mythology

The Fare

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A taxi driver finds himself on a remote road at night to pick up a fare. A mysterious woman ends up in his cab, but before they reach their destination she vanishes. Unbeknownst to the taxi driver, he will meet the woman again as soon as he switches the meter back to vacant.

D.C. Hamilton (The Midnight Man) brings audiences his sophomore film as the director of The Fare. Written by Brinna Kelly (The Midnight Man), who also stars in the film, The Fare tells the story of a taxi driver named Harris. When he is sent out to the remote location at night to pick up a fare, he half expects it to be a prank call. That is until he finds a beautiful and mysterious woman named Penny there waiting for him. They have normal polite conversation until they approach an oncoming storm, then the woman suddenly vanishes. Harris, confused, resets his meter back to vacant and ends up right back where he started. The only problem is, he doesn’t seem to know he’s been reset. The audience watches as Harris and Penny go through the same time loop, that is until Harris finally starts to remember.

The entire premise of The Fare is far more interesting and unique than I expected. In the past few years there have been a number of time-loop films. Each one has its own distinctive flare and reasons for the time loop. This film manages to stand out from the crowd by delivering a compelling story and an unexpected reason for Harris and Penny being stuck in that loop. The filmmakers do a fantastic job of keeping the audience guessing. At times the film hints at aliens, gods, and other potential reasons. The truth is revealed in layers, only divulging small pieces of the puzzle at a time and ultimately making the big reveal incredibly satisfying. More importantly, it makes sense! Often times the plots of time-loop films can get convoluted, but The Fare delivers something audiences will understand and enjoy.

When you strip The Fare down to its core, it is much more of a love story than it is a time-loop film. Once Harris becomes aware of his situation and remembers more, we see his relationship with Penny grow. It’s especially interesting to watch because they are at such different stages of coming to terms with their situation. Penny’s memory goes much further back, so she’s already gone through the various stages of grief such as anger and bargaining, but she’s now accepted her situation. Since Harris is starting from the beginning, he has a harder time coming to terms with his situation. Yet it all brings them closer together, which only strengthens Harris’s quest to escape the loop with Penny and find the truth.

Both leads in The Fare deliver great performances. Gino Anthony Pesi (Shades of Blue, Battle Los Angeles) stars as Harris the taxi driver. While more handsome than people might expect of a stereotypical taxi driver, Pesi still fits the role well. There is a roughness to him, but he is still a very personable individual. What I especially enjoy about Pesi and his portrayal of Harris is his gradual change. Throughout his character arc, the audience sees Harris go through a wide range of emotions. When Harris and Penny become closer, Pesi even conveys a soft and caring side that is unexpected. Writer Brinna Kelly stars as Penny. Kelly brings a certain amount of poise and elegance to Penny that is very fitting for the character. Yet it’s when her barriers are broken down and her affection for Harris grows that Kelly really creates memorable moments for Penny. Pesi and Kelly have great on-screen chemistry throughout the film and will hold the attention of audiences.

Overall, the look and feel of the film reminds me a lot of an episode of The Twilight Zone and old noir films. At first, The Fare is in black and white. As Harris’s memory comes back, more and more of the film is in color. It creates a great visual cue for the audience to designate when Harris knows he is in the loop or not. The filmmakers also wisely chose to have the film set almost entirely within the taxi. Not only does this create a very intimate setting for the two leads, but it also allows for a lot of possibilities when it comes to the “why” behind the time loop. This decision likely gave the filmmakers the opportunity to spend the budget in more valuable areas instead of building elaborate sets or paying to use various locations.

The Fare is an unexpected gem that delivers something new to the time-loop subgenre of film. Hamilton and Kelly prove to be an effective filmmaking duo as they take audiences on a journey that goes to strange new places. Kelly also shows her acting prowess along with Pesi. Both actors deliver stunning performances and create dynamic characters. My only truly negative criticism of The Fare is at times the small budget is quite apparent. Yet the plot is novel enough and creates a mythos that is sure to bewitch audiences.

