Thoughts

Berlin Syndrome (2017)

A common theme from the promotional footage of Berlin Syndrome is that it seems to escalate quickly. Like, really quickly. What seems to begin as a rather innocent story, suddenly progresses into a nightmare-inducing scenario.

The director Cate Shortland showed an unbelievably ability to perfectly play out the tensest of scenes in Berlin Syndrome, as she navigates the spaces between Clare (Teresa Palmer) and the antagonist Andi. (Max Riemelt)

There are no prizes to guessing where the film is set, and that is where we find Clare, clad in the classic tourist attire of bags and a flashy camera. Not a great deal is revealed about our heroin Clare, other than that she is Australian. Through her camera lens she sets to discover Berlin on her own accord, until she meets the lovable and charming Andi who shows her the backstreets of Berlin and his fathers strawberry patch.

Shortland had Clare pick up a wolf’s mask during this scene and remark she is a wolf at Andi, unbeknownst to her, Andi was the wolf but in sheep’s clothing. The charming ability Andi possesses soon wears off, as he brings Clare back to his place and spends the night with her. He whispers ‘nobody will hear you’ as they engage in a sexual manner, only to replicate that with sinister undertones later in the film.

Andi casually resumes his daily life, going to work and seeing his father, whilst Clare panics and becomes a wreck as she is trapped in Andi’s apartment. And this is where the tension arises, as the film picks up its pace over the just shy of two hours runtime. It doesn’t feel as though the film lasts for two hours as you become swept up in the ensuing madness that evolves between Andi and Clare.

As well as showing a terrific use of tension throughout the film, Cate Shortland also manages to use the claustrophobia of Andi’s apartment to show Clare almost as a caged animal for Andi’s pleasure. The relationship really gets under your skin, as you see Clare’s deflation as the story leads into Christmas and New Year.

This comes down to the characters that Shortland has managed to create, but also the brilliance of Teresa Palmer’s and Max Riemelt’s performance as the leads. They give thoroughly convincing performances so much so, it begins to make you think twice about who you meet when you travel to another city.

What I really enjoyed about Berlin Syndrome is that the film doesn’t allow itself to fall into any horror tropes that this genre could easily slip into. It remains in the thriller category as it continues to show the differing stories between Clare and Andi. Unfortunately the film does fall into the run of the mill for this genre, as Clare continually tries to escape.

Although the film does fall into this trope, it is still played out fantastically as the tension continually rises during the latter hour. Berlin Syndrome also transpires the narrative, as Andi does evolve into a sympathetic character, but the overarching casualness when it comes to the imprisonment of Clare remains, lurking in the background, which just emotes anger.

Berlin Syndrome becomes an enjoyable film, especially as it doesn’t fall into the expected tropes that previous films usual do. The performances are near-perfect from Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt and unbelievably convincing as especially Andi gets under the skin as he is incredibly casual about the situation at hand. Cate Shortland manages to paint Berlin in a beautiful light, and yet sticks this horrifying situation in the centre as everyone around Berlin celebrates the New Year.

American History X (1998)

Sporting a shaved head and a proudly displaying a Swazstika on his chest, Edward Norton’s Derek Vinyard takes centre stage of American History X. However, Tony Kaye chooses not to have Derek Vinyard the mantlepiece of this film, but rather Derek’s ideals and their impact on the Vinyard family. This includes Edward Furlong’s Danny Vinyard and the manifestation of Neo-Nazism being a big part of his life.

American History X opens is a strange manner, with the beginnings of that infamous scene shot strikingly in black and white. Fast-forward to Danny sat outside of the principal’s office after submitting a paper on Mein Kampf. His principal Sweeney (Avery Brooks) tells him to resubmit his paper on his brother Derek and his incarcerations impact on his family.

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Tony Kaye chooses to drip feed the events of that fateful evening for Derek Vinyard throughout the film, always choosing to shoot these scenes in the similar black and white style. This very deliberate style depicts the differing views between Derek’s views in the past and the present, almost suggesting that the black and white scenes show an old-fashioned way of thinking.

