Wednesday, 23 March 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): Review (spoiler free)

10 Cloverfield lane is a 2016 sci-fi horror movie. Produced by JJ Abrams (Cloverfield, Lost) and directed by Dan Trachtenberg, the film stars John Goodman (The Big Lebowski), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim, The Thing) and John Gallagher Jr. Described as a “spiritual sequel” to 2008’s Cloverfield, the film was completed under the name "Valencia" and was revealed as 10 Cloverfield Lane 2 months before its release.

The movie opens with Michelle (Winstead) leaving her partner after a row but, due to an unfortunate turn of events, she wakes up in chains in a cold basement. This basement is actually a post-apocalyptic bunker belonging to Howard (Goodman), a conspiracy nut who was more than prepared for the “attacks” that he tells Michelle have destroyed humanity above. They are also joined by Emmett (Gallagher), a farmhand who helped construct the bunker and now finds himself also confined for what Howard describes as “a 1 to 2 year” period. Things soon turn from tense to violent as Howard struggles to contain his true nature and Michelle is able to escape the bunker, only to discover that the truth about the attacks is surprisingly more crazy than even Howard suggested.

The main question mark over this film which threatens to overshadow it, is whether this is actually a sequel to Cloverfield. We know that the film was completed under the title “Valencia” and was based on a spec script called “The Cellar” which had nothing to do the Cloverfield universe. However, Abrams and co apparently noticed thematic similarities which led them to rework the movie into 10 Cloverfield Lane. Abrams himself has stated that “It’s not called Cloverfield 2 because it’s not Cloverfield 2” and I think this accurately presents the film as a “spinoff” rather than a direct sequel. That’s not to say that the events in the film aren’t clearly linked to the events of Cloverfield, just in a more interesting and mysterious way than you might expect (this is Abrams after all!). I found it really refreshing that the film/trailer was revealed a mere 2 months before release and I found it exactly the right amount of time to get excited.

Now, if you can get over the fact that this is both a film that has been cleverly woven into the universe of an existing science fiction universe and, conversely, a film that has been shoehorned into a franchise to maximise profit, you will find one of the most taut and tense thrillers to come out in years. The Hitchcockian claustrophobia and paranoia seeps from every pore of a career best performance from Goodman, as well as from the fantastically designed set. Winstead is impeccable as always and Bear Macreary’s score ramps up the tension periodically to match the actors ebb and flow. The twists and turns in the plot were subtle enough to be felt underneath the atmosphere and the process of trying to figure out the characters, as well what was happening in the outside world, was a joy. The ending will surely divide audiences as, despite knowing what we know from the first film, it didn’t quite go in the direction I thought it would (but not in a way that felt cheap). Rather, the ending leaves an enticing thread hanging much like the satellite crash at the end of the first film.

In a post Prometheus (2012) world, I think we’ve all learned to manage our expectations when we hear of a semi-sequel or “ a film that shares DNA” and it’s easy to see this film as a cash in on what was a very successful movie. However, the movie is so well written, so tightly directed and so perfectly acted, that you soon forget that there is meant to be any franchise connection at all and it’s on this basis that the movie should be assessed. Some may be bemused with the ending and clear foundation being laid for future instalments but, after all the dust has settled, this will stand up as one of the best movies of the year. And if you’re after a plot that makes complete sense and is tied up in a neat little package at the end…then what the hell are you doing watching a JJ Abrams production?

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of the movie? Is it really connected o Cloverfield?

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Witch (2016): Review

The Witch is a 2016 period horror film. The directorial debut of Robert Egger, the film stars Ralph Ineson (The Office), Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Dickie (Prometheus, Filth).  The film is based on historical accounts and folklore from the time and was endorsed and promoted by the Satanic Temple.

Set in 17th Century colonial America, the film begins with William (Ineson) and his family being exiled from their own community for being excessively puritanical. They end up founding their own farmstead at the edge of a dense wood. William’s wife Katherine (Dickie) gives birth to a baby boy, in addition to their twins, young son Caleb and teenage daughter Thomasin (Taylor-Joy). However, things take a turn for the worst when the baby is snatched by the witch in the woods and the family is thrown into turmoil. To make matters worse, Caleb also goes missing in the woods and is returned with a terrible fever and the family soon start to suspect Thomasin as the witch. Confounded by an assortment of devilish animals, including family goat “Black Phillip”, the family are tormented and torn apart by the phantom in the woods as their faith in God is stretched to the limit.

From the opening shots of The Witch, it’s clear that this is going to be an incredibly visual film and this only intensifies as you’re drawn deeper into the world. The overhead shots are creeping and the interior shots are claustrophobic, this is pure Kubrick and shows an impressive command of the screen for a first time director. What’s also interesting is the decision to linger on black after certain cuts for longer than usual just to ramp up the tension even more. The score is terrifying and the use of ghostly choirs and discordant strings amplifies the dread and atmosphere to almost unbearable levels at times.

The film owes a lot to The Wicker Man (1974) as well as the more recent A Field in England (2012), not just in its allusion to pagan rituals and Witchcraft, but also in the way that it’s a horror film much more in style than in its content or plot. Eggers touches the cornerstones of the genre without ever being sucked into the clich├ęs and tropes as you might expect from the title and marketing of the film. I’m always a sucker for period horror and the setting of New England during the “witch trials” period is always worth revisiting. To enhance this,  Eggers authentic script is beautifully written and fantastically delivered (most often through Inesons unmistakable tones).

The Witch may buckle under its own hype at times, but it never breaks, standing out as a stark and original piece that betrays it’s bog standard horror marketing campaign. A painfully slow pace may turn some off and perhaps it suffers from style over substance at times but give it a few days and you’ll find the bleak imagery and heavy themes remain under the skin. The Witch is a breath of fresh air for fans of both horror and art house cinema and aims to unsettle and unnerve rather than to scare. Also features the best performance by a goat this side of Drag me to Hell (2009).

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of the Witch? Did it live up to the hype?