post-apocalyptic

Riot Girls

riot girls

In a post-apocalyptic version of the 90’s lies a small town divided in two. On one side are the poor kids and the punks, on the other are the rich kids and the jocks. When the jocks manage to capture the leader of the punk kids, it’s up to a small band of misfits to go on a rescue mission into enemy territory.

Director Jovanka Vuckovic is most well known for her segment, “The Box,” from horror anthology XX. Now she’s making her feature film debut with Riot Girls, written by Katherine Collins (Blindspot, Lost in Space). The film essentially takes a typical high school 90’s film of jocks vs. punks and injects it with steroids. The post-apocalyptic setting where a virus has wiped out all adults turns the rivalry between the two groups deadly. Without adults to control the violence, the two gangs divide the small town, constantly fighting for resources. The plot focuses on two young women, Nat and Scratch, who are members of the punk gang on the poor side of town. It’s Nat’s brother who is taken by the rival jock gang. These two lovable misfits, with the help of a newcomer, decide to venture into jock territory to save Nat’s brother.

Riot Girls is a compelling film in the way it portrays bullying. The filmmakers also waste no time in portraying the punks as the good guys and the jocks as the bad guys. Aside from the obvious connected to bullying in how the jock’s behave, the societies the two gangs create are also very different. The punks have a more communal society where everyone is taken care of and has a say, while the jocks are run by a malicious dictator and his cronies. It is an extreme portrayal that still feels grounded in reality.

One point of confusion with the plot is the nature of the illness. It is clear that it wiped out all of the adults and that is what led to the current state of the small town. If it had been left at that, then that bit of mystery around the virus would have worked perfectly well. The issue that arises comes from a reference to the virus later on in the film. It seems to be a moment of some significance that hints at some greater piece of the puzzle when it comes to the virus. Yet, after that moment, the virus is never mentioned again. It is a small moment, but the fact that it is not addressed again at any point in the rest of the film makes it seem like a loose end.

A very successful aspect of Riot Girls is how the film portrays Nat and Scratch. Nat is played by Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Annabelle Comes Home). She is the most down to earth and relatable character as she simply tries to live the best life possible in this new world. Scratch, played by Paloma Kwiatkowski (Bates Motel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters), is the much more guarded of the two. She presents a tough exterior and isn’t trusting of those not part of her group, yet inside she is likely even more vulnerable than Nat. Not only do both Iseman and Kwiatkowski deliver great performances on their own, they also have great chemistry together. These two young women are a couple, yet the filmmakers don’t use their relationship as a gimmick and make a point of going, “LOOK OVER HERE, THESE GIRLS ARE LESBIANS!” Nat and Scratch are cinematically shown like any straight couple, which is very important when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in film. Aside from these two strong leading ladies, I need to give performance shout-outs to Ajay Friese (Lost in Space) as the kind outsider, Sony, and Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid) as the sinister jock leader, Jeremy.

Visually, Riot Girls perfectly captures what the small town may have looked like it the world ended in the 90’s. The film has the sort of shiny, plastic, vibrantly colored look typically found in teen films made in the 90’s. Even the music acts as a killer soundtrack of punk rock hits to transport the audience back in time. The clothing also lends itself to that time period. The punk kids rock ripped jeans, leather jackets, and heavy black eye makeup. The jocks are all perfectly coiffed with their tidy clothes and letterman jackets. Then there are some kids that fall between these two groups that have a more grunge look to them, often wearing a combination of oversized military jackets and flannel. All of this helps to create a sense of the film being in an alternate past, but the most eye-catching visual aspect is the way the filmmakers make the film look like a comic book. The introduction that gives the film context is shown as an animated comic book, but then that theme is continued throughout the film. Many of the transitions between scenes are represented in comic panels. It is a fun and interesting style that definitely catches the eye.

Riot Girls is a genre-bending adventure that acts as a thrilling ode to misfits. Vuckovic had already shown her filmmaking skills with her short film, but now she has proven she can deliver a compelling feature length film. Not only do Vuckovic and Collins create an interesting alternate reality with Riot Girls, but they also deliver a feminist film with a couple of amazing women smashing the patriarchy. There may be some unanswered questions about the virus by the end of the film, but the primary focus of the rescue mission helps overshadow those questions. The film boasts a great ensemble cast, with Iseman and Kwiatkowski carrying the weight of the film on their able shoulders.  It’s hard not to love these two punks and the alternate reality of the film. This is a must see film for the misfits of the world.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Bird Box

bird

It has been five years since dangerous unseen beings arrived. One look shows the viewers their worst fears, leading to that person committing suicide. Malorie, along with two children, managed to survive this long. Now they have to make a treacherous journey completely blindfolded in order to find a new place to stay safe.

Before I dive into this film, I’m going to address the elephant in the room. As soon as trailers hit for Bird Box there were immediately noticeable parallels between this film and A Quiet Place. Just know, this film was adapted from a novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, which came out back in 2014. So please stop all the talk about Bird Box being a ripoff of A Quiet Place. There are similarities, but they are two distinct films.

Director Susanne Bier (In a Better World, Brothers) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Lights Out, Arrival) did an excellent job adapting this story into film form. As Bird Box begins, viewers are thrown into the desolate, post-apocalyptic world five years after the beings arrived. Immediately we are introduced to the protagonist, Malorie, as a harsh survivor about to embark on a dangerous journey in the hopes of finding a safe place for herself and the children she cares for. The plot is interwoven between her current journey and her experiences from when the beings first appeared. Through this method the viewer is able to learn more about the beings as well as Malorie (and why she makes the decisions she does to survive this perilous new world). The format lends to some excellent character development not just for Malorie, but for the other survivors she encounters when the world first falls apart.

