Tag Archives: apocalypse

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2018

‘Cam’
Release Date: Nov. 16, 2018
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Starring: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh and Imani Hakim
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

Photo courtesy of Netflix.

As someone who recently got all my shit stolen (everything from cell phone to Gmail and Instagram accounts), I both enjoyed and deeply related to Netflix’s original thriller “Cam.” It’s not until something terrible happens that you realize how much of your life is online and how quickly you can lose it all — which is exactly what we learn in “Cam” as we follow the heroine Alice (Madeline Brewer), a camgirl whose online identity is everything to her. As she’s rising in rank on a popular camming site called Free Girls Live, desperately trying to crack the top 50 with increasingly daring broadcasts, Alice suddenly loses access to her account. But that’s not all. Her account has been taken over by an eerie doppelgänger who performs under her name and has her audience fooled. The film follows Alice’s frantic race to figure out what’s happened to her account before she loses her carefully curated online presence, her reputation, her job and perhaps even her life. There have been numerous horror films attempting to show us the dangers of our technological world, but few, like “Cam,” which acknowledge how our online selves are now almost essential extensions of our lives.

‘A Quiet Place’
Release Date: April 6, 2018
Director: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski and Millicent Simmonds
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Rating: PG-13 for terror and some bloody images.
Grade: B

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Relying heavily on a creepy musical score, visual cues and emotive acting from its leads, “A Quiet Place” cements itself as one of the year’s most inventive sci-fi/horror films. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that has been taken over by horrible creatures that attack using their strong sense of hearing. The few humans who’ve survived the takeover — including Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Lee (John Krasinski) and their children (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe) — have learned to adapt to new lives scavenging for supplies in abandoned cities and going about day-to-day business while making as little noise as possible to avoid detection. It’s a testament to the filmmaking that “A Quiet Place” can be so compelling and emotionally-driven without much dialogue beyond some hushed conversations. There are a few good moments of suspense and tension, but the film’s biggest strength is the human element. It is especially interesting to see the older children beginning to grow up in this oppressive environment and struggle to find their places in it. Their… quiet places in it.

‘Hereditary’
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Grade: C+

Photo courtesy of A24.

“Hereditary” was supposed to be the horror movie on 2018. I love a good fucked up family drama, so I was all hyped up, which only left me disappointed in the end. Toni Collette does deliver a strong performance as Annie Graham, an artist and mother trying to deal with the aftermath of her own mother’s recent death. Likewise, Alex Wolff is excellent in his role as Peter Graham, Annie’s teenage son, whose pain and confusion help propel the story. Early on in the film, the audience is expecting to learn of the dark secrets Annie’s mother was hiding until her death, but this suspense is never satisfied until the very last scene in the film and then it’s such a letdown. That conclusion could have been much more fucked up if it was only handled with more subtlety and finesse. While the plot of “Hereditary” leaves a lot to be desired, it is beautifully shot and well put-together. I particularly enjoyed the gruesome death scene (I thought, “All right, now here we go!” but the movie never really picked up from there), and I loved the detail of the twisted miniature scenes Annie builds in her art studio to represent family memories, good and bad. “Hereditary” might be worth a watch for these reasons, but it’s not worth two.

‘Unsane’
Release Date: March 23, 2018
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard and Jay Pharoah
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Rating: R for disturbing behavior, violence, language and sex references.
Grade: D

Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street and Fingerprint Releasing.

I watched “Unsane” on an airplane — it was a 20-hour flight, and I was desperately working my way through every form of entertainment available to me. It was so bad, I was shocked beyond belief when I reconnected to WiFi and found out that this film was actually taken seriously by critics. Here’s the cool thing: like Sean Baker’s phenomenal “Tangerine,” “Unsane” was filmed entirely on an iPhone. Unfortunately for director Steven Soderbergh, it’s already been established that great films can be shot using minimal equipment, and that novelty alone is not enough to make “Unsane” a great film. “Unsane” centers on Sawyer (Claire Foy), a woman who seeks treatment at a mental health facility after being persistently tormented by a stalker. When she absently signs some documents at the appointment, she unknowingly commits herself to stay at the facility, and her attempts to escape only make her a bigger target for the staff and other patients. The story prompting us to question who is really crazy? is one we’ve seen in films — much better films — a thousand times before. The acting is over-the-top, and the ending is ridiculous. If you’re stuck on an airplane with “Unsane,” I recommend you play Tetris instead.

