Midsommar ★★★☆☆

Following up from the critically acclaimed Hereditary last year, Ari Aster’s latest release sees a young couple join their friends on a summer retreat out in the Swedish countryside. The communal festivities seem jovial until things start to take a sinister turn……

Directed by Ari Aster

Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter


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Review / Hush ★★★★☆

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Blumhouse have an excellent track record when it comes to producing low budget horror, if anything, a lower budget gives a horror a far more visceral feel.  Hush, on Netflix is another such example. With a relatively speaking, tiny budget of $1m, they have still managed to produce a compact, tense, vulnerable home invasion slasher.

The spin here is that our protagonist, Maddie, is a deaf author, living out in the woods, away from the hustle of the city. One night, she unfortunately lands in the path of a serial killer. Once our killer figures out that she is hard of hearing, he decides he will have a bit of sinister fun, and drag out the events, rather than simply committing the ordeal. Isolated in the wood, on her own, as a deranged murderer is stalking her outside,  and to top it all off, without the sense of hearing, it’s down to Maddie to find a route of escape from this nightmare.

The home invasion genre does produce plenty of engrossing films, The Purge, Don’t Breathe & Panic Room are all great examples, though you also have busts like the awful Breaking In, from earlier this year. Hush lands on the good side of that mark, using the lack of hearing gives the film a different edge from your usual break in thrillers. This allows the movie to set up some truly suspenseful moments, as our killer taunts Maddie.

At a run time of just 80 minutes, things are kept very concise, we never really know who or why our stalker is picking off his targets. But sometimes, it’s better to keep things simple, it’s just a crazed guy, picking of victims who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. No need to add in a backstory if it’ll just add unnecessary layers.

The film does have two distinct flavors. The first half of the film, is an eerie horror, as our silent stalker tracks down our deaf target. Which sets up some great set pieces for the audience. Once the two eventually confront each other, it switches up to a thriller, as the two attempt to gain the upper hand in this deadly duel. I would have preferred if the tense horror vibes of the first half were stretched out a bit longer, the film would have been far more captivating. But that being said, the action capers once they start attempting to take each other out, is also done rather well.

There really isn’t too much to say in terms of true negatives, the short run time doesn’t really leave much time to fill out the plot, and we don’t get too much regarding why it’s happening. Why was she chosen? Was it just bad luck, is he picking certain targets? And the action at the finale does get a little too dramatic, but with a low budget movie, you adjust the expectations accordingly. If you browsing Netflix and just want a quick film to watch, Hush is definitely worth a view!

Review : Searching ★★★★

We’ve already seen the ‘on screen’ format recently with Unfriended :Dark Web, where the majority of the action takes place on the screen of a characters computer. It’s a unique way of telling a story, which works rather well with the society we live in now. Whereas Unfriended used this method to deploy cheap thrills and deliver an incoherent story, Searching manages to be surprisingly emotional and intense.

Following the disappearance of his young daughter, Margot (Michelle La) , David Kim (John Cho) uses all the methods at hand in order to track down what exactly happened. After tracking her Facebook, Tumblr and other social media activities, things start to turn down a sinister avenue.

Director Aneesh Chaganty manages to weave a captivating tale, even though we only see the drama take place in one place, the desktop of David. The film feels very current, and the tech used are the real programs, giving the film that much more realism.  John Cho puts in a fascinating performance,  he is pretty much in all the scenes, and really has to carry the movie. Though he is commonly known for his comedic talents, his role as a worried dad, willing to do anything to find out the truth is wonderful.

The film makes great use of the mother’s passing, to convey emotion. Especially when David logs into the account of someone who has passed away. It provides an eerie vibe, with small details like an inbox with thousands on unread emails. There are several other small details hidden in the background that makes things so effective.

The film manages to relate to several issues we have nowadays, especially the trend of people trying to bandwagon onto whatever the next trending news is, in order to get some more likes or retweets. How easy it is to talk trash/meme a stranger online. or how people act in real life, as opposed to their online persona. One particular scene is done extremely well, and makes want to yell at the character on screen!

On the negative side, there really isn’t too much to frown upon, the only issue I had was the fact the film’s promotional material, actively mentioned a big twist, which isn’t really that shocking. It was obvious the film would have a twist, and it felt strange that they felt like it needed to be mentioned, especially as the twist felt rather rushed. The film’s trailer also reveals far too much of the story, and would have preferred if they kept more of it a secret!