Being set in Venice Beach, there is a wealth of cultures that are seen throughout the film, including a raid on a store that is ran by minorities and during the pick-up basketball court scene with the Crips. Obviously these minorities are deemed unjust by the white supremacists that take centre stage in this film.

Derek is the charismatic ringleader for these white supremacists, but he is seemingly a puppet that professes these ideals on behalf of the top dog Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach). Cameron preys on Derek shortly after the death of his father, who is shot by a ‘gangbanger’ whilst putting out a house fire. Cameron preying on Derek and begins to nurture Derek’s thoughts, that are seen in the TV interview he has about his father. This event, with the help of Cameron’s propaganda, tears the Vinyard family apart as Derek adopts this idealism, eventually having Danny follow in his footsteps.

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Rather than having the film follow Derek and Danny profess their beliefs, its more about the changing of attitudes. This change is centralised through Derek as he tries to make Danny adapt to the same newfound belief, which is signified through the scenes in colour. Not only is it the changing of this attitude, but the maturing of Derek as he comes out of prison and disregarding his old lifestyle.

Tony Kaye has created a rather interesting film that bought with it an Oscar nomination for Edward Norton. Having the subject matter quite rife throughout the film, but not focusing on it, but rather the implications of this lifestyle on friends,
family and even schooling was a stroke of genius by Kaye. Instead of just showing the Derek’s previous lifestyle and glazing over it, he adopts this lifestyle and shows the comforting feel that Derek and Danny took away from the D.O.C (The Disciples of Christ – The Venice Beach faction of White Supremacists). Kaye typified this by having quite victorious music play over when they win the pick-up basketball game and shoo away the Crips.

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With American History X Kaye has created a film that is perfect for discussions after the viewing due to the hard-hitting messages throughout the film. His ability to navigate through the Neo-Nazi idealisms whilst showing both sides of the coin of Derek is interesting and really effective.

It’s worth saying that the man loves a good slow-motion shot too, as they are rife throughout this film, but they work. Kaye’s ability to make you like and loathe characters is interesting too considering the likeability of Danny and then you meet Seth (Ethan Suplee) who is simply despicable. This comes down the performances from the cast, who really get involved with their roles with Edward Norton of course stealing the show and going through his characters maturation.

Godzilla (2014)

Being a proud lover of the Matthew Broderick 1998 Godzilla spectacular, when news broke about the remake of the story, I was needless to say, excited. As more information about the upcoming film was released, the more I became apprehensive as Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen were cast in some kind of leads. Including an unheard (for me at least) of director in Gareth Edwards. Regardless the trailers had the inner child of mine screaming out, ready for a big, spectacular monster movie.

The inner child of mine was pleasantly surprised with what actually happened in the film. I was expecting a similar film to the 1998 version, with a battle between monster and men with an added storyline including the oriental side of Godzilla that I had gathered from the trailers. It was very hit and miss with my original view. In all honesty, I was about 20% correct.

The film opens excellently with ‘archive’ footage that shows Godzilla swimming in the ocean, it’s echoes showing on sonars and tracking it’s movements. Inevitably, bombs are sent to try and kill the monster and that remains unclear whether it worked. (Who are you kidding Gareth? Come on).We then are transported to the Philippines in 1999, where two investigators, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) from Monarch discovers bones in a chasm, with a radioactive pod. Then we meet Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody in Janjira, a Japanese city, in charge of the power station there and after a discovery of regular patterns picked up on the radar, the plant suffers a radioactive leak and subsequently destroyed. This kills his wife, in what is quite a sad scene I must admit.

 

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Fifteen years have passed and the little Ford Brody, whom Joe neglected when growing up (which can be picked up from the later scene with his father), is now in the army and with a family of his own with Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). As Ford tries to get comfortable, he has to go to Japan to release his detained father who has grown crazy trying to figure out what caused Janjira’s destruction. They discover that operations are still happening under Monarch’s supervision and are trying to find out what is inside this pod they discovered at Janjira (Similar to the one in the Philippines). Out comes an robotic looking arachnid with hints of Starship Troopers and flies away after destroying most of the area. Now I was expecting Godzilla. Or at least a baby Godzilla.

