John Gallagher Jr

Underwater

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A crew working in an underwater lab has been drilling into the darkest depths of the ocean. Something causes the facility to implode and flood, killing hundreds of crew. The few survivors will have to brave the intense pressure and darkness of the ocean floor, but there is something far worse waiting for them in the dark.

William Eubank (The Signal, Love) brings to life an all new aquatic horror film written by Brian Duffield (Insurgent, The Babysitter) and Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Tarzan). I’m a big fan of aquatic horror films, so I’ve been looking forward to this film since the first trailer dropped. I’m happy to say the film was entertaining from start to finish. Right when Underwater starts, it wastes no time getting into the excitement. The filmmakers wisely focused on two main fears: the claustrophobic fear of being in the deep ocean and the fear of the unknown beasts that lurk in those hidden depths. Arguably, the most terrifying aspect of the film is that claustrophobia. These fears drive the plot forward with survival as the main focus. It’s a very simple plot, but effective at evoking tension and anxiety in the audience.

There is nothing wrong with a simple plot in horror. Honestly, sometimes it makes a monster movie more fun when the main goal is simply surviving a beast of unknown origin. Yet Underwater hints at a more intricate plot multiple times, but those hints never come to fruition. One of the most obvious signs that there was likely a more involved plot can be seen whenever the captain is on screen. It seems clear that he knows more than he lets on and some of his actions even come across as a bit sinister, but nothing ever comes of it. Since there are multiple writers involved and a bigger studio, I can’t help but wonder what the film started out as compared to what is currently in theaters. I do enjoy the plot as is, but I would still love to see a version with a deeper conspiracy.

Genre film lovers will likely recognize many of the faces in Underwater. Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper, Lizzie) stars as Norah. She is a highly industrious and pragmatic character. Stewart plays Norah quite well as someone who will do what she can to survive and to save her friends, but she also clearly understands her odds of survival. Another standout performance comes from John Gallagher Jr (10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush) as Smith. I’ve often thought of Gallagher as a chameleon in genre films because he does such a great job of committing to a character that he becomes almost unrecognizable. His portrayal of the lovable Smith is no different, and he is a joy to watch. Other compelling performances come from Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones, Iron Fist) as Emily, T.J Miller (Cloverfield, Deadpool) as Paul, and Vincent Cassel (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Black Swan) as the captain.

From the creatures to the sets to the costumes, every artistic detail of Underwater is clearly very thoroughly thought out. As an aquatic creature feature, the design of these underwater beasts is very important. Underwater utilizes CGI effects to create an array of frightening deep sea creatures. The audience will see different variations of this creature. For the most part the design makes sense for the environment these beings likely thrive in, but there are certain aspects that don’t work quite as well for me. Without giving too much away, the main creatures we see are a bit too humanoid, and one of the creature reveals almost looks like it belongs in a different movie entirely. The set and costume design are fantastic. It truly feels like the actors are in a lab with thick, sturdy walls that could still implode if even one thing goes wrong that deep in the ocean. The dive suits the actors wear are also incredible. They look as if they could actually handle the pressure of being under 6 miles of water. All of these artistic choices effectively transport the audience to an anxiety-inducing, claustrophobic setting.

Underwater is a claustrophobic creature feature that is entertaining as is, but hints at a deeper conspiracy. Eubank proves he knows how to make an edge-of-your-seat film. While it is thrilling and fun to watch, I can’t help but be curious what more there was to the plot before the film hit theaters. There are clear indications of a different film than what audiences were given. I truly enjoyed the popcorn horror flick we got. I just hope we either get a director’s cut when the film is released on Blu-ray that goes deeper or a sequel that builds on the mythos and the history of these creatures. If you haven’t seen Underwater yet, I strongly urge you to make time to see it on the big screen as it should be.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

The Belko Experiment

Eighty Americans work in a high rise building in a remote part of Bogota, Colombia. While the location is odd, the office setting is just like any other office. On one seemingly normal day the employees head into work where new security men check them in. Shortly into the day a strange voice comes over the intercom. All the employees have been sealed into their workplace, and the voice is commanding the employees to kill each other in order to survive. Who will kill, and who will be killed?

Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue) makes a return to what he does best with The Belko Experiment. While he made a rather unsuccessful attempt to dive into the supernatural sub-genre of horror with The Darkness, his home is definitely in the more bloody thrillers that are funnier than they should be. Writer James Gunn (Slither, Guardians of the Galaxy) also knows how to take terrifying situations and inject humor into them. Together McLean and Gunn make the perfect comedic thriller duo. In The Belko Experiment, Gunn and McLean introduce us to the mundane life of office workers, complete with all the personalities one would expect to find. As someone who works in the typical cubical office setting by day, I can relate to much of what is shown, and it was hilarious. When looking at the people you work with every day for weeks (or even years) on end you think you know them, but do you really know how they would react in stressful situations? Gunn and McLean bring this idea to life by throwing the employees of Belko into a fight for survival, and it definitely shows how different people can be when their own life is on the line. This concept is almost like a mashup of Office Space and Battle Royale, resulting in much slaughter and hilarity.

