It Comes At Night (2017) Review

ican1IT COMES AT NIGHT (Dir- Trey Edward Shults, USA, 2017)

Starring- Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough

Another American indie horror arrives with a wealth of praise and has set out to continue the consistent drive of intelligent and original genre flicks coming out from across the shore. Is it a sign of film-makers responding to the increasing polarised splits in the country through politics and society that has caused this rush of horror films that reflect the current climate? Only time will tell. However, one thing for sure Trey Edward Shults IT COMES AT NIGHT does arrive with a marketing campaign that significantly points to this film being a straightforward horror which in reflection it is to an extent. But those expecting a quiet-quiet-boom shock laden horror story might be disappointed.

The film opens with a family disposing of a relative who has been infected by a fatal disease that has supposedly ravaged most of America. The family in question is husband and father Paul (Edgerton) his wife Sarah (Ejogo) and their son Travis (Harrison Jr). The infected relative in question is Sarah’s dad and Travis’s Granddad. The family are locked up in a house in a secluded woodland area. Boarded up and closed off as if to suggest no one is occupying the place. It’s not long though till an intruder breaks in, Will (Abbott), who after being subdued informs Paul that he has a family desperate for food. After eventually trusting Will, Paul brings the family into the boarded up house and it seems as if everyone is getting along fine and working as a unit. Yet its not long before a couple of incidents involving Travis’s dog and the son of Will and his wife Kim (Keough) sets off a tense and chilling conflict between both family groups.

One noticeable trait of IT COMES AT NIGHT is that setting a post apocalyptic story in a woodland area on the edge of civilization will allow the film-makers to at least not worry about the factors of production design or portraying the ravaged city scape that usually features in bigger budgeted outings that feature the world in devastated form. This is however essential to the story as it’s focus is on it’s characters and it also makes the ongoing threat of contagion ever more disturbing as once our characters don gas masks we know that their paranoia of the plague is real and its their actions that lend the films dramatic edge.

ican2Essentially this is a story of decent people driven to desperate means for survival and breakdown in any decency when it comes to folk wanting to protect their own family unit which makes the films conclusion, and I wont lie its not a pretty one, even more darker and in the long run with the characters actions, essentially futile. There is no denying that Shults film has a certain resonance with the current climate in America and even in our own country with a society split and mistrust felt by all sides against every one be it foreign or domestic. Paul’s protection of his own unit and his own boarded up house seems to fend off any intruders yet even welcoming them in eventually leads to confusion and chaos and acting on own selfish impulse which ultimately can seal ones own fate.

Edgerton (who is always a great character actor see THE GIFT for proof of that), also working as executive producer, is brilliant as Paul presenting him as an ex school teacher who seems to relish the role of protector and commander in chief of his house, yet his obsessive nature of sticking to rules and routine distracts him from the fact that his own son is suffering from the nightmarish reality that is happening around to him. As Travis, Harrison Jr, is also brilliant managing to convey the film from his perspective and its from the eventual fiery disposal of his granddad’s corpse that we see the film through his eyes, from listening to Will and Kim’s intimate conversations in the attic space, to his possible affection for her and his own horrific nightmares which add as some of the films intense shock scenes. It might have been better for Shult’s to flesh out the female characters a bit more as they seem more to be in the background for much of the running time. However Ejogo does have one of the best lines in the film that pretty much foretells the bleakness to come. When Paul states that “everything’s gonna be all right, to which she replies, “You don’t honestly believe that do you?”

However Shults also works brilliantly with his cinematographer Drew Daniels to capture the confined space of the house with its widescreen cinematography giving it an edge and elevating it to be its own character. The murky almost entirely dark spaces occasionally lit by lantern or flash light add an intense visual feel. Even a long tracking shot towards a door is filled with tension as in the viewer is left at the mercy of the camera as it approaches making us expect or anticipate either it to be busted open or a loud knock to unsettle bot the characters and the audience in what awaits beyond it.

ican4Like Robert Eggers THE WITCH, IT COMES AT NIGHT portrays the stark breakdown of the family unit and its unwillingness to cope in desperate situations and just like that film from last year this is another fine example of American horror going through a renaissance in both reflecting troubling times and using genre cinema as a template whilst retaining an original independent feel.

