Tag Archives: thriller

Mars Attacks! A 60 Second Review of Life (2017)

“I know it’s not scientific, but I feel pure f**king hatred for that thing.”

From Daniel Espinosa, the director that brought us the underwhelming Safe House (five years ago!), comes Life: a horror, thriller, almost non-fiction-science-fiction movie that really nails its tone, despite dipping into the trope bag a bit too often. It’s clearly Espinosa’s best work so far (Swedish aside), but is it enough to put bums on seats at the cinema?

What I liked…

This is without doubt one of the most suspenseful, thrilling sci-fi films I have seen in years. It really helps to have great actors, but credit must be given to the way the film drags you through breathlessly leaving you little time to think, let alone compare its premise to Alien.

The casting is easily one of the highlights. A delightful blend of Reynold’s quipping, Hiroyuki Sanada frowning and Ariyon Bakare just acting the shit out of every scene. It is hard to know who the main character was and who would snuff it next. I quite liked that, especially as this also harked back to Ridley’s Scott’s classic.

Although the story doesn’t reach far beyond its premise, this kept the film contained and claustrophobic. Like an Outer Limits episode with good actors, the world below is kept at arm’s length, which makes the twists and turns that do happen that much more impactful. You won’t see everything coming either, you’re lying if you do.

Visually stunning. All the space shots look great, the alien looked good considering its digital basis and the sound design is not overbearing when it could have been. I am not alone in being reminded of Alien, which I think is a compliment considering how many movies have tried to replicate its visceral suspense and failed.

What I disliked…

Much of the criticism aimed at Life is that it heavily relies on tropes. This of course can annoy some people more than others, with doubters calling it a ‘clone’, and fans suggesting ‘homage’ is a more suitable word. Me, I would rather the film was good than original. If it’s both, even better. But considering it plays with the idea of what we might discover literally in the next couple of years, it is worth slapping on to a recognisable set-up that at least gets the blood pumping.

There are a few lines lines of unnecessary dialogue that would have been better served as silence. In typical  b-movie fashion, it would rather not lose the audience than assume its intelligence, which is a shame because it dumbs down the film at some crucial moments.

Some repetitive storytelling, one or two plot holes and a rather strange mix of character motivations.

Shapstik Verdict: There is a genuine edge of your seat feel about this film and there were a few squeaky bums in the cinema. Yes, it copies direct formulas, but then so did Pacific Rim, and that was awesome. I don’t think you need to deliver anything new to create the experience of being thrilled. Some films simply stick with you after leaving the theatre, this one did with me. It’s both familiar yet unpredictable and imperfect yet likeable. 7/10


Return of the hack? A 60 second review of Split (2017)

“The broken are the more evolved.”

Oh my god is he back? Are we returning to the same M Night that shook the film world with his creepy film style, chilling tone, gripping storytelling and clever use of colour palettes? Has he got over his vanity projects and is now concentrating on telling a compelling story? Or is this another The Village or The Happening?

One thing is for sure, some will say yes, it is another overrated film by the biggest hack of the 21st century. But it seems most are saying not so and that The Visit indicated a restrained, steadier version of the director that first attracted so many fans and inspired many film makers.

Personally? I think he is most definitely back.

What I liked…

James McAvoy is superb as Kevin, or Dennis, or Hedwig, or whichever one of his personalities takes “the light”. M Night’s trademark of leaving the camera focused on the listener, instead of the speaker, works really well and showcases McAvoy’s talents.

Sticking with casting, Anya Taylor-Joy is very convincing as Casey Cooke, one of the young girls kidnapped by McAvoy. I liked her in The Witch in 2016 and her story is an integral part of the movie by the end and she looks at ease in front of the camera. To paraphrase Palpatine: We’ll watch her career with great interest.

It is not just M Night’s directing skills that are back on par here, it is also the storytelling. He leaves enough unsaid and by the end has developed some intriguing characters. Not least of McAvoy’s broken mind.

The ending. Some people will undoubtedly throw their toys out the pram on this one, but on reflection it has made me love the movie even more and makes me want to go back and watch it again soon. This is a spoiler free-review of course but if you are a fan of M Night’s earlier work then I suggest you book your tickets and then bury your head in the sand for the next few days.

What I disliked…

There are elements of this film that take some brave writing and a determination to create the character necessary for the film. If this is focused on, some scenes can seem an unnecessary inclusion. But I do feel that M Night has developed this film over considerable time and deliberately completed the full character spectrum for his antagonist. But then he didn’t intend The Happening to end up a cult comedy and look how that worked out.

In typical post-Signs M Night fashion, there is a somewhat gimmicky and slightly arrogant tone to some of the film making. But I think it is also one of those M Night movies that can be either lauded or criticised, purely depending on your perspective. His incessant use of certain colours at first appears unnecessary, but for me felt more synergistic by the end.

