Simple survival stories can be extremely effective in cinematic form, but it is all about execution. The suspense and intensity of the sequences of survival are the essence of the narrative, and there isn’t much to fall back on if that doesn’t work. Horizon Line contains all of the expected twists and turns of a survival story, but I couldn’t have been less involved. Every moment felt rote and obvious, and I was just waiting for the next predictable moment to arrive.
Nostalgia has been a big moneymaker for Hollywood in recent decades, pillaging the successes of the past for reboot and repurposing. Although never explicitly said, it is quite clear that Freaky is a mash-up of two unrelated film classics from the past: Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th. Beyond the shared word in the title of each film, there is nothing connecting a family body-swap to a bloody slasher, and it often feels as though the filmmakers stopped trying to do anything else clever after coming up with the unique premise. What we get is a perfunctory horror comedy with a lazy script and none of the references to the two films which inspired it that might have given the entire outing more nuance. At the very least, it would have been nice to see some stylistic references, but this is filmed in the blandest way possible.
Film noir narratives rarely relied on sympathetic female protagonists, typically resigning them to either an innocent supporting character or a devious femme fatale. While there is a femme fatale in the 1952 noir, Sudden Fear, the main character is unusual enough just being a woman, but also has the added distinction of ending in a place of moral superiority. Star Joan Crawford had previously bent this male-driven movement of post-war cinema by blending the woman’s picture (now referred to as melodrama) and the film noir with the 1945 classic, Mildred Pierce.
Prior to the release of Ne Zha, I had little experience with Chinese animation, more familiar with the more commonly distributed Japanese and French variety. Ne Zha was distinctly Chinese in the adaption of a classic folk legend, but it was also widely distributed with broad appeal. It also follows the recently popular trend of Hollywood, creating a shared cinematic universe for a series of animated films, with the second being Jiang Ziya.
Prior to the pandemic, there were a few rising trends in the themes of American horror films. Along with the rise in occult and witchcraft narratives, we saw an increased anxiety over society’s dependence on technology and social media. Some of these films involve the supernatural, as seems to be the case in the Unfriended franchise, or an addition to the previously mentioned witchcraft subgenre, like Friend Request. Even the supernatural serial killer doll Chucky was reinvented as a smart device with disabled safety features. The terror comes from social media, apps (Countdown), or in the case of Come Play, the devices themselves.
The news that indi filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have just been hired as directors for a new Marvel show on Disney Plus shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has seen Synchronic, particularly after having followed the progression of their career prior to their latest low budget science fiction thriller. There are distinct differences in their latest film, most notably being the casting of name actors and an unambiguous sci-fi premise. This is easily their most accessible film, and at times it feels like a calling card to Hollywood to prove that it is possible to make Christopher Nolan films with a fraction of the budget and half the plot holes.
Campiness used to be a kind way to justify the enjoyment of poor filmmaking, but now it is an intentional stylistic choice. Max Cloud is so over-the-top that one hopes it to be an example of the latter, but the intention of the campiness does not equate to quality or enjoyment of it. And it does not equate to originality, which this film has little of. The budget is obviously low, but it doesn’t take a lot of money for halfway decent humor.
You might think that a film about an apocalypse which forces all of humanity underground would be relatable during the current pandemic, but Love and Monsters has themes that ultimately feel tone deaf. Fortunately, this is not the type of film that demands deep analysis. Even if the message of getting out in the world and taking some risks doesn’t perfectly align with the current climate, we can all use this type of escapist entertainment. Derivative and predictable as it may be, Love and Monsters is an easy view during a time when everything seems more difficult than it should be.
It is always interesting to watch an actor lean into the persona that they have become famous for, but I find it absolutely fascinating when an actor seems to reinvent the type of roles they are known for when they have a success that revives a career that is waning. It isn’t that Liam Neeson didn’t play tough guys prior to Taken, but he was probably better known for his intimate romance and drama. What is interesting about Honest Thief is that it promises a premise from Neeson’s recent filmography, while allowing him to play a character with softer sides that resemble older roles. Unfortunately, little else about the film is deserving of being called interesting, even if it serves as passable entertainment if you stumble on it streaming in a few years.