8.5/10

It Comes At Night (2017) Review

ican1It Comes At Night (2017)

Dir: Trey Edward Shults
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton

Released 7 July in cinemas by Universal Pictures

The world has been devastated by a lethal, highly contagious disease. In the aftermath of the outbreak, Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) have managed to create some semblance of a life for themselves in their heavily protected isolated rural home, yet they still mourn the loss of Sarah’s father, Travis’s grandfather. Even so, their very survival is reliant on following a strict list of rules and precautions from which they cannot deviate. However, one night the family are disturbed by an intruder in their home and, after subduing him and taking him captive, learn that the man, Will (Christopher Abbott) claims he is desperately foraging for supplies for his own family.

Paul is then faced with a series of impossible decisions that will have him questioning his own humanity.

Aside from the record-breaking Get Out, has there been a genre film this year more heavily hyped than Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes At Night? A darling on the festival circuit, yet subject to some backlash from some early viewers, I can see both points of view.

Sadly the marketing and even the title of the film are somewhat misleading. A lot of fans were led to believe It Comes At Night was some of sort of horror/mystery, the sort of project M Night Shyamalan might have penned a few years ago. Yet it is no such thing.

ican2However, what it IS is a fantastic film in its own right.

Shults’s film is a claustrophobic, devastating masterpiece and one of the finest pictures I’ve seen this year. It looks exquisite, with camerawork that is truly mesmerising at times. The visuals – along with an unsettling soundtrack that is truly worthy of high praise – cultivate a deep and permeating sense of dread that runs throughout, ratcheted up during some truly terrifying nightmare sequences. Seriously, these sequences are unbearably tense and make for some of the most genuinely frightening moments I’ve seen on the big screen this year.

It’s a story about battered, damaged human decency and the consequences of decisions. It’s a film with a message, a sort of visual poem, and it is one that is guaranteed to provoke a strong visceral reaction in audiences.

The cast are uniformly incredible, with Edgerton and Abbott at the fore, both absolutely nailing their roles as men we sympathise with and yet come to fear in equal measure. Ejogo and Riley Keough are fantastic too, delivering nuanced performances that show both actresses’ considerable range. Harrison also delivers as the most decent and innocent character in the film, but even his Travis is not without fault. It’s these human faults, not just in Travis but each and every character that drives the story. The disease, as terrifying as the idea of it is, is simply a McGuffin. It is what this mysterious virus has caused these people to come that truly drives this story.

ican3It’s a story that is personal, sentimental, heartbreaking and beautifully told. I don’t believe this will be a film for every taste – I’m sure some viewers may find it a little slow-moving or unnecessarily abstract in some sequences, but those who do connect with it will genuinely relish the experience. I’m not sure that It Comes At Night is even a horror film (although it contains sequences that will horrify even the hardiest of viewers) but I am sure that in this reviewer’s eyes, it is quite simply brilliant.

A must see.

9/10

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

rsz_ac1ALIEN: COVENANT (Dir Ridley Scott, USA, 2017)

Starring- Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz

No doubt when a new ALIEN film turns up everyone turns their heads in anticipated glee awaiting the new entry into the franchise which has lasted almost 38 years since Scott turned a spaceship into a terrifying claustrophobic nightmare pitting humans out of their depth, against an unstoppable killing machine. Since that first film the Alien has gone onto a superb sequel in James Cameron’s ALIENS, then followed by the underrated and superb dark misery of ALIEN 3 and the uneven and sub-standard ALIEN: RESURRECTION. Following that there were two heavyweights clashes with it’s rival extraterrestrial bad guy the Predator, ALIEN VS PREDATOR and ALIEN VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM, both as bad as each other. It took until 2012 for Scott to return to the franchise with PROMETHEUS a very flawed but technically stunning picture which has started a series of films to go about explaining the origins of the Xenomorph being and this brings us to ALIEN: COVENANT, the first film in this prequel series of films to feature the word ALIEN in it’s title.

