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2020

Vivarium

Vivarium

It's like something unpleasant, only not enjoyable either

dir: Lorcan Finnegan

2020

Vivarium is an unpleasant and disturbing movie with little point that I could discern. I’m not sure if it was intended as satire, or a cautionary tale, but in the end, it really didn’t feel like it justified its own existence.

It’s not painful to watch or actively stupid. Neither is it offputting or horrific enough to have that going for it. It feels like a Black Mirror episode which forgot to have a vicious punchline that illuminates just how terrible people are. All it illuminates is that if there was some mysterious creature that looked vaguely human but wasn’t, that could kidnap people and put them somewhere they couldn’t escape from, it would be bad.

If it’s point is that something like what happens to the two protagonists here would be terrible to endure, well, derr fred, no doubt. Most stories usually need something more than that. Chopping my toe off with an axe would be bad, but I don’t think I should get to make a film about it (though Zuckerberg / Eisenberg is welcome to play my big toe any time).

A young couple (Imogen Poots and everyone’s favourite Zuckerberg Jesse Eisenberg) are looking for a place to live. She’s a primary teacher, he’s a, I dunno, groundskeeper Willy or something. It’s not clear where they are, but it’s not going to matter anyway. They wander into a storefront that we assume was a real estate agent or something. A really creepy looking guy called Martin promises them that the place they’re looking for is in a planned community called Yonder.

When they travel to Yonder, they find a place of thousands of identical houses. There is no one else around. Martin shows them No. 9, and literally disappears. Gemma and Tom try to drive away and keep turning up at 9. Whatever they do, they can’t leave.

The next night Tom burns the house down. The house reappears, and a box, also. There is a baby in the box. On the box is printed “Raise the child and you shall be released”.

O-kay. So they’re trapped in suburbia, with a child they don’t want, and for invisible reasons they can’t leave.

Does that even qualify as satire?

Rating:

Underwater

Underwater

Streamlined for maximum speed at the bottom of the ocean

dir: William Eubank

2020

It’s…hmm. So, well, people put a bunch of money together and thought that making an updated version of Aliens without having to pay whoever owns that franchise any money was a good idea.

And, it’s fine, I mean, as an idea, it’s fine. They also set this deep underwater on our actual planet, which means everything basically functions the same than as if they were in outer space or on some inhospitable planet: go outside the walls or outside of your suit, and you’re dead.

And they got Kristen Stewart to essentially play Ripley, but, it’s Kristen Stewart, so it’s her playing Kristen Stewart playing Ripley, with a shaved blonde head an all. She is quite striking, admittedly, and yet the hardest ask is us believing that she is an engineer. They never show her binge-drinking, not once.

An engineer, mind you, located in a facility 6 miles underwater in the Mariana Trench, literally the deepest point known of any part of the planet. I can believe the engineer bit, but the other bit is too fanciful, even for a sci-fi movie. There’s a massive main facility, and a bunch of other ones as well, all having been constructed with concrete and metal and stuff, and you just think: How? The pressure at those depths would crush almost any materials of any thickness like a hand crushing a can, and yet for this story to work we have to believe that somehow a bunch of people in high-vis built all this stuff just so our heroes can run around and die, one after the other.

It's an environment so dangerous that tiny flaws in equipment will implode people with a second’s notice. The survival of the bunch of people we see is so unlikely that they have to indulge in way riskier activities in order to go from a slim chance of survival to a slight chance of survival. And Norah (Kristen Stewart) is along for the ride, using her working-around skills whenever she can to find solutions to the cascade of errors going on around her.

But this isn’t enough. I mean, if the remaining crew can’t get to yadda yadda before a deadline, then they’re all going to die, if they stay in place, the facility will be destroyed and kill them, and there’s no safe way to get to the surface without using escape pods because of the bends etc. And yet all these dangers aren’t enough.

Rating:

Extraction

Extraction

What gets blood out of shagpile carpets again?

dir: Sam Hargrave

2020

Extraction. It’s like John Wick, except in Bangladesh, and with a Hemsworth, not a Keanu.

And it’s the good Hemsworth (not Larry), as in, one of the biggest current film stars in the world.

When you’re a star of his magnitude, people don’t watch a film you’re in because of the character you play or because of the premise: they are watching you because you’re in it.