Searching is by far one of the best movies of the year so far, and is getting the critical praise it deserves (still at 92% on RT!), Cho really turns this film into what could have been a fairly average film, to a great one. It also contains probably one of the most emotional openings to a film since Up! And that’s saying something!

Review / Unfriended: Dark Web ★★

Director : Stephen Susco
Starring: Colin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Andrew Lees

Unfriended: Dark Web could have been an intriguing & uncomfortable look at the dark underworld of the internet, but unfortunately it fast becomes a joke of a horror, resorting to cheap plays for shocks. A stand alone sequel to Unfriended, Dark Web follows on with the unique concept of story telling in real time via various online platforms.

During one of their frequent Skype based game nights with his friends, Matias, our protagonist, who has picked up a recently purchased used laptop, notices that the previous owner of the computer may not have been your usual customer, and soon discovers a dark secret buried deep within the hardrive. It’s not before long, that the a mysterious presence online takes their game night hostage.

The first half of the film is actually rather captivating, the idea of using Skype/Facebook, and the presence of apps like Spotify, as the main methods of communication is a great way to make the film connect with the young audience it’s trying to reach out to.  The initial stages of when our protagonists starts to suspect something more sinister may be in play, is where it’s at its best. The feeling of being constantly being threatened and harassed online by an anonymous presence is something we can all fear. And as our group of friends dig deeper into the murky world they stumble upon, things do genuinely feel disturbing. Especially as they browse through the video files that are stored in the laptop. It works the scares without resorting to any jump scares or cliche tactics. The feeling that everyone move online is being watched is something we all understand.

While that may be the best part of the film, the rest of it is pretty tepid, especially for a ‘horror’. The group of friends, you never really care for, nor do they possess any quality that makes them worth caring for.  Damon, our hacker friend from London is probably the only one who contributes to the plot, the rest are pretty much cannon fodder. Our main character is supremely unlikable, his actions are very selfish and his relationship with his deaf girlfriend seems very unbelievable.  The girlfriend is also played off as idiotically stupid, she is deaf, this shouldn’t make her dumb by default, her actions are shockingly awful throughout the film! Hopefully the plan was to make Mathias be hated, otherwise it’s a massive fail!

Once the villain is revealed, the film becomes laughable, cheesy dialogue between our villain and Mathias is comically bad, and the cheap phasing effects of screen whenever he appeared looked absurd whenever it happened. The original film had a supernatural vibe to it, there is none of that here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The whole ‘darknet’ concept could have been used extremely well, but what the film eventually descends into, maybe they should have stuck with the supernatural plot. The film never feels like a horror, and really could have been marketed more as a thriller. They never shows anything too graphic, and the death scenes are rather tame compared to what happened in the first film.

It’s just a shame that the movie couldn’t run with the ideas it planted at the start of the movie, what could have been an engrossing story, just fades into a forgettable 90 minutes.

The Commuter / No Delays Here

After being tasked by a mysterious woman to track down a specific person on an evening commuter train, Michael MacCauley (Nesson) is in a race against time to unravel this conspiracy, or risk danger not just to himself, but his family as well.

Liam Neeson and low budget action movies always prove to be an enjoyable time. You pretty know what you will get, what to expect, and how the story will pan out. Neeson has already wreaked havoc on a plane in 2014’s Non-Stop, this time, his kicking ass and speaking intensely on phones (it’s a trend in his films!) on a train, in The Commuter.

The Commuter is a perfectly satisfactory feature length movie. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who had also taken charge of the aforementioned, Non-Stop and The Shallows, a thrilling shark attack film. Pretty much the entire story take place on the train, and the film can be divided into two parts. The opening and middle chapters are more focused on the mystery of who he must find, tracking down various clues to help him locate the target. It’s a nice concept, and considering it’s a busy New York commute, the train is packed with a range of people, all of which could be who he must find. It’s a nice change of pace, from the action packed finale, and even has the audience constantly guessing who it may be.

In my opinion, the deduction parts of The Commuter, are its strongest moments, you do have the occasional action and fights, but they are really just there to stop it getting a bit to mellow for a Neeson movie! The finale is a lot of the typical over the top action and CGI fest that you would expect, the intensity is ramped up by a hundred, and it gets pretty messy at times. Though Neeson is still pretty adept at looking far more dangerous than most people at the age of 65, the special effects are pretty obvious. The train crash from the trailers still looks as laughably bad in the final cut!