Covenant is the name of the colonisation vessel on a seven year mission route to a new planet. On its journey the ship is hit by a solar flare storm which severally damages the vessel and causes loss of crew life including the main captain and husband to Daniels (Waterston) leaving Oram (Crudup) to reluctantly step up and take charge. The ship receives a distress signal from a nearby planet which Oram decides to send out a re-con mission to investigate and to see whether the new place could be a possible hospitable home for the colonists (you can see where this is going, right?). Naturally when they arrive some nasty spores causes some nasty reactions to their human hosts and the re-con crew find themselves under attack from an earlier version of the Xenomorph only also to find sanctuary from the synthetic David (Fassbender) from PROMETHEUS who has managed to survive on the planet. Yet David who sinister intentions in the previous film seem more apparent and this puts the crew in even more danger.

rsz_ac2It’s safe to say that this latter series of ALIEN films will not reach the tension and terror of Scott’s original, or the bombast and brutal action of Cameron’s sequel and not even the grim beauty of Fincher’s ALIEN 3 but in turn it’s trying to bring a fresh origin story to the franchise. Whilst PROMETHEUS felt uneven and quite overblown in it’s execution it seems to be a necessary forefront in establishing the beginnings of the origin. ALIEN: COVENANT does follow this in many way’s even with the dialogue which at times seems clunky and contrived and retains one of the main characters from that film, David. Though in the process it gets rid of the engineers from the previous film and only offers their absence with a flashback sequence that shows they where exterminated. Yet this is not fully explained or attributed and in its absence you would have liked to have known more of the background to the engineers especially since this is supposedly an origins story. Whilst it does attempt to follow a new path parts of the film almost seem like a greatest hits retread of the first two movies with a bit of ALIEN thrown in there and a bit of ALIENS dropped over here. It also does rely to heavily on the use of CGI effects for the Alien which seems a bit disappointing in retrospect when the original film used the classic man in a monster suit to great effect.

rsz_ac3Admittedly its necessary to use CGI for the Alien’s first beginnings and growth but at the same time the nostalgia and effect of prosthetic effects is greatly missed and the reliance on CGI ends up coming off as more lazy than necessary in parts. Despite the flaws the film is in the end visually and technically stunning. One thing that Scott is great at is world building and visual craft which has been one of the most important aspects of his career and will be a surely a hard act to follow in the forthcoming BLADE RUNNER sequel due out this year for that films particular director Denis Villenuve. Even with a flawed script Scott somehow manages to maintain a stunning visual presence in the film and design a fantastic outer space world which on the IMAX screen is brilliant to watch and thankfully in this films release they have dropped the gimmicky 3D effect which was utilised in PROMETHEUS. Credit should be given to the cast with Fassbender both in dual roles as the synthetic David and the Covenant’s ship own robot Walter and is again superb, Waterston is also confident and reliable in what is essentially the Ripley role as Daniels and also McBride as Tennessee the chief pilot. McBride has mainly been in comic roles but this time round he manages to shrug of the funny guy persona and deliver a decent likeable serious role as the brash Covenant pilot.

rsz_ac4In terms of being a return to the original nightmare of the first series of films COVENANT won’t reach those dizzying heights and whilst I can understand the negative feelings towards the film, I still like to recognise some of the impressive work within this particular outing and on the biggest screen you can see it, makes it all the more stunning. Given a stronger script Scott, who intends to carry on with another film in this series, could benefit even more. Though in the meantime he still manages to stage and orchestrate some fantastic visual and technical skill that at the core is one of the retaining and beneficial factors of COVENANT.

