Thriller

It (2017)

I do not want to float too, thank you very much.

After 27 years, Stephen King’s IT has made a return to the big screen. I genuinely cannot remember the last time that I was terrified by a film, and the early trailers had an allure to it, so much so that I wanted to actually be terrified by it.

And I come into IT with a relatively fresh approach, as I have no attachment to the original, nor do I have an attachment to the book, so I was kind of excited to see how menacing Pennywise the clown is. What I anticipated was a creepy, thrilling ride of a film, but not something that physically got under my skin.

So much so, there was a point where I shuddered around halfway through the film, without anything menacing happening on screen.

Terrifying.

During a rainy afternoon in 1988, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) begins his reign of terror on the children of Derry by appearing in a drain and talking to Georgie, (Jackson Robert Scott) offering him a balloon. And it’s the immediate creepiness of Pennywise that comes from the screen, as he drools whilst talking to Georgie, claiming he’ll float too. But the creepiest aspect is the glowing yellow eyes as they slowly jut out in different directions as it leaves a lasting imprint. (which is still sending shivers down my spine) 

What I did not anticipate, was the immediate turn that It took with this scene. And that was the opening ten minutes. Fast-forward to the end of the school year in 1989, where Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his friends are bullied by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) about his stutter, but also his missing brother.

What IT does, is cleverly sets up the outcasts instantly in the film, through their own stories. Although Bill is the focal point of The Losers Club, each friend has ample time for his or her own backstory as they find themselves on the cusp of adulthood.

Through their own time on screen, they each encounter It and it’s mysterious yellow eyes. And in each encounter, with Ben, Stan and Mike, the effects on show are just incredible but equally terrifying. And this is where the narrative picks up the pace, as with each encounter, more is revealed about the friends, but also Pennywise himself.

I am normally okay with jump scares and usually can spot the cues, but It was a whole different kettle of fish. The cues were perfectly timed and nothing what I had anticipated. Usually I am okay with clowns, but after the showing, I’m not entirely sure I will be.

But what Andy Muschietti managed to capture was an authentic feel for childhood at this age, especially as the boys cycle round Derry helping Bill investigate the disappearance of his brother. And through Henry Bowers constant terrorising of anyone smaller than him, the friends welcome Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Bev Marsh (Sophia Lillis) into their group.

I was completely gripped with this film throughout the entirety. The narrative flow of It was superb and hit every mark, and lingered where it needed to for the perfect amount of time. Whether it is a faithful adaptation of the Stephen King novel, I wouldn’t know, but I want to actively see the original and read the book due to the enjoyment from Muschietti’s reimagining of this legendary character.

The construct of Pennywise as a character was insanely brilliant, and I was 100% creeped out by the dancing clown. Obviously this comes down to the shift and a half put in by Bill Skarsgard. But the terrifying clown is only amplified by the believable performances from ‘The Losers Club’. As I mentioned the effects on show are incredible, but the ability to manifest the fears of the friends and make them become entities was enticing throughout the film. But it all comes back to the creepiness of Pennywise. The simple effect of having a red balloon float through the library was enough to send shudders down my spine.

It really had the ability to get under my skin and it was glorious. As I mentioned, I cannot remember the last time I was terrified by a film, but I do now. I’m not usually a fan of horrors, but if they were more like this, I imagine I would be. Having been completed mesmerised by the performances and the film as a whole, I can wholeheartedly say, I am excited for Chapter 2.

Advertisements

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.

Fight Cub (1999)

I imagine David Fincher’s 1999 adaptation ranks highly is everyone’s mind and at the moment of writing, Fight Club sits tenth on IMDb’s ‘Top 250’ films. Fight Club has that popular fandom, as majority of response’s about Fight Club is that you are not supposed to talk about Fight Club.

These are the first two rules of the popular underground club formed by Edward Norton’s insomniac narrator and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a soap salesman he meets during his many jet adventures. Norton narrates through his monotonous life, as he goes to support groups for ailments he doesn’t have, like testicular cancer or blood parasites to relieve his insomnia.