Either way, this thing feeds on radioactivity and somehow harnesses it for an EMP like attack rendering electronics useless within a certain radius. In a hunt for a radioactive sources, it finds one in a Russian nuclear submarine, anyway Godzilla comes out the sea and decides to fight this thing Serizawa calls Mutos. Fragrances of iconic images of Godzilla fighting giant moths came to mind. The narrative comes out not all pointless as the Muto calls out for a mate, which turns out to a wingless female that’s 300 feet taller, buried in Nevada. It hatches and destroys Las Vegas on a trip toward it’s mate, as this one cannot fly.

You can see how big the female Muto is, just by it's destruction of Vegas.

You can see how big the female Muto is, just by it’s destruction of Vegas.

The directors initially set out to make the story as a force of a nature represented by Godzilla (of course) and it worked on many levels. The whole issue of trying to fight the Muto’s and their EMP blasts disabling the armies best efforts echoed this. Their only hope turned out to be Godzilla who fought the Muto’s which was surprising considering the trailers made it seem like a similar situation to the 1998 version. Dr. Serizawa mentions that Godzilla serves as a purpose to restore the balance that has been shifted, hence Godzilla’s awakening.

What I did like was the paddle footing around the original story of waking up the beast with the nuclear tests in the pacific oceans. Echoed by Joe’s suggestions that the nuclear bomb ‘tests’ were efforts to try and kill the beast. Whereas the first, original Godzilla has the nuclear tests by the Americans waking up the beast from a long slumber.

The film is a typical monster movie, and there is simply no avoiding that. The big showdown in Chinatown between Godzilla and the Muto’s is as spectacular as we always dreamed it would be, with many buildings being destroyed in the process. (But who cares about that, seriously?) And the acting ability of the cast was apt, although Bryan Cranston’s in his short screen time was probably the better part of the cast.

I realise I garbled on at the start on the plot, but I wouldn’t say the plot is unique, but rather takes some explaining. It’s not as simply as nuclear blasts creating Godzilla, Godzilla goes on a rampage and Godzilla dies (1998) there is more anticipation to the build up of Godzilla, and the fact a Muto is revealed in full before we even catch a full glimpse of Godzilla in all his glory was a great tactic by Gareth Edwards.

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As I said, the narrative was loose, but enjoyable. It carried the story over the sections without the giant battles in Hawaii and San Francisco. With the added spice of family tragedy and lost love trying to reunite.  A grievance of mine was that Elle Brody, I feel sometimes just on screen to heighten the sense of loss and family, when she was trapped in the Subway, but other than her encounter with Ford at the start when they are reunited, there isn’t much screen time to be had with her.

It’s been difficult to write this review without being too spoilerific. So I’ll leave it to your guys imagination. If I had another grievance, and this is a spoiler, but Joe Brody, Bryan Cranston’s character was killed relatively early on, which spurred on Ford’s attempts the kill the arachnid type creature anyway possible. But the film was very, very good. And really enjoyable. I enjoyed the whole Muto’s being left out in the trailers (that I saw anyway) for the added suspense in the film because it worked for me, it kept me intrigued. And with Gareth Edwards using elements of original, Japanese Godzilla movies was really enjoyable, including Godzilla’s fire breathing attack. Even the music had a subtle oriental tinge to it I thought. That could be just me though.

I would definitely recommend it to everyone, and it is spectacular on the big screen. If you loved the 1998 version, its just as good. (maybe not, 1998 did have Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno..)

4/5

Peaky Blinders (2013)

I recently discovered a new BBC television series called Peaky Blinders. I was a bit gutted as I had missed it’s showing on television, and it’s turned out to be a great show, thus far.

