean nothing. Third collaboration between writer/director Stuart Gordon, and actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton after Re-aninator (1985), proving how well they perform together in front and behind the camera – all three based on Lovecraft’s stories. Crampton is a veteran in Lovecraftian adaptations and, consequently, one of my favourite actresses.

It is definitely not the best adaptation – I’ve elaborated extensively on that issue – but you may as well just watch it as a standalone. It will definitely take your mind off things and… horrifically entertain you.

Stay safe!

Dagon (2001): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

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After their boat sinks, a young couple finds refuge in a decadent Spanish fishing town, with half-human dwellers, and an ancient deity waiting to rise once more.

It’s been months that I wanted to write about Dagon. I first watched it in VHS in 2001 and I was left in awe. Throughout the years I forgot a lot about it though and moved on. Part of the reason is that I wasn’t the avid admirer of H.P. Lovecraft that I am now. Another part of the reason is that I didn’t “read” films the way I do now. In March, the beloved writer, producer, and director Stuart Gordon sadly passed away. Gordon was a loyal Lovecraft fan who honoured him with films such as this one, Reanimator (1985), and Castle Freak (1995) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/04/19/castle-freak-1995-drama-horror-mystery/.

Ezra Godden and Raquel Meroño make a brilliant on-screen couple and I for one, I can’t hide my admiration for Raquel. Also, the last film of Francisco Rabal. The location is eerie, the story is thrilling, and the plot is horrifying. Good, old-fashioned storytelling that makes Dagon a smashing adaptation of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. There is only one downside: The visual effects. Unfortunately, there are sequences that VFX will put you off, especially if you watch it for the first time now. My advice is to just turn the blind eye. It’s been almost 20 years and it is a low budget film. Let this one slide and get a small taste of Lovecraft’s petrifying mixture of “dream and reality”. I believe I have watched every H.P. Lovecraft adaptation to date. Beside Dagon, my top 3 are:

  1. In the Mouth of Madness (1994): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/
  2. Color out of Space (2019): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/02/07/color-out-of-space-2019-horror-sci-fi/
  3. The Lighthouse (2019): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/03/03/the-lighthouse-2019-drama-fantasy-horror (veeeeery loosely / inspired by)

About Elly (2009): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

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A group’s picnic takes a turn for the worse when a kid almost drowns and a woman mysteriously disappears.

Have you ever wondered what makes a film a good film? How about a brilliant film? Anyway, About Elly‘s brilliance lies in the simplicity of the story and the unfolding’s convolution. The common denominator for both is human nature and our unique ability to perplex our lives so we can give them meaning. There is an underlying beauty behind things we don’t fully understand, such as the intentions behind one’s utterances and actions and About Elly explores such notion to its core. What it also explores is the subjective perception of happiness and the false assumption that everyone finds it or experiences it the same way; something seemingly insignificant that can have incalculable consequences. The perfect storm is created when… the truth behind the intentions and happiness is revealed. And that’s what I’m gonna leave you with, story-wise.

Writer/director Asghar Farhadi has been phenomenal since the beginning of his career and I’ll follow up with more of his achievements. This is the first Iranian film to be submitted for an Oskar, and even though it didn’t make it, Farhadi’s next film did and won – A Separation (2011). This is Golshifteh Farahani’s last film before she got banned from Iran [for leaving her country and working with Riddley Scott in Body of Lies (2008)]. It is not my place to judge the policies behind the country’s decisions but she’s a heroine in my eyes and I hope one day I get to meet her. Until then, I take my hat off to all cast and crew who brought to the world cinema this masterpiece.

They say that truth is liberating, that it can set you free. Well, among others, it depends on how you find out or when you speak it.

Stay safe!

The Rhythm Section (2020): Action / Drama / Mystery

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After losing her family in a terrorist attack, a young woman goes to extreme lengths to find and confront the people behind it.

I was really looking forward to this one but when it was released all hell broke loose. I will assume that that was the case for thousands of people and, mainly, that that was the reason for “one of the worst box office openings in history” – Bad Boys for Life (2020) though was released a fortnight prior to it and triumphed.

So, as that cannot be the only reason, I’m trying to get the full picture here. The story itself is not original but there is no such thing anyway so, my guess is that there are two problems. One, lies with the low level of espionage and the information surrounding it. People are found just… easily. Secondly, Stephanie was taken in… easily. “B” thought she caused big trouble with her actions, he didn’t believe in her skills, yet, he started training her straight away. That didn’t really make much sense.

Having said that, the film is well shot. The photography is dark, the editing advances the story and drives it forward, Reed Morano’s directing is challenging, to the point where I would say exceptional, and Blake Lively proves to be the up and coming mercenary / assassin. The car chase is the film’s trademark and will get you on the edge of your seat. Also, the realistic fight sequences add extra believability to the heroine’s journey.

The film’s challenges are understandable but with James Bond‘s producers behind it, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to get made. Again, my humble, unsolicited opinion is that the problem was the script. More time should have been spent on her acceptance, her training, and the difficulty to acquire the targets. Morano and Lively put a tremendous effort and that needs to be recognised.