Fincher has an eye for the darker films, having directed Se7en before this and following up his 1999 cult classic with Panic Room and Zodiac. He manages to give the screen a darker, ominous presence as the use of shadows and night-time throughout this film really accentuate this effect.

As Norton’s narrator flies us through the support meetings and his sleepless nights, it’s worth noting this film is a slow burner to begin with. As soon as the Narrator meets Tyler Durden, as this point the film picks up it’s pace. In the opening twenty or so minutes, it was a quick run through the Narrators life and the support groups he attends, as soon as he meets Tyler, he returns home to find his Condo blown up.

With nowhere to turn and no one to turn to, he takes a chance on calling Tyler Durden and asks for a place to stay. From here, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton form a rather strange relationship on screen as the two are seemingly polar opposites. Especially as the Narrator has a white collar job for a major car company working out whether to recall the cars or not, whereas Durden is a night worker with a string of different jobs, including a waiter.

fight_club_0799

One of the biggest selling points about Chuck Palahniuk’s book is the twist towards the end of the film, but the way in which David Fincher plays this out is excellent. Especially after the first watch, the following watches you become entranced in just how clever Fincher was in the build up to the twist.

This is in part thanks to the acting of Norton and Pitt as the duo, but also Helen Bonham Carter’s Marla becoming entwined in their relationship. Throughout the 130+ minute runtime, the film does divulge itself in it’s violence as we see Tyler beaten to a pulp as well as the Narrator beating Angel Face (Jared Leto) to a pulp, for no apparent reason.

Fincher mixed this in with Durden’s view on the world, that being very, very against anything mildly corporate. Brad Pitt plays Durden with excellence, really flowing with the carefree attitude that surrounds Durden. Norton does back Pitt up with his uptight white collar worker.

fight_club_0476

David Fincher washes Fight Club in a sickly green tint which really relays the darker undertone that flows throughout the film, as the Narrator and Durden stories become entwined. The story takes a change of pace as Durden runs free with franchising Fight Club, whilst the Narrator struggles to keep up with Durden and his extravagant plans.

Fight Club is a definitely an exciting ride of a film. David Fincher manages to expertly play it out with Pitt and Norton lifting the story off the screen. Fincher washing the film in a sickly and darker undertone really worked for this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s original book.

The use of violence throughout and the anti-corporate message seems to be placed at perfect intervals throughout Fight Club and doesn’t seem to ramming this message down your throat. My only gripe with Fight Club is the opening 20 or so minutes are properly slow burning. Once the Fight Club takes off, the film picks up it’s pace, but that opening is tough to swallow. That being said, the method is which Fincher delivers the plot twist is brilliant and subsequent viewings reveal the masterful touch on this story and it’s revealing of the plot. After recently re-watching Fight Club it’s clear to see why it ranks highly on peoples list and sits tenth on the IMDb top 250 list.

Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special was one of my highly anticipated films of last year, but unfortunately did not manage to get to see it in the cinema, but eventually it made an appearance on a streaming site that I was able to access. Jeff Nichols’ fourth feature length film looked to be quite the science fiction thriller piece, so I was excited to finally watch it.

Majority of the promotional footage and trailers featured the image of a young boy that seemed to radiate a blinding blue light from his eyes. In Midnight Special, our first meeting with the young boy, he is wearing goggles and noise-cancelling ear mitts whilst reading a comic book. During this introduction with Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), we see Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton watching the news, regarding the kidnapping of Alton and the case being placed on amber alert.

midnight_special_wb_1-0-0

Already Nichols has managed to tell the opening segments to the story with enough vigour to grip me, but also with the help of an intense car journey down the back lanes of the southern states of North America. Without relaying too much information, the film quickly changes the pace with an FBI-raid on a ranch, which houses a cult.