Liam Neeson obviously holds this movie together, but Vera Farmiga as the calculating Joanna, who is pulling the strings on board, and Patrick Wilson, as Michael’s colleague, Murph. Both add a bit of shine to the film. And it’s always good to see Jonathan Banks, of Breaking Bad fame making an appearance too!

The Commuter is a straight forward movie, it’s not amazing, nor is it awfully bad. If you’re a fan of the Neeson style thrills and dangers than The Commuter won’t leave you feeling short changed. At under 2 hours, it doesn’t drag on either. If you got nothing to do, and want to catch a decent film, this is worth a watch, otherwise, just wait for it to come out on demand!

The Vault : Train To Busan (2016)

Blending a thrilling zombie flick, with a surprisingly emotional storyline, Train to Busan is a riveting action/horror, which any fan of the Zombie genre should definitely track down!

The plot is pretty straight forward, Seok-woo, our protagonist, is escorting his estranged young daughter, Soo-an, on board a train from Seoul to Busan.  What should have been a mundane journey soon becomes a commute from hell, as an infected passenger manages to struggle on board, creating a chain reaction of death & the undead! As the viral outbreak spreads across the country, it’s a race against time to survive, and reach Busan, which has been fortified against the virus.

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The claustrophobic train setting works wonders for this movie, the feeling of being trapped, with literally only one way to go, ramps up the tension.  As more and more of the train slowly become infected, there is only so far our survivors can run. Combine this with rampant zombies, who are simply ravenous at the sight of any humans, creates an exhilarating cocktail.

Seeing as most of the film takes place within one setting, it’s crucial that the characters on board are worth caring for. Our hero Seok-woo slowly ditches his greedy, corporate ways, becoming the person his daughter wanted him to be. Then there’s Sang-hwa, the polar opposite of Seok-woo, caring, and light hearted, but some who can also pack a punch! His pregnant wife Seong-kyeong, also happens to be on board. Her condition alone makes you care about her survival. You also have survivors such as Yong-guk, the young student, travelling with his school baseball team, who ends up in a huge moral predicament, following the demise of his fellow friends. Any good zombie movie needs a good cast, as people will inevitably die, and it’s down to the script to create characters well enough in order for the audience to feel any emotion.

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The zombies here are the raging types, similar to the kind you would have seen in 28 Days Later. They hunt in packs, and are relentless once they have seen their prey. This offers plenty of enthralling set pieces, which see a ferocious display of panic as they all swarm together at once. Although it is a zombie flick, Train to Busan is far more of an action set piece, so expect loads of combat, but not too much slow building tension or overly gory deaths,

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Speaking of the combat, as the film is set in South Korea, the passengers don’t have guns, so the fighting is far more physical, from baseball bats, riot shields to the simple fists! A particular scene, featuring a trio of survivors, fighting through carriages filled with zombies to get to their loved ones, is magnificent! There really isn’t an antagonist per se, as the evil is the viral strain infecting the civilians, though we do have Yon-suk, a senior CEO figure, someone who only looks pout for themselves. He provides a good example to Seak-woo, on what he may became, if he does not change his ways.

The film also highlights how quickly people can turn on each other, when things to intense.  Even when there is a train filled with the ravaging undead, people still find the time to shun each other, unwilling to accept their fate, and reverting to a selfish state. Also highlighting how easy it is for people to easily fall into a mob mentality, when it suits them.

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Overall Train to Busan is a treat for anyone who has an interest in Korean cinema, or loves a good zombie flick. Though it may not be perfect, such as the inconsistencies of how our zombies work, and the plot convenient scenarios that take place, it packs one heck of a sentimental punch! Be sure to check it out!

Murder On The Orient Express / Review

Featuring an incredible cast, and an intriguing source material, can the latest adaption of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express thrill audiences, or will it run out of stream?

This is in fact the 4th adaptation of the classic novel across various forms of media, though this is by far the most extravagant vision of the story yet. Kenneth Branagh , who also directs this film. Takes up the role of Hercule Poirot, the world famous detective, who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and stumbles into another case, while he takes the lavish Orient Express back to London. With a carriage full of suspects, it’s down to Poirot to find the culprit, before the police take matters into their own hands.

The strongest part of the movie is by far the stellar list of actors that are involved with this project. An ensemble cast featuring the talents of Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley & Michelle Pfeiffer to name a few. Each of them playing their characters as well as you would expect. Poirot is of course the star here, and while Branagh does a pleasant job with our master detective, he does have a few comedic moments, which feel a bit forced at times, bumbling, a trait he really didn’t need for this.

