Tag Archives: 2017

A short review of “Killing Ground” (2016)

I can’t say that the Australian “Killing Ground” (2016) is a bad horror-thriller.  It’s well made in some ways — most notably in its generally excellent cast.  (The standouts here are Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows; the latter provides a disturbingly naturalistic performance as one of the story’s evildoers.  He’s a talented actor and unnervingly skilled in his role here.)  And the cinematography is good, even if it suffers in inevitable comparison to the seminal Australian outback horror-thrillers, the extraordinary “Wolf Creek” films and TV series (2005-2017).

But I can’t actually recommend “Killing Ground” either, because I didn’t enjoy it much.  I’d rate it only a 4 out of 10 for its strengths.   What held me back from enjoying the movie more is its brutal portrayal of violence.

I realize that sounds ridiculous, given my viewing habits and the films I’ve favorably reviewed right here at this blog.  (Any entry in the “Wolf Creek” series, for example, contains far more violence and sadism than “Killing Ground.”)  And I’ll probably do a poor job of explaining it now.

But the violence here feels too … realistic.  (Other reviewers have noted this as well, and employed the descriptor “hyper-realistic.”)  Furthermore, its depiction is not in service to the story, but rather seems the sole and primary focus of the film itself.  One of my complaints about “Killing Ground” is that there is not much of a story at all.  We simply witness random violence perpetrated against ordinary innocents who we would probably like if we met them.  (I am trying to avoid spoilers here; hence my vague language.)

Writer-director Damien Power also delivers this brutality to the audience in a … prosaic manner, I guess, with little fanfare.  His movie came across to me like a faux snuff film, instead of a cinematic story of good and evil, or a character-driven survival parable.  (I submit that “Wolf Creek” hit it out of the park on both of those counts.)

If you think I’m being unclear here, I apologize for that.  The point I’m trying to make is maddeningly difficult to articulate.  And I’ll concede up front that my reaction to this film is especially subjective.

If it gives you any context, I’ll point out that critical reaction to “Killing Ground” was quite divided, with some reviewers sharing my discomfort, while others lauded the film.  Your mileage may vary.

 

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A review of “Us” (2019)

“Us” (2019) passes the litmus test for a good horror movie — it is genuinely scary, thanks largely to Jordan Peele’s terrific directing and its cast’s immense talents.  Lupita Nyong’o shines the most here; she gives a tour-de-force performance in the dual role of both a terrified woman and her savage, homicidal doppleganger.  (If you’ve seen the trailer for “Us,” you know it portrays a nuclear family of four being assailed by their mysterious, murderous lookalikes.)  Shahadi Wright Joseph is also especially good, in the dual role as both the family’s traumatized daughter and her cherubic-yet-stabbity twin.  This is a creative horror film with excellent shooting and imagery, and I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

I don’t know that everyone will enjoy the film as I did, as I don’t think it is perfect.  Its overlong third act is easily its weakest, when the traditional cat-and-mouse horror-movie antics eventually take a back seat to the film’s key reveals.  We do get an explanation for the clone-tastic shenanigans in “Us,” even if it isn’t altogether satisfying. There is actually an extensive fantasy/sci-fi backstory that Peele has prepared, and which I will not spoil here.

But I do think that many viewers would enjoy the story more without it, as I think I would have.  The movie’s key reveals are implausible and slightly befuddling at first, and then grow preposterous in the viewer’s mind the more that he or she thinks about them.  They’re presented a bit ploddingly, too, in a film that feels maybe 20 minutes too long.  As good as it was, “Us” would have been a more entertaining film if it had left the genesis of its strange events a mystery.  If it had been presented as a simple, violent parable about the id, for example, it would appeal to a far wider audience and might approach the status of a horror classic, as Peele’s outstanding “Get Out” did in 2017.

But that isn’t what Peele wanted.  The friend with whom I watched “Us” last night sent me a great March 22 article by Aja Romano at Vox that admirably breaks down the movie’s ending.  Peele indeed had a more detailed and thoughtful message than a general statement about mankind’s duality.  Long story short — the movie’s mythology might not make a lot of practical sense, but it makes a lot of sense thematically.  There is some intelligent social messaging here, even if it isn’t perfectly delivered.  It helps if you think of “Us” as a surreal horror story instead of a realistic one.  I found that I liked the ending much more after reading this, and you might too.

One more note — this is the first time I’ve seen Elizabeth Moss on screen.  (She’s in a surprisingly hilarious supporting role here; I think most readers of this blog will recognize her as the protagonist of Hulu’s adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”)  She’s got great comic timing, and she’s absolutely magnetic.  People keep telling me that I should watch “The Handmaid’s Tale;” maybe I really am overdue for that.

 

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Trump tells reporters that what he says to Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit is “none of your business.”

Jesus Christ.  Watch this video.  Did he also imply at the Faith & Freedom Coalition that he was happy John McCain was dead, and suggest that he was in hell?

