Netflix

In the Tall Grass

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A brother and sister on a cross-country drive pull over in a remote part of middle America. While stopped, they hear a young boy calling for help in a field of very tall grass. The siblings decide they have to go into the field to help the boy. It doesn’t take long for the two to become separated and soon they realize there is something sinister about the grass.

Based on the novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill, writer and director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) brings In the Tall Grass from the page to the screen. This sci-fi horror mash-up begins with the brother and sister. They are lured into the field of grass, which appears to be at least 8 feet tall, and quickly find themselves separated and lost in the abyss of green. There also seems to be a family separated and lost in the grass, but their intentions aren’t very clear. It isn’t until the sister’s ex-boyfriend comes looking for her that the mystery slowly begins to unravel. The film plays with some ideas that will feel familiar to fans of this particular type of horror, while also managing to create something thrilling and unique. The plot takes the very simple idea of being lost in a virtual sea of grass that rises high above the average person’s head and expertly turns it into something much more complex.

The tension of In the Tall Grass can be felt almost immediately. Each part of the plot builds this tension from the young boy calling the siblings into the grass, to the siblings immediately getting separated, to the simple fact that the sister is pregnant, and to the various people in the grass not being trustworthy. Even the grass itself adds to the suspense. It is so tall and it seems to go on forever, generating an extremely claustrophobic feel as the audience sees from the point of view of those trapped in the grass. From there the suspense and the plot become much more complex. Whatever entity or energy exists within the grass, it has the ability to play with all the laws of physics humans have come to know. Time and space mean nothing in the tall grass. Being in the grass creates a sort of time loop, which is a popular concept in many recent horror films, yet In the Tall Grass still manages to make it feel unique. There is also a great element of the unknown. The film hints at the ancient power within the field and other specific elements, but nothing is overtly explained. There is just enough shown to create a mythos, but a majority of why these horrible things are happening is left a mystery. There is one aspect of the mythos in the climax that is rather horrifying. It is the one aspect that is not explained that really should have been as it leaves a gaping whole where the answer should be.

The cast of the film is primarily made up of lesser-known actors, with the exception of one name horror fans are sure to recognize. Laysla De Oliveira (Guest of Honour, Locke & Key) stars as the pregnant Becky. Oliveira does a fantastic job of conveying Becky’s vulnerability in her pregnant state, yet that pregnancy is also what makes her more determined to survive and escape the grass. Equally determined is her ex-boyfriend, Travis, played by Harrison Gilbertson (Need for Speed, Upgrade). Travis’s determination comes from wanting to save his unborn baby and the woman he loves. Gilbertson also delivers a compelling performance in this role. The surprise performance of the film comes from the most famous of the actors, Patrick Wilson (Insidious, The Conjuring). Wilson plays Ross, a man already trapped in the grass. He manages to portray a character that is far more sinister than anything we have seen from him before. Additional strong performances come from Avery Whitted (The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) and Will Buie Jr. (Bunk’d).

Most of the horror and suspense in the film rests entirely on the setting. Many horror films take place in fields of corn, but the field of grass that goes far above your head in this film is far more menacing. The grass doesn’t grow in a uniform way like corn does, which makes it much easier to get lost in the endless green. The grass is also very tightly packed, making it difficult to know where you are or if there is anything lurking just beyond those blades. It’s quite effective and beautiful. The filmmakers include gorgeous aerial shots of the grass that truly make the field appear as if it goes on forever. At the center of the field lies something large and ominous that lends to the mythos created throughout the film. It is a simple setting that has a striking look. The only other visual aspects are a few practical effects. These are also well done. They come in the form of minor wounds, a few corpses, and some very intriguing masks worn by beings in the grass.

In the Tall Grass is a twisting, cyclical journey of mysticism and madness from the minds of Stephen King and Joe Hill. Natali does a superb job of bringing the story to life. The resulting film is mysterious, thrilling, and gives the viewer something unique. The filmmakers were smart in making much of the mechanics behind the field of grass a mystery, yet there is one aspect of the climax that needs a bit of explanation. As is, it comes across as simply being in the film for shock value. While this plot stands apart from similar films, it may fall to the wayside with the many successful time-loop films that have been released in the past few years. Luckily the film has strong performances and an eerie setting to really build the suspense. This is a Netflix original film fans of Stephen King, Joe Hill, horror, and time-loop films will definitely want to see.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

 

 

The Perfection

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Charlotte was once a musical prodigy, but she had to leave school to take care of her sick mother. Years later, she seeks out her old teachers and meets the young cellist who replaced her. The two young women become instantly connected. From the moment they meet the pair are entangled in a twisted spiral leading them into chaos and madness.

