Category Archives: 2010s

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

*. Yeah, I’m not sure why I bothered with this one. I didn’t like Zombieland. So the pull quote on the DVD box — “Just as great as the first Zombieland” — wasn’t that big a draw. But I guess I figured that after ten years they’d had time to come up with something new. They certainly had the budget and the talent to make it work.
*. Or maybe I was just curious.
*. I wasn’t impressed. They didn’t even have a new script. After bonding as a family at the end of the last movie the quartet of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) quickly fall apart again. Which means they have to go on the road, again, and learn to come together as a family. Again. Instead of going to Pacific Playland they go to a commune called Babylon. Same thing. Same desperate final battle, where it seems all is lost until . . . you get the picture.
*. So it’s more of the same. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. A bit disappointing, as you’d think they’d have found more for the supporting players, including a very game Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson, and Rosario Dawson, to do. But I guess they figured they had to follow the rules. Or the commandments. Or the formula.
*. I was puzzled as to why they bothered with the T-800 zombies. They don’t serve any plot function. Nothing hinges on the fact that the survivors are facing a new breed of super zombie. And they pretty much behave the same way. They certainly aren’t any smarter (or even as smart as the “Hawking” model). On the commentary track director Ruben Fleischer calls them a “bigger, badder, harder-to-kill zombie,” but they aren’t bigger, they’re no more or less bad, and the only reason they’re harder to kill is because when fighting them our heroes inexplicably stop going for head shots. Why is anyone surprised when the zombie Tallahassee shoots keeps coming at him? He hasn’t shot it in the head yet. Of course it’s still going.
*. In my notes on Mandy I mentioned how strange it was that for a 2016 movie, albeit set in 1983, hippies were still being presented as such bad people. I guess here they’ve moved up to becoming the butt of jokes, but still it’s a perplexing American obsession. What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?
*. In any event, here we have hippies, again, submitted to our mockery. The only one who gets a name is, of course, Berkeley. I guess in a red-in-tooth-and-claw world like our own, one revealed in all its essentials by way of the zombie apocalypse, we should despise this gang of tree-huggers and social justice warriors. Such an attitude is of a piece with the related depiction of anyone concerned with the fate of the Earth as an eco-terrorist (as in Inferno, et al.).
*. Note also, by the way, how young all of the Babylonians are. I guess this is another kick at Millennials. And throw in the generation after them as well. Even our comedies have become reactionary, in a political sense. When Tallahassee whoops “Thank God for rednecks!” he means it. And as for beating swords into ploughshares, or melting guns down into peace symbols, you can fuck that noise.
*. As a zomromcom I can barely give it a passing grade. The zom part doesn’t add anything new to the mix, even with the Zombie Kills of the Year. The rom is just a replay of the first movie. The com is only banter. Twenty minutes after I finished watching it, when I started writing up these notes, I couldn’t remember a single funny line. An easy enough way to pass the time, but a decade after Zombieland it actually seems more like a step backward than running in place.

The Strange Ones (2011)

*. There’s a difference between being strange and being a stranger. The Man and the Boy (David Call and Tobias Campbell) in this short film have no names. We don’t know who the Man and the Boy are or what the relationship between them is. We discover them on the road, on foot, and don’t know where they’re coming from or going to. The film’s first line is a question, “Where are we?”, that isn’t answered.
*. On foot because their car has broken down? Because they ran out of gas? Is it even their car? They stop at a motel and the Boy jumps into the pool. The Man tells the motel attendant (Merritt Wever) that they’re brothers going to see their dying mother. The Boy tells her that he’s been kidnapped and that the Man is dangerous. Afterward, she watches the two of them fight, and then display affection toward each other.
*. It’s a short essay in ambiguity, which is not the same thing as obscurity. The feature film that the writing-directing team of Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein would go on to spin out of this in 2017 would be obscure. But here we’re left in the position of spectators, like the motel attendant, looking through windows, doorways, and chain fences, not hearing what the two are saying to each other and left only with gestures and expressions that could mean different things.
*. Interpretations abound. I see it often taken as a film about a gay relationship, though I’m not sure where this is coming from. Where are the signs of anything sexual in nature between the Man and the Boy? My own initial take was that they were just a pair of petty thieves or grifters, looking to either rob the motel or take advantage of the attendant in some way. But that’s only based on their appearance and the fact that at least one of them is lying about what they’re doing on the road.
*. Being strange or a stranger always assumes some benchmark either of normality or in-group status. I think we’re meant to identify with the attendant here, on the outside looking in at these weird arrivals. Though the fact that the film begins with the two of them and not with her is a point against such a reading. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she’s the strange one though.
*. Some people hate movies like this, which present mysteries without solutions. I think they walk a fine line between cutesy coyness and obfuscation. In this film we aren’t given enough information to arrive at any clear sense of what’s going on, but perhaps because it’s a short I didn’t feel as though anything was being held back. It represents a fragment without any dots to connect. I wouldn’t look to the later movie as an explanation any more than I would to Joan Lindsay’s novel to explain Picnic at Hanging Rock. What you see, through a dirty glass doorframe and a couple of layers of fencing, is what you get.

