Monday, July 8, 2024

Definitely Not Square


I've had a fairly disappointing run with newer genre movies as of late. When in doubt, head to the 1970s!

Monday, July 1, 2024

Le Shark


Monday, June 24, 2024

Can't Argue With The Title


It will likely not surprise you to hear that I found a low budget internet horror movie on Amazon, that it looked terrible, was under 80 minutes, and therefore, I dove in. 

I'm a predictable person.

Quick Plot: Zane settles in for a quiet night in his off-campus apartment, laptop on, tissue box in easy reach and his favorite website fully paid for: Beat a Slut.Net. 



Sigh.

His roommate seems a little better adjusted. Josh says goodnight to his girlfriend and comes home to discover Zane's computer on but no sign of Zane. He catches a glimpse of Zane's last web visit and is instantly transported to a Hostel-ish cell. A silent, scarred man appears, controlling Josh's motions as he's forced to torture his very own roommate. 


Josh wakes up in his own apartment, dismissing the moment as a bad dream but lured back to Zane's computer to watch a woman beaten and strangled for clicks. Back he goes to the bloody room, where the violence towards Zane escalates under the mournful eyes of the same woman who just lost her life on Zane's screen. 


Flashbacks throughout lend a little more insight into Zane and Josh's friendship. Pals since summer camp, they headed to college with big ambitions of not repeating their high school misery. Josh found a way: hosting obnoxious parties with live bands and copious amounts of molly. The more socially awkward Zane couldn't find his footing, preferring the company of snuff film and death metal. Josh knew Zane had questionable taste in porn, and his failure to confront the whole moral quandary of it all has now led to his own eternal punishment. 


Don't Click began as a short film by writer/director G-Hey Kim and it clearly needed a few more script revisions before its full-length (well, 76 minute) extension. The pacing between Zane's torture and his shallow backstory is awkward in a way that doesn't build any real tension. The idea of a closed door incel getting his comeuppance is fine, but there's simply not enough development of Zane to make us feel ANYTHING when he's being brutally tortured by the body of his best friend.

On the other hand, Josh (played by Valter Skarsgård, and yes, there's yet another Skarsgård) comes across a bit more solid, but no less ill-defined. The movie is either harshly judging a young adult for not harshly judging his friend's taste in porn (rude), or doing a very poor job of suggesting Josh knew these women were really being murdered on camera. 


Where does that leave us? With a poorly told story, or worse, an incredibly muddy condemnation of pornography. In 2024. 

Yes, I will think very differently of a person if I discover their website of choice is called BeatMySlut.net. But also, porn exists to let people partake in fantasies that they often WOULD NOT in real life. Punishing someone for what they do for themselves without actually involving others is pretty puritanical. 


Sure, in the case of Don't Click, it's clear (because this is a horror movie that involves vengeful router ghosts) that this website is a real hunting ground. And this vengeful router ghost is fully in her right to sew a participant's mouth shut and make his best friend chop off his masturbating hand. I'm all for that in theory! But Don't Click is so muddled in its morality that I feel weird rooting for, well, ANYTHING here. If you can't make me want to watch an incel get tortured, maybe you're doing something wrong with your storytelling. 

High Points
I'm a simple woman, and the supernatural explanation of "a murder victim's blood running down a WiFi modem creates a website ghost" made me unreasonably happy in the dumbest of ways 




Low Points
I obviously had a lot of problems with Don't Click, but if I had to boil it down to one, I'd say it's the extreme fuzziness of its own morality. Not every horror film needs a code, but when you're so zealous about both SHOWING torture and judging those watching the torture, it just feels like a lot of anger with no direction



Lessons Learned
Sorry to disappoint, but most college freshmen are not going to be impressed by your original Man Bites Dog poster



Always have a non-verbal code with your bestie

A thick side bang will not protect you from blood modem ghosts



Rent/Bury/Buy
I don't know what anyone will get out of Don't Click. It's certainly better made than some of the more recent low budget duds I've watched of late, but it's hard to find anything here that adds up to a recommendation. As is often the case, if you choose to ignore my advice on not watching a low budget torture porn-inspired horror movie, you'll find it streaming on Amazon Prime. 

Monday, June 17, 2024

A Dog's Life

 


It's wild to accept that 2006 happened 18 years ago. Low-rise jeans and chunky belts? They never went OUT of style!

Anyway, yes, we've reached the point where the early aughts are now nostalgic. Life is weird. 

Quick Plot: A dumb and drunk couple park their yacht on a mysterious island, only to disappear. Shortly after, a batch of recognizable college kids led by trust fund brat Johnny fly a private plane to the same lands for some beer and margarita-fueled fun (but sadly, no Maxim Magazine, in case you needed a reminder that it's 2006). 


Along for the ride is Johnny's younger med-student-in-the-making brother Matt, Matt's girlfriend (and Johnny's ex) Nicki, and lifelong pals Sarah and Noah. After a montage of nauseating fun (remember when you could drink warm margaritas and spin on playground rides without dying?), they discover an adorable German Shepard mix puppy, who leads Sarah to get bit by his much less adorable and aggressive parent. 


