Month: February 2018

The Ritual

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A group of four friends reunite to remember their friend who was killed. They hike into the mountains of Sweden, doing something they know he would have loved. On the way back they decide to take a shortcut through the woods. A storm leaves them stranded overnight in a strange abandoned cabin where they find something that shakes them to the core. The men soon realize they are not alone in these woods.

The Ritual stands out as a fantastic horror film because, despite it being absolutely chilling, it is primarily a character driven film. The inciting incident is the tragic death of a friend. One man blames himself for his friend’s death, and he feels that the others in their group blame him too. The relationships between the four surviving friends are truly fantastic. They all have amazing chemistry, while also maintaining a heightened tension when it comes to who is to blame for the death. As things get worse for them in the woods those tensions only continue to grow. The sometimes volatile relationships between the friends makes for some dramatic and fascinating events when they have to rely on each other in order to survive.

The mythology in this film is dark, mysterious, and very original. Much of it is taken from ancient Norse mythology, and quite a bit the filmmakers created on their own. While some of this mythology will be familiar, the strange altar the friends come across and the entity they encounter in the climax is something entirely new. The filmmakers manage to give audiences something fresh, which is desperately needed on the more mainstream side of horror. The newness of the evil also makes the scares that much more intense as the audience doesn’t know what to expect. The gorgeous cinematography and fantastic score only add to the feeling of dread and fear throughout the film. Watching it somehow makes you feel the unnerving isolation of being lost in the forest, while also making sure you know there is something out there you do not want to meet. The filmmakers also go for the more subtle, buildable scares rather than jump scares. It lends perfectly to the eerie ambience of the film. While this is only the second feature length film directed by David Bruckner, with a few short segments from horror anthologies, he clearly has mastered his craft.

There are several familiar faces in The Ritual, and all of them give outstanding performances. Rafe Spall (Hot Fuzz, Prometheus) has arguably the most powerful performance as the troubled Luke. He clearly blames himself for not coming to the rescue and saving his fallen friend. Spall perfectly conveys Luke’s inner turmoil and why he is even more determined to save his friends in the woods. Asher Ali (The Missing, Doctor Who) plays Phil, who seems to be one of the worst effected when the group stays overnight in the cabin. He feels fear, or at least shows it the most, more than anyone else. Ali does an amazing job of making the audience feel his terror. Hutch is played by Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey, The Level). Hutch establishes himself early as the leader of the group, and he also often acts as the peacekeeper. James-Collier exudes confidence and determination, even when his character is faced with the worst. Finally, there is Sam Troughton (AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Robin Hood) as Dom. Troughton portrays Dom as a bit of a jerk. He is the most outspoken about blaming Luke for their friend’s death, and he is the most outspoken when it comes to complaining as they all try to find their way out of the woods. Together these four actors create compelling characters who have complicated relationships.

This film has some of the most striking, yet simple, imagery I have seen in a long time. The filmmakers opted for a combination of practical and CGI effects, depending on the scene and the focus. The practical effects are very well done, and they create some of the more subtly disturbing images. The CGI, surprisingly, is what shines in this film. I won’t go into too much detail, because you should truly see it for yourself, but the creature design in this film is absolutely stunning and horrifying all at once. It stands out in my mind as one of the most original and beautiful things I have seen in a horror movie in recent memory. It is the kind of design where every time you see it you notice something new and terrible that you hadn’t noticed before. It is so spectacular it is easy to forget it is CGI. What makes the creature even more powerful is what it represents in the film which is, similar to the creature in The Babadook, guilt and how a person deals with that guilt.

The Ritual is a character-driven film that takes four friends down a sinister and unearthly path. The way the characters are written, and how they are acted, grounds the story as it spirals further away from what we know as real. It has beautiful cinematography and music that only adds to the eerie nature of the film. Then, of course, there is the creature design that is sure to be a highlight for horror fans. Between the acting and the CGI creature, it is difficult to determine what the best aspect of this film is. Whichever you choose, this film is likely to be a favorite horror film this year and beyond.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

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Heartless (Short)

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Shelby, a young business associate, is unappreciated by her superiors. When her boss doesn’t show up to work Shelby is forced to do a big presentation. As she attempts to complete the presentation her mind becomes unhinged. A dark secret is knocking away at her sanity like the beating of a heart.

Heartless is a short film inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Writer/director Kevin Sluder took Poe’s concept and updated it for the modern age. It focuses on a young woman trying to make it in the business world, only to have opposition from both her female boss and the other “boys club” type businessmen. This refreshing update makes Poe’s story more accessible for viewers. Most people can relate to trying to make it in the business world. Even more poignant is watching a woman in the workplace facing discrimination and cruel jokes from her male superiors. Sluder does an excellent job of making viewers empathize with Shelby, even as we learn more about her rather disturbing secret.

The storytelling of the short is very well done. The film begins with Shelby as she is about to enter the conference room where she must do her presentation for the male executives. As the short progresses, little things take Shelby back to the night before. The audiences gets more and more bits of information about the events leading up to the presentation. Then, of course, there is the beating of a heart. That beating leads to the unravelling of Shelby’s mind while also making her finally stand up for herself. This format only adds to the empathy audiences will feel for Shelby as the story unfolds. Yet she isn’t completely innocent.