So it must have been the easiest of all sells for Netflix to greenlight this, especially now when the cinemas are closed and the Netflixes are open 24 hours a day.

Like most action movies, this is constructed from the most cliché components that have comprised "action movies" for at least the last 40 years. The lead character is suicidal and an alcoholic because of something that happened in their past (check). He’s willing to do any job that pays well, because he doesn’t care if he lives or dies (check). Though he seems like a complete psychopath, he’ll build a connection with someone (child or dog) that keeps him connected to humanity but also justifies killing thousands of people (check).

Arnie did it for 20 or so films. Keanu as John Wick killed more people in New York than the coronavirus over 3 films. And the Chrisest of Chrises, Chris Hemsworth, kills most of Bangladesh here, all justified, because a young Indian kid called Ovi reminds him of the son he lost to lymphoma several years ago.

Wait, does that constitute a spoiler in this day and age? Surely you jest. I cannot recall the last time I watched a violent action flick where the death of someone close to the protagonist, child or otherwise, wasn’t the pretext for going on a kill crazy rampage against some nebulous enemy.

Rating:

Swallow

Swallow

This is going to hurt her more than it's going to hurt our eyeballs

dir: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

2020

This film. Was deeply disturbing. To watch. And harrowing, too!

I warn you now, it’s not for the squeamish, oh no.

Haley Bennett, who probably to her professional detriment looks a lot like Jennifer Lawrence, puts in a performance for the ages in this gutting, in many senses of the word, character study.

In the beginning she is the very image of the perfect 1950s Stepford wife so we already know something terrible is going to happen (it’s not set in the 50s). Her perfect coiffure, her perfect clothing, the overly fussy nature of that multi-million dollar house that overlooks the Hudson River, the perfect hunky husband with his mega-wealthy parents, it’s like, what do you get the woman that seemingly has everything?

Well, you give her a crippling compulsion to eat stuff that is inedible. I’m not talking McDonalds or the fried chicken in bain maries at roadside truck stops.

No, Hunter, as she is known, swallows things. At first, or at least the first thing we see her swallow, is a marble. You’d think, well, that’s a bad idea.

And you would be right. In the times leading up to this, we see Hunter being belittled, minimised, mocked and generally disregarded. It’s not loudly dramatic, it’s just in virtually everything her parents-in-law do and say, and her husband’s jerky self-centredness. We get the strong sense that Hunter is striving mightily to be the perfect wife that these rich bastards demand, but that level of struggle is too much for everyone in general, and not just her.

Lest you think this is going to be anything like the Maggie Gyllenhaal flick from ages ago called Secretary, about a woman who compulsively self-mutilates until she gets her happily ever after in a sadomasochistic relationship with James fucking Spader, it’s nothing like that. No, Hunter’s compulsion to mutilate her insides is not played for sexy laughs at all.

It’s taken very seriously, and it’s also not meant to be a coincidence that this compulsion is escalating just as Hunter finds she is pregnant.

This is a very discrete kind of body horror. Generally in horror flicks we’re worried on behalf of characters (if we care about them at all, which is not a given) that are threatened with torment or death because we either feel for them or imagine ourselves in their place. If this is a kind of horror flick, which I’m not completely convinced it falls into the category of, the horror perhaps is imagining either what these increasingly dangerous objects are doing to her insides, or imagine how it would feel if it was happening to us.

Rating:

The Hunt

The Hunt

And this little piggy murdered all the left wing arseholes,
all the way home

dir: Craig Zobel

2020

Now, The Hunt was meant to come out some time last year. But there had been a mass shooting somewhere in the States, as these things rarely happen, and morons, including the orange emperor of the morons, made some moronic statements about the film, so it was shelved.

Jump forward to a time when mass shootings have lowered, what with people wanting to stay safe and all, and The Hunt finally sees its “controversial” release, mostly on streaming services, as far as I can tell. It was shown for only a week in cinemas before being released digitally and before the cinemas were all closed forever thanks to a different kind of plague compared to the one Americans usually face.

So one could be tempted to start a review with something like: was it worth the wait? Is it as damning a piece of cinema as was threatened or implied by the clueless and the feckless?