He himself stars in one scene. Not Lady in the Water level of vanity, but you would think he would have side-stepped the appearance just to avoid the criticism.

Shapstik Verdict: There are not many film makers that have had their career trajectory analysed as much as  M. Night Shyamalan. If not only because of the uniqueness, freshness and stand out talent that he brought into cinema when he first arrived. Split feels much more carefully created than some of his clumsier efforts, more well designed and well acted. Is it as good as his early work? Maybe not. But it has definitely rekindled this film fan’s love for the man. 7/10


Gone Girl (2014)

“You two are the most f****d up people I’ve ever met, and I deal with f****d up people for a living.”

David Fincher has added one of the darkest strings to his bow with his newest film Gone Girl.  A delightfully decadent and addictive blend of mystery thriller and dark comedy, the film oozes Fincher’s style in a way not seen since Zodiac and Seven. Fans of his earlier work will be pleased with Gone Girl’s gripping story and the almost endless and ultimately  unnerving character depth.

Beginning with the disappearance of beautiful young woman Amy Dunn, the film moves between the present interrogation of Affleck and his suspicious indifference, and the past, which is drawn from accounts from Amy’s diary and personal narrative. The viewer is drawn cleverly into a subjective account of events, never really sure what, if anything, Affleck is hiding. As the media creates its own conclusions about the disappearance of “Amazing” Amy, the viewer is torn between the truth, and the media’s agenda.

As with all great films, Gone Girl focusses on its characters, as Fincher manipulates our assumptions and fears to ensure the story twists and hides at just the right time. There is always a hidden threat lying beneath the skin of both main characters, as we realise that like everyone else, their identity is formed as much through their own personality, as by everyone’s elses perceptions.

Fincher creates such an infectious sense of realism that permeates all the characters, including a eerily quiet Neil Patrick Harris as the ex-boyfriend. Although Affleck nails the necessary balance between victim and suspect, it is Rosamund Pike, especially in the latter parts of the film whom steals the show. It just wouldn’t be the same without her, and her performance will likely have you feeling several emotions at the same time when the credits roll. What those emotions are will be in the hands of the viewer, as Fincher’s manipulation of us is quite inescapable as the mystery unravels.

Shapstik Verdict: Mysterious, funny and chilling, Gone Girl is easily one of the best films of the year. Not since Zodiac has Fincher delivered such a dark film, and not since Seven has one felt quite so interrogative of the human condition. Strangely addictive whilst sometimes uncomfortable to hear and see, Fincher delivers an astute lesson in character depth and one that I cannot recommend enough. 9/10

Prisoners (2013)

“They only cried when I left them.”

From Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners takes a trip down a dark and disturbing rabbit hole, weaving around the lives of several people involved in the abduction of two young girls. Hugh Jackman is intense as one of the distressed fathers, whom works both with and against the law in an attempt to find his daughter. But it is Jake Gyllenhaal who makes the biggest screen impact, combining his experience in Zodiac with one his most understated but professional performances as Detective Loki, a delightfully ambiguous character attempting to unravel the mystery at hand.

The director’s leaden and layered style is evident straight from the start, with clever dark and patient shots that hold onto the emotion written on the faces of all involved. Although the story itself lacks any real surprise, the myriad of character emotions, from Bello’s regression to Jackman’s frustration and cruelty, creates drama and leaves the viewer fully engrossed and slightly on edge. The cinematography also combines with Guzikowski’s writing to make a film that is artfully textured, but also intensely exciting. Although there is a sense of unfulfilled promise in its restraint, the dialogue flows and mixes with the rain-drenched setting evenly, so as not to leave the viewer squirming uncomfortably in their seat.

As an undoubtedly sinister and arty film, there are several clever metaphors and religious suggestions to have the critics crooning, but it does feel a shame that the gas isn’t stepped on sooner to catapult the film forward into an intense thriller. Despite this though, with such blurred lines between the characters and their motives, the real thrill is seeing the great actors performing. Especially Gyllenhaal’s eye-twitching and Paul Dano’s Eli-like turn as imprisoned suspect Alex Jones.

With an ominous and haunting soundtrack that sounds like a cross between Atticus Ross and John Carpenter to accompany the film, Prisoners is a classy yet honest movie that delivers a solid if somewhat predictable plot, coated with exceptional performances and some delicious cinematography that will linger behind the eye for some time.

Shapstik Verdict:  Prisoners exudes such an overtly artistic style, that its patience and long running time arguably oversteps the mark to the point of slightly silencing a potential thriller, which broods underneath the surface like those imprisoned souls that suffer in the film. But the plot’s twists and turns expertly intertwine with the emotion of the characters to punch a hole through the screen and reach out to the viewer, delivering a truly dark and layered drama that is not easy to forget.  8/10