Monday, June 25, 2018

Swimming With the Sharks

There's no better time for a shark attack than high summer. 

Let's do this.

Quick Plot: Lisa (Mandy Moore) is an uptight American on vacation in Mexico with her worldlier younger sister Kate (Claire Holt). In an effort to shed the boring image that got her recently dumped, Lisa reluctantly agrees to go shark cage diving with a pair of handsome townies.

Cue Matthew Modine as Captain Billy Taylor, a laid back sailor whose shifty boat unnerves Lisa but can't shake the spunky Kate. After some illegal water chumming, the girls are suited up and lowered down to experience the wonders of underwater tourism. 

Everything is perfectly Instagrammable until their cage's wiring snaps, dropping them down the titular distance to the bottom of the ocean floor. With a dwindling supply of oxygen and a growing circle of teased sharks, the sisters struggle to survive. 

Written and directed by The Strangers: Prey At Night's Johannes Roberts, 47 Meters Down has the advantage/disadvantage of coming out in the much brighter shadow of ANOTHER PG-13 rated shark attack flick, The Shallows. It's hard to not compare the two, and on that end, 47 Meters Down is the clear loser. Aside from its lack of a seagull sidekick, it's ultimately not as pretty, not as tense, and simply not as interesting.

That being said, the film is...fine. It wisely moves fairly quickly, paring down too much exposition or pre-water character buildup to trust most of the internal dynamics between a pair of close but wildly different sisters. Moore and Holt play their family dynamic clearly, and it's enough to make up for the fact that the characters on the page have little to offer. Look, Blake Lively is no Saoirse Ronan, but she managed to create a clear enough vision of a genius surfer girl who knew how make use of her jewelry. Kate and Lisa are as generic white girls as their names imply.

A sequel is already in the works, and much like the Wrong Turn or Step Up series, I can see this being a case where the lower profile followups end up being far more fun than the original. In the meantime, this is a perfectly suitable time waster, particularly when you want to look at pretty underwater scenery occasionally brightened with blood.

High Points
Like many a human being, I find limited air supply an incredibly terrifying premise, and 47 Meters Down does a good job of establishing these conditions to yield the appropriate audience reaction of feeling unpleasantly suffocated

Low Points
It's hard to say exactly what keeps the film in such mediocre territory, but it's probably a combination of low enthusiasm writing and weird underwater visibility that just keeps everything at a distance

Lessons Learned
Really, we just need one that would have solved the entire issue: never make important life decisions with the sole factor being, "will my ex-boyfriend see these pictures on social media and change his mind about our relationship status." Kids, you've been warned

Eh. 47 Meters Down is streaming on Netflix, which makes it an ideal pick for a gym watch or laundry fold accompaniment. It's pretty to look at and slightly darker than you might expect, but ultimately, I'd rather watch a Gossip Girl target sew up her wounds with her necklace any day of the week.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Positively Shocking

Normally, a movie that makes me covet the death of its child character in the first reel is a painful slog. Thankfully, someone like Mario Bava has earned himself enough cred to allow me to power through with decent success.

Quick Plot: Dora is recovering from a nervous breakdown in the countryside estate she once shared with her late husband. Now remarried to a pilot named Bruno, Dora finds herself and her young, obnoxious son Marco changing in their new/old home.

Statues come to life, razors fly, and little Marco begins developing some peculiar habits. Is he possessed by the spirit of his late father, or did Dora's doctors move a little too fast with her release?

Shock is the great Mario Bava's last film, made in 1977 with some assistance from his son, Lamberto. While it's far from the top tier of the Italian genre master's output, it has a fair share of strengths that make it interesting enough.

Frequent giallo muse Daria Nicolodi gets one of her meatiest parts, and she makes the most of it. The score blends every popular element of its time into a gloriously bizarre mix of frantic jazz, electronic beats, and classical piano used to randomly spooky effect. Even the isolated country setting works to Shock's favor.

The downside comes with the pacing, which makes the impossible 110 minute run time feeling even longer. The climax seems to ramble on for decades, a sort of clumsy Repulsion-esque mania that just doesn't end. In fairness, when it does, it does so with a generous, eerie bang.

High Points
It's always hard to truly judge a dubbed performance, but Daria Nicolodi manages to do some genuinely deep work with the troubled Dora

Low Points
Dubbed giallo is fairly infamous for its weird/obnoxious children, but Marco is particularly grating, possibly because he reminds me far too much of my current most hated television character, Noah Brat Benson

Lessons Learned
Name your son Marco and life is a constant game of wanting to shout "Polo!"

There's nothing worse for an Italian marriage than sending the husband off without  his coffee

Living with an abusive drug addict, spending half a year in a sanitarium, and getting '70s style electro-shock treatment just might affect your parenting skills slightly

I stumbled upon Shock via a random TCM Underground airing, which worked for a lazy kind of Sunday viewing. It's enjoyable as a relic of Bava's last years and as a showcase for Nicolodi, but probably isn't worth a large investment in your own energy.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Memory Games

Look, I know I said that modern zombie movies should be more innovative with their storytelling, but I also believe we as horror fans deserve good movies.

Moving on...