Mandy (2018)

*. Well, this certainly is some fucked-up shit. Maybe a bit too much so. I applaud its free-wheeling spirit but would it have helped to dial things back a bit?
*. I’m not sure. Parts of it try too hard. The crazy visuals and fantasy elements overwhelm, and are maybe meant to overwhelm, what seems to be a pretty pedestrian rape-revenge story. A gang of “Jesus freaks” (I wonder why they felt the need to rope Jesus into this) attack a couple in their remote cabin, killing Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and leaving Red (Nicolas Cage) to take his revenge.
*. We’ve certainly been down this road many times before. But then things get trippy. The cult are apparently in touch with demonic forces that take the form of a trio of giant lizard-men on ATVs. They look a bit like the Cenobites from Hellraiser but they’re nowhere near as interesting because they don’t seem capable of saying much aside from growling about blood and burning and death. Still, I wasn’t expecting them to put in an appearance and they helped spice things up a bit.
*. In fact, they may be less modeled on the Cenobites than on some heavy metal rockers from the ’80s. Which would make sense since the film is set in the year 1983 A.D. (they really add the Anno Domini). And to be sure many viewers have identified the metal trappings of the story. Red looks like a typical headbanger of the period, and his specially forged axe might as well be a guitar slung across his back. It’s also true that metal in the ’80s had a thing for this kind of fantasy mythologizing that would make it a good fit with the story.
*. Why then is there not more metal music? Something like the soundtrack for Heavy Metal (1981 A.D.)? Instead we get King Crimson, a ’70s prog rock outfit that I don’t consider to be a metal band at all, and another song written for the film that’s basically psychedelia. Sure the Children of the New Dawn are a latter-day Manson cult, but should they still be writing Manson-era music in 1983? Mandy wears a Black Sabbath t-shirt, so let’s hear some Sabbath!
*. As an aside, I have to wonder why Manson’s gang became so fascinating to filmmakers around this time. Manson’s Lost Girls and Wolves at the Door (both 2016), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Haunting of Sharon Tate (both 2019). What gives? The backlash against hippies is usually traced back to the 1980s, which is when I thought it ran its course. So why is it being dredged up again now? There weren’t any hippies in the ’80s. At least that you’d notice.