A truly fascinating aspect of this plot is the entities that bring about the end of humanity. Each person who sets eyes on these things sees something different; it can be their worst fear, their greatest regret, or something else. The brilliant thing is that we, as the viewers, never see what these entities truly look like, or even what people see just before they commit suicide. It not only makes things a bit more frightening, because it is almost impossible to know if one of the beings is near you, but it also makes sense from a financial standpoint, as there was no need for elaborate practical effects or CGI. There are some people who are effected differently when they look upon these beings, which leads to some very fascinating and intense moments. The entire concept is unique and brilliantly executed.

This film has a star-studded cast who all shine in their individual roles. Sandra Bullock (Practical Magic, Ocean’s Eight) delivers one of her most powerful performances as the star of the film, Malorie. There is a rigidness about Malorie that sometimes makes her less than likeable, but as more is revealed about the character it is easier to understand why she is the way she is. Bullock’s portrayal of Malorie perfectly shows that rigid nature, while also allowing some more tender moments to break through her hardened outer shell. Another outstanding performance comes from Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, The Predator) as Tom. This character is the polar opposite of Malorie, instead being exceptionally warm and caring. It is the perfect role for Rhodes, and the juxtaposition of his portrayal of Tom with Bullock’s portrayal of Malorie makes for great chemistry and a number of touching scenes. Other great performances can be found in John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Lil Rel Howery (Get Out), and Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’).

Bird Box is a tense, emotional, and even frightening film with a unique plot and deeply emotional core. Bier and Heisserer do a fantastic job bringing Malerman’s novel to life. The simple idea of an entity that traumatizes a person to the point where they commit suicide allows for great suspense. It also brings an element of mystery as the viewer never sees what the victims see. An intriguing plot and fantastic performances from the likes of Bullock and Rhodes result in a must-see film with a lot of heart. Bird Box gives the horror genre a strong end to 2018 that you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

A Quiet Place

quiet

In 2020 the world is taken over by strange and dangerous beings. While the creatures are completely blind, they have a heightened sense of hearing. The human race has been almost entirely wiped out. One family struggles to survive this new world where a single sound could mean death. They have the advantage of knowing sign language, but it might not be enough to remain silent.

There are so many things to love about this film. John Krasinksi (The Office, Away We Go) made sure to have his hand in nearly every aspect of the filmmaking process. He directed the film, co-wrote the script with Bryan Woods (Nightlight) and Scott Beck (Nightlight), and he also stars in the film. The plot focuses more on the family unit rather than the creatures, yet the creatures are quite terrifying. We know generally when they appeared, we know the creatures are blind and hunt using sound, but that’s about it. The filmmakers smartly avoid showing the creatures in full view until fairly far into the film. Many horror films try to over explain the origin of the monsters, but this film allows you to make your own deductions.

Since the monsters hunt with sound, much of the film is in near silence. This makes every sound all the more terrifying, and the entire film has an edge-of-your-seat tension. This also means the words that are spoken have much more impact. Speaking is dangerous, so if anyone in the family says something out loud it is something they find important. The only daughter in the family is deaf. While normally this would be considered an impairment, it actually ends up being a benefit for the family because they could already communicate with sign language before the creatures appeared. This form of communication is likely a large part of what has kept the group alive. The dynamic between the family members and how they live their daily lives in this new world are the driving forces behind the plot. It is a monster movie, but the plot goes much deeper by having compelling characters.

Acting in a film with such a small amount of dialogue takes a lot of talent. An actor has to be able to convey emotions with their face and body language because they are unable to use words. Krasinski is one of the stars of this film playing the father, Lee. A striking aspect of his performance is his ability to convey emotion with his eyes. Krasinski has a very expressive face that serves his portrayal of Lee very well. His real life wife, Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow), plays his wife in the film, Evelyn. Blunt is a very talented actress who shines in every role she does. Her performance in this film really shines when she’s protecting her children. The physical and emotional struggle of trying to remain silent in tense situations is something Blunt portrays very well. The breakout star of the film is Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) as Regan. Simmonds is deaf in real life, just like her character in the film. Not only is it great that the filmmakers opted to hire a young deaf actress in the role, but Simmonds acts her heart out. She shows that being hearing impaired does not mean you aren’t as strong and capable as anyone else. The entire family feels real and authentic, making the characters ones fans will truly care about.

The creature design in this film is stunning. While the look of the creatures may remind audiences of other creatures from Stranger Things and Cloverfield, there are certain aspects that make them unique. We know the creatures hunt using sound, so naturally there are certain physical aspects to show they have enhanced hearing. These physical features look anatomically plausible, which always makes for a more compelling monster. The creature is masterfully created using CGI effects. The effects look startlingly realistic and include intricate details which would be difficult to achieve without CGI. While the origins and motives for the creatures remain a mystery, they are frightening and fun to watch.

A Quiet Place perfectly uses silence to generate high intensity into this monster flick. While it is suspenseful and exciting, it is also a film about the dynamics between family members in a post-apocalyptic world. The film has strong performances, fantastic creature design, and a unique story. This may be a bit nit-picky, but the biggest fault I find with this film is the very last shot of the film. Something about it feels somewhat out of place with the rest of the film and almost cheapens the previous events a bit. That issue aside, this film is one that every horror fan should see, and it is one that you could even bring your non-horror loving friends to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10