Set after the first world war, in 1919 Birmingham, the Shelby’s run a ‘gang’ by the name of the Peaky Blinders. The name coming from the razor blades sewn into the peaks of their flat caps. Led by Thomas Shelby played by Cillian Murphy, who’s acting is rather surprising as he seems more sinister and darker in this than what I’m used to seeing. At the start of series, the Shelby’s although governed by Thomas Shelby, their Aunt Polly Gray (Helen McCrory) has a certain dominance over the Thomas and Arthur, as a matriarchal figure in this television series.

Anyway, the main storyline throughout the series is set out from the start, Tommy organised a crate to be stolen, but contains the wrong item. The item in question is a set of guns that were destined for Libya, however, Tommy wants to bargain with C. I Chester Campbell using the guns as his bargaining chip. Chester Campbell (Sam Neill – Which annoyed me as I couldn’t figure out where I had seen him before until about episode 3) had been sent from Belfast, after his successful raid on the IRA in Belfast, on orders from Winston Churchill to retrieve the stolen shipment of guns, and rid of the communism that is brewing in Birmingham.

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The intertwining of the stories of Tommy trying to expand his empire across Birmingham, Chester Campbell trying to eradicate the gangs from Birmingham and also the domination of the seedy underbelly in Birmingham, is rather intoxicating and I have a personal interest in these certain gangster flicks and shows like Boardwalk Empire and Public Enemies, although according to the writers no references were played to Boardwalk Empire and shows of similar nature, which is rather interesting as they can draw similarities in the shooting styles.

My only strive with this series I would admit, is the soundtrack. It’s apt for the mood of the film, but not time period appropriate, considering the more than impressive set, time appropriate music may have given a bigger immersion into 1919 Birmingham. And of course, there are some stunning direction involved, including the Peaky Blinders putting their names to use fighting against Gypsies. As seen below.

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Overall, this is a brilliant short television series, compressed into six hour long segments and the story builds with Cillian leading the charge of the Peaky Blinders. It’s rife with action of course, which is expected, considering the implications behind the show. It’s probably more recommendable if you do enjoy the shows like Boardwalk Empire and the films like Public Enemies and Gangs of New York as although differing in storylines the enjoyment factor is similar to these titles, I found. The depth in the sets gives the television a more mesmerising appeal, I cannot comment on the storyline though unfortunately as I’ve not completed the series, but as it stands the intertwining of the stories is riveting as there are more than one storyline to follow. A definite recommendation though, of course.

If you’ve seen the show, let me know what you think in the comment section!

Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)

Now what is expected in a coming-of-age drama about high school, is a social outcast finding their feet in their high school time, relationships and dramas. The Perks of Being A Wallflower is no different as it stars Charlie finding his feet in high school. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is writing to a unknown person detailing the fact he starting high school for the first time and that he has not long been out of hospital. Which of course outlines the character we’re dealing with. He also mentions that bar his family he hasn’t spoken to anyone this summer, pretty much labeling Charlie as a social introvert or outcast.

This idea is shown as Charlie tries to find somewhere to sit during his lunch break, to where he is rejected by people he has known and even his sister, leaving him to sit alone. The next scene, we meet one of the trio of main characters, Patrick. He is a senior unfortunate enough to be taking a freshman shop class, and of course, he plays the class clown type character.

Charlie and Patrick's Clocks In Their Workshop Class.

Charlie and Patrick’s Clocks In Their Workshop Class.

The third and final member of the trio, is Sam (Emma Watson) who plays Patricks stepsister, and she is met at the high school football game, where Charlie is invited to sit next to them. The group discover they have a lot in common, mainly in musical taste and we see Charlie, the introvert, become less of an introvert. Beforehand, we had seen Charlie be alone at lunchtimes and being bullied around school, now he has settled with a group of friends and is doing extra assignments for English for his teacher Mr Anderson, without the hassle from his classmates.

Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd) plays the role of the teacher who everyone got on the most with at school (there was always that one teacher, don’t lie to yourselves). He offers him extra assignments in reading as he sees potential in Charlie and hands him various books. This coincides with his ambition to become a writer which is referenced throughout the film.

“Call it the Slut and the Falcon. Make us solve crimes!”