Alongside the cast, the period setting works excellently. From the hustle & bustle of the streets of Istanbul, to the divine elegance of the Orient Express, it all looks sublime. The film is also filled with several well shot scenes, such as the tracking shot as Poirot strolls through to his carriage, or the interrogation scenes, which are shot through the cuts of window glass, a very polished movie. It is a tad heavy on the CGI, but it still looks pleasing to watch, especially the scenic Alpine sections of the trip.

The cast & setting aside, Murder on the Orient Express does have its share of issues. The pacing of the movie feels very uneven. While the first half of the film moves along at a serene pace, its well into the movie before the murder occurs. After a bit of investigation, the case is suddenly all wrapped up. It does feel like the ending was rushed, a longer more drawn our investigation would have been far more satisfying to watch. The murder should have taken place in the first half hour or so, then spend rest of the time analyzing and building up the suspects for a bigger reveal.

The mystery to it all is also fairly straight forward, it’s not before long you can figure out yourself what’s going on, and put the pieces together. For a master detective, you would have hoped the conundrum would have been a bit more cerebral, to display why Poirot is so highly regarded.  The film is a like for like copy of the novel, and you can see where it has hurt this movie, a few changes could have been made to make the original source far more captivating for the current audiences

Murder on the Orient Express is a perfectly fine film to watch during these cold chilly winter months, it’s not the most enthralling mystery and the pacing is slightly off. But with its distinguished cast & colorful

environment, it’s most certainly worth a watch.

The Vault : Inception (2010)

Following on from the immense success of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, who had already scored hits such as Memento & The Prestige, was creating huge buzz and excitement with whatever his next project would be. What we got was a superbly stylish, deeply layered (pun intended!) movie. Inception may have been very ambitious with its design, but it has provided fans with several unforgettable scenes and a simply iconic score.

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Dom Cobb (Di Caprio) is what they call in his business, an ‘Extractor’, along with his partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), they enter the dreams/unconscious of people to extract information, mainly for corporate espionage. After a botched mission, Cobb is offered a chance at redemption, and an opportunity to go back home, only if he carries out something known as ‘Inception’, the concept on planting an idea in someone’s mind. As skilled as Cobb & Arthur may be as Extractors, the idea of Inception could be even beyond their talents. But with the chance to see his children back home, he puts together a team, and heads out on his mission.

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Off the bat, the movie is a visual treat; the dream concept allows the movie to create amazing set pieces, such as the mesmerizing folding streets of Paris, to the dazzling exploding café scene. There’s also the stunning corridor confrontation, in which Arthur is forced to fend off foes while the halls start rotating. What’s more incredible is that the entire scene was filmed within a structure, with no CGI! Everything is filmed perfectly, to make it look absolutely on point. With the cast all suited and booted, and the dream world setting, it is one classy film.

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The cast is incredibly strong, you have Di Caprio as the star man, but the supporting cast are also a joy. Tom Hardy excels as Eames, his constant bickering with Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and generally all round charm shines through. Ellen Page is the talented Ariadne, who has the most vital role in the operation. Her young character is pretty much how the audience feel at various points, pretty confused at times! You also have the likes of Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy and Marion Cotillard all contributing to a stellar cast.

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(Clockwise from TOP left) LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Cobb, JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT as Arthur, CILLIAN MURPHY as Robert Fischer, TOM BERENGER as Browning, ELLEN PAGE as Ariadne, TOM HARDY as Eames, and KEN WATANABE as Saito in Warner Bros. PicturesÕ and Legendary PicturesÕ sci-fi action film ÒINCEPTION,Ó a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

The plot is one that will take multiple viewings to really get any sense of what’s happening! To put it simply, there are layers, so many layers! In order to get an idea deep into someone’s unconscious, will not only require going into the dream of their target, but also several dreams within that. It can be a convoluted mess, and at times, you will probably not really grasp the finer details. But that’s what repeat viewings are for! The storyline may leave you puzzled at times, but the sheer spectacle and scale of the movie more than make up for it! It is an audacious project, and it has to be applauded for it. After multiple viewings, things will get clearer, and you’ll enjoy the movie even more!

