Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

In a nutshell: Hammer horror goes ghostly in style

Pocorn rating: 4/5

A Hammer fan since the age of 13, I was hugely excited to learn that the iconic British film company was adapting Susan Hill’s shudderingly creepy classic ghost story, The Woman In Black. Then I heard they’d cast Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role, and I was nervous. Not that I have anything against the lovely eager-faced Potterboy, but surely this film was for grown-ups? And knowing it had a 12A rating didn’t help. Any film that under 12s can watch provided they’re with their mum* just couldn’t be that scary, I thought.

HA! How wrong was I?

The Woman In Black, like the best of Hammer’s early output, is a lushly atmospheric Victorian Gothic period piece that, during the showing I attended, had half the audience yelping in fear and saw popcorn liberally be-scattered about the aisles where hapless young wusses had literally jumped out of their seats. Moreover, Radcliffe is really rather good as a young widower trying to do the best by his little boy, and turns in a thoroughly convincing and sympathetic performance throughout.

Much as Hammer used to take substantial liberties with Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley in their golden years, they’ve done away with plenty of Susan Hill’s plot here: The Woman In Black diverges considerably from the book, and it doesn’t really have the understated feel of the novel. What it does have is imaginatively-staged scares by the spadeful and a nice line in gloomy Gothic melodrama as this traditional haunted house tale gradually unfurls before us. There’s almost no gore, hence the 12A rating, but it’s still deeply gruesome in tone, relentlessly spooky, and full of serious make-you-jump moments. Plus, there are some genuine shocks – if you’re confident that cute kids in jeopardy always escape the worst in horror films, think again.

Subtlety isn’t the film’s strongest point – there are only so many times you can be shown a creepy clockwork Victorian monkey toy before you just want to giggle – but there are moments of quirky humour that work remarkably well, and the film overall is well-executed and beautifully shot – bleak estuary marshes, dank mists and all. Plus, like all the greatest Hammer films, it has a fine supporting cast of stalwart English character actors and even one of those brilliant scenes where a cheery young chap enters a local village pub and finds that something is clearly Not Quite Right.

All in all, great spooky fun, and you’ll never look at a rocking chair in the same light again. But really, don’t be fooled by the rating: avoid taking your nine-year-old unless you actively want them to be wetting the bed and sleeping with the lights on into their mid-teens.

*In fairness, I actually went to see it with my mum, and I’m 36.

Reviewer: Jo Sheppard

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In a nutshell: Hollywood’s take on Larsson’s dark masterpiece

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Who would have thought a series of novels by a late Swedish author could have caused such a stir?  More than 20 million people have read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and the original films proved to be among Sweden’s most successful.

Now it’s Hollywood’s turn at the girl with that tattoo, with David Fincher in the director’s chair.

Many have questioned the purpose of remaking The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  The 2009 original directed by Niels Arden Oplev was critically acclaimed and of its place . The remake will therefore no doubt spark a debate about our reluctance to read subtitles.

Nevertheless, Fincher is a perfect fit for the dark yet captivating subject matter, channelling his experience from his previous thrillers like Seven and Zodiac.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo tells the story of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he investigates the disappearance of a teenager some forty years ago.  He is aided by the enigmatic computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) in the seach to uncover secrets which will ultimately threaten their lives.

A word of advice is needed for those new to the Millennium story – be prepared.  The core of the film is a classic ‘whodunnit’ but there’s a darker edge to the film with many scenes of sexual violence. This is an important addition, helping to shape the plot and characters, but it is graphic and abhorrent.

Indeed, the original name for the story is Men Who Hate Women and the book’s themes were inspired when a teenage Larsson witnessed a rape and was too frightened to intervene.

But this should not put anyone off because the film features redemption on many levels, particularly for anti-hero Lisbeth.  The character, one of cinema’s most interesting in years, is played almost perfectly by newcomer Rooney Mara.  It is almost on a par with Noomi Rapace’s groundbreaking portrayal in the Swedish versions.

Mara introduces a vulnerable side to Lisbeth – a welcome new dimension to the damaged character. Daniel Craig also works hard to hang up his 007 tuxedo to play an everyman.

Although it’s a little jarring and confusing to see Americans playing Swedish characters it’s worth suspending your disbelief as this is worthy adaptation.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Intense, thrilling and strangely enigmatic.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

This is an eerily sparse thriller in which indie cinema’s onetime enfant terrible, Vincent Gallo, stars as a Muslim fighter redacted from Afghanistan to an unnamed European country, whereupon chance circumstances leave him in classic fugitive-on-the-run territory.

