A short review of “Patient Zero” (2018)

I’d be lying to you if I told you that “Patient Zero” (2018) is an especially good movie.  It isn’t.  It plays a lot like the classic “28 Days Later” (2002) would play if it were produced by the SyFy Channel, and by that I mean it generally is a poorly written, low-budget cheese-fest.  (This is one of those movies where even the score was kinda bad.)  Still, there were some hints of greatness hidden within this lackluster zombie movie — enough to save it from being a complete failure — and I would reluctantly rate it a 5 out of 10.  (Most other reviewers are not even that kind.)

First, it has some fine performers. These include two “Game of Thrones” actors who are always fun to watch — the mesmerizing Natalie Dormer and the consistently likable John Bradley.  (The latter seems to specialize in winning audiences over as the “hero’s-affable-friend” role.)  “Doctor Who” fans will of course recognize Matt Smith in the lead role.  But by far and away, they’re overshadowed by a fantastic performance by Stanley Tucci as the zombies’ surprisingly eloquent leader.  (More on that in a moment.)  Tucci is truly a great actor and he makes a perfectly menacing bad guy; his voice, diction and line delivery are goddam perfect.  His talent for voicing a magnetic, highly intelligent antagonist reminds me of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan on “The Walking Dead,” or one of the better “big bads” seen on “24” (2001 – 2014).

Second, there are some really clever ideas hiding under this thin, hasty script.  (I strongly get the sense that “Patient Zero” was a rush job for screenwriter Mike Le and director Vincent Newman.)  The hyper-kinetic zombies here are afflicted with “super-rabies” and are reminiscent of their ilk from “28 Days Later.”  But there is a truly intriguing plot conceit — their roars and screams are perfectly intelligible to Smith’s protagonist.  He speaks their “language” because he’s infected, but also mysteriously asymptomatic.  When he interrogates the zombies for the military, their interaction is filmed as normal dialogue (creating the opportunity for Tucci’s terrific turn here).  Then things get even more interesting when it’s demonstrated that the ostensibly mindless zombies are quite proficient at planning an attack.

I … might be treating this movie a bit charitably simply because I liked some of its ingredients.  Again, I don’t actually recommend it.  But your mileage may vary.

 

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A review of Season 1 of “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018)

Ghosts seldom scare me, because I’m never 100 percent clear on what sort of threat they present to the protagonists of a horror film or TV show.  They’re not like zombies, vampires, werewolves or serial killers, all of which will do predictably horrible things to their victims.

Can ghosts … kill you?  Injure you?  That usually doesn’t make sense, given their non-corporeal nature.  Can they … scare you to death?  How would that work?  Would they cause a heart attack?  Or drive you mad?  That’s fine, I suppose, but here they’ve taken a back seat to the demons of horror films since 1973’s “The Exorcist” spawned a sub-genre with far more frightening supernatural baddies.  Are ghosts supposed to inspire existential dread, by reminding the viewers of their own mortality?  For me, that backfires — their existence would strongly suggest the existence of an afterlife, which would be paradoxically reassuring.

It’s therefore a testament to the quality of Netflix’ “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018) that it’s frequently so scary, even to me.  We find out in the first episode that its ghosts indeed do more than frighten the story’s protagonists, but it’s the show’s writing, directing and acting that make it so memorable.  It’s an a superb viewing experience, and I’d rate it a 10 out of 10.

The cast roundly shines — but especially Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton (even if his performance was a little understated).  Catherine Parker is deliciously evil in a supporting role as the house’s most outwardly vicious spirit.  The best performance, for me, however, was the young Victoria Pedretti as the traumatized Nell — she was goddam amazing, and deserves an Emmy nomination.

Mike Flanagan’s directing was perfect — his use of long angles and colors to make lavish interiors disorienting reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s similar sensory trickery in “The Shining” (1980).  Michael Fimognari’s cinematography was beautiful.  Even the makeup effects were damned good.  (Nothing beats Greg Nicotero’s work in “The Walking Dead” universe, but the work here is sometimes horrifying.)

I’m not the only one who loved this show either.  It is broadly praised in online horror fan circles (though I’d recommend avoiding most of those for spoilers).  I haven’t read Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel that is its source material, but a bibliophile who I trust assured me that the show is even better.

