Horror

The Intruder

First Hit: A day after watching this movie, I’ve forgotten almost everything about it.

A good film has you remember something about it, the next day, next week, next month, and next year. This film barely made it to the next day. A movie like “Wait Until Dark,” which might be categorized as the same genre, is still is with me today, and I saw it in 1967.

The idea of this film is; a couple decides to buy a country home in Napa Valley, fix it up, and hopefully raise a family in their new home. The house they fall in love with is owned by a man who claims his wife died about two years ago from cancer and it’s time for him to move on and live in Florida with his daughter. But, with any good horror mystery, there is a wrinkle in the idyllic story.

Here we have Annie and Scott Russell (Megan Good and Michael Ealy respectively), having had success, wanting to move from a condo in San Francisco to a home in Napa Valley. The home Annie falls in love with is owned by Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid).

The faults started early for me. The looks and quick switches in attitude by Peck made him a creepy suspect too soon. He didn’t sell the story of his wife dying of cancer well enough. That is what disappointed me about this film. It telegraphed too loud and too early the player's positions in this film.

Annie, on her part, was too trusting too early and in apparent situations where caution would be the by-word, she wasn’t. Scott was on edge too early as well. His mistrust and skittishness seemed a little too fabricated.

Anyway, after buying the house, Peck keeps showing up at Russell’s home, mowing the lawn, yelling at people installing a security system, and trying to be helpful. He isn’t, and the creepiness oozes from his eyes and a fake smile.

The story unfolds as one might imagine, but the over crafting from the beginning led to an apparent predictable ending. Additionally, I live in the San Francisco Bay area I’m surprised that Scott, as a high-level advertising executive, would consider making a daily commute from Napa to San Francisco. It might have been better if they had moved to Mill Valley, Fairfax, or other Marin County areas, than Napa. I couldn’t get around the commute as being something viable.

Ealy was OK as Scott. However, his suspicions were telegraphed too early in the film. Good was acceptable as Annie. Her naivety towards Peck by not seeing his obvious behavior flaws was not believable. As a for instance, note the scene when she invites him in to share the pizza he delivers to her, dumb. Quaid overacted the part, but I did think his evil grin was well done. He sort of had a “Chuckie” look to him. Joseph Sikora as Scott’s close friend Mike was reasonable in his role as up and coming young, robust and rich guy. Alvina August was acceptable as Mike’s girlfriend who put up with Mike’s posturing. David Loughery wrote a good script, but it was the direction by Deon Taylor that failed to make the story memorable. He didn’t get much out of his actors and sided on overacting to make this film.

Overall: This film is totally forgettable and not worth seeing.

Us

First Hit: Started off OK, but then became a contrived, overburdened, and almost laughable story.

I was a fan of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. However, here the characters felt pressed in their roles and the premise and ending was apparent to me early on.

The ability to keep the audience focused on one thing while using sleight of hand to set us up for a surprise is what this film is about. However, when the crowning moment appears and I sat there and said to myself, “yeah, that was expected,” it didn’t work.

Us didn’t work for me because Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o also plays Red) was a little too odd from the beginning. Her looks and way of being stood out a too much.

The set-up from her going into the house of mirrors as a child and being adversely affected wasn’t strong enough to make me buy her subsequent adult behavior. Therefore I started trying to figure out why is she was the way she was — darkly edgy.

The story is, that as a child, Adelaide enters a house of mirrors and gets scared. We are to believe this had a profound effect on her. Then we meet her later in life married to Gabe (Winston Duke also plays Abraham). They have two children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex respectively). On a family vacation, they decide to take a day trip to Santa Cruz. Adelaide doesn’t want to go because this is where the house of mirrors, where she was frightened in as a child, is located.

Events, with Jason wandering off at the Santa Cruz beach near the house of mirrors, spark’s a visit from their dark underworld counterparts.

The story gets more complex by adding in their friends Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss respectively) and their twin daughters Becca and Lindsey (Cali Sheldon and Noelle Sheldon respectively).

The underworld expansion and counterpoint to each of the characters were mildly entertaining.

Nyong’o telegraphed the part more than I would have liked. I’m not sure whether this was at Peele’s direction or her interpretation. Regardless, outside of a few strong scenes, I didn’t buy it. Duke had some funny scenes, like his first foyer in his boat, but his role didn’t work for me and I didn’t think he and Nyong’o worked as a couple. It just didn’t seem to fit. Joseph was probably the best thing in the film. When she got in the driver’s seat of the car and insisted in driving, and when she took the golf club in hand, the audience knew she meant business. She was excellent. Alex was good as the son, however, the mask fixation didn’t work for me, and I understand why it was part of the role. Heidecker and Moss were strong in their supportive roles. Peele both wrote and directed this film and for the most part it didn’t work. It made me wonder if he’ll fall into the same trap as M. Night Shyamalan; create a wonderful first film and then slowly fall into the abyss of ever increasingly bad films.

Overall: This film was failure of suspense, thrill, and horror.

Greta

First Hit: The story portrayed here was poorly constructed and did not keep me engaged.

The plot is about a Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an older lonely woman who plays the piano looking for companionship. To find it, she leaves purses with a few objects in them on the New York Subway, one being her ID. Her hopes are someone will notice and return the handbags.

We are introduced to Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young waitress who has recently lost her mother to cancer. She’s living with her best friend Erica Penn (Maika Monroe). While coming home one evening, Francis found a purse on the subway. Finding the ID, Frances finds Greta’s home and returns the handbag.

They strike up a friendship based on that they’ve lost loved ones; Greta her husband and Frances, her mother. However, it becomes obsessive on Greta’s part, and the creepiness begins after their first meeting. Greta’s weirdness of Frances’ time and attention hits a high mark when Frances finds additional purses, like the one she returned. The gig is up.