I’m going to be fairly vague with this review because it is nearly impossible to go more in-depth without giving away spoilers. Eric C. Charmelo (Supernatural, Ringer) and Nicole Snyder (Supernatural, Ringer) co-wrote The Perfection along with director Richard Shepard (Girls, The Matador). This trio creates a truly engrossing film with fascinating, dynamic characters. From the moment the film starts the audience is drawn into Charlotte’s story. When she meets the other cellist, Elizabeth, there is a connection between them that is impossible to ignore. Yet there is an underlying tension that builds like a ball of snow; slow and subtle at first, then a giant thundering mass that threatens everyone in its path.

There is so much to enjoy with the plot of The Perfection. It all centers around the need to be perfect and the pressures, both internal and external, that compound that pressure until it causes a person to implode. This is one of the many aspects of the plot that feels both poignant and relevant to things going on in the world today. The film is broken into chapters, and each chapter brings an all new revelation that is sure to shock audiences. The numerous twists and turns perfectly keep you on the edge of your seat. Every time I thought I had figured out what was happening in the film I was proven to be dead wrong. I have never seen a film with so many fantastic twists that still tells a compelling and cohesive story.

Both of the female leads in this film deliver powerhouse performances. Allison Williams (Girls, Get Out) dazzles as Charlotte. On the surface Charlotte seems like a well-adjusted young woman, but there is an intensity that bubbles up from under the surface. Williams shows, yet again, that this is the genre she was born to act in. Logan Browning (Bratz, Dear White People) plays the magnetic Elizabeth, who also goes by Lizzie. She is the polar opposite of Charlotte as she is edgier and more outgoing. This is the first film I’ve ever seen Browning in, and she absolutely blew me away. Both of these characters are incredibly well written, and the chemistry between Williams and Browning is absolutely electric.

As if this film doesn’t have enough going for it, the visuals are also amazing. Most of what makes this film stunning to look at is through simple framing and lighting. Some of the most beautiful scenes to look at are when either Charlotte or Lizzie are playing the cello. These scenes are shot in a way that allows the audience to almost feel part of the music, moving between close ups of the player’s hands and wide shots where the player is perfectly framed. One unexpected aspect of the visuals is some very subtle CGI work. It is so subtle and so well done that it is hard to even tell that what you’re looking at isn’t practically done. It allows for some rather shocking and disturbing imagery in an otherwise gorgeous film.

The Perfection lives up to its name by delivering a suspenseful film with endless twists that still result in a complex, cohesive story. It is the kind of plot that not only keeps you guessing, but leaves you speechless. I found myself thinking about the film long after it ended. The filmmakers create movie magic, and the performances by both Williams and Browning absolutely blew me away. My one concern is whether or not this film will be as effective upon a second viewing since the filmmakers rely so heavily on the twists and turns. I do recommend audiences go in as blind as possible and avoid the trailer, as it does show some images that could spoil a few of the twists. Instead, be sure to catch it on Netflix as soon as you can. Looking back on the film, I think it is safe to say that it is my favorite film of 2019… so far.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

The Silence

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A primeval species that hunts by sound is accidentally unleashed from a cave system. As they spread and take down city after city, one family flees in hopes of reaching an area away from cities. The journey is treacherous and even reaching a remote cabin isn’t enough to keep them safe. The family will not only have to keep each other safe from the creatures, but also from other people.

The Silence is one of a slew of films to recently be released with similar concepts including A Quiet Place and Bird Box. There are definitely similarities between this film and last year’s hit, A Quiet Place, but the novel by Tim Lebbon this film is based on was released in 2015. There is the same basic premise of a family trying to survive in a world where deadly creatures can hunt by sound. The similarities continue as the film focuses on a daughter who is deaf and her relationship with her father. The plots diverge from each other from there, but it is impossible to ignore the similarities.

Brothers Carey and Shane Van Dyke (Chernobyl DiariesThe Sacred) took on adapting Lebbon’s novel for the screen while John R. Leonetti directed (Annabelle, Wish Upon). Despite the multiple similarities between The Silence and other films, there are still some differences that set it apart. One of the biggest differences is that audiences will immediately know the origin of these creatures. Their existence isn’t shrouded in mystery, giving the film almost a more scientific monster movie feel at first (although this part will likely also make horror fans think of films such as The Descent and The Cave). Events quickly escalate after the creatures are released. The audience gets brief introduction to the various characters before they are thrown into the end of the world. Something that makes the daughter in this film different is that she only became deaf three years ago, yet she adapted to her new state of being quickly. There are many instances that force the audience to think what they would do in a similar situation as the family is forced to make numerous difficult decisions. It makes some of the more intense scenes evoke emotions one wouldn’t expect. These are the scenes that will likely stand out the most in the minds of viewers.

The thing that had the potential to make this film stand out the most is the introduction of a bizarre cult. This could have been the most interesting part of the film and it could have added a lot of tension to the film. Unfortunately, it’s never fully developed. The cult isn’t even introduced until the third act of the film. It ends up coming across as an afterthought used simply to make the climax of the film more exciting, but it doesn’t necessarily achieve that.