Am I hearing the president correctly?

Of course it is America’s business what its president says to Putin — especially about Russia’s election meddling.  And especially considering that the president needs to be babysat by people who are less suggestible when sitting down with the former head of the KGB.

Recall, please, what happened when Trump met with Putin at the G20 summit in 2017.  He emerged from his meeting saying they’d discussed a joint “Cyber-Security unit” with Russia.  He then downplayed the idiotic idea after the predictable uproar.

It’s … it’s probably a very good idea if we keep track of what the president plans on doing with Putin, right?  Am I alone here?  Throw me a bone here, people.

A friend of mine just chimed in on Facebook with a point that is far more relevant than mine above:

Don’t you just love when the man who said that he would accept foreign help from adversaries to win an election and met with them multiple times tells us that it’s none of our business what they are discussing?”

 

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She spilleth about Lilith.

So I learned from a friend last night about the mythical significance of Lilith in the Talmud.  This was Adam’s first wife, portrayed in the same books that would later comprise the Book of Genesis — though she was excised from them when they were incorporated into the Bible.  (Yes, I have weird telephone conversations with my friends before bed.)

Aside from being a notable figure for feminists (she demanded equality with Adam), Lilith is alternatively portrayed as an evil or demonic figure.  If I understand correctly, this is because she defied God’s law about Adam’s superiority, essentially “divorced” him, and left the Garden of Eden.  (Jewish tradition holds that Eve was actually Adam’s third wife.)

So now I understand why the name pops up so often for villains in horror films and fiction.  My own favorite is the vampire queen Lilith from the 2010 film adaptation of Steve Niles’ comic series, “30 Days of Night: Dark Days.”  (See the trailer in the first video below.  She’s the girl with the … dark eyes.)  “Dark Days” was a surprisingly terrific movie for a direct-to-video sequel … Niles seems to be the rare creator to have anything he touches turn to gold.  (In addition to the movies, the many comic book limited series under the “30 Days of Night” banner have been almost uniformly excellent … “Dead Space” was pretty clunky and the 2017 reboot was largely unnecessary, but they were both still enjoyable.)

Anyway, the Lilith you see in the trailer was played by the priceless Mia Kirshner.  If she seems a like a familiar female villain, it might be because you remember Kirshner as Mandy, the mysterious, cherubic assassin on “24” (2001-2014).

It also occurs to me now that the name of Frazier’s ex-wife on “Cheers” and “Frazier” was a subtle joke too — complete with an ostensibly psychic character calling her an “evil presence.”

You learn something new every day.

 

 

A short review of “Truth or Dare” (2018)

Blumhouse’s “Truth or Dare” (2018) isn’t high art, but it isn’t quite as bad as everyone makes it out to be.  I’d rate it a 6 out of 10 for being a passably good fright flick.

It’s a gimmick horror film, but the gimmick kinda works –a powerful demon possesses an oral game of “truth or dare” — then follows its players home from vacation with lethal consequences. It’s actually not quite as stupid as it sounds; I had fun with the premise, which sounds like the basis for a decent “The X-Files” (1993-2018) episode.  An exposition-prone minor character explains to our protagonists late in the game that demons need not infect only people and objects, but also “ideas” like games or competitions.  The notion of an idea or a philosophy being demonically possessed has a hint of creative brilliance, and I’d love to see it fully developed in an intelligent, well written horror film.

Alas, this isn’t it.  And instead of lovable heroes like Mulder and Scully, we get a predictable, throwaway group of unlikable teens on spring break.  The movie’s most interesting character is the one it sets up as the stereotypical jerk, Ronnie, adroitly played by Sam Lerner.  The film would have been much better if it had fleshed him out as a three-dimensional character, and had the story revolve around him as a surprise anti-hero.

“Truth of Dare” also borrows maybe a bit too much from “It Follows” (2014) and “The Ring” films (2002-2017). Finally, it confuses the viewer with some head-scratching plot turns near its end.

Oh, well.  The movie still doesn’t deserve the hate it gets.  I figure it’s at least a fun time waster before bed on a weeknight.

 

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A few quick words on the premiere of “The Twilight Zone” (2019)

If the premiere is any indication, then Jordan Peele’s relaunch of “The Twilight Zone” (2019) looks to be quite decent.  It’s got Peele’s fingerprints all over it (he even serves as the narrator here), and that’s a very good thing.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

This first episode, written by Alex Rubens and directed by Owen Harris, channels the same muse as Peele did with his outstanding “Get Out” (2017) — it’s got clever characters, snappy dialogue and gravely dark humor.  I suppose it’s impossible to gauge the quality of an anthology show by its initial episode, but I’m on board.

And one of the upcoming episodes is penned by Glen Morgan, of “The X-Files” fame.  I’d say that’s an auspicious sign too.

 

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