Figuring out that Greta does this to entrap young women, she also realizes that these women, including her, are replacements for her daughter whom Greta says is living in France. But is she?

As the story unfolds, Greta’s behavior becomes more obsessive and creepy. Finally, she drugs Frances and locks her up.

The story continues to unfold from here and how it ends is only slightly surprising.

The best part of the film was the quality of the cinematography and sets. Greta’s home had a beautiful quality, including its own creepiness. The apartment where Frances and Erica lived was perfectly modern for two young women. However, the story and film felt pushed through and forced.

Huppert was, at times, excellent in her expressions, but overdone as the story unfolded. Moretz was good, she carried the naivety of her role well enough, but again it was the story and direction that made all of it not work. Monroe was good as the roommate, and her final scenes were excellent. However, during the movie the story just guided her to be more flighty than needed. Ray Wright and Neil Jordan wrote a mixed-up script that created an overemphasis on the creepiness of the character. Jordan didn’t help matters with the direction because the creepiness was overdone.

Overall: This story didn’t quite work.

Films that rose above the fray in 2018

This was a particularly good year for films. At first I didn’t think so but after I reviewed the films I watched and wrote about this past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained by outstanding acting, strong and poignant films about racism, and out loud laughs. My next post will be about the Oscar nominations.

Game Night: This film was funny from the get go and I laughed out loud all the way through.

Leaning Into the Wind: Andrew Goldsworthy: If you liked the film River and Tides, you’ll love Leaning....

The Death of Stalin: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.

Flower: The acting lifts this bizarre storyline to funny, engaging and entertaining levels.

Red Sparrow: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.

You Were Never Really Here: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

Beirut: I really liked the way this film was put together and came to fruition.

A Quiet Place: Well done film and the silence of the actors made all the difference in the world.

Deadpool 2: First Hit: This film is fun, irreverent and filled with out-loud laughs.

RBG: Excellent film about a woman who lives within her strength and defined and changed U.S. law.

Disobedience: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.

Hotel Artemis: Who says Hollywood cannot create a unique and well-acted film.

Blindspotting: Extremely powerful and pointed film and raises the bar for Best Picture of the Year. In my view this unnominated film is by far and away the best film of 2018.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.

Three Identical Strangers: A truly amazing story about how sciences’ curiosity didn't take into account the effects on human beings.

Sorry to Bother You: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

Leave No Trace: Sublimely acted and evenly paced film about a man and his daughter living in a public forest.

Puzzle: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.

BlacKkKlansman: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.

Eighth Grade: Outstanding acting and script gives us an insightful view of what it is like to be in the Eighth Grade today.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Covers a lot of stuff but I think it was mostly about Presidents and people in power managing and acting poorly.

Pick of the Litter: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

First Man: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

The Hate U Give: A fantastic film about the existence of racism and, as indicated here, in our police departments as well.

Green Book: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.

Boy Erased: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.

A Private War: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Accurate or not, this film was fun, well-acted, engaging, and joyful.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Mary Queen of Scots: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.

Vice: I liked this oddly created film about a powerful yet enigmatic man who really ran our country for a period of time.

Ben is Back: Extremely well-acted story based on 24 hours of a mother and her addicted son’s return for the holidays.

Roma: Outside of the beautiful black and white photography and languid movement of the story, I left the theater with little.

The Favourite: A stark, intense musical score underscores the bizarre and tension filled interrelationships between the queen and her court.

Shoplifters: Wonderfully engaging film about a Japanese family who chose each other while fighting to stay nourished and together.

Unfriended: Dark Web

First Hit: This was an interesting and reasonably solid attempt to use the world of personal technology as the vehicle to create fear and horror.

A group of friends gather weekly at one home or online to play games. In this group we’ve got Matias (Colin Woodell), Serena and Nari together (Rebecca Rittenhouse and Betty Gabriel respectively), Dj Lexx (Savira Windyani), Aj (Connor Del Rio), and Damon (Andrew Lees). When the film begins they are gathering together online using a facetime app.

Matias is also attempting to create a program that will allow him and his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras) to communicate better. He’s hoping that his speaking will end up as printed words on her screen. However, he’s done nothing to help her communicate with him. This frustrates Amaya. While he's online with his group, he's also attempting to communicate with Amaya.

To help him with the program he's trying to create, he’s picked up a newer computer that was left at a coffee shop. Using this computer, he runs out of space for his program and his buddies guide him to explore the hard disk and delete some files. In doing so he finds some very disturbing files.

In the meantime the group is connected and deciding what game to play together on facetime.

As a movie watcher you think you’re looking at this film from the viewpoint of Matias, but in the end you learn differently.

The lifted computer he's working with really belongs to someone who exploits the dark web. And unbeknownst to the group, they are being watched and played themselves in a game that is about life and death.

I was fascinated by the quick alternating points of view Matias was taking when he becomes engaged with juggling the group facetime, a separate facetime with his girlfriend Amaya, and with Charon IV whose computer he’s taken.

Woodell was sufficiently paranoid and taken aback when he gets caught by his friends for lying and leading them into this path of horror and death. Rittenhouse was wonderful as the young woman flush with excitement to be engaged to Nari. Gabriel was perfect in her anxiousness towards the events as they were unfolding. Windyani was strong as the independent woman doing her own thing. Del Rio was good as the young man still living at home and wanting to strike out on his own. Lees was very good as the computer geek of the group that they all looked towards for technical guidance. Stephen Susco wrote and directed this ambitious story and script. I was torn between being caught in the story and fascinated by how the story was presented.

Overall: This film is and will not be everyone’s cup of tea, however aspects of how easily people fall into electronic set traps was fascinating to me.