OVERLL RATING: 8.5/10

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

The Pyramid

A two person documentary crew travels to Egypt to film an archaeological team. These archaeologists have discovered an ancient pyramid shrouded in mystery. The archaeologists and the film crew decide to venture into the depths of the pyramid. They soon regret their decision when they become trapped in its labyrinthine tunnels. What’s worse, something is stalking them in the dark depths. This pyramid may soon become their tomb.

There are many things I enjoyed about this film. Considering the fact that I studied archaeology in college, and it’s something that I love, I may be a bit biased about the story. I love the idea of following archaeologists into a site that has yet to be explored. The rich Egyptian mythology and burial customs throughout the film also made things very interesting. Towards the beginning of the film I definitely became concerned, because they kept referencing technology they were using on the dig and how this tech was also used on Mars. I was worried that they were going to turn this film into an aliens-built-the-pyramids conspiracy type story. Much to my relief, that never happened.

The fact that the film didn’t leave any loose ends also made me exceptionally happy. The writers did a great job of explaining what was happening so that everything made sense throughout the film. The only thing that was never truly explained was why this particular pyramid only has three sides while every other pyramid has four. This is clearly a unique pyramid with a special purpose, but why only three sides? Although it was never explained, once they are inside the pyramid you don’t even think about the shape so it wasn’t too bothersome.

Two other successful aspects of The Pyramid were the special effects and the set design. The CGI was wonderfully understated. It was restricted to only the living things within the pyramid, and done in a way that made sense for the film. Those in charge of special effects clearly paid attention to things like anatomy, evolution, the type of environment these things live in, and Egyptian mythology. The sets that made up the inside of the pyramid were also quite beautiful. Again, there was clear attention to detail here. They researched pyramids enough to know what would be found within the structures, such as the apex of the pyramid and the burial chamber, as well as where they would be found.

While the overall story was fun and interesting, there were several aspects that brought this film down. One thing that bothered me a great deal was the style in which it was filmed. It starts out as a found footage style film so the only camera angles are the ones provided by the cameras the characters have. Once they become trapped inside the pyramid, the filmmakers decided to drop this in favor of typical camera angles.  It’s clear that they decided to use both the found footage style of filming with more traditional filming once inside the pyramid so they could utilize many angles during the more intense scenes, but it made the film confusing at times. You are expecting two different points of view from the character’s cameras, then all of the sudden there are other angles. At first I was left feeling confused on which character was operating that camera, until I realized they had simply changed with filming style. It was an unfortunate decision that ruined the effect of the film by combining two filming styles (that should not be combined) as opposed to one style.

The Pyramid definitely made me jump multiple times, yet I feel it is a shame that the film relied so heavily on jump-scares. The simple fact that the film takes place in dark, underground tunnels where you are being stalked by some evil force gives the film plenty of intensity and a feeling of claustrophobia. Add in the toxic air issue and the claustrophobic feeling becomes even more pronounced. Having a few jump-scares to enhance this feeling makes complete sense, and is entirely necessary to keep up the excitement. However, having jump-scares around every corner actually detracts from the intensity and takes the film in more of a hokey direction.

Another disappointing aspect of this film was the acting. While part of this was simply due to the performances falling flat, it seems like a lot of it also had to do with the writing. I had stated before that I appreciated the writers explaining everything that was happening in the movie. While I stand by this statement, I believe the information was also conveyed in a way that felt very unnatural and forced. These people are fighting for their lives, but they have to stop what they’re doing to talk about some archaeological information. The acting did not help to make these situations feel any less forced. On an individual level, I was very disappointed by Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story, True Blood). I usually find him to be a great actor, but he was so monotone throughout the entire film and he just seemed like he was sleepwalking through the film.

Knowing that this film has not been well received, I can say that I probably enjoyed it more than most critics. This could be due to my love of archaeology and mythology. This is a film with many flaws, and any critic can spot that. Despite this, it is still a fun watch. Likely someone who has an interest in ancient history and mythology would enjoy it more than other viewers. If you are that kind of person, I would definitely say that this film is worth a watch. Even if you decide it’s not your cup of tea, just remember that it’s only 89 minutes long.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10