What becomes clear is that Roy Tomlin, (Michael Shannon) the man responsible for the kidnapping of Alton, is actually the boy’s father. But also that Alton has a special ability to intercept secret encoded satellite messages. This obviously is quite the concern for the FBI and the American government, so they want Alton located, as much as the cult to bring him back ‘home’.

Jeff Nichols’ manages to keep up the fast pace as Roy and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) continually avoid the police, but also the cult members that were sent by cult to find Alton. But the trouble is during this rip-roaring pace; the question remains as to why this is all happening?

umdswoo6sz97ijelinzr

What begins as a rip roaring pace and filling the opening segment with mysterious characters, Midnight Special begins to lack in a strong storyline as it enters the latter half of the film. In instances, a strong storyline is sometimes superseded by the strong characters and with a strong cast containing Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver, one would suspect Midnight Special is one of those instances.

It isn’t.

The plaudits of acting would rest on Jaeden Lieberher’s shoulders, as Alton seemingly becomes weaker and the film bores into it’s second hour, and Lieberher’s performance is convincing amongst the others, well, less than convincing performances.

For me, Kirsten Dunst’s maternal character was pretty much pointless in the story and did not add any width to the story. She didn’t have the intrigue that Roy and Lucas did during their introduction, but even their mysteriousness eventually slipped away. Adam Driver’s NSA analyst was an excellent inclusion as he accepts the mystery that is Alton, but Jeff Nichols’ did not manage to effectively incorporate this into the story enough, he focused on the mad chase that surrounded Alton and the mysterious coordinates that Sevier (Driver) works out.

As I previously mentioned, Nichols created what was seemingly a science-fiction thriller and there were certain aspects within the film that was enjoyable, including the pace to the opening of the film, and some wonderful shots of the sun setting and rising. Unfortunately for me, the enjoyable sections of Midnight Special were too few and far between when the film lost its way with the story, but also the less-than-convincing cast performances.

midnight-special-test-xlarge

Midnight Special could have become a cult classic, but the story seems to have taken a cop-out route and it just doesn’t seem to make much sense, for me anyway. The cast had me filled with promise, considering the ability of them but again, I felt let down by Shannon & co aside from Leiberher’s performance. Alas, the opening hour was good and thrilling, culminating in a meteor shower that looked majestic, but from there the film slowly begins to drop off and seemingly loses itself in free fall. As much as I enjoyed the opening hour, I could not shake the closing hour practically ruining the film for me. Unfortunately Midnight Special was a bit of dud.

Before I Go To Sleep (2014)

To potentially combat the domination of Marvel and DC in the film market, there has recently been a ‘boom’ in films adapted from mystery thriller novels such as Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Child 44 and Before I Go To Sleep. The latter seemingly fell by the wayside as Gone Girl came out around the same time as Before I Go To Sleep.

Memory loss being at the centre of a film is always difficult to convey and has only rarely come out excellently, the best example being Momento. Before I Go To Sleep has memory loss at the very centre of this tale, as Nicole Kidman takes on this challenging role of Christine.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) is a forty-year old woman who wakes up every morning not remembering anything. (Think 50 First Dates, but way more serious)
She wakes up in strange surroundings, and next to a strange man. Instantly she freaks out, only to be assured by the strange man that he is her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). He also informs Christine that she was in a car accident ten years earlier, which resulted in her memory loss.

It’s always difficult to construe memory loss convincingly on film, as the two most popular films to contain this are Momento and 50 First Dates and they are very, very different films. Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth shoulder this immeasurable task of convincingly act it out.

Not only would Kidman and Firth have to act out such a tough task, but the way Rowan Joffe has to keep the story interesting enough without ruining it within the first ten minutes. Having the inclusion of Dr. Nasch at this early stage and the small-scale cast keeps the story at the centre of the film, and of course interesting as it plays immediately on Christine’s suspicions about everyone.