*. Returning to the story, as Red pursues his vengeance things become increasingly strange. I won’t try to explain it because I’m still not sure what was really going on. Maybe aliens were involved. Maybe Red was dreaming the whole thing. I don’t know. But Cage makes a great avenger, wired on demon drugs and masked in blood as he duels bad guys with chainsaws and lights cigarettes off of burning decapitated heads. Yeah, he’s bad.
*. And I could get on board with all of this. But I have two really big caveats I have to register.
*. In the first place, I thought the story really dragged in several places. I mentioned being disappointed that the demon bikers don’t talk more, but given the speeches the loquacious bad guys like Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and the Chemist (a nice turn by Richard Brake) make, that’s probably a good thing. Once these guys start talking it becomes clear right away that they have nothing at all to say but they keep talking anyway for what seems like a really long time.
*. All-in-all I have to say this is a lousy script. After a while I started thinking they might have been better off doing without it and just playing some music and letting the action speak for itself. Because nothing that anyone says really means anything. “They wronged you,” the Chemist opines, unhelpfully. “Why’d they have to go do that?”
*. The other criticism I would level at Mandy may be more the result of my getting old. A lot of this movie made me think of the t-shirts worn at metal concerts in the ’80s that told everybody “If it’s too loud, you’re too fuckin’ old!” But not only did I have trouble hearing a lot of the (worthless) dialogue (I usually watch a movie with subtitles anyway), I also couldn’t see much of what was going on. Not only are scenes filmed in very dark coloured filters, for no good reason at all, but the images are blurry as well. You’ll have to strain your eyes just to make out a lot of the gore.
*. Don’t get me wrong. I liked a lot of the creative visuals that director Panos Cosmatos indulges here. But the movie looks so muddy a lot of them didn’t really register. And if you’re being weird all the time then weirdness itself loses its bite after a while.
*. So it’s halfway to being a great cult movie, of the kind you don’t see a lot of anymore. Plus it’s got Nicolas Cage losing his shit because somebody ripped his shirt. However, it’s also at least twenty minutes too long, has a throwaway script, is hard to see or hear, and barely got me interested in its atavistic plot (you kill my woman, I crush your head). I’m glad we have it, and have no hesitation recommending it to others, but I doubt I’ll be seeing it again for a while.

Piercing (2018)

*. Close. There’s certainly stuff to like here. But in the end it’s a movie that comes up short.
*. If The Eyes of My Mother, Nicolas Pesce’s first film, was a brutal amalgamation of American gothic and J-horror, Piercing takes the latter back to its source (a novel by Audition author Ryu Murakami that features another female predator turning the gender tables) and crossbreeds it with a dash of vintage Cronenberg or Lynch.
*. I say vintage because, judging from the soundtrack, the style of the opening credits, and even that very smart yellow phone (a famous model of Yugoslavian design from back in the day), we seem to be stuck in a fantasy version of the 1970s. That may, in turn, be some advance on The Eyes of My Mother, which took place in an inexact but possibly even more remote place and time. It’s hard to say which film seems less real.
*. I’ve talked before about those wonderful warnings that come with a film’s rating. Here we get “Aberrant violent and sexual content.” I like that use of “aberrant.”
*. I guess Mia Wasikowska has turned into weird cinema’s it girl. At least everything I’ve seen her in has been pretty weird. I like her, but at this point I’m wondering how well she plays straight (not meaning that in a sexual way).
*. Where does Piercing fall short? The ambiguity in the psychosexual see-saw between Reed (Christopher Abbot) and Jackie (Wasikowska) ends up being frustrating. At some point I think the film had to be clearer about how much she’s “on to him.” Then there are the dreams/visions. These seem like too much of an excuse for Pesce to throw more weird stuff at us. I don’t think they round Reed out as a character at all.
*. What I really enjoyed were the suggestions that it’s not Reed who’s the crazy one, but his world that’s gone nuts. Apparently everyone (his wife, the hotel manager) is “on to him.” Making him into even more of a sap. In a world of female predators I guess men are bound to be prey.
*. A good little movie, both aberrant and restrained, but for one that hangs its hat on being idiosyncratic and weird I thought it needed to be more provocative or shocking in some way. Not more violent, but stranger. Or that Pesce needed to find his own voice. There’s too much here that feels derived from other directors. I get that it’s hard to stand out in today’s movie marketplace, where even the twenty-first century version of Something Wild is starting to seem like the road more travelled by. But maybe the answer is to try something a little more traditional.