The performances in this short film are entertaining to watch. Stacy Snyder (Pretty Dudes) is an excellent leading lady as Shelby. What I enjoy most about her performance is how easily she transitions from being a relatable, stressed out businesswoman to being completely unhinged. Snyder at times reminds me of the character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. The supporting cast is also quite enjoyable to watch. Shelby’s boss, Clare, is played in a delightfully evil way by Joanna Sotomura (Contracted: Phase II). Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase II), Blaine Vedors (Mainline), and Ron Morehouse (Hill Yes) make up the business executives. Their performances are great because they are the kind of men you can’t help but hate. Together the cast helps to create a darkly humorous short film.

Kevin Sluder’s Heartless is a dark and funny horror short highlighting what it is like for a woman in a male-dominated business world. Sluder’s inspiration from “The Tell-Tale Heart” is apparent, and the update to a modern work setting gives the short an American Psycho vibe as well. The entire cast does a great job of blurring the lines of what makes a person good or bad, especially Stacy Snyder as Shelby. The story is relatable, as most people have either been overlooked in their career or experienced sexism in the workplace. Heartless is a relevant short film with classic inspiration that many viewers will enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5 (short film scale)

The Cloverfield Paradox

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There is an energy crisis on Earth. In an effort to come up with an alternative energy source, a group of scientists travel to a space station orbiting earth. With the use of a particle accelerator the group attempts to create infinite energy. After two years of testing the crew nears the end of their experiment, as they are almost out of fuel. On one of the final attempts something happens that rattles the entire space station. The crew survives only to discover that the Earth has vanished, and they may be dealing with what conspiracy theorists call The Cloverfield Paradox.

This is the third installment of the Cloverfield franchise, produced by J.J. Abrams. While the first two were said to be part of the same cinematic universe, they are really standalone films. The Cloverfield Paradox is meant to be the thread that ties all three films together. The filmmakers came up with a relatively simple way to explain what monsters and aliens were doing on Earth in the previous films, while also leaving room for the rumored fourth installment. It comes down to one thing; the particle accelerator that was meant to create infinite energy instead ripped open the space-time continuum. This leads to time travel, people and things from one reality being thrown into another, and all sorts of mayhem.

The plot of this film has many highs and lows. One of the high points is that the characters are interesting and entertaining to watch. While we only get in-depth character development for Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the filmmakers still give the audience a good sense of who each character is once they are all together in the space station. The internal and external conflicts of the characters are very well done. Each character deals with their own issues when they learn about the movement between worlds. It makes each character complicated and shows the duality of human nature; someone may do something perceived as evil, but they may believe they are doing the right thing. Another high point is how the film explains the rip in space-time and the negative effects that follow. It allows the filmmakers to create some excellent twists, turns, and shocking imagery. Unfortunately, this also contributes to one of the low points of the film. The rip in the space-time continuum gives the filmmakers the freedom to do a lot of amazing sci-fi effects and incorporate monsters, aliens, and anything else they can think of to create the Cloverfield universe. But these things still have to make sense. Virtually everything that happens surrounding the character Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) after the rip occurs simply does not make sense. It creates some intense and visually interesting cinematic moments, but there is no logic surrounding them. While watching the film audiences may enjoy these scenes, but then afterwards they will be scratching their heads at the nonsensical events.

The entire cast does an excellent job. Everyone from Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) providing comedic relief as Mundy to Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious Basterds) giving us someone to generally dislike as Schmidt. The shining star of this film is Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Black Mirror) as Hamilton. Hamilton is such a compelling character that goes through the struggles surrounding everything that happens on the space station. At the same time she is battling her own personal issues that are exacerbated by the rip in the space-time continuum. Mbatha-Raw portrays both sides of Hamilton in a way that makes audiences instantly empathize with her. Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Everest) also shines as the mysterious Jensen. In many ways the struggles that Debicki’s character goes through are similar to Mbatha-Raw’s character. Debicki brings a lot of intensity to her performance, making it quite memorable.

The Cloverfield films are known for being intense, exciting, and filled with sci-fi action. The special effects of this film are stunning. The third installment likely has the largest amount of CGI (considering it primarily takes place in space), but it doesn’t feel like you are watching CGI. This is always a sign that the effects are very well done. Another thing these films are known for is having unique marketing campaigns. Cloverfield had months of marketing, but much of the plot was kept secret. 10 Cloverfield Lane was only announced one month before the release date, again being shrouded in secrecy. The Cloverfield Paradox, as most of America learned, had its first trailer released during the 2018 Superbowl. What made this so shocking is that viewers learned the film would be released to stream on Netflix immediately following the game. This unique marketing campaign definitely made the film stand out, and I’m sure thousands of fans rushed to stream the film as soon as it was available. Despite the success of the marketing, I can’t help but feel that a sci-fi film with this fan base and with these special effects would have been better served by being viewed in theaters on a big screen.

The Cloverfield Paradox is a worthy addition to the franchise and does a lot to connect the films, but it is also the weakest of the three films. It holds a lot of the same intensity and excitement fans have come to expect from the franchise, making it fun to watch. It also has an all-star cast with stellar performances. Where the film loses me a bit is how the filmmakers seem to use the multiple-universe idea as a way to throw random events into the plot that make no sense. If those scenes were removed or altered to be a bit more logucal, then the film would have been closer to the same level as the rest of the franchise. While I find myself a bit underwhelmed by The Cloverfield Paradox, it still makes me look forward to what else they can do with the franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10