Directed by Pole Jerzy Skolmowski, Essential Killing is virtually wordless yet utterly taut in its plotting: there’s no character development as such so the film’s central protagonist is defined by action alone, determined by the relentless forward-motion of the narrative. It’s also redolent of specific movie genres and archetypes: the western outlaw, and also the rootless ronin of samurai films. Here Gallo is a solitary figure in an alien landscape, a desert fighter transplanted to an unnamed location that’s wintry, inhospitable and hostile.

This works as an existentialist action flick with a kind of moral blankness at its centre: we only identify with Gallo insofar as the suspense of his predicament dictates it, while his character remains inscrutable. And the film’s opening leaves no doubt as to his status as a combatant, rather than someone simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The scenes of the aftermath of his capture are brutal and dehumanising, and yet his portrayal, once freed and on the run, stays stubbornly defined by action alone. And while some of this action is interspersed with flashbacks to a pre-war lifestyle, these appear as near-hallucinatory inserts, adding an element of cinematic disorientation to the otherwise pared back scenes of flight and fight.

As the action progresses, a dreamlike sense of displacement begins to invade the narrative’s realism, ultimately leading to a conclusion that’s logical and visually arresting but also poetic and oddly elliptical.

Reviewer: TomRidge

In a nutshell: Eternal youth for the rich, death for the poor. Great concept marred by poor execution.

Popcorn rating: 2.5/5

Robin Hood meets sci fi might sound like a recipe for disaster. But writer and director Andrew Niccol almost manages to pull off this story of a dystopia in which time is literally money.

No doubt inspired by the work of Philip K Dick, In Time shows a world in which people stop aging at 25 but are genetically engineered to live just one more year. This is unless they can ‘buy their way out’ – the rich and successful basically have eternal youth. On each person’s arm are glowing digits which morbidly show how much time they have left to live. It is also like a cash machine as people can simply touch each other to transfer ‘time’.

Niccol messes with your head from the outset – to give you an example, you meet the protagonist Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) and then his mum Rachel (Olivia Wilde from House) – in physical terms they are the same age but Rachel is 50. Salas lives day-by-day struggling to survive – quite literally – but when he saves Henry Hamilton, who has a century on the clock, his life completely changes.

Salas is accused of murder and from almost out of nowhere, he recruits a disillusioned rich man’s daughter Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried). The pair set out on a Robin Hood adventure to crash the living, breathing market and give everyone the chance of a full life. Hot on their heels are the time keepers (I kid you not) led by Cillian Murphy, in a rather dull and disappointing role.

In Time proves to be a flawed but interesting concept. Despite the audience being offered no explanation about why the world is like this, the film is intriguing – as well as a terrifying take on our obsession with mortality and the evolution of capitalism.

In the film, people live in ‘time zones’ which separate the rich and poor. It’s all too familiar – think about Britain’s poor estates and leafty mansions. Unfortunately, it’s the unconvincing story and execution which lets it down. Sylvia betrays her family and her whole way of life seemingly on a whim. In one scene the picturesque pair also ram raid a bank which is made entirely out of glass and has its safe wide open. Seriously, who made this bank?

All in all, watching In Time won’t be a complete waste of time, just don’t expect any real surprises as the final seconds tick down.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Ghouls and boys come out to play…

Popcorn rating: 4/5

November’s the perfect month for ghost stories. An eerie mist hangs in the air, trees clutch skeletally at their last dying leaves, darkness creeps up on us ever earlier each night… it’s all conducive to being gleefully scared shitless. And The Awakening, released in cinemas last weekend, does exactly that.

The Awakening is a proper, old-fashioned ghost story set in 1921, with an emphasis on atmosphere, suggestion, beautifully haunting cinematography and well-timed shocks rather than gore and effects. Rebecca Hall is likeable as bluestocking Florence Cathcart, who could easily have been insufferable in the hands of a lesser actor; Dominic West turns in a typically convincing performance as a teacher battling shellshock, and Imelda Staunton is perfectly cast as a maternal school matron. Pale, doe-eyed whippersnapper Isaac Hempstead Wright is also impressive as boarding school misfit Tom.

I won’t claim The Awakening is groundbreaking. The twists are clever, but hardly revolutionary, and much of the creepiness comes from fairly standard devices – ghostly images in old photos, spectral children, secret passages and vaguely sinister objects appearing in odd places. However, this doesn’t make them any less unsettling, and there are original touches scattered throughout too – one particular scene with a dolls’ house made my skin crawl.

Moreover, the references to the First World War are well-placed: as well as the ghostly child purported to be haunting a remote boarding school, the universal spectre of the war hovers over everyone. There’s schoolteacher Mallory, with his survivor’s guilt and his residual stammer. There’s Florence, emotionally crippled by the death of her ex-fiancé. There’s even handyman Judd, rendered bitter and resentful by his own cowardice. Lest we forget, indeed.