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

*. I don’t think black-and-white has to signal an art-house film. Or even an art-house horror film. Though I guess there’s some of that going on in recent psychohorrors like Darling, A Field in England, and The Lighthouse. But in fact what writer-director Nicolas Pesce was going for here was more a sort of homage or love letter to the films of William Castle (that’s The House on Haunted Hill playing on TV). Personally, I also have trouble seeing this connection, or any relation to The Night of the Hunter, but it at least signifies a place he’s coming from. And that’s not an art house.
*. What really seems to be going on here is a hybrid of American gothic (and I’m going back to Grant Wood here, because doesn’t Francisca’s dad look a bit familiar?) and J-horror.
*. It’s odd that in the interview included with the DVD Pesce never mentions J-horror. I’ve had occasion to remark before on how directors rarely refer to their most obvious sources and inspirations on DVD commentary tracks so maybe some of that is going on. But I don’t see why it would be a connection that Pesce would want to dodge. Francisca with her pets is obviously patterned off of Aoyama in Audition, and Pesce’s next movie would be an adaptation of another Ryu Murakami novel, Piercing. Then he’d be put to work on The Grudge. So clearly J-horror was in his bloodstream.
*. Even without these direct links I think the connection would still be there in the deadly female and the mix of extreme horror with a visual reticence that doesn’t actually show a lot of violence. The closest we see to someone being killed is when Charlie gets it, and even then the camera is focuses somewhere else and we just hear the stabbing sounds.
*. Then there is the American gothic. Meaning that once again we’re off the beaten track. Not-so-specifically, rural America. A farm. God help us. And on that farm there was a family. And family, as we all know, is hell. But once Francisca’s family is gone there’s only loneliness, leaving her forced to kill for company.

*. This leads to what I think is the most interesting (I can’t quite say original) thing about The Eyes of My Mother. It’s a brutal horror movie where the monster is the protagonist. Meaning that we sympathize with her (at least at the beginning) and we see the horror from her perspective. We’re used to being in the shoes of the girl the nearly (but how near?) feral Francisca brings home from the bar and who only too late realizes the trouble she’s in. Or the mom who picks Francisca up on the road. Or when Antonio sees his mother in the barn we recognize it as the usual “child disobeys orders not to go somewhere and sees a monster” routine, only tragically transformed.
*. That note of tragedy or sadness is also something different, and uncomfortable. Francisca, perversely, is cruel to be kind. This is one of the things that makes the movie different from the usual round of torture porn (though that label was duly applied to it by at least one critic). At the same time it’s what makes it all the harder to take.
*. The business with the cow’s head on the kitchen table was the Jamesian germ of the story and apparently taken from life. Pesce’s mother is an eye surgeon and did something similar with him when he was a kid. Fair enough, but I’m not sure how a Portuguese eye surgeon ended up a housewife on Cold Comfort Farm in America. That seemed a bit surreal.
*. To be honest, I’m feeling a bit burned out on the appalling bleakness and cruelty of today’s horror. In his interview Pesce talks about how having people walk out on the film was both “awesome” and “a compliment.” So I guess that’s the reaction he was going for. He also says it was a movie targeted at a very narrow audience. The fact that I was curious enough to watch it shows, I guess, that I’m close to that audience. Which doesn’t make me proud.
*. Oh well. Well done if you can (or want to) take it. The story does have the air of a creepy folk tale (and we know how creepy folk tales are). The horrors are effectively spaced out, and they grow in intensity. Some of the visuals are quite haunting, like the meal-sized body parts being stuck in the fridge. I like how much is implied, as with the incest between Francisca and her dad, instead of being made explicit. But at the end I felt left on another cold hill’s side. Maybe horror’s just not my thing anymore. I worry about kids who grow up on this stuff.

The Lodge (2019)

*. A movie that primarily made me think of other movies. The Shining. The Visit. Hereditary. Though I guess it’s mainly the use of the doll house that reminded me of Hereditary. I wonder why, however, the doll house motif never serves any function in either movie. It’s not even much of a visual motif to be exploited.
*. One movie it didn’t make me think of was Rebecca, though apparently that was the inspiration for filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Fiala is Franz’s nephew). I never had the sense for a moment that the spirit of the deceased wife/mother was haunting the lodge. Inspiration is a funny thing.
*. The premise is really hard for me to buy into. A guy with two emotionally damaged children thinks they need to spend some quality time alone in a remote location with an emotionally damaged young woman he doesn’t really know that well. And just in case there’s any trouble, he leaves her with a gun. Yeah, I can’t foresee there being any problems with that.
*. Is that what’s called a lodge nowadays? It looks like a mansion, inside and out. Apparently it’s actually a golf resort outside of Montreal.

