A troubled couple, Ray and Joanne (Sam Worthington, Lily Rabe), stop at a petrol station where their daughter’s arm gets Fractured in a fall. They rush to the nearest hospital, but something is terribly amiss. Pushy staff keep mentioning organ donation. And when daughter Peri (Lucy Capri) and Joanne disappear during an MRI, the hospital deny they checked in — or even exist at all. Ray must fight to save his family and prove his sanity.
A kind of horror Flightplan, we are kept guessing until the end: abducted family, or imagined family?
Unsettling, thrilling, but slightly shlocky. A good romp.
Six strangers from very different backgrounds have been invited to take part in an escape room together. Escape rooms are a chance for people to come together, build social skills, be creative, and have fun — win or lose. But it soon becomes apparent that when it comes to this particular escape room, losing is not an option.
A strong concept piece featuring a motley assortment of characters, Escape Room felt like a horror movie in the model of a classic Twilight Zone episode, an exciting mystery . It had shades of movies I’ve enjoyed so much, such as Cube (1997) and Saw (2004), but very much did not feel derivative. Escape rooms themselves are all the rage now, probably because, as one of our players Danny (Nik Dodani) enthuses, they’re like real life computer games.And so this feels a very 2019 twist on those older movies.
Escape Room had plenty of well-judged humour, scares, moments of real tension interspersed with genuine mystery and a sense of the marvellous, and the characters didn’t feel like cut-outs waiting to be killed, but like real people. This definitely elevates Escape Room above most other examples of the survival game subgenre where character, motivation, and plot are so often very much secondary to the creativity of the games and the kills.
The movie began with a bang and then slowed right up in order to introduce all of the characters and the setting. But then the pace kicked back in and didn’t let up. Thrilling. I particularly enjoyed this playing with pacing and also of realism; the movie stretches and snaps back like a rubber band, never breaking nor going too far, but pushing the viewer to the limit.
Escape Room isn’t the first movie based on this concept — for example, we have the confusingly named and dated Escape Room (2017) dir. Will Wernick and, err, Escape Room (2017) dir. Peter Dukes –, but it’s the best so far. It really felt like I was watching this generation’s Saw. And like Saw, there were twists and turns — although, admittedly, none as shocking as that twist from the original Saw. Just as in Saw, each room / trial is brilliantly imaginative; you almost feel yourself “playing along” at home. And just like Saw, I felt myself thinking, “This could easily be a franchise. I think they could make more! I hope they make more! Although any sequel would be milking this concept dry” As it happens, the films ends not with the hint, but the definite confirmation, of a sequel. I felt excited, but also a little sickened by the self-assuredness of this film: gone are the days of teasing the audience and hoping for the box office receipts to make a second movie profitable, now are the days of the five film Netflix deal. None-the-less, the set-up for the sequel looks anything but milking the concept: it promises to be a thrilling and wonderful development, and it’s to be released in 2021.
A great concept, entertaining and real-feeling characters, thrilling, horrific yet fun, Escape Room was both familiar and yet refreshingly different. I loved it, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
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.
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.
Devil is a murder-mystery concept piece set mainly in the confines of a lift. Five strangers enter said lift together only to get stuck between floors. Bad enough, you might think. But when one of the five is murdered during a momentary blackout, all Hell breaks loose. Meanwhile outside, our intrepid damaged-goods Policeman tries to solve the unfolding lift-based mystery whilst keeping his shit together.
Devil could have made a good episode of The Twilight Zone (albeit, without the scenes outside the lift). As it was, Devil made for a tense and entertaining horror-mystery. Coming from the mind of M. Knight Shyamalan, there is of course a twist ending, which is reasonably effective, although not totally unforeseeable. And being an M. Knight movie, we can play some Shyamalan Bingo™:
there was some flabby and ridiculous dialogue (“When he’s [the Devil] near, everything goes wrong. Toast falls jelly-side down, children hit tables, and people get hurt.”),
a somewhat awkwardly shoehorned religious aspect (handled clumsily with the gibbering Mexican Catholic expositor),
cheesiness (the awkward mattress salesman and his banter),
and a damaged protagonist suffering from a traumatic loss.
Despite this, the story was lean and tightly plotted. The characters were fairly believable. The performances were all decent. The movie had a kind of Eli Roth vibe to it, which is good or bad depending on your viewpoint, and a TV serial feel. Perhaps the film benefited from M. Knight sharing the writing duties.
Very enjoyable, albeit not Oscar-worthy. A middling Shyamalan movie: no Sixth Sense, but thankfully no The Happening, either.
In the Tall Grass is based on the novella co-written by one-man-novella-industry Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. It’s a high concept mystery-horror-thriller that seems like it would have made a cracking little episode of The Twilight Zone.
We meet a dilapidated and forsaken church, as much a character in this story as any of the humans, whose carpark is a de facto layby for weary travellers. This is the only thing for miles around apart from motorway and countless acres of thick, tall, grass. When heavily pregnant Becky (Laysla de Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) stop to rest, they hear a small lost boy (Tobin, Will Buie Junior) stuck within the thick growth pleading with them to help him get out. So far so simple. But when they enter the tall grass, they find themselves trapped in a nightmarish and constantly-changing maze where the very grass seems alive with an evil presence which is determined to keep them captive.
Such a high concept could backfire (see M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Happening). But In the Tall Grass initially worked quite well, particularly since it seemed like we were watching the marvellous Triangle (2009) but rebooted on a farm instead of the open sea. A silent, evil presence at the centre of the shifting grass maze had serious shades of King’s own The Tommyknockers and was quite convincing.
Unfortunately, what wasn’t convincing was some of the acting, particularly that of the usually great Patrick Wilson. Wilson hams it, chewing up the scenes like a demented Ash from Evil Dead III. Unfortunately, that acting did not sit tonally at all well with the rest of the film. As my wife put it when Wilson cracks open the can-o’-ham, “This is just silly now”. She left the room.
From this point onwards, the film really struggles with its own lack of source material, although this needn’t have been a problem: King’s own novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption proves that a novella can be weighty enough for a magnificent film treatment. Sadly, this novella just didn’t have enough to it. The whole venture descends into a shlocky slasher movie. There is some surreal and disturbing body horror, however, which was gruesome and great!
The film does manage to just about pull itself together for the conclusion which is satisfying. And, Wilson and Whitted aside, the acting is compelling and convincing. But the whole thing just about careens off the tracks as it finishes. It would have benefited greatly from curtailing its length from 101 minutes to an old school 90, maximum; 81 would have done fine. Even if Wilson hadn’t channelled Army of Darkness, there’s no escaping that this film was a Twilight Zone episode spread too thin. A very uneven, albeit enjoyable, result.
Film and Writing Festival for Comedy. Showcasing best of comedy short films at the FEEDBACK Film Festival. Plus, showcasing best of comedy novels, short stories, poems, screenplays (TV, short, feature) at the festival performed by professional actors.