960

Dr. Nasch manages to convince Christine that he has been treating her for some months on her accident. He gifts her a video camera to keep a video diary and helping her remember information from the day previous. As the days and the treatment continues, Christine learns more, including that it wasn’t a car accident, but rather a brutal attack where she was left for dead.

As the film bores into it’s hour and a half runtime, Joffe keeps dripping other essences into the film and making us second-guess and triple-guess our assumptions made initially. And of course, what is a mystery thriller without a tense sense or two? Joffe plays out one of these scenes beautifully, gripping you to the very core.

I believe this comes down the culmination of the score, the setting and of course the acting from Kidman and Firth. Before I Go To Sleep manages to sustain the effectiveness of this memory loss through Nicole Kidman, but the surrounding Kidman with Firth and Mark Strong make up an excellent small-scale cast.

960-2

Unfortunately for Before I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl outgunned it as they came out at similar points, yet it didn’t deserve to be as it manages to hold its own for the 90 minute runtime. Joffe creates a wonderfully tense piece of filmmaking, which is only helped on by the intimate cast of Kidman, Firth and Strong.

Before I Go To Sleep is deserving of being included in more conversations when compared to the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (two films seemingly being compared with each other at this moment in time) as its beautifully tense and expertly acted out by the cast. Joffe manages to expertly dangle this tense thriller involving memory loss throughout the story with precision and still making it an enjoyable film to watch.

The Girl on the Train (2016)

From a jumbled, seemingly out-of-sync trailer, I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Girl on the Train. I had expected it to be driven through the titular ‘Girl’ on the train, which is Emily Blunt’s Rachel. Instead, it is centralised through three women whose lives are all intertwined.

Rachel commutes daily on the train to Manhattan and it goes by the idealistic Beckett Road. Rachel fantasies about the occupants of 15 Beckett Road, daydreaming that they lead the perfect life inside their home. This creates an incredibly murky picture of the aforementioned Rachel, especially when it pans two doors down and we see Rachel standing there.

981be66afccfa9de_mcdgion_ec077_h

As Rachel catches the story up, she reveals that she used to live in that house with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) before he was found out cheating on Rachel with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Tom now lives with Anna in that house, with a child. We’re thrust back into reality when a passenger sits next to Rachel with a baby, she slurs compliments at the child, revealing she is in fact, drunk.

Rachel continues to commute to Manhattan and fantasises about Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) the aforementioned occupant of 15 Beckett Road, as she sees him cuddling with her husband Scott (Luke Evans). Until one morning, she sees Megan on the balcony with another man. This lights a raging fire within Rachel, that cannot be contained. The film then continues on a build-up to an event that sends everything in a downward spiral for the five involved.

That evening Megan goes missing, with Rachel seemingly the prime suspect as she stumbles off the train at the stop close to Megan’s house. She follows her to a tunnel where she witnesses the aforementioned event, which isn’t clear due to her level of intoxication. Rachel subsequently wakes up in the morning with no memory of the night before and blood caked over her face.

the-girl-on-the-train-movie-24

The Girl on the Train does take a while to get going, but it is interesting in the way that it builds up to this event. It tells the story through not just Rachel, but Megan and Anna as well, giving a rounded perspective. It builds up in Gone Girl style with flashbacks of ‘6 months ago’ and ‘3 weeks ago’ etc, which works as it drip feeds the story giving it that mystery element, especially with Megan’s unrevealed past. Tate Taylor cleverly incorporated a ‘fuzzy’ filter over Rachel’s segments of the story to match her intoxication, giving the pictures a distorted feel constantly, which was really effective.