*. Just to dilate on this a bit, it seems to me that a lot of today’s production design goes hand-in-hand with trends in cinematography. In a nutshell: these movies aren’t shot in such a way that the settings seem realistic, so they aren’t physically realistic either. I mean, look at the attic here. I get that it’s being stretched and emptied out for dramatic effect, but it might be an airplane hangar. That’s a line I’m reusing from my notes on the similarly snowbound “cabin” in The Hateful 8. I’m trying to think of the last time I saw an interior in a horror film that really struck me as looking like the interior of a house that anyone actually lives in and I’m not coming up with much. And yet this used to be a point of pride among set designers. Home sets were supposed to look lived in.
*. Isn’t Mia (the little girl) too young to be watching Carpenter’s The Thing? Grace is really letting those kids get away with murder.
*. Ah, the old failed rescue. Did that become a standard trope in The Shining? I think we can retire it now.
*. Another stand-by (I told you this was a movie that made me think of other movies) is the old “is she or isn’t she crazy” plot. This is particularly popular with movies looking to spring a twist or surprise ending on us. Think Unsane. Most twist endings don’t work though, either because (1) they’re so obvious the reveal doesn’t come as a surprise, or (2) they’re so ridiculous you can’t believe them even after the reveal.
*. I was surprised by the ending of The Lodge, but mostly because I found it incredible. That really was a hell of a plan. Throw in the whopper of a premise to get it all started and this was a movie where I didn’t feel up to the task of suspending my disbelief. I know he’s still young, but I think I’ve already seen enough of Jaeden Martell. Riley Keough is really good but the rest of it is just kind of depressing and dull. Impressive art direction, but it overwhelms a schlocky, William Castle story that’s a poor fit for this kind of epic, lugubrious treatment.

A Field in England (2013)

*. I’d been looking forward to this.
*. I had the sense that Amy Jump’s script might have been OK. Unfortunately, that’s only a sense because (1) director Ben Wheatley jazzes things up inordinately, perhaps feeling he had to overcompensate for the fact that this is a black-and-white art house film set entirely in a field in England, and (2) I wasn’t paying as close attention as I probably should have at the end, since the movie lost me halfway through.
*. Or maybe the script was no good to begin with. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Peter Debruge’s take on the movie in Variety, where he called it “both testament to Wheatley’s imagination-teasing ingenuity . . . and byproduct of a startling lapse in basic storytelling competence.” As clever as it all seems “a gaping vacuum still looms where conventional narrative might go.”
*. Given that I had trouble making out much of the dialogue perhaps I should just pass on the matter of the script altogether. I mean, I’m not sure what was going on. As Mark Kermode put it, “the plot is elusive.” Sometime during the English Civil War a weirdo who may be a wizard shanghais a group of soldiers into digging a hole in a field in a search for treasure. They don’t find anything and fall out and nearly everyone gets killed. Maybe. Perhaps it’s all a bad trip brought on by eating some funky ‘shrooms. Wheatley didn’t think it was that complicated a story so maybe that’s all there was to it.
*. Even if it doesn’t have much of a coherent story, is it nonetheless atmospheric? Frightening? Some people found it so. The scene where Whitehead comes out of the tent in harness is the favourite example given. I guess I found that a bit creepy, but also silly. Aside from that, I mostly just found the goings-on to be unpleasant. A man takes a painful shit. A penis is inspected with a magnifying glass. A couple of men are pissed on.
*. As for all the visual tricks — the extreme close-ups, the flash cutting, the tableau posing — you can take it all as expressing a hallucinatory state of mind. But then, what kinds of effects wouldn’t be so expressive? The photography is well enough done, but again clouds always look nice in black-and-white. Every shot of the sky makes you think of Ansel Adams. And the wind blowing through long grass is natural poetry.
*. I don’t know, I don’t know. A lot of people seem to have found a lot more in this one than I did. Is this summation by Kermode supposed to be taken as a positive judgement? “It’s further proof that Ben Wheatley is in a field of his own when it comes to this sort of stuff: it’s very powerful, very strange, and very hard to describe.” I’ll allow there’s a lot that’s left open to interpretation, but in itself I don’t think it’s any great achievement to be vague and evocative. Wheatley and Jump were trying for something different and I’ll credit them for getting it. It’s a weird mix of indie or what’s been called folk horror, with art house, historical drama, and something that feels like a Little Theatre production of some absurdist/existentialist drama thrown in. I didn’t think it was that great a movie though, and I certainly can’t say I enjoyed it.