Quick Plot: A man (District 9's Sharlto Copley) wakes up in a deep pit of corpses with no memory of how he got there or who he even is. With the help of a mystery mute woman (Josie Ho of the brilliant Dream Home), the man who now smells like a pit of corpses and will henceforth be known as John Doe discovers a group of equally attractive people in a nearby house, all of whom are also suffering from the same form of amnesia.

Suspicions arise and infighting begins, especially when some zombie-like creatures are found lurking in the woods. To say more would, I guess, spoil the (too) many twists of Open Grave, which becomes more puzzle being pieced together than a film with a driving narrative.

Directed by Apollo 18's Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego with a script from Eddie & Chris Borey, Open Grave feels like a relic of a recent bygone era in the genre film world, where every straight-to-DVD (remember those?) would put a gaggle of strangers together in a Saw-like scenario, forcing them to discover some terrible secrets about themselves in bad lighting. 

Never forget.

Filmed in 2013, Open Grave is somewhat removed from the slew of early 21st century horror I mentioned, but its overcomplicated plotting ultimately holds it back from being much better. It's disappointing, particularly when you consider the strong cast (even Resident Evil: Apocalypse/Karate Dog'Thomas Kretschmann shows up, primarily for me to remember that he's not Jaime Lannister). 

To SPOIL a few things here, consider the ultimate reveal of Open Grave: John is a scientist trying to find a cure to the rage-inducing plague apparently ravaging the world. Naturally, he has a team of equally attractive, same-aged peers as his research team because that's how science works. The antidote he creates causes temporary memory loss and a rescue team is coming to kill everyone on the property because science? and the mute woman without a name is the key to it all even if we don't ever know anything about who she actually is. 

This movie was...frustrating.

All the more so because it was obviously made with talent, both behind and in front of the camera. The ideas are interesting and in theory, the reveal should be too, but Open Grave just never settles into any kind of fluid pace to get us there. We ultimately learn the truth when one character's memory returns, mostly offscreen and recapped in a handwritten letter. It just doesn't move the way it should.

High Points
On paper, the twist is clever

Low Points
On screen, it's too convolutedly revealed to be so

Lessons Learned
Short-term memory loss may take away your name, but it will not impede your ability to read Latin

When dealing with barbed wire, always have a plan

Notes, people: leave 'em

Eh, Open Grave is certainly a high quality looking horror film, but it left me incredibly unsatisfied. It's better-made than your average Amazon Prime stumble-upon, but that doesn't make it fun to watch. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Millennial Attraction

If a Lifetime networkish-but-not-made-for-Lifetime movie drops on Netflix with a silly title, how long will it take Emily to discover it? 

Quick PlotHarris (yes, Harris) is a late 20something playboy who spends his days working for a modern tech advertising company and his nights trolling a Tinder-like app for one-night stands with attractive, easily seduceable young women. One fated swipe right lands on Riley, a super enthusiastic grad student who quickly becomes a little too invested in the barely-there relationship.

Before you can look for a pet rabbit, Harris's life begins to unravel. Riley's sleepover causes him to miss a key business meeting, while her feigned suicide attempt takes Harris over the edge. The next day, his professional Twitter account has been hacked and worse of all, there's 5 GB of child pornography found on his hard drive.

Naturally, Harris has one goal in mind: find Riley and force her to admit her wrongdoing. 

As the kids say, it's complicated.

Bad Match is written and directed by David Chirchirillo, the cowriter on Cheap Thrills and a contributor to the sequel to ABCs of Death. What he does here is quite interesting, especially as you think more deeply about where the audience's sympathies lie throughout the 90 minute running time.

Star Jack Cutmore-Scott fills almost ever frame, and he's ultimately fascinating in his very own triteness. Maybe it's my own generational bias, but at the start, I wished TERRIBLE things upon this overly confident white dude bro who seemed to embody the worst of his type. As the film wore on, it was hard NOT to feel for a guy who was still an empty douche, but not the kind who deserved to have his life destroyed by an emotional misunderstanding. And yet, but the time the film's third act arrived, my thoughts had changed to a completely different level of head shaking disapproval.

In many ways, Bad Match feels like it would fit right at home with the occasional quality level Lifetime thriller (perhaps the only reason it didn't premier there was its focus on its male protagonist). Cleverly, it has a few more twists up its sleeve than your average straight-to-streaming flick (though in fairness, probably a few less than your average Lifetime premier). The more I think about who its real target is, the smarter Bad Match proves to be. What a neat surprise. 

High Points
Much credit to Chirchirillo and his handle on his two lead actors. Cutmore-Scott finds an interesting balance between empty jerk and actual human being, while Lili Simmons (the plucky nurse in Bone Tomahawk) makes Riley a believably needy flake who might be dangerously psychotic or who might just be a little young

Low Points
I enjoyed the film's nasty escalation in its latter half, but there's a key plot action that spoils a certain aspect of what's going down in a way that feels a little obvious. Maybe that was the point?

Lessons Learned
Never trust a woman who changes her hair color every three weeks

Public attorneys are not paid to leave voicemail

Keep the phone on your side of the bed

I pulled up Bad Match on Netflix because I was looking forward to a campy cheesefest, but it's actually a well-made and acted little film with an appropriately mean twist. I don't quite know what kind of mood you should be in for it, but it's definitely far more decent than its title and premise would suggest. Most importantly, if you've been out of the dating and social scene for more than five years, it will make you feel incredibly old...and thankful that you are.