Sure, there were some things that didn’t work for me.  “The Haunting of Hill House” actually does take a while to get where it’s going; it favors in-depth, flashback-heavy character development over advancing its plot, in much the same manner as “Lost” (2004 – 2010) once did.  And some viewers might feel the same frustration here as they would for that show.

Its story and supernatural adversaries are also distinctly Gothic.  (Your mileage may vary as to what’s a comfortably familiar trope and what’s an archaic cliche.  I myself was more interested the more modern and three-dimensional interpretation of ghost characters seen in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense.”)  I’d even go so far as the say that the first ghost that we see in any detail is actually disappointing — the otherworldly figure connected with the bowler hat felt too cartoonish for me, like something we’d see on Walt Disney World’s “The Haunted Mansion” ride.  (Trust me, they get more intimidating after that.)

Give this show a chance — and stay with it if you think it’s too slow, or if you find its characters a little unlikable at first.  You’ll be glad you did.

Weird world: if the diffident, sometimes off-putting character of Steven looks familiar to you, it might be because that’s none other than Michiel Huisman, who plays the charismatic Daario on “Game of Thrones.”

 

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“The Walking Dead” scene I’m waiting for, but haven’t gotten yet.

  1.  Take two characters fluent in martial arts (Morgan, Michonne, Jesus, or whatever martial arts bad guys they come up with).
  2. Have them fight one-on-one with melee weapons on a hilltop (not THE Hilltop, just an open, elevated position somewhere).
  3. Have zombies advance up the hill to attack both of them from all sides, so that they not only have to fight each other, but also multiple zombies from various angles.

It shouldn’t take a screenwriting genius to realize that the fans want this, right?

Or am I the only 80’s kid who grew up loving both ninja movies and George A. Romero’s films?

Anyway … I am loathe to criticize the show these days.  It has gotten SO much better — SO much better.  Season 9 is like a different show altogether.

 

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Why do YOU think my closet stinks?

(And bear in mind I did my laundry a day ago.)

1) Yesterday’s wet socks.

2) I dropped candy in there? Can candy go bad?

3) Surreptitious raccoon habitat.

4) The existential decay from all my dead dreams.

5) Because Mark Zuckerberg is monetizing this somehow.

6) Dragons.

7) I unknowingly share it with an invisible gangrened lumberjack.

8) Tucker Carlson’s dead goddam soul.

9) THERE IS NO CLOSET. (The Matrix has me.)

10) Polonium.

11) The ghost of a wet dog that died in a fit of depression long, long ago.

12) The writers for “The Walking Dead” stashed their latest script in there.

 

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A short review of “Bad Samaritan” (2018)

As I believe I may have mentioned, I have a love-hate relationship with David Tennant’s onscreen performances.  I find him inexplicably, positively grating whenever he plays a protagonist.  (See 2011’s “Fright Might” remake, or his cringe-inducing stint as “Doctor Who.”)  But it seems to me that the man is absolutely fantastic when he plays a bad guy.  (See his frightening and hilarious role as Kilgrave the first season of “Jessica Jones” in 2015.)

“Bad Samaritan” (2018) thankfully presents us with the latter Tennant.  He musters an intensity with his eyes and his voice that are incongruous counterpoints to his innocent-looking face, and this makes him a damned good antagonist in a thriller.  (He is a highly organized, sociopathic kidnapper in this film.  I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as all of the film’s marketing make it clear.)  He’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch — and listen to.

With that said, “Bad Samaritan” is an average movie — not altogether bad, but not awesomely good, either.  (I suppose I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.)  It benefits a lot from another very good actor in Robert Sheehan as its anti-heroic young protagonist.  (The plot setup here is interesting — a mild-mannered burglar discovers a psychopath’s captive while in his house, then struggles with how he can help the terrified victim of a far worse criminal than he is.)  The movie’s biggest sin seems to be that it borrows heavily from comparable genre-defining works from the likes of Thomas Harris and James Patterson.  But it’s still an enjoyable enough movie in its own right.

There’s someone else here that’s great fun to watch too — Kerry Condon as the kidnapee.  Her voice is amazing, and she’s a superb actress; I think she’s strong enough to carry another movie like this.  I just knew she looked familiar … it turns out she played Clara, the really weird woman that Rick found in the woods during Season 3 of “The Walking Dead.”  (He asks her the show’s signature “three questions.”)

She is also to voice of F.R.I.D.A.Y., Tony Stark’s on-board A.I. in several of Marvel’s “Avengers” movies.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Weird world.

 

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