A Master Builder (2014)

*. The Master Builder is a play I’ve never seen in performance. I may have even avoided it because I didn’t think it would work well on stage. The action seemed a bit silly and the ultimate meaning of it all obscure.
*. As Wallace Shawn puts it in the conversation included with the Criterion DVD, “no one understands The Master Builder.” It’s certainly a work that has invited a wide range of interpretation over the years. I think it suggests different things to different people. This Master Builder (note the change to an indefinite article in the title) offers up one reading, and it’s one I wasn’t expecting.
*. The wrinkle here is that most of the play is imagined as Halvard Solness’s dying thoughts. Hilde (Lisa Joyce) isn’t a real person but a figure summoned out of his unconscious. Or perhaps a succubus, the angel of death, or the “grim reaper in disguise” (Joyce mentions this as a possibility). His death at the end, in turn, is only symbolically a fall from a tower. In fact he dies in bed.
*. There are two things I’ll say about this way of presenting the play. First: it’s bold and highly original. I’d never thought of the play in this way, but it’s incredibly effective and I’ll probably never read it again without first imagining it in these terms.
*. The second point worth making is that Shawn and his longtime collaborator André Gregory had been doing The Master Builder for years before deciding to film it and this dream angle was only a late decision. Gregory attributes it to the fact that he was a much older man than when he started working on it and his concerns had changed. He was now more interested in the end of life, getting old and dying, and what it meant. In the play Solness is only middle-aged, so obviously this is a big shift in perspective.
*. So as a production of The Master Builder I rate this very high. As a movie, a little less so.
*. They didn’t want to just make a film of a play. That’s always the case when people make a film of a play. But it’s something that’s hard to avoid and I don’t think it’s avoided here. I don’t think there’s much achieved here in terms of Demme’s filmmaking that really adds to what Gregory and Shawn had already done. That it was shot in eight days, all inside the same house, adds to this.
*. Even the performances, which are good, strike me as being played more in a stage manner than for the camera. They are, in general, too broad. Joyce’s Hilde is maybe the most extreme in this regard, all breathy whispers and giggles that make her seem almost orgasmic. An interesting way of imagining the role, but I think there’s too much of it. And in the supplemental material it’s said that there was a lot more of her laughter in the original cut. Apparently Shawn didn’t even notice it. How odd.
*. How we view Hilde is crucial. Demme thought of her as a “mysterious stranger” in a haunted house film. Gregory, seeing Solness as Ebenezer Scrooge, also saw her as a sort of spirit or ghost. Ibsen, I think, thought she was a homewrecker (nicely complementing Solness in his role as home builder). She’s all this, and a sexual force as well that introduces a bunch of other complicated elements. Was Solness hitting on her at a party when she was 12? What’s up with that? Is this her revenge?
*. If Hilden is fertile ground the other players in the drama have always seemed to me incomplete and frustrating. Kaia’s infatuation with Solness and her dual allegiance to him and her fiancé make no sense to me. I don’t know what the doctor’s purpose is in the play, though his appearance here is at least justified. As for Aline (Julie Hagerty), I guess she just represents grudging duty. But is she mentally well? Are we supposed to think she’s crazy?
*. I think Ibsen gives these characters short shrift so I can’t blame this production for being just as vague. I’ll stick with saying this is a great Master Builder. A great movie? No.

Ready or Not (2019)