Well, probably no on both counts. People took umbrage with the premise because they’d heard that what starts off as a horror flick and degenerates / improves into an action flick celebrates the murdering of innocent conservatives by a collection of wealthy liberal elitists.

Dumb people who thrive on outrage don’t need reasons or accuracy to impact their decisions.

They ignored from the start that the hero in these kinds of flicks is the one left standing – the villains are the ones slaughtering innocents for no good reason. Such a premise doesn’t allow for the nuances of ideology even if they shift around the origins of the participants. Humans hunting humans always looks pretty nasty, so having rich people hunt poor and homeless people (Hard Target, Turkey Shoot, The Most Dangerous Game, The Purge) or liberals murdering conservatives for no good reason (The Last Supper, and only this, as far as I can remember) doesn’t make the murderers look good.

In fact, it emphasises that it is the murderers who are, in fact, bad.

When I say that this starts off as a horror film, and then improves, I mean it starts off looking very cheap and nasty, and then gets marginally better once it works up some momentum and once they let Betty Gilpin shine.

Rating:

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey and Other Opportunities Wasted Incorporated

dir: Cathy Yan

2020

Let’s not sleep on the whole title: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn. If you saw that on a poster and had never heard of The Birds of Prey or Harley Quinn, would it induce you to brave a virus-filled world and venture forth into a cinema to watch it?

In a Simpsons episode from what feels like a century ago, Hollywood has-been Troy McClure has a brief renaissance professionally when he pretends to be heteronormative for a while by dint of marrying Marge’s sister Selma. When the sham falls apart, despite the best efforts of Troy’s agent MacArthur Parker, instead of going with the part of McBain’s sidekick in McBain IV: Fatal Discharge, he elects to star in The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel. Perhaps only time will tell which would have been the better choice.

Every time I saw mention made of Birds of Prey and the Contrabulous Fabtraption of Harley Hufnagel, I wondered what the fuck they were thinking. To me it seems like less a failure of ambition and more a failure of marketing – they didn’t have enough confidence that people would go see a flick with the Birds of Prey without a playfully shoehorned reference to the actual main character, one Harleen Quinzel. But then why not call it Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey without the other semi-embarrassed bullshit in between?

Now I’m all for Emancipation, whether it’s from slavery or from toxic relationships with genocidal maniacs, but the flick is, and this hurts to say, a mess, regardless of whether anyone gets emancipated or not.

It’s a fucking mess. At its core it has good intentions, but then they say the Good Intentions Paving Company also does its best building those roads that lead straight to hell.

Rating:

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

We all now know what it's like being afraid of something
invisible in 2020.

dir: Leigh Whannell

2020

The Invisible Man is a pretty great film about something terrible, being intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, as it used to be more commonly known. Domestic violence, a horror of a concept and a reality for those who live through it (even worse from those who die from it), almost sounds so quaint: the “domestic” part of it binds it to the house, but the sadism, the control, the unwillingness to allow someone to leave a relationship means this form of terrorism extends to anywhere.

Cecilia (the almost always great in absolutely everything she does Elizabeth Moss) wakes up in the middle of the night, someone slumbers next to her. She looks afraid but determined to do something. Since she’s got things packed, and she’s being extra careful, we know she can’t afford to wake up the sleeping jerk. With how afraid she appears we sense that this isn’t someone reluctantly leaving someone she cares about for…reasons and such: We sense that she is terrified of him, to the point where she had to drug him to make sure he doesn’t wake up, with the terrible repercussions that could follow.

The best laid plans of mice, men and women trying to flee abusive, controlling relationships always have to confront the random events that cause everything to fall over, but Cecilia barely gets away regardless. There is no long, drawn out sigh of relief. She pretty much holds her breath for the rest of the film, and only breaths out in the way that I mean at the very end.

Because, you see, some people cannot tolerate being left by someone. Their narcissistic egos won’t allow it, their absolute need for control won’t allow it, and the jerk here, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) will spend his every waking moment trying to force Cecilia to change her mind and come back to him.

The method, you would think, considering the title, would involve some kind of magic, technology or, I dunno, malicious prayers answered by a vengeful patriarchal god. But the tack that this film takes is to apply something out of the ordinary (invisibility) to an all too common purpose; that of tormenting and isolating Cecilia while making everyone else think she’s nuts. And also, the classic, making her doubt her own sanity.

Rating:

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