Stay safe!

The Outsider (2020): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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When solid, undisputed evidence points at a man committing a despicable crime, family, friends, and law enforcement try to determine how he could have done it… when he wasn’t there.

One of the best Stephen King adaptations with the HBO guarantee! Ben Mendelsohn and Jason Bateman work brilliantly both in front and behind the camera and with them, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb, Mary Winningham, Paddy Considine, Yul Vazquez, Julianne Nicholson, Marc Menchaca, and Cynthia Erivo fight against an… asymmetric threat! A threat that only HBO would build up so much and so meticulously that you have no other option but to actually believe in it eventually as much as the series’ biggest “Doubting Thomas”.

The acting is gripping and the episodes’ cliffhangers, phenomenal. The screen will suck you in while trying to establish what would you do, how could you explain it, and the ways in which you would have acted. The formation of the aforementioned unlikely alliance will take you to a journey where you’ll be constantly craving for more as the deeper they dig, the darker and eerier the rabbit hole turns.

Even though it can’t get scarier than watching the news, turn the lights off, forget our soul-sucking reality, and enjoy the horror that is meant to entertain you rather than harm you.

Stay safe!

The Tale (2019): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

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When stories from her childhood years resurface, a woman starts questioning her memories of the summers she spent with her riding instructor and her running coach.

Feature debut from writer/director Jennifer Fox who… dares! She, non-linearly, unfolds her most sensitive part of her life and puts it out there for you and me to witness it. The Tale is a daring yet terrifying case study on memory and how and why it works the way it does. And even though you will not get a straight answer, it addresses age, its relation to the interpretation of time and space, and how everything affects, clouds, and intricately shapes the way we remember things. There have been amazing research topics out there on memory and existence and memory and personality if you want to retrospectively examine your life experiences or test how well you remember situations you claim you do.

Back to the film, Fox’s documentarian expertise shows straight away behind the camera and Laura Dern’s raw talent shines in front of it. Next to her, Common, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn and the fantastic Jessica Sarah Flaum create amazing chemistry amongst them. My only dissatisfaction was the somewhat anticlimactic ending, and I know it’s based on Fox’s actual experiences but it’s not a biography so, it could perpetuate the already existing dramatisation to the confrontation part. But that’s just me.

HBO and all cast and crew deserve a huge round of applause. I usually go with “I hope you enjoy it” but, in this instance, I hope you understand it, look back at your own life experiences and wonder from what it is that has driven you to become the person you are today to how many times you have caught yourselves lying to yourselves.

Next time someone asks you: “You know who I am?!”, ask them: “Who are you?”

Stay safe!

Bacurau (2019): Action / Adventure / Mystery

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A pair of bikers show up in a remote Brazilian village, foreshadowing the massacre that isn’t far behind them.

What a concept! And its development is something else! Forget about the classic Hollywood narrative and character development. The built-up and the escalation have a Brazilian signature, one you haven’t seen before. The everyday people, the everyday problems, the everyday average corrupted politician… it’s all there. A brilliant antithesis to modern Hollywood films such as John Woo’s Hard Target (1993) or indie American ones such as Happy Hunting (2017).

Editing-wise, the extensive uses of swipes, dissolves, and flashbacks lead to a non-linear action and a pace that is messing with your mind; not knowing when it’s going to escalate or how it’s going to escalate. Add to that the “who is who” and what everyone is hiding and you get a mixture of Tarantino, DePalma, Carpenter, and Leone wrapped with Brazilian magic in two unforgettable hours! In a classic Hollywood narrative, every incoherence, inconsistency, and discontinuity stands out like a fart in a library. For some reason, watching a film like Bacurau, you pray for more of them.

Stay safe!

 

Jordan, cheers for this suggestion mate! Hope to see you again before you start traveling!

Vivarium (2019): Horror / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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Trying to find their ideal home, a young couple is lured and trapped in a suburban neighbourhood where every house and street is identical and seemingly no way out.

Entirely allegorical, Vivarium joins the club of independent mind-bending films such as Triangle (2009) and Coherence (2013). Does it hit the mark though? It starts by trying to but halfway there it seems that it abandons the idea itself. Based on the short film Foxes (2012), also written and directed by Garrett Shanley and Lorcan Finnegan respectively, its feature adaptation gives the impression of “surrendering”, flattens out until the end of the second act, then it picks up until the end… but the viewer is already “gone” by then. Third collaboration between Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg, showcasing once more the undeniable on-screen chemistry between them.

Personally, I did like it and it did kill some time but when it comes to “Sisyphusean” films, killing some time is just not enough. The end of the second act is worth watching so the toughest part is to try and keep track until then. Maybe not the best film during the quarantine days but if, like me, you are a fan of one-location allegorical thrillers, don’t have any high hopes and give it a shot. You might find yourselves relating to the protagonists more than you expect.

Stay safe!