It must be difficult living in the shadow of a legend. I imagine the instinct would be to avoid comparisons, to choose another line of work, or at least vary in approach. Brandon Cronenberg not only chose to become a filmmaker, with Possessor he has made a movie that feels like the descendant of some of David Cronenberg’s best. As a director, Brandon has proved his value, though I found myself questioning the screenplay’s follow-through on an undeniably creative sci-fi premise. The movie seems to devolve into splatter horror, though never with enough insight into character motivation for this to feel like much more than shock value. While Possessor may have style and precise filmmaking, I question the value of the storytelling.
It wasn’t until nearly two decades after Night of the Living Dead that George A. Romero returned to the zombie genre with his first follow-up in the franchise, Dawn of the Dead. As such, the series did not continue with any specific human characters (which would have been difficult anyway, given the bleak lack of survivors), but instead traced the progression of the zombie apocalypse as an allegory for something larger. While the follow-up to hit South Korean zombie film, Train to Busan, follows the same model of continuing the narrative, it lacks the impact of Romero’s shifting social relevance. Instead, Peninsula feels more like the traditional sequel, capitalizing on the success of the last film rather than evolving from it.
Mood and atmosphere can be crucial with lower budget horror filmmaking, especially when making up for shortcomings in other areas. Hosts understands this well, with a few truly horrifying moments that are executed with an understanding of how to make the budget work for you. And for these brief moments, I commend Hosts. Unfortunately, nearly every aspect of the storytelling beyond the atmosphere and moments of violence fail to impress. In fact, while some elements of the film are stellar, others are equally unimpressive.
Social relevance showing up in genre filmmaking is far from new, though it has taken on additional significance in the current cultural climate in America. We have seen this in the increase of female representation in action-oriented genres, including the announcement that the next 007 will be a woman. Similarly, racial representation within Hollywood has taken some clear strides in recent years, which is why she is also black. Because of this, it is equally unsurprising to see RZA integrating these themes into his latest film. Unfortunately, these themes often get lost in a convoluted plot that can’t seem to decide what genre it belongs to or what it wants to say. In terms of representation, Cut Throat City wins, even though it fails at some basic aspects of storytelling.
Family-driven terror has been showing up more frequently in the horror genre in recent years, but not in the expected ways. Rather than having a family invaded or attacked by an outside force, we are now seeing the threat come within the family more regularly. These films show us husband against wife (The Invisible Man), parent against child (Mom and Dad), child against parent (Brightburn), among others. This has been especially true of occult narratives such as Hereditary and Ready or Not, and at first it appears as though Broil would fit into this category as well.
The entertainment industry has always reflected the ideology of the times, adjusting as society changes their common belief systems. When this occurs sincerely, audiences feel their views being represented equally and accurately, but then there are times that filmmakers and studios are merely capitalizing on the trendy movements. Despite the obvious attempt by the American Pie franchise to become ‘woke’ with the female-led Girls’ Rules, it feels like a blatant attempt at pandering to audiences for a quick profit. It doesn’t feel the least bit sincere, and it is a shaky balancing act continuing a sexually exploitative narrative without offending the female sex. While this is done by shifting a vast majority of the objectification onto the male characters in a vengeful interpretation of modern feminism, even that feels contrived coming from a male director and his two male screenwriters.
Any time a film is associated with a philosophy, religion, or self-help book, the filmmakers seem to have an exceedingly difficult time with subtlety. The agenda of selling the audience members on the belief system that the narrative is focused on often becomes more important than the narrative or other filmmaking elements. With The Secret: Dare to Dream, we are immediately assaulted with the source material being referenced in the form of a cumbersome title. But while this film is a far cry from being a memorable romantic comedy, audiences could do a lot worse in these days of bad Netflix teen romances, Lifetime movies, and the yearly bombardment of faith-based films released in the spring.