Let’s not forget to mention the score, which is put together by legendary composer Hams Zimmer. Tracks such as the triumphant ‘Time’, and the pressing ‘Dream is Collapsing’ are synonymous with the film. The recurring lyrics from Non, je ne regrette rien will be stuck in your head after watching this, and then there’s the now iconic BOOONG! This now appears in pretty much most trailers nowadays! Combining such a quality score with the slick production, produces one impressive looking, and sounding 2.5 hours!

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Though as great as it all looks and sounds, Inception will not be for everyone. The film is very dialogue heavy, with various key plot details hidden within various speeches. It is also a very slow burner, with the operation not commencing well past the first hour. The finale is also quite perplexing, especially if you weren’t paying attention in the finer details. But don’t let that take away from what is a thrilling, cerebral, and  enjoyable film.

Life Thrills!

Life, follows a star studded cast, as a group of astronauts on the International Space Station. who happen to bring on a surprise visitor, who happens to be a lot more sinister than first presumed!

The crew on the ISS manage to recover a capsule, containing various samples from a recent Martian mission. Amongst all the specimen of rocks is one curious sample, it turns out that the crew have managed to successfully find life on Mars! With the news relayed back to Earth, they honour the new organism with the name Calvin, which seems innocent enough, before Calvin wakes up from his slumber!

 

On board, we have Dr Miranda North (Ferguson) & Dr David Jordan (Gyllenhaal) as the medical officers of the station, and also the main  characters the movie follows. Also on the team is Adams (Reynolds) the ISS pilot, Derry (Bakare) the stations British biologist. Murakami, the teams Japanese engineer and Golovkina, the Russian commander. It’s only fair the International Space Station has an International cast!

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It’s our biologist that develops a close affinity with Calvin, and it’s his curiosity that ultimately leads our Martian friend on its warpath! After some mild experiments to monitor the growth of Calvin, it’s the electrical stimulation that sets off its survival instincts, and from that point on, the movie becomes an intense thriller!

Calvin is most certainly the highlight of this well-made space chiller, as the film progresses, it gets more and more advanced, not just physically, but also its intelligence. Our astronauts have to get more tactical against its threat, as the crew gradually starts to get taken out. Speaking of the deaths, the film is pretty graphic at times, as our alien fiend starts absorbing its prey in various gory methods. It does feel a bit over the top at times, but it does well in showing how weak our crew is, up against this relentless threat. Could there be a greater fear than drowning…in Space?!

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As with most recent films set in Space, such as Interstellar, Gravity & The Martian, Life is incredibly beautiful,  the shots of Earth, the Sun, and various other scene out of the station are gorgeous, and makes the whole movie look so much more polished. If the CGI looks bad in a Space movie, it would have a hugely negative effect on the whole project.

It’s clear that the film takes a lot of inspiration from Alien, which is no way a bad thing! Daniel Espinosa directs a wonderfully eerie set piece. Where the movie excels, is in the stalking aspects of the film. As Calvin slips away, all our crew can hear is the various thuds as our predator crawls around the metallic interiors of the station. This is extremely well executed when Calvin is in its earlier phases, as its smaller body allows it to sneak around in all manner of places, and jumping out from the smallest of gaps! As it grows, it does get a bit more comical, as it grows a face and limbs, along with a cheesy ‘monster vision’ scene.

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So how do our crew preform here? Reynolds is obviously the most charismatic, with his jovial nature and comic relief. Upcoming British actor Ariyon Bakare is great as the Scientist who develops an almost family like affinity to his new discovery, his character also has a disability which plays well into the story-line.  Our two medical officers don’t’ really have much to shout about. Gyllenhaal’s character hates life back on Earth, and prefers the solitude of Space, though they don’t really go into too much detail on why this really is. His pretty much grumpy throughout the movie, where a bit more emotion would have been better, considering the situation they found themselves in. Rebecca Ferguson character is fairly bland, and probably shouldn’t have been the main focus of the film, her role in Rogue Nation was far superior.

As a whole, the movie succeeds in what it attempts to do, Calvin steals the show wherever it appears, the sheer terror the crew faces every time they are confronted with it is well captured. The nature of the deaths also makes the audience feel nervous and uncomfortable, which only helps build the suspense. The dull nature of of main protagonists does hold back the movie from being a truly memorable, and the utterly predictable twist at the end is so expectant, it’s almost funny when it happens! Life isn’t the perfect space thriller,  but it’s definitely worth checking out if you love Space movies, especially ones containing savage aliens on board!

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