Capsule film reviews: Foreign LGBT movies (part 4)

‘The Way He Looks’ (Brazil)
Release Date: April 10, 2014
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi and Tess Amorim
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Vitrine Films.

“The Way He Looks” is actually a wonderful, creative coming-of-age movie. It centers on Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind Brazilian high school student, who longs to gain his independence and study abroad in the United States despite the fears of his overprotective parents. The solid relationship he has with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) is challenged when he begins pursuing a romance with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), the new boy in school. This interesting story is a breath of fresh air for the coming-of-age/gay teen romance genre. There are so many things “The Way He Looks” does well. The budding young love is perfectly paced, and the awkward jealousy between best friends when one starts dating is beautifully illustrated. Even Leo’s parents are well-written, complex characters that offer depth to the story rather than serving as stock characters to further the protagonist’s plotline. The film handles both Leo’s blindness and his sexuality tactfully, and it results in a really well-done, believable film.

‘Velociraptor’ (Mexico)
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Director: Chucho E. Quintero
Starring: Pablo Mezz, Carlos Hendrick Huber and Alan Aguilar
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

I have been looking forward to watching “Velociraptor” for a long time: a Spanish-language gay drama set against the backdrop of an apocalypse? That is right up my alley. And I’m so glad that the film exceeded my expectations. In “Velociraptor,” Álex (Pablo Mezz) and Diego (Carlos Hendrick Huber) are best friends spending some casual time together as the end of the world creeps closer and the people around them react accordingly. For Álex, who is gay, it particularly bothers him that he’s never found a guy he trusts enough to go all the way. And Diego is a really (really, very, very) supportive friend. “Velociraptor” greatly succeeds because of the amazing chemistry between the two leads, who are (for the most part) the only real characters in the entire movie. The characterization is believable and the tangible sexual tension is captivating. The storyline is excellent and super unconventional, which makes “Velociraptor” such a valuable contribution to queer cinema. I also love the well-executed flashback scenes that add depth to the story, as well as the voiceovers reporting on the status of planet Earth. “Velociraptor” will make you think about friendship and the ways people limit themselves in order to fit into society. Definitely one to check out.

‘How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)’ (Thailand)
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2015
Director: Josh Kim
Starring: Ingkarat Damrongsakkul, Thira Chutikul and Jinn Jinna Navarat
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Wolfe Video.

On the eve of Thailand’s annual military draft lottery, now-21-year-old Oat is haunted by memories of his childhood and his first experience with the drafting process. The majority of the film takes place in flashbacks to Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul) as an 11-year-old orphan growing up in the outskirts of Bangkok with his aunt, younger sister and older brother. “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” shows Oat beginning to lose his innocence and grow up as his brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) prepares to face the draft lottery and the corrupt system that is stacked against them. While Oat trains himself to beat Ek at a game of checkers so he can finally be allowed to accompany him to the gay bar where he works as an escort, the young boy also learns how adults “win” at real life: by doing whatever it takes. Although I would have liked to see more development of adult Oat in the present-day sequences, I think “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” is a great, well-done film. I enjoyed the characterization of Oat and Ek, as well as several supporting characters, including Ek’s more privileged long-term boyfriend Jai (Jinn Jinna Navarat) and their friend Kitty (Natarat Lakha), who is exempted from the draft because she is transgender.

‘Jongens’ (aka. ‘Boys’) (Netherlands)
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2014
Director: Mischa Kamp
Starring: Gijs Blom, Ko Zandvliet and Stijn Taverne
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

jongens

Photo courtesy of Pupkin Film.

“Jongens” (translated from Dutch as “Boys”) is all right for a quick little teen angst/romantic drama. Fifteen-year-old Sieger (Gijs Blom) lives with his single father (Ton Kas) and rebellious older brother Eddy (Jonas Smulders) after his mother’s death. He and his friends spend most of their time training as key runners on the local track team. When he is chosen as one member of a relay team that will compete in an important upcoming race, Sieger begins developing feelings for Marc (Ko Zandvliet), another boy on the team. Blom’s acting is pretty good: he does an impressive job conveying a lot of emotion with minimal dialogue, often by exchanging pointed glances with Zandvliet as Marc. The scenery is nice, and the accompanying soundtrack is a good complement to the storyline. Unfortunately, the plot is not particularly captivating or original, and the ending of “Jongens” is disappointingly ambiguous and anticlimactic. I didn’t dislike the film at all, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. I would recommend this film, but I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen many films about gay romance yet, so the story may still be intriguing and new.

Check out more capsule film reviews of foreign LGBT movies here, here and here.