Relationships become an integral part of this film, because ultimately, this is the rest of the film. With the friendship group which now involves Mary Elizabeth and Alice, relationships evolve and dissolve throughout the film, but maintains Charlie’s interest in Sam throughout the film and whether or not that comes into fruition. Ultimately Charlie, as mentioned before, has been in and out of hospital for an unknown reason, with this new group is feeling better and rarely feeling “bad”, as he mentions in his letters. This is too the point where he enjoys his comrades, and states “we are infinite” when they discover the tunnel song (Heroes by David Bowie) and their continuous quest to find this song.

Majority of the coming of age high school films would see the protagonist getting what there are after and surviving high school, however, Perks of Being A Wallflower is completely different. The ending is unexpected I felt, and of course, I won’t spoil the ending because I enjoyed it and felt it different which was a nice surprise. But generally speaking this film is really enjoyable on a whole, and it all feels very joyful for the nostalgic feel in the experiences that the group go through.

Of course, this being a film in the 1990s, this film might appeal more to those born in the 1980s, as the music choices, the rebellious nature and the infatuation with the Rocky Horror Picture Show on the stage. But not only this, generally there is an appeal to all youth, with the parties and the beginning of and breaking down of relationships. It’s a true coming of age story as Charlie does find himself, not without consequences though as his choices in certain areas are the wrong ones, which causes issues in the friendship group.

What I did enjoy about this film, is off-production, is that the writer of the book, is actually the director of the film. Admittedly there is nothing stunning about the directing. For anyone that is reading this, is the book similar to the film? As I do have an issue of interpretations of books to films, but with the writer of the book directing, it could be different.

Fast Five (2011)

If you’ve never, ever seen a film from the Fast & Furious franchise, then they have three factors, fast cars, racing and action with the leading stars being Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Fast Five is, yes you guessed it, the fifth installment in this franchise, but chronologically the fourth (it makes sense if you’ve seen the four previous).

After the ending of Fast & Furious (2009), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is placed in handcuffs and is seemingly heading for jail. Seemingly. Of course Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) chase the bus with Dom on it and break him out. They escape to Rio De Janeiro which serves as where the rest of the film is set. Awaiting to hear from Dom, Mia and Brian decide to join Vince (Matt Schulze) in a heist involving stealing cars on a moving train.

Dom shows up and the heist proceeds, with a hitch though, as their associates seem particularly interested in the Ford GT more than the other cars. Mia is told to the drive the car and wait for a call. This is when an altercation ensues between Dom and Zizi and his henchman. This is also when the DEA officers on the train catch on and are subsequently killed by Zizi’s men.

Brian and Dom are captured by Zizi’s men to where they are bought to a unknown location and meet Reyes, the leader of this operation. He is orders them to be interrogated to find the location of the Ford GT. They of course escape and manage to arrive at the safe house where the car is, they look for the thing of importance that caused a ruckus during the heist. They find a chip that tells the crew of Reyes’ operations, but also that he is holding over $100 million in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro.

All the while, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) is heading to Rio to go on a hunt for Dom, Brian and Mia, the latter of which have now been placed on the wanted list. Accompanied with a team, Hobbs begins his pursuit of the trio after the killing of the DEA agents and is relentless in his pursuit. So much so, he travels to where they were last seen, which leads to a rooftop footrace chasing after him. He is unlucky in his pursuit as Dom escapes in the blaze of bullets from Reyes’ men.

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So, Dom, Brian and Mia not only have Reyes’ men after them, they now have a specialist unit lead by the unit himself, Hobbs. When faced with limited options of escaping cleanly, Mia announces her pregnancy to Brian and Dom, which changes things. Dom now decides he wants to steal the money from Reyes and pay for a clean slate, a new life. For this, they would need to assemble a crack team to operate this job. The next scene is a real gem for the fans of the fast and furious franchise as we meet old characters including, Tej, Han and Roman.

Much of the next part of the film is just the team preparing differently for the heist job, such as street racing for cars, preparing routes and guns. Although not much exciting happens, until the day of the heist. Faced with a perfect opportunity to pull off the job, Dom sends team one out to begin the job, but before he has the chance to leave himself, Hobbs crashes into his muscle car and goes mano-a-mano with Dom, which is pretty awesome scene in all honesty.