Sarah doesn't feel great, but Matt estimates she can spend a few more days chugging beer before she really needs a rabies shot. Of course, the pack of wild canines that now smell their new well-fed prey aren't eager to let the kids go. 

A well-trained cast of German shepherds and Malinois proceed to turn the vacation into a siege. The dogs even chew through the ropes holding the plane in place, ensuring their targets won't have an easy escape. All the while, Sarah's infection grows worse as she finds herself identifying more with her hunters than friends. 



I'm not here to say that The Breed is a particularly good movie, but nearly 20 years after its release and with various cycles of other subgenres passing by, what was probably a forgettable, even unpleasant straight-to-DVD flick has aged into something...okay. This is Nicholas Mastandrea's only full directorial credit, though he has dozens of high profile second unit films to his name. He clearly knows his way around the technical side of filmmaking. If you're looking for a fairly straightforward, competent dog-eat-hot-people movie, you' could do a whole lot worse. 



High Points
There are just as many hot young actors today as there were in 2006, but it really does make more watchable when your cast is actually charismatic. Taryn Manning has been, well, a bit of a confusing human being in recent years, but she's always had that it factor that makes you want to see her onscreen. Likewise, Michelle Rodriguez is in top form here. We believe she's the kind of athletic coed who can zipline with an arrow sticking out of her calf. Their characters may be underwritten, but their performances have enough energy to keep us involved



Low Points
Did I mention that I also kind of hated everyone in the movie?



Lessons Learned
Archery is a very white sport filled with very terrible white shots


There's a difference between being lost on a creepy abandoned penal colony and being stranded on a creepy abandoned penal colony

Dating your brother's ex takes more than 2 years to no longer be awkward




Adorable Puppy Notes
I'm a dog person. I grew up with dogs, spent years working with dogs, and generally spend every day in public hoping to pet a dog. Had I known The Breed was going to involve dogs being shot by wayward arrows and fired up by CGI flames, I probably would have passed. The poster and quick description suggested I'd be getting MUTANT dogs, and as we all know, there is a difference. All that is to say that the credits included several disclaimers that no animals were harmed during filming, and quick Googling suggests these were professionally trained dogs. This isn't the most pleasant film for a dog lover to watch, but most of the editing suggested these animals were treated fine. Make of that what you will




Rent/Bury/Buy
Early 2000s horror completists can do a lot worse than The Breed. It's far better put together than a lot of its competition at the time, though all that said, it's still not in any way the most innovative or dynamic movie. It's on Peacock for when you have that very specific era (or flea bite-induced) itch.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Milling Management


When you sit back and think about it, it's odd that the horror film genre has such little interest in everyday work. Sure, we'll get an occasional slasher-in-place-of-employment or the rarer team-building terrors, but the human stakes of capitalism are a bit less commonly explored. 

You could argue that virtually any genre film involves employment in some regard (most camp counselors aren't volunteering), but rarely is the very CONCEPT of work, particularly middle management, the basis of the actual horror.

Quick Plot: Joe (Get Out's Lil Rel Howery) is a well-dressed professional who awakens in a large open air concrete cell with no memory of how or why he got there. A helpful if grumpy voice on the other side of the wall provides a few tips, most of which boil down to "do whatever the loudspeaker tells you." 


She has a lot to say. Joe is quickly informed that due to his declining performance, Mallard, his employer (presumably an Amazon-ish stand-in), has taken advantage of some of that fine print paperwork no one reads to fast track him to a special form of corporate training. 


From 6AM to 10PM, Joe now works at the titular Mill. It's exactly what it sounds like: a heavy stone that must be pushed in a circle, his quota of rotations growing based on both good and bad performance reviews. Failure to comply results in termination, and no, there are no unemployment benefits.

Written by Jeffrey David Thomas and directed by Sean King O'Grady, The Mill reminds me of the first round of drinks at Friday night's office happy hour. It has a LOT to say, and some naughty fun doing so. Your reaction probably follows the rhythmic lean-in, nod, ask for clarification, gasp, and vow of solidarity that comes at many a coworker social interaction. You're unified in knowing that corporate culture is cruel, unfair, and often very unusual. But also, the 2-for-1 top shelf cocktail pricing ends soon, and you've already spent five days with these people.


All that is to say that The Mill is a good idea for a movie until you watch all 100 minutes of it and discover that's all it really was. I'll avoid spoilers here (though not in my Low Point) but will say that the last act twist was disappointing, and the final beat confounding. 



But there's a lot of good before that! The Orwellian doubletalk of Joe's employers is funny in a horrifying way, and the tension of literal wheel-spinning goes far. I'm sad to be so hard on the final product when so much of it is exactly the kind of movie I love. 