*. Family is one of the great sources of horror in our time. I’ve mentioned before how for Stephen King the breakdown of the nuclear family is his one great theme. In other movies, however, that process has already advanced quite a ways. Think of Norman Bates wanting to introduce Marion Crane to his dear old mom in Psycho. Think of the family that slays together staying together in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or the mutant clan in The Hills Have Eyes. Really, I think the list is endless. I’ve only mentioned franchise originals here but you see the same thing even in obscure one-offs like Spider Baby. Family is hell.
*. Anxiety over our family’s weirdness, or over awful in-laws, also feeds into our fascination with disturbing “meet the folks” stories. A couple of obvious precursors to Ready or Not here are You’re Next (2011) and Get Out (2017). In both those films a new girlfriend/boyfriend is invited to the wealthy family estate only to end up fighting for their lives. To the main theme, that family is hell, a political message is added: rich people are murderous bastards.
*. This isn’t to criticize Ready or Not for being a rip-off, though I thought the similarities between Erin in You’re Next and Grace in this movie to be pretty direct (the bloodied battle-bride also recalls Clara from Rec 3, but that’s another sort of movie altogether). I just think it’s interesting to note the sort of conventions that are being evoked.
*. While I’m at it, I’ll also mention another horror sub-genre in play: the Game of Death. These are movies where a character or a group of characters has to somehow survive a challenge, the prize being life. One later Game of Death movie I was reminded of here was Would You Rather, which is one of the few that has a political angle, with the contestants playing the game at a millionaire’s mansion for his entertainment.
*. What anxiety does the Game of Death address? I’d guess it has something to do with the natural desire for life to have a kind of rough justice. Most of life is pretty unfair. The way the Le Domas family insists on following correct procedures and keeping with tradition is actually reassuring. Yes it’s brutal, but unlike the game of life this game has rules.

*. None of the other films I’ve talked about so far are even mentioned in passing in the “making of” documentaries included with the DVD, or in the filmmakers’ commentary. I actually thought the team behind this one, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of Radio Silence, would have said a bit more. But I guess it’s something they didn’t want to talk about. Was it something they were thinking about though?
*. I can’t tell. What I was hoping for was some further discussion of the political angle, but they say very little about this. Is it because this isn’t all that political a movie? It’s interesting to note that the only movie of those I’ve mentioned that really tries to make a political statement is Get Out, and it mixes race with class. But in You’re Next, Would You Rather, and Ready or Not, despite things being teed up nicely with the depiction of plutocrat families that are not just dysfunctional but savage and degenerate, there’s no broader political point being made.

*. These aren’t really movies about class struggle. To take just one example from Ready or Not, Daniel’s wife Charity makes no bones about having been born on the wrong side of the tracks and having married Daniel for his money. So she’s Grace, only she had an easier challenge. Among the family members, it seems only crazy Aunt Helene with her punk haircut and battle-axe is into the hunt. Meanwhile, the downstairs staff at the mansion are all as complicit in the deadly game, if not more so, than the family they serve.
*. One good twist on the formula is having the family itself consist of a bunch of upper-class twits who don’t seem capable of tying their own shoes. This is the source of all of the humor but it also makes a satiric point. The fact is, there’s is inherited wealth that they’ve done nothing to earn so they aren’t particularly capable or good at anything. They sold their souls to the devil to get rich, which is sort of like winning the lottery.
*. Well, there’s no sense complaining about this not being a movie it isn’t trying to be. I would have liked it to be a bit angrier, and perhaps that was how it was originally envisaged. On the commentary track they say that the first draft of the screenplay had Grace dying at the end, which suggests something a lot darker (and probably less commercial). What they ended up with something more generic and predictable, but it works. I wasn’t a fan of V/H/S, but Southbound was pretty good and I liked Ready or Not too. Radio Silence is getting better. I’m looking forward to what they do next.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

*. Oof. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is hard to endure. I don’t mean emotionally, since it’s a movie that made me feel nothing, but rather physically. After sitting through 130 minutes of this I felt drained. Beaten. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
*. I’m not sure I can explain the plot. There’s an organization named Monarch that has located a number of sleeping prehistoric monsters around the world. They are now named Titans because MUTOs was a branding fail. A Monarch scientist (Vera Farmiga, taking a break from chasing ghosts) has created a device that somehow signals to the Titans. It is stolen by a team of ecoterrorists who Farmiga is secretly working with.
*. Why? Well, her son was killed by Godzilla, so that’s part of what’s driving her. She also spouts the sort of villainous Green boilerplate that was literally everywhere during these years. Humans are destroying the world and there has to be a cull to restore balance. Godzilla and the other Titans (the Earth’s “original and rightful rulers”) are a kind of antibody produced by Gaia: Earth’s “natural defence system.” He’ll kill off the excess humans who can’t find their ways to Monarch shelters, destroy our cities, and the radiation he leaves behind will, somehow, spur a greening of the planet. Gotta love that radiation.
*. This is so stupid it makes me feel stupid just typing it out. After a while Farmiga figures out it’s stupid too. But by then Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon Titan, has been awoken, along with a bunch of other monsters (including Rodan and Mothra), leading to a Clash of the Titans in Boston’s Fenway Park.
*. I realize that in any Godzilla movie the story is disposable. But this isn’t just a throwaway story but a downright terrible one. On no level, and at no time, does it make any sense. Who are these ecoterrorists? Where are they getting the money to fund this private army? I guess some billionaire like Zobrist in Inferno or Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service or maybe it’s Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War. As I said, this genocidal Green plot was popping up everywhere.
*. To say that such messages are mixed is an understatement. Farmiga’s isn’t just stupid, she’s insane. So what does that say about the environmental movement? Matthew Rosza found some “subtle social commentary” here, but (1) there’s nothing subtle about Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and (2) what does that social commentary consist of? That environmentalists are genocidal whackos? Rosza calls Godzilla a “metaphor for the damage we are causing our planet.” So he’s sort of like global warming? That’s subtle?
*. Then there’s the weird mix of science and mythology. In the original Gojira, Godzilla was just a prehistoric creature who was awakened by nuclear testing. Which was at least something you could get on board with. Here, however, the Titans are kind of like Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones, though apparently humans have been worshipping them for a lot longer than there were humans. And maybe Ghidorah is something else entirely, having perhaps come from another planet. The Chinese doctor (Zhang Ziyi) hasn’t figured that one out yet, being too young to have seen Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964).
*. So nothing about the premise makes sense. But the rest of the script is equally bad. Mothra is introduced as being an important character in the story but is then dismissed as so much dust. I could never figure out exactly what the ORCA device was doing. The same routine of Godzilla being beaten and then coming back to life is repeated several times, until it becomes ploddingly predictable. And then there’s the dialogue.

*. I honestly couldn’t believe the words coming out of people’s mouths. Poor Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa has the worst of it. “Sometimes,” he tells us, “the only way to heal our wounds is to make peace with the demons who created them.” Huh. That’s deep. It’s also something I don’t think anyone has ever said at any time. He also says this: “There are some things beyond our understanding, Mark. We must accept them and learn from them. Because these moments of crisis are also potential moments of faith. A time – when we either come together or fall apart. Nature always has a way of balancing itself. The only question is What part will we play?” Apparently that came out of a fortune cookie. Really. The writers knew it was that bad.
*. “We opened Pandora’s box, and there’s no closing it now!” Yes, I think this is how Pandora’s box usually works. “This is a dangerous path! You are meddling with forces beyond our comprehension, gambling with the lives of billions!” Whatever. There are various attempts at humour that fall flat. One guy confuses Ghidorah with gonorrhea. Hilarious.
*. OK, so let’s forget about the human story. You came to see monsters flattening cities and a kaiju battle royale. Is this part of the movie any good?
*. It’s not great. I mentioned Godzilla’s appearance only briefly in my notes on Legendary’s first kick at this can, Godzilla (2014). I don’t much care for the new look. With his very fat body and tiny head Godzilla looks like a pyramid. His pug face also seems very limited in its range of expression, basically only going from sleepy to disgruntled.
*. The fight scenes are OK. It got tiring, as it gets tiring throughout all the films of the Godzilla franchise, to see humans trying to do their part by firing off small arms at the behemoths while missiles and bombs either just bounce off them or actually make them stronger. Even the classic oxygen destroyer from Gojira just ends up killing a lot of fish. It seems as though the Titans are indestructible. Ghidorah can grow back any body parts he loses. An after-credit sequence suggests he’ll be back. Rodan seems to get killed but then a few minutes later is fine. I’ve already mentioned how Godzilla keeps coming back no matter what happens to him. Franchise filmmaking doesn’t handle death well. Marvel superheroes (almost) never die, any more than James Bond, or Jason or Michael or Freddy.
*. I guess if the monster stuff was all you came in for you likely got close to your money’s worth here. Box office was disappointing, but a sequel, Godzilla vs. Kong, had already been announced. Godzilla never die!