Megan probably has the most intriguing backstory, which is only touched upon briefly but alas, I did not care for her character, nor Anna and Rachel’s. Anna is seemingly hell-bent on painting Rachel as a terrible person and manipulating Tom’s (Who, remember, was Rachel’s ex) perception of her. That’s not to say the three women give great performances, as they were riveting as their respective characters, but I just did not like them, nor connect with them.

gallery4-5717c33a14c70-1

Tate Taylor has incorporated some interesting elements into this film, unfortunately this isn’t enough to carry The Girl on the Train through the 112 minute runtime. The performances are captivating throughout the picture and Emily Blunt does steal the show alongside Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett, and backed up by the supporting cast excellently. Also Tate Taylor’s incorporation of the effects to distort the picture was effective throughout.

However, I left feeling largely disappointed in The Girl on the Train, mainly due to the pretty simplistic storyline that doesn’t offer anything different to the Mystery/Thriller genre that wasn’t already exhibited by Gone Girl, a film of similar nature. As mentioned above, Blunt, Ferguson and Bennett help the film through the 112 minutes with some interesting themes throughout (which I won’t divulge due to plot spoilers) the picture. Quite frankly, the despicable characters, simplistic storyline and the disjointed way the film threads it way through the runtime is quite frustrating and made (for me) a disappointing viewing.

Contagion (2011)

If you are a serious germaphobe, then I would not recommend watching this film, as a side effect of this would be enhancing your germaphobic tendencies. (Or alternatively turning into one after)

Between the rather tense thrillers of Solaris and Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh carried on his theme with Contagion. Bolstered by the all-star cast, including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Bryan Cranston all putting in a collective masterful performance.

Soderbergh chose to plunge us immediately into the story, as he begins at Day 2 of the pandemic. He builds this suspense and tension fantastically as he quickly hops from country to country and city to city including London, China and Minneapolis.

This is only helped tenfold by the music as it is perfectly crafted and catered to each scene, helping the suspense build in time with the increased spread of the pandemic and of course with the ever-rising infection rate.

Due to the story of Contagion, there was never going to be a massive need for special effects. Soderbergh instead chose to funnel the story through centralised stories, with the bulk of it taken on by Dr Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and the CDC. (Centre for Disease Control)

Soderbergh’s containment of the story is one of the biggest strengths, as instead of jumping around the globe to the affected areas, he reveals what is needed to know. Although Laurence Fishburne is the primary driving force, key parts of the story are still helped through by Matt Damon and Marion Cotillard, and how they are being being affected by this disease.

contagion-1920

The continual suspense being buiilt is another of it’s biggest strengths, due to the second and triple guessing about the whodunnit element and who could in fact be the fatal patient zero. Although this film is pretty much a medical thriller, it still remains interesting. However, Soderbergh still offers a look into basic human instinct when everything goes to pot and the lengths humans will go to, to protect themselves and their families.

Soderbergh choice to focus on the interactions of people, whether that be handshakes, coughing in enclosed places or the handling of different things between people, only enhances this story. Now this is where the germaphobia begins to set in, as the characters onscreen begin to interact with things risking the chance of infection.

As the story wears on, it certainly doesn’t drag as it becomes interesting as we begin to see the lengths that Dr Cheever and his team go to when trying to halt the infection spreading and trying to find a vaccine. Laurence Fishburne assumes command of this story, but continually supported by a phenomenal cast.

Jude Law and Kate Winslet are infectious with their key performances to support Laurence. Jude as Alan Krumwiede, the fear inducing ‘truth’ reporter and Kate Winslet the field operative of the CDC, whom takes it upon herself to be on the front line and first defence.

09_contagio.w529.h352

This film nearly becomes a complete perfect picture, however, the irregularities in the story just slightly let it down. Often I am all for open-ended endings, but Contagion does not fall into this bracket for me as I feel there are just far too many questions left to be answered.

But standing at around an hour and forty minutes, the film is of perfect length for viewing, as it doesn’t drag on too much, it rather just reveals enough information to keep us hooked. There are huge strengths to this film, including the cast and the soundtrack, but I feel the way the story told is actually is the biggest strength in this film. As I said, Soderbergh teases enough of the story to keep the audience hooked and in suspense whilst the story plays out over the pretty much perfect running time.