“You just made a big mistake”

After the brawl, which is a good way to describe the fight, Dom, Brian, Mia and Vince are subsequently arrested and are on the way to the airport to be extradited. They are ambushed by Reyes’ men, to which a firefight ensues where majority of Hobbs’ men are wiped out, Dom, Vince and Brian instead of escaping help Hobbs and travel back to the safe house. Vince, however, doesn’t make it, being shot in the process and dies eventually. Hobbs this time round agrees to help with the heist as he wants to seek revenge against Reyes, however, they go with a different plan that isn’t revealed until it’s acted out.

I won’t spoil it, but in true Fast and Furious fashion the heist is ridiculous. How they go about it and what happens is truly ridiculous, enjoyable all the same, but ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film, as much as I didn’t want to say that, however, this does bring the platform back up after a below average (in my opinion) last two films. And if you’re a Fast & Furious fan that’s yet to see this film, I would advise you to watch til a little after the credits for a surprise. As for what the franchise stands for, this film does have it, aside from a street race for pink slips (even though it is implied), as it has the fast cars, the women and the action.

3.5/5

The Thing (2011)

Although they do have the same name, The Thing (2011) marks as a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing. If you’ve not seen the John Carpenter’s, I urge you to stop reading this, watch the film, and then come back, as this film will kind of give it away for the Carpenter version.

Based in the Norwegian camp that is explored during the 1982 version, the 2011 prequel does not differ much to the story line of the first. Aside from the fact the Norwegians make the initial discovery of the spaceship and the “thing” that is seen in the first film. When the Norwegians first find the spaceship, they assume there will be life within the ship, which is when they call upon Kate Lloyd (Mary Winstead Elizabeth) in help identifying anything that is found.

Rightly so, away from the ship, a creature is found in the ice frozen solid, where they decide to pry it out of the ice to take back to the camp for further investigation. After finding the creature to be out of this world, they begin to celebrate the discovery. An American member of the team decides that he wants to see this creature up close, but using shock factors and making you jump, the thing explodes out the ice and escapes. This of course cues panicking from the Norwegian crew to detain the alien.

Searchin for the alien around the camp site, two members of the crew find it, to which the alien decides to eat one of them, Henrik drawing the short straw. The alien is subsequently burnt underneath the shack, where it chose to hide and is dead. Instead of incererating the remains of the body, Dr. Halvorson demands it to be brought inside for further tests with Finch and Kate. Kate, Adam Finch (Eric Olsen) and Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen). find out the alien, has a rather odd anatomy and had latched onto the now dead Henrik. Upon further inspection, Kate finds surgical steel set aside from the body, meaning the Alien had cast out the inorganic material.

When Dr Halvorson leaves, Kate Lloyd examines the cells of Henrik and finds the alien cells imitating Henrik’s cells, essentially becoming him. The latter half of the film is very similar to the 1982 version in the sense everyone becomes rather paranoid as to who’s what. Kate, in clear paranoia tries to distinguish between the crew members by checking the fillings, after finding some in the bathroom. This scene is very similar to the 1982 version, with the blood test.

“So I’m going to get killed because I floss?”

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Now, I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s pretty easy to tell what is going to happen if you’ve seen the 1982 The Thing.  However, it is an apt round circle for the 1982, which gives an explanation to the ending of 1982 The Thing. However, this prequel has a lot of jumpy, shock factors when the the alien transforms and appears. Whereas, John Carpenter’s version made myself start to feel very paranoid about what is going to happen and worried, immersing myself into the film. Unfortunately, this was not bridged as I guessed who is what and when it was going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, but being a prequel to John Carpenter’s film was always going to be a difficult task with what Carpenter achieved in the original. I preferred the mystery surrounding the alien, whereas in this, more of the alien is revealed in it’s true form. But alas, I’m comparing too much. Standing alone, the film is decent, inducing paranoia, but to me, predictable with who was the alien essentially.

3/5