High Points
The early digs at corporate culture ("we're a family!") are both honest and clever in a maddening, all-too-familiar way

Low Points
SPOILER ALERT: putting aside the "this feels like a stretched out Black Mirror episode" sentiment across The Mill, it's Joe's final beat that simply makes no sense. After signing paperwork without reading the fine print (despite the nightmare he just experienced as a direct result), Joe defiantly stares at the camera to tell us he's tearing this place down. Um. How? 


Lessons Learned
Publicly traded companies have to document everything (including terminations)

Comfortable footwear is the real key to leveling up your career


There is nothing more arbitrary than a quota, especially when you are seemingly always able to do exactly what is needed to meet it

Rent/Bury/Buy
I really wanted to love The Mill but unfortunately, it's hard to recommend when the resolution is so flat. If, like me, you love a good Cube or The Platform-ish setup, you might still get a lot from the film's first hour. But then it goes on for another 46 minutes only to, well, I've said enough. Find it on Hulu and report back if you clock in. 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Going Up

You have to respect a movie title that tells it like it is.


Quick Plot: A gala for an investment group is starting on the 52nd floor of the Barton Building. Security is tight...ish. You need identification to access the elevator, but once you're in, good luck making it to the top. The interior security guard has a dead walkie talkie, the building crew is grumpier than me if I skip lunch, and the mechanics of the actual lift simply don't work well.

Nine enter. Maureen, a journalist, and her finance bro fiance Don. Celine, the 9-month pregnant bonds expert who eyes Don with a twinkle. Martin, a nervously sweaty mid-level adviser. George, a comedian tapped at the last minute to open the event with dated jokes. Muhammed, the security guard and veteran EMT. Twitchy Ohioan investor Jane. And finally, the big man of the hour himself, billionaire Henry Barton and his gloriously bratty granddaughter Madeline. 


Yes, that is too many people in one elevator heading up to an exclusive party.

Tensions immediately stir. George quickly proves himself to be as racist as he is claustrophobic. Jane has clear beef with Henry. Don is doing everything he can to avoid eye contact with Celine. And the miserable Madeline can't resist pulling the emergency break.


In most situations like this, you'd expect a tense but fairly quick maintenance call in order to get the guest of honor up to his shindig in time for the main course. But considering we'll soon learn that Barton Investments makes a good deal of its profit in junk bonds, perhaps we can also assume that they don't pay top dollar for good facility coverage. 

The clock ticks away as everyone gets sweatier, none more so than Jane. As she begins to suffer some kind of heart attack or stroke, she uses her dying words to warn her neighbors of something far worse than George's comedy: she's armed with a bomb. 


I've never seen a great movie set in an elevator, so my expectations for a movie all-out TITLED Elevator didn't pack a lot of promise. But by golly, I had a great time here...for a while. 

Directed by Stig Svendsen, Elevator is clearly not an expensive movie. Did I mention 85% of it takes place inside the titular Elevator? There's an awkwardness about the very setup (not to agree with the racist comedian, but that IS too many people in one elevator) and a general sense of "that's not how things work" about some of the basic interactions. These people seem to have great cell service, yet no one thinks to escalate their phone calls until they've been stuck with no contact for 20 minute? One of the country's wealthiest man is trapped inside a skyscraper's elevator on the night of a party celebrating his very existence, yet security doesn't think to give him a little extra attention? 


You catch my drift. And yet, I was fully forgiving of Elevator's ridiculousness for 2/3rds of its running time because it really grew on me. The cast of character actors, some more known than others, all were giving their best and working to create actual human beings with just enough individual backstories to raise the stakes (Devin Ratray in particular creates a whole lot out of what could have been a human punchline). There was clearly some interest in exploring the horrors of capitalism in Marc Rosenberg's script, but the film just seems to run out of steam in its final act. We get a little violence, some action, a bit of tragedy, and a muted coda that feels like the battery inside the camera is dying. 



On one hand, I think Elevator's ending (which I won't spoil) has things to say with its very unspectacular style. On the other, it's pretty darn unsatisfying. 


High Points
Elevator was made in 2011, which was a different time in terms of "being trapped in an elevator with people of different political persuasions than you." I say that first in order to give some context for what I'm saying next: there's a very rewarding shift in who's right and wrong throughout Elevator. Joey Slotnick's George is an awful bigot, but watching him also reveal human layers that tend to make more sense than some of the people around him is surprisingly complex. There's good character work being done here.



Low Points
I said it with Down, and I'll say it here: there's a special place in Emily's version of hell for a movie that traps a pregnant woman in an elevator only to NOT have her go into labor, and SPOILER ALERT, Elevator joins that club



Lessons Learned
A fake bomb is supposed to be seen, not hidden

Opening for Andrew Dice Clay doesn't necessarily make you not stupid



When attending a cocktail party in your third trimester, always accessorize with a purse large enough to hold your bladder

Rent/Bury/Buy
Is Elevator the best genre film I've seen set almost entirely in an elevator? Yes. Have I seen many good genre films set almost entirely in elevators? No. I had a good time with this movie, so while I was disappointed in how it wrapped up, I still think there's a lot to enjoy. Find it on Amazon Prime.