While there are a number of characters involved in this film and not a lot of time before things get intense, all of the characters are well acted and still feel complete. Even the ones that are not on screen for long feel like whole characters so you understand who they are and what their motivations are. While the entire cast is enjoyable, there are two people that make this movie great. The first is John Gallagher Jr. (Hush, 10 Cloverfield Lane) as Mike Milch. Mike is kind of a loser, but he is also caring and one of the few individuals that puts others before himself, even when things go from bad to worse. Gallagher has been in a few horror films over the past year, and I continue to enjoy every performance because he is able to completely transform into his character. The second actor that I love in this film is John C. McGinley (Office Space, Identity) as Wendell Dukes. Wendell is kind of the office creep, and his demeanor does not improve when the killing starts. What makes McGinley’s performance stand out is the amount of humor he brings to the role. He may be completely psychotic, but he has fun while doing it! Both of these actors are amazing, but so is virtually every other actor. There is one other character that I was disappointed with not because of their acting, but because the character gets killed off much too early on in the film. The Belko Experiment is a great example of the phrase “there are no small parts.”

This is a film that has really fun practical effects. You know there is going to be butchery as employees and friends begin killing each other. Most of the effects that jump out at you are ones involving injuries to the head. There is a bashed in skull where there isn’t really a break in the skin,  but there is clearly a dent in the head that looks grotesque and realistic. Another scene shows a close up of the back of someone’s head that has been blown away. The head, the open wound, and the close up of all the gross little bits look superb. While most of the effects are impressive, the same cannot be said for the CGI. In actuality, there are only a couple shots done in CGI that create the outside of the high rise. It is obvious a minuscule amount of the budget went into creating the exterior, which I didn’t mind until you see people walking outside the building on what is clearly a green screen. It takes away from what is otherwise a well done and intense film.

Of the horror films to come out so far in 2017 most have either been greatly lacking in a good story or they have been amazing, but more on the serious side of horror. The Belko Experiment gives audiences a delightful amount of carnage and mayhem in a humorous office setting. Most people can relate to one or more of the characters in the film because they have similar jobs and work with similar personalities. When thinking about the film my only true criticisms are the terrible use of CGI and the fact that an early favorite among the employees (or at least one of my favorites) gets killed off too quickly. Otherwise, I can say this is the kind of horror film that makes you gasp and laugh in turn, resulting in an exciting experience you won’t soon forget.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Hush

A deaf writer is trying to finish her next novel. In order to help herself focus, she moves into a secluded house in the woods. One seemingly normal night, the unthinkable happens. A maniac in a mask begins to terrorize the writer. If she can’t find a way to escape, she might not live to see another day.

This was a film with a thrilling plot and some shocking scenes. While the idea of a woman with some kind of impairment being stalked by a psychopath has been done before, I appreciated the attempts at originality in how this film was made. One unique aspect that made this film stand out was the decision by the filmmaker to intermittently take away all sound from the film. This allowed the audience to experience intense moments the way the main character would. I also appreciated that, after the initial shock of the situation, the female lead wasn’t a helpless damsel in distress. She was a strong survivor that pushed through whatever was thrown at her. It would have been easy for the plot to have a defenseless main character, especially since she was deaf, so the simple fact the film went against that grain made it more interesting.

One aspect of the plot that bothered me a bit had to do with the villain of the story. The character himself was fine. He was cool, calculating, psychotic, and clearly enjoyed the suffering he put his victims through. My issue with him had to do with the mask. When you first see this madman he is wearing a terrifying white mask. As we have learned from many slasher films, masks give an anonymity that makes the villain more frightening. If you can’t see their face it makes it more difficult to tell what they are thinking or what they are capable of. It also make the villain seem less human, and therefore more threatening. This film chose to unmask the villain very early on in the film. While I can appreciate that this was likely an attempt to stand out from other thrillers involving masked men, it immediately made him seem less threatening. It was almost as if he went from being a menacing, mysterious evil presence lurking in the shadows to a creepy ex-boyfriend that can’t take a hint.

The star of the film, Kate Siegel (Oculus), did a fantastic job portraying the deaf writer, Maddie. When you see an actor or actress in a role where they do not speak, the way they emote is incredibly important. Siegel definitely succeeded in showing what her character was going through with facial expressions and body language. What I also found quite impressive was her ability to not react to the sounds going on around her. This is obviously an important trait of a deaf character. There would be loud noises happening feet from Siegel’s character, and she wouldn’t even flinch or make the slightest indication she could hear what was happening. John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, Newsroom) was also great as the man terrorizing Maddie. As I mentioned before, he wasn’t quite as frightening as you expect a character like this to be, but that was more to do with the loss of the mask than his acting abilities. In fact, just like when I saw him in 10 Cloverfield Lane, I didn’t even recognize him in this film. Gallagher has an incredible ability to immerse himself in a character to the point that I don’t even recognize him.

Hush is an intense film that makes some attempts at re-imagining your typical thriller, but it is a film with its flaws. There are parts that made the film quite unique, such as the total loss of sound at certain scenes and how the filmmakers chose to show Maddie’s internal thoughts. On the other hand, I believe the unmasking happened a bit too early in the film. It made the film lose some of its intensity early on and made scenes that could have been scary fall a bit flat. Looking past the flaws, Hush was still enjoyable to watch and had moments that made me gasp. Viewers that have a certain level of empathy will likely enjoy this film more than others.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10