Netflix Film Review “Devil” (2010) #NetflixReviews @MNightShyamalan

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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.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review: Bird Box (2018)

Bird Box is a The Happening (2008) and A Quiet Place (2018) mash-up where an evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves (or, in the rare case, become homicidal maniacs).

Five years after an unseen and malevolent presence caused the majority of the world’s people to mysteriously commit suicide or else turn into blood-thirsty maniacs, mother Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is desperately trying to navigate a safe path through this post-apocalyptic landscape to a fabled safe haven for her two young children. The evil force manifests itself as a shimmer and a rustling breeze which seems to instantly infect people who gaze towards it. Therefore, the only way to avoid being infected is to stay indoors, or only go outside with your eyes covered at all times.

We join the story with Sandra Bullock rowing her children up a certain creek, and it might as well be without a paddle as they’re all blindfolded, to a fabled haven. The film is two narratives at the same time, cutting between her river-based journey and recanting the tale of how she got to be on this perilous solo mission cut

For years I wondered to myself how M. Knight Shyamalan could have got it so woefully wrong with his The Happening, based as it is on the absurd concept that nature is out to get revenge on mankind by inflecting us with suicide blown on the breeze(!), but Bird Box‘s set-up and premise is what The Happening could potentially have been. We don’t know the source of this evil presence, nor are the details made clear. Why do some people merely become homicidal lunatics whereas the majority immediately kill themselves? Why can the evil force not enter into buildings? But these questions do not matter as the technicalities of this blight are not the focus of the story; rather, the human drama is. And the film excels. Man versus himself, man versus man, man versus time, all three classic dramas are well-played to maximum tension.

At times, The Road-style post-apocalyptic road trip (well, river trip), at times an alternative reality good version of The Happening, at times “the enemy within” dramatic plot thread of 28 Days Later, this film deliver a tense and thrilling horror ride. The cast are all wonderful in their roles. However, this film surely deserves an award for the most bizarrely random cast of all time: Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, rapper Machine Gun Kelly (or should I say, ex-rapper, RIP, after Eminem (metaphorically) killed him in their 2018 diss battle), British comic actor from The Thick Of It Tom Hollander, jovial comedian Lil Rel Howery, and Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra. But despite this motley collection of all sorts, the casting never jarred: there was no Ed-Sheeran-in-Game-Of-Thrones-WTF moment. I was particularly impressed with Machine Gun Kelly’s supporting turn.

Scary, emotionally terrifying, thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/36/750×445/1058045.jpg

 

Netflix Film Review “Bird Box” (2018) #150WordReview

Take 2008’s The Happening and 2018’s A Quiet Place, pop them in a blender with a pinch of Oscar (Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich) and a dash of randomness (British comic actor Tom Hollander, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra), and voilà! An evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves or each other (The Happening) when they look towards it (swapping A Quiet Place‘s sound for sight).

We follow Bullock as she paddles her two young children up a certain creek to an alleged haven. The film interweaves with the tale of how she came to be on this river.

Bird Box is a human drama of survival against odds.

Scary, emotionally terrifying, and thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/36/750×445/1058045.jpg

 

Netflix Film Review “In The Tall Grass” (2019) @Netflix #Horror

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.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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