Netflix Review: “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” (2020)

Disappearance at Clifton Hill follows a troubled young woman whose return to her hometown at Niagara Falls triggers a disturbing memory from her childhood. Did her seven year old self really witness a child’s kidnapping all those years ago, or is it all just a confused memory, or a fantasy?

Tuppence Middleton gives a convincing performance of unbalanced, charismatic, driven loner Abby. I was captivated, totally believing that she is capable of all the deviousness she gets up to. The other cast members are also good, the film-stealing turn coming from director-turned-actor David Cronenberg (yes, the same). Unfortunately, the important role of the Moulins (Paulino Nunes and Marie-Josée Croze) seemed like a side of overdone eggs with extra ham. The sound design was unsettling and was key to the eerie, almost surreal and dream-like atmosphere of the film.

The film was a little bit tricky to follow, especially at the beginning, and the ending felt like it needed a more distinct underlining. But that was befitting a picture which left such a powerful impression but at times failed to make a sharp impact. None-the-less, I was along for the ride.

A wonderful portrait of a lonely woman in a town of lonely souls, Disappearance at Clifton Hill sometimes lacked edge and at times veered off into crime series territory (in terms of acting, story, soundtrack), but it was an enjoyable and engrossing ride — albeit too slow-going for some viewers.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Obsessed” (2009) #NetflixReview

Things couldn’t be better for Derek (Idris Elba). He’s got a beautiful, adoring wife Sharon (Beyoncé), a healthy, happy toddler, and has just received a massive promotion which has sent him stratospheric. However, his world comes under threat when femme fatale temp Lisa (Ali Larter) goes a-hunting in her new office and decides to put Derek between the crosshairs.

Obsessed is a very standard psycho-stalker thriller. It draws obvious comparisons with Fatal Attraction (1987). But where Fatal Attraction would still have been daring and bold in 2009, Obsessed would have been staid and trite for 1987. Obsessed was not only paint-by-number, it was rather restrained: Derek never allows temptation to spiral his life out of control. But that itself could have been an interesting angle. Elba, Beyoncé, and Larter all give convincing, characterful performances. Sadly for Larter, the script makes no attempt whatsoever to explain Lisa’s obsession nor her crazy behaviour. Not a hint. Nothing. She’s clearly attracted to him, he is friendly but doesn’t lead her on, she randomly tries to bang him in the toilet. And she doesn’t let up. The lack of any kind of motivation is bizarre. Did Derek lead her on? No. Was she bullied by Sharon at school and now wants to ruin her life? No. Does she have a crushing Faberge Egg habit to support that only a senior manager’s salary could enable? No.

Larter and co make the best of finding a throughline. And I must say that the final show-down was genuinely exciting and enjoyable. Sadly, the script is the big problem with this film, and that is a big problem with a film, indeed.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Awake” (2019) #NetflixReviews #150WordReview #AwakeMovie #Awake2019

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A man wakes up in a hospital bed, bandaged from head to toe, and with no memory or who he is. But when our nameless protagonist (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) learns that he is a wanted serial killer, something just doesn’t sit right, and he won’t stop until he finds out who he really is and what happened to him.

Awake is a tense, fast-paced crime mystery with twists. Rookie writer Elana Zeltser makes a solid if not ground-breaking screenplay debut. The script, whilst not as clever as Memento (1999) or as taut as Taken (2008), is well-written with believable plotting and dialogue. Our leads, Meyers and Francesca Eastwood, also really sell the film, although the acting from Malik Yoba (detective Frank Ward) had a tendency to veer off into TV movie territory.

Please ignore the 5.0 IMDb and 14% Rotten Tomatoes scores. This film is much better than that. Riveting, fast-paced, not overly obvious albeit not earth-shakingly original, this is a lovely little movie to spend 92 minutes with.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “A Stranger Outside” a.k.a. “Babysitter’s Nightmare” (2018) #NetflixReviews @britt_underwood @JakeHelgren @MarkGrossman @JetJurgensmeyer @ShanicaKnowles

A baby-sitter finds herself trapped in a house playing cat and mouse with a masked serial killer. Sound familiar? A Stranger Outside is standard ’90s Scream-style shlock, albeit without the self-awareness. But it wins points for some interesting plot ideas. For example, the baby-sitter is really a nurse who has taken the gig as a way of getting some easy cash after suffering a career and confidence crisis due to the death of a vulnerable child in her care.