As the nerve-shredding chills in the final third of the film build to a climax, it might be fair to say that things are a wee bit drawn out and overblown. But frankly, I didn’t care. The Awakening isn’t quite The Others, but it’s got great performances, a strong script and enough jump-out-of-your-seat moments to keep you thoroughly entertained on a dark evening. According to Peter Ackroyd’s recent book, The English Ghost, the English produce more ghost stories than any other nation in the world, and The Awakening – a BBC Films production – does a fine job of upholding that tradition.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: Alien invasion meets soap opera

Popcorn rating: 2.5/5

Think of aliens from outer space and you’ll probably picture a sweaty, shaven headed Sigourney Weaver battling xenomorphs; or perhaps you’d focus on the softer tales of aliens interacting with humanity favoured by a young Steven Spielberg; or maybe you’d chuckle at the idea of a terrified 1950s radio audience panicked at how real a fictional ‘we’ve been invaded’ news announcement can be.

Falling Skies is very much in the Spielbergian camp, offering a story focusing on the human toll of an alien invasion. As an added credit, the world famous, cap wearing director even signed on as an executive producer. Of course, in retrospect, he probably wishes he hadn’t bothered as, quite simply, Falling Skies just doesn’t cut it.

Like The Walking Dead, Falling Skies is set after a catastrophic event and focuses on mankind’s last hopes at fighting back. The story centres on a band of survivors, based within the army’s ragtag 2nd Massachusetts division who have made their camp at John F. Kennedy High School. We quickly learn mankind is not alone. Hulking mechs roam the streets and highways eliminating everything in their way, while six-legged alien “soldiers”, known as skitters, enslave human children.

The aliens and their weaponry are eye catching, interesting, thrilling even, but when the aliens are nowhere to be seen, the American series doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. This is supposed to be an apocalypse, a last ditch attempt to survive, and yet the characters aren’t broken; they’re clean cut, optimistic. It is almost like a soap opera.

The humans are led by Captain Weaver (Will Patton) who attempts to look vaguely haunted by his past and Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) who is completely wooden throughout the 10 episodes, during which he repeatedly ‘heroically’ insists on undertaking the most dangerous missions.

This makes it incredibly difficult to feel any empathy for the humans, and therefore any anger towards the aliens. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the final battle of the series goes out with a fizzle rather than a bang.

But to be fair, once Falling Skies works through its teething problems there are some interesting twists along the way. The aliens attach ‘harnesses’ to children which basically turn them into willing slaves – and possibly even worse, which is an interesting twist (though the survivors don’t seem to pick up on massive clues hinting at the symbiotic device’s darker purpose).

All in all, not as good as I had hoped but it offers some reluctant promise for a better second season.

Reviewer: David Morgan

In a nutshell: Mean, moody and nameless takes a drive

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Don’t know about you but there’s something about a movie with fast cars and big action that brings out my inner child. One minute I’m sitting there, wittering on about the inherent beauty of Terrence Malick’s cinemtaograhy like Mark Cousins (but without an annoying voice) then the movies starts and a few minutes later, there I am, screaming “Drive muthaf**ka, drive” like some demented redneck from a 1980s B movie.

Anyway, confessions over. ‘Cos Drive ain’t that kind of driving movie. Oh it’s got cars and violence and shiny jackets and stuff but this Ryan Gosling vehicle, is more of the thinking gal’s driving movie. See, underneath all the action, there is a bittersweet love story all mixed in with a nail biting thriller.

As if the intricacies of the script weren’t enough, visually Drive is stunning. Each shot composed with beauty, an eye for detail, for making the most of the slightly off kilter. In fact the opening scene say it all – as the camera pans across the City of Angels at night, lights vibrant against the glittering black tower blocks, a thumping electro pop soundtrack practically makes you want to go outside, get into your own car and just drive like crazy.

Directed by the excellent Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive’s central character is a nameless stunt driver/mechanic (Gosling) who hires himself out as a getaway driver to earn some extra bucks. A laconic, unreadable character, the driver carries out each getaway with a professional precision that speaks a thousand words. Job over, it is back to his mundane, achingly lonesome life.

Of course, there is only so much planning ahead you can do so, when he breaks his own rules, gets emotionally involved and things go drastically wrong on a heist, the driver finds himself with a bag of cash belonging to a local mobster, a contract on his head and only one way to turn.

Drive is unflinching in its portrayal of life, and of violence. Every crunch of bone, every splatter of blood, every unspoken disappointment is on screen. Surprisingly, this doesn’t make Drive difficult or sad to watch but rather, as the credits roll, you realise just how much this small snapshot of another’s life has resonated with your own.

As the movie blurb says, some heroes are real.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley