Halloween Movie Recommendations: Part 2 (2018 Edition)

More recommendations for horror films this Halloween. Link to Part 1 here:

Funny Games (2007)

8.5/10

The perfectly executed horror film.

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Funny Games is a psychological horror that follows two young men and their reign of terror on a poor family. Toying with them through torture and sadistic games, the film explores violence in cinema to harrowing heights. The result is quite the message.

In my view, Funny Games is a perfectly executed horror film from writer and director Michael Haneke. Not only is it horrifying; it’s also very intelligent and knows exactly what it’s trying to do. The film is essentially a vehicle for Haneke’s opinions on the audience’s fascination with violence in cinema. Perhaps this is why it is still polarising to some but to me, it elevates Funny Games as a horror masterpiece.

This is up there with the intelligence of A Cabin In The Woods, another great horror film.

Side note: whether you watch the original French or American remake, it won’t matter. Both are the same shot for shot and I enjoyed each equally.

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006) and Dead Alive (1992)

6.5/10

Explosive diarrhea and lawnmowers chopping people’s faces.

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Poultrygeist and Dead Alive are splatter horror comedy’s that I’m recommending to watch as a double bill. The latter being written and directed by New Zealand’s most famous export, Peter Jackson. Yes, before he was winning academy awards for epic films about hobbits, he was busy killing the undead with basic kitchenware items.

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Whereas Dead Alive follows the rise of the human undead, Poultrygeist bests it by introducing the rise of the chicken undead. These films won’t be for everyone but if you love intentionally bad dialogue and laughing your head off to the most ridiculous scenes of prop gore, then these films are for you.

May (2002)

6.5/10

A slow burn creepy classic.

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May follows the life of a young woman who struggles to connect with anyone. Her only true “friend” is a glass-encased doll; a gift from her mother. It was given to May with the adage “if you can’t find a friend, make one”.

The film cleverly builds on this phrase and slowly descends into a quiet madness. May might be the least heard of film on this list but it’s definitely the creepiest. This is one of those films something very bad is going to happen but you just don’t know what.

A large part of this is thanks to lead actress Angela Bettis. Her performance is great at getting you to sympathise for May while making her feel creepy. There’s a lot of awkward touches to her personality and overall I thought she did a great job.

Yes, it is low budget but if you don’t mind the slow burn nature of the plot, May is definitely a film for you. There’s one hell of a climax at the end and that sequence alone is worth a watch. Check it out.

“Amateur Night” segment from V/H/S (2012)

7/10

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This a bonus recommendation as it’s a short film segment that appears in the horror movie anthology known as V/H/S.

The film overall is a muddled collection of found footage films from different directors and is very hit and miss. However, the “Amateur Night” segment by writer/director David Bruckner is a big hit and I love it.

Bruckner cleverly solved the question I have with many found footage horrors which is “why are you still holding the camera?”. He does this by placing the camera inside the glasses of a character so we can see his point of view and the horrors he witnesses. This made “Amateur Night” incredibly immersive for me to watch and I had a blast. For those that are a fan of found footage horror films like The Blair Witch Project, this is a must watch to the list. But don’t look up anything for it online.

Suspiria Movie Review

8.5/10

A masterpiece mix of Rosemary’s Baby meets Black Swan. Suspiria is a disturbing, shocking, and thoroughly engrossing psychological horror. Yes, it holds a few flaws but ultimately, this is modern cinema at its finest.

The story is set towards the tail of the Cold War in 1977 Berlin. We follow the journey of a young American dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who is accepted into the prestigious but mysterious Markos Dance Academy. Strange occurrences begin to occur, and Susie soon finds herself among company that’s of a different kind. Hint: this is not a film for kids.

The most enjoyable factor for me was the suspense, as subtly indicated within the name of the film. A large part of this comes from the story and its incredibly developed mythology teased out an array of harrowing concepts over time. Every time a new detail was shed, the more intrigued I became and the suspense of what could linger in the future was added.

I also loved how the film structures complemented the build-up in sense over time. Like a Quentin Tarantino film, the story was divided up into chapters and each added to this looming dreaded feeling for next part of the story. Think Paranormal Activity and how each new night brought about something worse than the one before.

The other parts that I thought were great to build suspense were the direction and performances.

Director Luca Guadagnino did a great job in breaking up these segments and teasing out important details to solidify the suspense. One of my favourite features was his use of the zoom on particular objects or faces. Apart from adding obvious focus to details important to the story, they were often employed before moments of dread and in turn made these scenes interesting to watch.

Normally directors would cut to a close-up but to me, Guadagnino’s choice of the zoom is far more interesting from a visual standpoint. Most of the zooms were done slowly, forcing me to gradually ascertain what important detail is being put forward.

It reminded me of Yorgos Lanthimos’ works (another great director, see our Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer reviews) as he also forces in this feeling of suspense from a zoom compared to a quick cut of a close-up. The latter style speeds up the information transfer process and doesn’t allow momentary confusion while I figure things out. Great in action pieces to hide the cheated punches; less in suspenseful horrors where you want to slowly tease out details and build up suspense (unless of course horror films want to use jump scares).

Interestingly, Guadagnino’s other works Call Me By Your Name and I Am Love which are dramatic films that are very different from Suspiria. Both of those are great films but I was still (pleasantly) surprised to see Guadagnino handle himself quite well in a horror genre.

Performances wise, Dakota Johnson was fine as Susie Bannion but it was Tilda Swinton who blew me away with her two roles; one of which I didn’t even realise she acted for it until looking up the cast credits. I don’t want to give this part away because I think the experience of picking this up later will make you smile but think Gary Oldman level of transformation. Suffice to say, she was simply incredible.

Apart from being a linguistic master, there are so many subtleties in her performance that really does confirm her as my favourite actress to watch. In Suspiria she plays a dance director with great commanding body movements but also real earnest in her eyes. She can give a lot away about her character simply through the way she stares at you and I found it fantastic to watch.

My only gripes with Suspiria are with subplots that could have been cut because they didn’t add anything to the story or weren’t addressed later.

Without giving too much away, there’s a subplot with the RAF (if you watch the film you’ll know what I mean) that kept getting raised but never had a payoff. I’m trying to grasp its relevance to the themes of the film, but I still don’t know what its point was. There’s also one character with glasses (again you’ll know who I mean) who I felt was important to the story but was never addressed by the end of the film. Once again, I’m not sure what her role was and I’m of the mind that this subplot could have been cut.

I also have a slight issue with the way the finale played out which came across as comical in parts even though that the exact opposite of its intention. After a while it became kind of ridiculous and in my opinion, it could have been presented differently to make it feel more harrowing. I can’t say exactly why it came across as comical without giving anything, but this is more of a minor issue compared to the almost pointless subplots.

Overall Suspiria is an incredibly well-made film and I had a blast watching it. I’m thoroughly recommending this to those that enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby and Black Swan because Suspiria feels like a mix of the two. Otherwise, if you like suspenseful psychological horrors in general, then this will still be right up your alley.

Be warned, it is quite long. The film clocks in at 2 hours and 32 minutes but thankfully I didn’t feel the film ever drag on because there’s a lot of intriguing suspense going on (even with the pointless subplots). This is a film that had enough for me to take away from one sitting but also made me more curious to read up on later (though I probably won’t be watching it again because I’m happy with what I got the first time).

I’m predicting this to be an early contender for Best Adapted Screenplay at next year’s Oscar’s as it’s based on the 1977 original of the same name. But until then, see the 2018 version when you can.

EDIT:

I forgot to add that the music is also composed by Thom Yorke, lead single and lyricist of Radiohead. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better right?

Mandy Movie Review

7/10

A mesmerising experience and one of the best movies for 2018 so far. Nicolas Cage makes a fine return with an action-horror film that’s incredibly stylistic and thoroughly entertaining. But be warned, this is not a film for the faint of heart.

Mandy tells the story of Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and his girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Red works as a logger while Mandy is a cashier and paints abstract fantasy art in her spare time. The two live a reclusive life until one day on her way to work, Mandy attracts the attention of the deviant hippie cult ‘Children of the New Dawn’. From that point on the nightmare begins.

My favourite aspect of Mandy must be the style. The cinematography oozes a psychedelic 80’s feeling with most shots lit and colour graded as a crimson red or neon green. Think the Stranger Things opening titles and you’ll get a picture of what I mean. I can’t imagine the effort it took for these shots to be set up. All credit goes to cinematographer Benjamin Loeb and the post-production team who did a fantastic job.

Everything about this movie fits perfectly with the themes of fantasy because Mandy looks and feels like a fantasy. There are scenes where characters words are slurred purposely and images of them moving are repeated to help give a fantasy feel. Even the chapter title cards look like original works of fantasy art. I had a blast watching every scene simply because it looked so amazing.

Mandy’s story is also thoroughly entertaining. Not only did it feel like a breath of fresh air, it acted as a catalyst for bringing out the best in Nicolas Cage. For an actor whose career has included some famously overly eccentric performances, I was pleasantly grateful that Mandy’s fantasy narrative gave him the platform to do just that. Mandy knows how to use Cage’s eccentric charm because it often intentionally plays on the ridiculousness of things for entertaining effect. Compare to this his other films like The Wicker Man and Vampire’s Kiss which don’t do this and end up making Cage’s antic unintentionally hilarious.

I should also add that this film isn’t for everyone because there are horror elements that really do earn it an MA rating. But for those that enjoy action-horror films or even just Nicolas Cage’s often over the top style of acting, I have no doubt that you’ll love this film. Mandy works by pairing a crazy fantasy with an actor that can match that same level of craziness in performance. And for me the combination worked brilliantly.

My only real gripe is that certain parts of the film tend to drag on and end up being slightly repetitive. In my opinion some of these scenes could have been cut earlier and their point would have been just as clear. I can see how extending the length of these scenes may have been an intentional choice from writer/director Panos Cosmatos. By slowing down the pace in these scenes one can argue they slowly lure you into a hypnotic-like state which fits with the fantasy theme Mandy is clearly going for. Maybe a second watch might confirm that but right now I’m still of the mind that scenes could have been edited for a shorter length and the same effect could have been achieved.

Ultimately with a fantastic style and gripping narrative, Mandy succeeds as a great example of independent arthouse films done right. I loved this film and I’ll be checking out more from this director in the future. Watch this on the big screen if you can because the experience will only be heightened. See it.

American Animals Movie Review

american animalsSee it. 7.5/10

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

American Animals comes from director Bart Layton, whose most famous piece of work is the 2012 documentary The Imposter which still remains one of the best documentaries to have come out in recent years. Translating those same skills from a documentary background, it’s refreshing to see Bart Layton’s experience give his latest piece American Animals, an original and different dynamic to most films that are based on true events.

The story follows the life of Spencer, who after getting into Transylvania University, notices that there is an on-campus library that boasts a variety of extremely rare books. His slightly unhinged friend Warren devises a plan to steal the books and sell them on the black market for money. Similar to a technique that featured in the film I, Tonya, which used reenactments of interviews from real-life people involved in the biographical-drama, American Animals takes it a step further by including interviews with real-life people that were actually involved in the heist to drive the story.

This is an interesting narrative device because with any retellings of events, human’s memories are subjective and as such remain limited to showing the truth to the eye of the beholder. Bart Layton takes advantage of this by taking moments where the interviewees don’t agree on how events unfolded, to show different sides of the same story. This effect not only builds characterization but also brings about moments of comedy at how different people viewed the events that unfolded.

Another different element that helps to blur this line between documentary and fictional crime drama, is the heavyweight actors who play two of the four boys in the reenactment. Most notably is Evan Peters who plays “mastermind” Warren. His previous work in TV series American Horror Story and as the unconventional mutant Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, sets him up as the perfect person to play Warren. Warren came up with the plan for the heist by watching famous heist films, and his wild stories and set-ups to meet potential dealers who can help get rid of the books is portrayed perfectly by Evan Peters as he manages to carefully straddle that line between sanity and crazy.

Playing the more level-headed but easily influenced Spencer is Barry Keoghan who often plays troubled characters in heavy dramas like The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Dunkirk. This is a slightly different character for him, as Spencer is simply bored with life when he decides to jump onboard Warren’s crazy plan. Nevertheless, Barry Keoghan manages to capture perfectly Spencer’s guilty conscience as the day of the heist draws closer, and his hopes for something will go wrong become more prudent.

Bart Layton takes an incredible, crazy true story and turns it into an entertaining piece of modern cinema with a unique approach to presentation. He not only captures the bizarreness of the wild situations that the characters are put in but also makes a comment on people and their questionable recollection of events from memory. Bart Layton uses a range of techniques such as including the real-life people involved in the story and rewinding the film to retell situations from different perspectives that make the film fun to watch.

American Animals is an original story, told in an original way, and well worth taking the time to view it. See it.

The Final Girls Movie Review

the final girls

See it. 6/10

“They were never alive! They weren’t real. Neither are you because this is just a movie!”

It seems that the only way to make a decent horror film these days is to have the story lampoon the common tropes of others like it. The Final Girls unashamedly parodies classic slasher film clichés and uses them for comedic effect, which thankfully does enough to make this worth the watch. This self-aware nature is not as intelligent as another similar film, The Cabin In The Woods (which is also a film that I love) so don’t walk into this with high expectations, but there is enough ridiculousness and meta-humor that still warrants seeing The Final Girls. Especially if you’re a fan of horror in general and love when it can be fused with the likes of comedy akin to the film Tucker and Dale vs Evil.

What works for The Final Girls is the story and its outlandish portrayal of horror stereotypes seen in each of the characters. Every figure is written as a caricature of the typical individuals that you’d come across in any basic slasher horror film, whether it be the dumb jock or the virgin or those that are sexually proactive; The Final Girls represents all commonly used facets of horror filmmaking but does so to lampoon their stereotypes. There are often moments of humor based on the expense of character motivations that worked well to make me smile and overall, I enjoyed the meta-like nature of the script.

The only semi-original aspect that makes it refreshing enough is the idea of having characters being sucked up into a B-grade horror film and interacting with the characters from that said film. The story then takes on the life of the B-grade horror film and utilizes all the common tropes attaches to it. I didn’t mind that it becomes unoriginal because The Final Girls is all about subverting the unoriginal clichés of horror films for comedic effect. The film might encompass super cheesy moments or poorly written plot holes but those aren’t flaws I can criticize negatively because it’s intentionally being parodied. The only unoriginal trait about The Final Girls is that it chooses to lampoon those clichés when films like The Cabin In The Woods or Tucker and Dale vs Evil have done it in the past already.

I also have some issues with the film technically. There were times when the story wasn’t necessarily trying to lampoon those clichés just yet and that I thought these scenes could have been done in a way that didn’t really need to rely on B-grade jump scares. It seems like a wasted opportunity to employ some innovative horror filmmaking techniques like the use of sound or a slow pan to reveal something sinister and it could make me feel scared.

Altogether I can’t fault the films unoriginal story even though there are a lot of cheesy cliches thrown in. This film is attempting to parody slasher films and for the most part, I say it does so well enough. I wasn’t laughing hysterically and it’s nowhere near the genius of a parody film like Black Dynamite but it’s nevertheless passable. There’s enough to warrant seeing this film, especially if you’re at all interested in seeing horror but don’t go into it with exceedingly high hopes. The Final Girls isn’t a modern horror masterpiece but it’s still worth a recommendation. See it.

Incredibles 2 Movie Review

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Incredibles 2 Review

See it. 6/10

“I don’t KNOW that way, why would they change math? Math is math, math is math!”

Great for kids but not exactly for those who are older. Incredibles 2 works like a rehash of the original animated family comedy and follows the same beats from the first film that make this a familiar outing for the sequel. Visuals are another fine point for Pixar’s animation team and it’s clear that technically speaking, Incredibles 2 is a well-made film. There’s also some great voice acting and competently directed action sequences but apart from that; everything else feels like the norm. Incredibles 2 wasn’t the boisterous return I hoped it to be, but it is everything I’ve come to expect from a Disney animated film and that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie.

My major gripe is with the plot because Incredibles 2 largely rips off the storyline from the original. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that certain roles have been reversed and everything else that follows is basically the same structure that I’ve seen before. I don’t believe this automatically meant the entire movie was a boring experience, but it nevertheless added a level of predictability that made it less exciting for me to watch. When I can see what’s eventually going to happen, along with what different beats the story will hit; it ruins my hope and expectations for seeing something new which is what a sequel should try to do.

Nevertheless, Incredibles 2 still holds enough positives to overshadow the predictability factor and still make it a fun ride and especially for children who love seeing animated action on screen. As an adult, I enjoyed how fluid and well-crafted the animation of the film was, which highlighted to me the meticulous detail Pixar places in each of their works. I also thought the voice acting added a diverse vocal range to the characters, especially with Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible because he produced a welcomed burst of energy. Director Brad Bird (who also directed the original Incredibles and later Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) framed some dynamic camera angles for the action sequences that also worked great to establish well-executed extended animated pieces.

Moments of comedy came here and there, but they didn’t make me burst out more than a chuckle. Punchlines often felt slightly awkward and came from jokes that were targeted for a younger age group. My favourite jokes were ones that made fun of human behaviour or twisting logic. There’s an instance where Mr. Incredible is trying to help Dash with his homework and he refuses to believe his old-way of solving math problems can’t solve Dash’s modernly taught methods. Moments like that worked best for but unfortunately, these were far and few between.

Incredibles 2 is less of the spectacular return that I hoped it would be, but I still have no problem with recommending seeing it. The animation is once again a standout feature from the Pixar team and altogether Incredibles 2 is technically a well-made film. If only the story could have been just as refined as the animation and maybe, then I would have held this movie in higher regards. I still believe fans of the original will be relieved that the charm and chemistry from the first haven’t been lost but I don’t see Incredibles 2 surpassing how refreshing its predecessor felt. Watch it if you’ve loved the original or need a distraction for the kids, but don’t go in with exceedingly high hopes because you might be slightly disappointed. See it.

Dogtooth Movie Review

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See it. 7/10

“Soon your mother will give birth to two children and a dog”

Yorgos Lanthimos’ breakout movie is a hallmark of minimalist filmmaking coupled with a darkly funny concept. Dogtooth is a clear indication of the director’s strength to tackle dystopian settings fused with black comedy elements to make a truly unique film. It’s no wonder he went on to make The Lobster and The Killing of A Sacred Deer, as Dogtooth truly feels like the start of exploring highly original and sinister stories.

Dogtooth’s premise centers around children whose parents control the information that’s provided to them from birth. A film about those who grow up without the knowledge of what lies in the outside world and have only the “facts” that are installed onto them by others. It’s a minimalistic plot but one that makes for a disturbing film, despite the moments of humour.

There are scenes that switch from being disturbingly dark and then to being unusually funny which for me was a weirdly wonderful combination. It’s a strange form of black comedy, where the comedy is at the expense of the characters but ultimately creates a story that’s engrossing to watch unfold. I loved watching the lies that the parents developed to answer basic questions of existence such as explaining why the children often saw planes in the sky. There’s also a fantastic scene where they meet a certain animal for the first time (without spoiling what it is) and the children’s reactions are hilarious but also inherently disturbing to think about why they are behaving in that way.

Yorgos Lanthimos feeds off audience’s uncertainty about whether they should be laughing or not, and also makes the audience question why they’re laughing at the interactions that come from the psychological abuse the characters are experiencing. Those inner dialogues of wondering why the scene feels funny is a feature that started in Dogtooth and has been exemplified with the rest of Yorgos Lanthimos’ filmography. I’ve had the same feeling with his other films The Lobster and The Killing of A Sacred Deer which show that this a quality this writer/director excels at. I love how he can create an original premise but also reinforce an unusual feeling throughout his films that can provide for some creepy bursts of humor.

Yorgos Lanthimos will try to accentuate this aspect with the visual look of the film. The blocking of the characters will be awkwardly framed, or the camera is positioned in a strange place that works again to emphasize the unusualness of the story. Even at times when characters are talking, Yorgos Lanthimos will only show the bottom half of their body and won’t have a shot showing their mouths moving. There are often scenes where the camera is put behind the characters and we don’t always get a front view until later. Clearly, there’s been an effort made to insert shots that aren’t exactly conventional but work only in the context of presenting an unusual feel to the film. Yorgos Lanthimos knows where the limit with these kind of shots is because I didn’t feel confused at any point and could still follow the plot as it developed over time. This is a testament to Yorgos Lanthimos’ knowing how to balance unconventional visuals without it becoming detrimental to the story.

Overall Dogtooth might appear small in scope, but its story is filled with wonderfully written scenes that make it a must watch. I was never bored by the minimalist approach because there was always an interesting interaction between the family and I was constantly in a state of strange awe. Dogtooth can be viewed as both a great character study but also a psychological study of the consequences of hive mentality. I can also see questions of ethics coming into play by examining reasons why the parents chose to manipulate their children which was left up to the imagination of the viewer to answer.

This might feel like a dystopian drama by how strange the interactions are, but in all honesty, I took this film as a plausible piece of reality even if it is entirely fictional. Dogtooth will always remain in my mind and whenever I revisit it I’m pleasantly surprised by different nuances and idiosyncrasies that I didn’t notice on the first viewing. I can’t recommend this film enough for those wanting to view something completely different and unlike anything out there in terms of a psychological character drama. I’d also wholeheartedly suggest you check out Yorgos Lanthimos’ other films as well because he’s a director to watch in the future. See it.

mother! Movie Review

mother!

See it. 8/10

“You never loved me. You just loved how much I loved you”

Darren Aronofsky latest piece marks a fine recovery for the director who is more of an expert for psychological thrillers and less for the big-budgeted religious blockbusters *cough* Noah *cough*. Everything that I loved in terms of the intensity and dark nature of Black Swan thankfully returns in mother! but in a way that entirely distinguishes the two films. mother! is anything but the same as Black Swan and in some ways more terrifying.

From a narrative standpoint, I enjoyed the unraveling of both the mystery elements but also the characters themselves. The film has a minimal plot, focusing mainly on the relationship between two newlyweds, but in the context of the tension that arises, the story greatly deepens. The more time that passed, I was beginning to feel more uncomfortable with the dynamics of their relationship and the surrounding events that were occurring. I had no idea of where it would lead to and when the third act came around, the dramatic intensity peaked at incredible heights. I loved that Darren Aronofsky could essentially one up himself on his efforts to produce such a satisfying climax because the tension and psychological drama that was portrayed in the final twenty minutes was just fantastic.

This was complemented by the visual elements and camera trickery that worked so well to bring his dark vision to life. I particularly loved the nightmarish aspects of the story and I believe this could be one of the best translations to what being in a horrible dream would look like as a film (even more so than the fabled A Nightmare On Elm Street series).

The artisanship used to utilize several introductions of new chaotic disturbances (specifically in the third act), would have taken a large amount of time to plan and also to set up, which made it so thoroughly engaging. The dark world that Darren Aronofsky created was truly being brought to life and the efforts to do so from a technical perspective was astonishing. From organizing the movement of an exorbitant number of extras to exact positioning, and the framing of tracking shots on characters, this film is worth seeing just for how it finishes alone.

From an acting perspective, I thought Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem were felicitous casting choices for the story. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance suited the role of playing the beautifully young and warm-hearted wife who also needed to retain a flair of innocence and infatuation for her husband. The husband was also well played by Javier Bardem, as he suited that husky older man role that is seen as a figure of wisdom and talent in the eyes of his young lover. Both supported each other well but were, more importantly, trusting in the crazy vision Darren Aronofsky had installed for their characters. It’s becoming almost indisputable that he knows how to get the very best, dark emotions from his actors when put into a psychologically thrilling context.

The final word I want to add is to try and not to do any research about the film, and instead simply watch it if you’re interested in any sort of psychological dramas. This is one of the best as of late and is a fine example of independent cinema. If you’ve never heard of the director Darren Aronofsky before, I sincerely suggest you check out his other works. He was responsible for one of my favourite films Requiem of a Dream but is also well known for Black Swan as I mentioned in the introduction but also The Wrestler. mother! is nothing like those films, aside from the intensity it produces but it is nevertheless a movie that needs to be watched. See it.

Thoroughbreds Movie Review

thoroughbreds

See it. 8/10

“The only thing worse than being incompetent or unkind or evil is…indecisive”

This is a modern psychological drama at its finest. On the surface, Thoroughbreds might be seen as a new twist on American Psycho, but in my view, there are several distinguishing aspects that make it a completely different experience. From the uniquely off-putting music to the eerily funny characters, Thoroughbreds might focus on the psychology of the upper-class elite, but this is a film that is wholly engrossing to watch.

One of the most surprising traits for Thoroughbreds is the great moments of black comedy. This took me off guard because, for most of the film, I’m examining the relationship of two upper-class teenagers who are focused on darker aspirations and have nothing to do with being funny. But because one is completely emotionless and the other is not, the dynamic between the two makes for some humorously bleak interactions. This works since the emotionless character does not care what the other says about them and champions the idea of brutal honesty no matter what. Which juxtaposes greatly to her counterpart who’s afraid to speak her mind truthfully and when they both do so, it creates wonderfully witty jests of black comedy.

To construct two characters in this way signals to me that this film has a great writer. And reading that this was the first-time feature by writer Cory Finley who also directed the film, I’m even more impressed. This is to say that seeing his talent as a playwright to screenwriter isn’t necessarily a major feat because I’m already expecting him to be able to write. But to have the adept skills and vision to translate the story to film, especially since he was initially thinking it would be more suitable for the stage, is where the impressiveness of it comes into play. After reading interviews with him, I’m glad Cory Finley could see the increase in the number of levers the film format could offer him, as he really utilized several interestingly different aspects to bring his story to light.

The first of which is the use of unique music. From the plucking of violin strings to the timed and menacing beats of a bass drum, the soundtrack fitted perfectly to produce such an off-putting vibe. This makes complete sense given one of the characters is the personification of such a feeling, but also because many of the scenes work around exploring the darker aspects of their psychic so the pairing of aural to visual themes matched very well. I should also add that there were a few inserts of popular pieces of modern music which added further use in terms of a comedic tone. I’m referring to a great scene when the song ‘Ava Maria’ is used, because the way the story is built up to that moment and then introduces the song, is simply hilarious.

Everything about this film exuberates a sense of ownership and has a truly unique style. From a shot perspective, Cory Finley outdid himself with a flair for using a variety of camera techniques and an understanding of how to set up a scene depending on the tone he wanted. From the use of tracking shots, to the different ways actors were framed and the interesting blocking of characters, all approaches made me interested to see what this director will do next. It showed me a sign of a competent director who understands what he wanted from each scene in terms of style but more importantly tone, which is an aspect I can evidently see that he gave focus to.

I want to mention the great performances from the three leads, Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, and the late Anton Yelchin, for which Thoroughbreds was also his last film. Each of them worked nicely supporting each other, particularly with the dynamic of the two teenagers but also the refreshing burst of sympathy Anton Yelchin’s character brought. I must also highlight Olivia Cooke’s portrayal stood out for me amongst the rest as I thought she really sold the delivery for an emotionless figure who also had a level-headedness about her but in a dark way.

If you couldn’t tell already, I loved this film and I’ll be recommending it for you to find and watch. There are enough layers and levels for anyone who wanted to analyze these characters but to also just simply be engrossed by its unique presentation. From the dark comedy to the psychological thriller aspects, Thoroughbreds has wonderful panache about it and I can’t wait to see what it’s in-store for this director next. Watch it if you’re a fan of American Psycho, but don’t expect it to be anything like that as it’s completely different in its own right. See it.

Waltz With Bashir Movie Review

waltz with bashir

See it. 8/10

“Memory takes us where we need to go”

Waltz With Bashir is a remarkable form of a documentary. Not only does it dive into a subject matter for which is engrossing in of itself, but it also does so with such a unique presentation that makes this film unmissable. And by this, I’m referring to the choice to use animation which feels so refreshing. The format is fitting for a documentary that explores the commonly examined theme of war but does so with very personal connections and breathtaking visuals.

For the director Ari Forman, to choose to animate his documentary, it represents an unequivocal risk in that it’s a decision that’s rarely been executed in other documentaries. The main attraction is to portray reality but how can you do so when you don’t have the option of filming situations and individuals with cameras in real life. For these reasons, I have to applaud the director for breaking incredible new ground and doing so with such class.

Not only is most of the film entirely animated but it is also done with a unique style that ends up taking four years to make the film. The scenes often used dark hues to contrast the light and grey areas of an image, which felt similar to illustrations produced by comic books. But the way the faces on characters were drawn to the portrayal of objects in the background also oozed a sense of ownership in its style. I found all of this to be great given it felt so refreshing to see the work of an artist who had an original flair for creating animation drawings. So, every credit has to go to not only the director Ali Foreman for finding Yoni Goodman Bridgit Folman Film Gang studio in Israel, who invented that style and was responsible for the brilliant animation.

Yet Waltz With Bashir continues this train of production excellence. The difficulty of animating such a style that requires every drawing to be sliced into hundreds of frames which are then moved in relation with each other to create the movement illusion is a testament of itself. But this was also done from 2,300 original illustrations, which together created the storyboard and formed the frames to animate later on. This is simply stupendous for a film to do let alone a documentary and is almost equivalent (if not the same) to the time put into making a stop-motion claymation film. The only other movie that would beat this feat is Loving Vincent which was animated from 65,000 frames of oil paintings on canvas.

Whilst the story of Loving Vincent wasn’t its greatest strength, Waltz With Bashir thankfully can say it doesn’t suffer that same fate. As the film depicts the journey of the director’s experience with the civil war in Lebanon and is trying to recover gaps in his memories from that time, which leads to him meeting friends and individuals that recount their own stories from the war, which are aimed at triggering the missing gaps to come to light, but also why they were difficult to recount in the first place.

I thought that this was a great way of exploring the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder as it provided for both fascinating anecdotes but also a personal touch. The fact that the director made this film about his journey to find the reasons for his memory loss, makes it incredibly engaging and interesting for me to watch. I was quickly invested in his plight from a human level, as he searches for the answers he can’t figure out yet, but also because it added an element of mystery. With every figure that he interviews, a different and haunting account of the civil war shone a spotlight on life during the war but adding room for the unexpected to occur. I had no clue what gaps of knowledge were possible from the director’s personal memory loss and any recounts from others simply kept opening up the possibilities of what was unimaginable.

This also goes back to the way that in most of these anecdotes, the animation is used to bring to life the other individuals personal recounts of the situation. It’s so much better than having someone simply just tell you their story when you can have animation to actually visualize the images and then have narration on top. It’s very powerful from a visual standpoint of storytelling, as not only is the director relying on aural imagery from the sound recordings but the beautiful animation to compliment the storytelling. Which is why the choice to use such a format is so clever in the first place. Moments from individuals that told of reoccurring and haunting dreams also fitted the dark hue style used. The contrasts of colors in the animation reflect the bleak nature of the dreams and stories of war, which again reaffirm the adept employment of the medium.

I could keep going on with the technical excellence because I haven’t even mentioned the eminent soundtrack and classical songs that play over the top, but I’ll stop short and let you experience that for yourself because Waltz With Bashir is by far one of the best documentaries to have come out of late and needs to be seen.

There are a few films that can compare to it, even if the subject matter is one that has been well documented because Waltz With Bashir is a standout from the rest. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and wouldn’t mind watching it again to hear some of the fantastic insights into the life of war and the stories of people who are still being affected by it. This movie is banned in Lebanon for those reasons but thankfully we can still see it everywhere else and I’m recommending you give this film the attention it needs. See it.