The first half of the movie was trite, and the acting was a little over-the-top, although our lead Brittany Underwood was giving a decent turn. The less said of the performances by her co-stars Mark Grossman (boyfriend Jeremy),  Michael Chandler (incompetent Dr Mixer), Jet Jurgensmeyer (baby-sittee Toby), or best friend Kaci (Shanica “No Relation” Knowles), the better. Things really fall apart in comedy style when the killer starts a-killing. The Scary Movie-like knife thrusts, slicing through pieces of paper, cowering beside counters, and hysterical screaming were beyond absurd; imagine a Scary Movie where the wonderful Anna Faris and Regina Hall actually thought they were giving solid dramatic turns.

This film is also oddly disjointed. The first half, a 90s throwback cliché, albeit mildly entertaining. The second half, a spoof movie not realising it’s a spoof movie. Indescribably awful, but in its awfulness, thoroughly enjoyable nonsense. A jumble of decent scenes and terrible scenes, passable acting and insanely awful acting, make for a diverting 90 minutes.

So bad it’s almost good. But not quite.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Film Review: Honeymoon (2014) #NetflixReview #Honeymoon @HarryTreadaway_ @RLeslieSource

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read the 150 word review here

I am a huge and borderline obsessive Game of Thrones fan. I mean, I don’t dress up and go to the conventions. And my bookshelf doesn’t boast a crumbling copy of David J. Peterson’s book Living Language Dothraki. But it certainly can’t be healthy for a 35 year old man to be repeatedly kept awake at night by an almost endless stream of fantasies where he inhabits the Game of Thrones universe as a key protagonist. How would I react if my dragons—-Wake up, Bryan, you pathetic manchild, and smell the early onset midlife crisis!

Given that context, it is very surprising to me that I somehow missed 2014’s Honeymoon starring as it does GOT‘s very own Ygritte, a.k.a., the ridiculously lovely Rose Leslie.

Leslie and co-star Harry Treadaway play head-over-heels-in-love newlyweds, Bea and Paul, who just can’t keep their hands off each other. We join them as they start their honeymoon in Paul’s family cabin in the woods. Our leads give believable albeit slightly off-centre performances, but their quirkiness brilliantly foreshadows the disturbing story to come. Paul wakes up to find Bea sleepwalking alone in the woods. Things start to fall apart quickly for the young couple as it becomes clear that something very bad happened that night.

But what happened in the woods that night? And what is happening to them now? The film never fully spells the answers out. There are many possible interpretations. Mine is extraterrestrial rape. And I think when read as an alien abduction film, Honeymoon surely ranks as the most terrifying examples of the genre that I have ever seen. Indeed, if alien abductions really do happen, this film paints a deeply convincing picture of the literally alien / otherly horror of that experience. Although I repeat: the interpretation of what happened is very open.

However, don’t get bogged down in the specifics of what actually happened to Bea. The events, alien rape or otherwise, are merely an incidental device to explore what can happen to a healthy and seemingly rock solid relationship when one partner is violated in some way. The actual violation could be viewed as unwanted pregnancy or perhaps the loss of one’s self to an illness such as Alzheimer’s. But I think this film pretty clearly had rape in mind. None-the-less, I don’t wish to suggest that this film was meant as an allegory of rape or some other specific traumatic violation. But merely that it examines a relationship after having undergone a (any) traumatic violation.

A brilliant and deeply unsettling film that gave me repeated goosebumps and made me shiver endlessly.

© 2017-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “The Occupant” a.k.a. “Hogar” (2020)

In the 1990s, Javier Muñoz (Javier Gutiérrez) was a world-eating advertising executive. But twenty years later, he is washed up, yesterday’s man, and a joke to all in the profession. With mounting debts and no prospects, and in spite of the pleas of his suffering wife (Ruth DÍaz), Javier desperately clings to the scraps of his former enchanted life: the dream apartment, the car. But you can only run for so long. For most people, facing the music is a wake-up call to adjust their lifestyle and their expectations; for Javier, it’s a call which wakes up something far more sinister, an obsession which will not die.

The film is beautifully acted throughout, and our leads are deeply convincing. Not only Gutiérrez and his on-screen wife played by Ruth DÍaz, but also the supposed dream couple Tomás (Mario Casas) and Lara (Bruna Cusí). Javier’s journey is front and centre, dramatic, and thoroughly believable. He manages to remain somewhat sympathetic, despite clearly sociopathic tendencies. It’s a testament to both the writing and the acting, not just of Gutiérrez but of his co-stars, that we retain a kind of complicit, twisted, semi-loyalty to Javier, and believe his character arc completely. The other characters’ journeys are no less important, and are equally convincing.

Where once he sold manufactured dreams to the masses, he now craves that dream himself, a truth beautifully referenced through the first and last scenes of the film. The film had a poetic elegance. It was hard-hitting without moralising, and unambiguous as to where right and wrong lie whilst still drawing us in to sympathise with the wrong.

A really wonderful movie, albeit with a somewhat sour ending which may not sit well with a Spielbergian audience. Not sure about the title “The Occupant”; the Spanish title Hogar “Home” fits much better.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “My Teacher, My Obsession” (2018)

Riley (Laura Bilgeri) moves with her father Chris (Rusty Joiner) to a new town for a fresh start. Struggling to make friends, she eventually joins forces with fellow loner Kyla (Lucy Loken). Things are going well as Riley’s personal life begins to blossom, until it becomes apparent that Kyla is obsessed with her father and will stop at nothing to have him.

My Teacher, My Obsession is a fairly standard obsessive stalker-seducer movie which brings little new to the game. Having said that, the plot is generally well constructed and the characterisation is relatively believable. However, Chris’ vulnerability and struggles to resist seduction by Kyla should have been set-up more convincingly. Also, Kyla’s mother’s naivety regarding her daughter’s true nature doesn’t quite ring true.

Rusty Joiner has a porn star’s name and a porn star’s body, and on this he was surely given the role. He isn’t a bad actor, but he was miscast. He was particularly unconvincing as a teacher and father, although he does grow into the role of tormented potential seducee later on in the film. The wardrobe department also flunked the exam; I found myself constantly distracted by the bizarrely ill-fitting clothing that Joiner was dressed in.

Laura Bilgeri and Jana Lee Hamblin (Kyla’s mother) were convincing, trying their best to find the throughline in this script which sometimes sagged.

All in all, this is an entertaining TV movie, bubble gum for the brain. Generally competent, if trite, though woefully miscast in the case of Joiner.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Calibre” (2018)

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Two thirty-ish childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up after a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.

There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.

The countryside, almost a character itself, oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting. Indeed, the cinematography is beautiful and effective throughout, never drawing attention to itself but is quite magnificent. I particularly enjoyed one shot of Vaughn’s dinner. The sound design is understated but truly powerful and sells the film magnificently. 

The writing is tight and fat-free but never feels shoehorned or with an inevitable end-point. The film is marked by highly convincing motives and actions and reactions from all of our characters throughout. This is sold by some truly phenomenal acting, including from supporting characters.

Vaughn, a shy but nice bloke; Marcus, his larger-than-life but slightly unbalanced friend. We get the impression that Vaughn had emotionally distant parents and was a bully victim; Marcus seems to have the self-confidence and slightly self-destructive side afforded by a more privileged upbringing. But almost all of this was subtly and carefully implied rather than being explicitly stated. It felt like our two leads had a lot of backstory to work with and were therefore able to deliver a very convincing throughline. The film’s first act sees them having a highly believable lad’s bonding session. If you’re a man, this kind of sesh will definitely be familiar, true man-on-man bromantic bonding.

The finale was satisfying and totally appropriate with a final shot which made us feel complicit.

Calibre reminded me of the excellent Eden Lake: a tranquil countryside retreat, an incident in a forest, local townsfolk who seems a little on edge and present a constant threat. But in recalling Eden Lake, a truly gritty and realistic movie, Calibre made me realise how theatrical Eden Lake was by comparison. I was fully gripped and absorbed, whereas Eden Lake now seems a little bit “horror movie”, emphasis on “movie”.

This was writer-director Matt Palmer’s first solo feature length film after several horror short films. So the title “debutant” seems a little inappropriate. None-the-less, this is a debut solo feature, and it a remarkable accomplishment.

This film was tense and boding from the outset. It’s hard to think of how this could have been improved. Everything was magnificent. I am sorely tempted to give this a five star rating, but I only give five star reviews to films that I immediately think, “Wow, this will go down as one of the greatest movies in history”. Calibre was too simple a story and too simply told to ever be classed as one of cinema’s greatest works. But even though Calibre may not have changed the cinematic game, it is, none-the-less, a phenomenal movie which I cannot recommend highly enough.

4/5

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Netflix Film Review: “Eli” (2019) #150WordReview

Eli (Charlie Shotwell) is a boy with a rare life-threatening autoimmune disease which effectively renders him “allergic to the world”, as one character puts it. His parents (played by Kelly Reilly and Max Martini) take him to a remote medical facility where renowned specialist Dr Horn (Lili Taylor) promises to save him. However, all isn’t as it appears, and Eli might not be in the safest place for him, after all.

This are-the-doctors-bad-or-is-it-all-in-the-boy’s-head thing worked very well for the first two thirds of the film. Sadly, the script not so much careens off the tracks in the final act, as it blasts into outer space with the most unlikely and film-destroying plot twist ever. A far less obvious twist, or no twist at all, would have rendered this film better.

Good acting, a tense film up until the last third, I can think of several endings that, whilst less twisty, would have been more in keeping with the tone of the film and done justice to it.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Time Trap” (2017) #NetflixFilmReview

A group of adolescent friends go on a jaunt to a hidden cave in the woods in order to find their missing teacher. It’s an accident waiting to happen, something the characters themselves point out several times. And yes, they inevitably do end up getting lost in the cave network themselves. But this Goonies gone awry quickly becomes The Descent-with-teens; what they find down in the dark is beyond any of their imaginations and will change their lives forever in ways they couldn’t conceive.

Time Trap is basically a B-movie which was shot on a limited budget of $1,000,000, a paltry amount — especially for a Sci-Fi flick. Yes, this is a sci-fi movie. However, the special effects weren’t bad at all, and the make-up was impressive, too. The acting wasn’t amazing. But despite being a bit teen movie, it worked.

The film felt like an over-extended episode, perhaps the pilot, of a 1990s Sci-Fi show. Which is both good and bad. Action, drama, thrills, but a total reset by the end of the episode. Which was a bit of a let-down.

Despite a lack of budget and a ’90s TV vibe, it was an absolute mind-bending pleasure. It dealt with huge themes, which totally shocked me. As pretentious as it sounds, I was reminded of Olaf Stapledon’s magisterial 1930 novel Last and First Men, an aeons-spanning epic like no other which inspired many, including the great Arthur C. Clarke. That really does sum up the themes hit upon in this movie. Awesome stuff. However, the film starts out with no hint of such a direction. It begins as a kind of teen adventure movie in the mould of the Goonies (which was meta-ly referenced by the characters themselves), but transforms into a truly terrifying science fiction horror. This tonal shift worked quite well; much better, in fact, than the campy tonal shift back to adventure comedy at the very end. This ending, a happy ending of sorts, felt like it thoroughly undermined the true mind-melting horror of what happened in the caves. Hence the “90s Sci-Fi show” vibe.

B movie, yes, but a true delight.

3/5

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