The Silence is a star-studded film with many familiar faces, a few being familiar for other roles in Netflix original projects. Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Blackcoat’s Daughter) stars as Ally. Because Ally is deaf she is able to notice things other are not, such as warning signs of danger. Shipka for the most part delivers a great performance, but there are a few instances where she appears to react to sound despite her character being deaf. Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Spotlight) plays Ally’s father, Hugh. Overall Tucci’s portrayal of Hugh is interesting to watch as he does what he can to protect his family from harm. The biggest issue I have with his performance is likely a choice made by the filmmakers; for a dad who cares so much about the well being of his daughter, he barely ever uses sign language with her. In fact, many conversations with Ally and Hugh make it easy to forget that Ally is deaf because neither character signs very much with each other. They do make a point of saying Ally can read lips, but it still seems like an odd choice. The only time sign language is really used is when the family is in danger and needs to communicate while being completely silent.

There are many interesting visuals in The Silence. The creatures themselves are brought to life with CGI. Considering they are from a dark, sealed off cave, they have the right look one would expect. These things are relatively small, look almost like a cross between a bat and a small pterodactyl-like creature, have pale skin, are blind, and use sound to find their prey. Some of the most gorgeous images in the film are seeing the creatures fly and swarm from afar. It ends up being both terrifying and beautiful all at once. To add to the terror, there is an unexpected amount of practical effects gore throughout the film. Unfortunate victims of the creatures tend to get torn to shreds, and the filmmakers wisely chose not to hold anything back when showing the aftermath.

The Silence has the potential to bring audiences something new and terrifying, but it sadly fails to surpass other films with similar plots. There are some elements that keep the audience interested such as decent performances, a well-known cast, great effects for the creatures, and a healthy dose of blood and gore. What ultimately holds this film back is numerous underdeveloped aspects of the plot. This is the most obvious with the sparing use of sign language, despite the main character being deaf, and with the cult not even being introduced until the third act. The film is entertaining enough to be worth a watch, but it doesn’t do enough to stick with viewers for long.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

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

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

A young nurse gets a new job caring for an elderly horror author. The nurse, who is afraid of everything, is unfamiliar with the author’s work. This includes her most famous book about a woman named Polly. The nurse moves in with her charge to provide around the clock care. As time passes for the nurse living in the elderly woman’s home, it becomes more and more clear there may be someone (or something) else in the home with them.

This is the second film by writer/director Oz Perkins I have seen this year, the first being The Blackcoat’s Daughter. While I loved his previous film, this one left me feeling underwhelmed and unsatisfied. The essential premise is a nurse going to live with an elderly horror author to take care of her. The problem is that this nurse is terrified of everything. She can’t even get through the first chapter of one of the books the horror author wrote. On the first night living in the author’s house the nurse has a small experience with what may be a ghost, but then there aren’t any other happenings for almost a year. There is an interesting idea in this plot. The problem is that the story is underdeveloped, and the primary focus is on the house rather than the characters.

The main issue I have with this film is the writing. While the monologues are beautifully written and interesting, there is just too much dead space throughout the rest of the film. The only character that really has any lines is the nurse, which leaves a lot of time in between any speaking parts. It also means that the main character primarily talks to herself. The film ends up feeling one-dimensional and lacks any true depth to keep the audience interested. Perkins is known for leaving some aspects of his films ambiguous, which worked well in The Blackcoat’s Daughter, but in this film things were a bit too ambiguous. The “why” of what is happening is left unclear, and it felt like hints were scattered throughout the film that never came to a satisfying conclusion. This just adds to the somewhat empty feeling of the film.

One thing Perkins did better with was the style of the film. It felt unique in that much of the film consists of the inner monologue of the lead character. The film was very visually interesting, using light and shadows, as well as some beautiful blurred effects. The set of the house is also gorgeous. It often times feels like the house is its own character during the film, and it is actually one of the more well-developed aspects of the film. This unfortunately seemed to be where all the focus of the filmmaker’s efforts went. The film is quite stunning, but the lack of substance makes me wish this had been made as a short consisting of about thirty minutes as opposed to a feature length film.

Because there were so few speaking parts in the film it is very difficult for me to truly judge the acting. Ruth Wilson (The Affair, The Lone Ranger) starred as the nurse, Lily. I know Wilson is a good actress from her other work, but her performance in this role gave the impression that she didn’t put much effort into it. The way the character is written is partly the problem. The fact she is afraid of everything and spoke like an 80-year-old woman created a very unrealistic character. I couldn’t help but cringe when she said things like “Oh, heavens no.” The character is supposed to be in her late twenties, and as someone that is the same age it is hard to imagine a single person my age who speaks like that (no matter how timid they are). The highlight of Wilson’s performance is the monologue she recites at the beginning of the film, and that is also the highlight of the entire film.

As a whole I am vastly underwhelmed by I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. It is stylish and beautiful, but lacked the substance to make it a complete story. The film is also plagued with unrealistic dialogue and underdeveloped characters. I know Perkins can do amazing work, so I look forward to seeing what he does in the future. This is just a bit of a stumble on his road to becoming a successful writer/directer.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10