6.5/10

The Purge: Anarchy (2014) Review

 

P1The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

104 mins

Dir: James DeMonaco

Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Michael K Williams and Jack Conley

In a future America, for one night a year, all crime, including murder, is legal. Three intersecting stories combine together as five doomed souls try to survive the night and The Purge.

The surprising success to the tune of $89 million global box office of the first Purge film, released just last year, saw the inevitable sequel get streamlined into production with the pungent whiff of a new franchise looming.

Whilst the second half of the first film nosedived into a well below par home invasion horror, it is worth remembering that the central premise is a big hook and by far the most successfully scary element was depicting a near future America that had just accepted and even sang the praises of all the good the Purge did for the nation.

Taking the wise move to not simply redo the same story but with a different family, writer and director, James DeMonaco leads the sequel onto the streets of urban warfare in Los Angeles. In doing this, the film is able to give a much broader and more interesting perspective of the Purge that was merely glimpsed in the first film. Come the start of the Purge this time, there’s a fantastic montage of many groups suiting up in their own brand of novel costumes, each looking more intimidating than the last. The film’s subheading of Anarchy is appropriate as the film looks at the Purge from a ground level of essentially average people “freeing the beast” one night a year as opposed to the frighteningly organised and meticulous  of Rhys Wakefield’s motley crew of stabby snobs.

P2It has to be said that whilst the trailers gave the impression that the film was going to more than just slightly influenced by the brilliant ‘The Warriors’ ie. group of individuals have to fight their way across a city beset on all sides by various colourfully attired gangs etc, the film successfully avoids any direct comparisons, for the most part. With a plot that sees a terrifyingly dictatorial government enforcing blood sport to suppress the masses, however, the similarities with The Hunger Games and Battle Royale remain unshakeable.

In place of the doomed yuppie family from the first film, here we have three separate stories that end up coming together to try to bring some varying backgrounds to the table. As a result of this, we get a mother with her daughter and a soon to be separated couple who combine to make four of the most dull and uninteresting characters ever seen in a horror film.

With profoundly wooden acting, even in particularly tense situations, their facial expressions and line delivery would suggest that they find this whole Purge thing rather a nuisance and would prefer it to stop now if that’s quite alright. It is simply impossible to be invested in their plight when they just seem so non-committal and simply eyeing the pay check waving tantalisingly at them just out of shot. Perhaps they’re not entirely to blame, however, the script is beyond clunky and much of the dialogue consists of characters stating the bleeding obvious exposition or saying what is happening onscreen in case the audience is too thick to realise what they’re watching.

P5With this in mind, it makes it all the more evident that the film would have been far better if it had focused solely on Grillo’s Sergeant character. A man driven to feel the need to take part in the Purge after the man responsible for his son’s death was allowed to walk free. From this set-up, the film could have just been based on his dark journey and the audience could have been allowed to make up their own minds as to whether or not he was justified in his actions, rather than having the irritating side-characters constantly nagging at him that what he’s doing is wrong. On top of this, he has a slick-looking reinforced car, is deadly with weapons and is pure, gruff anti-hero bad-ass material, seriously, why on earth isn’t this film just about him?!

It is clear that the central idea behind the film was supposed to be the notion of the power of the 1% of Americans and there are two all too brief but superbly captured sequences in which this comes to the fore and where the film is at its chilling and most effective. The allusions to the grip the New Founding Fathers now have on the country are fascinating and the idea of the extreme right wing’s wet dream come true is a genuinely frightening concept. The brief glimpses we get of the wealthy and powerful are delightfully skin-crawling as DeMonaco puts great effort into showing how beneath the plastic surgery and haute couture, there is little to no humanity left in them.

The brief moments when the light of what the film perhaps could be sadly get snuffed out by the arguably quite tame violence, featuring some overtly CGI blood splatterings usually reserved for lower budget fare. There is also the general feel of an almost videogame-like structure, where the hero has to get from point A to B, the baddies get tougher and tougher and the added crutch of an escort mission slows the whole thing down and just becomes tiresome. On top of this, there are several moments when things just get a little too ridiculous, most notably Michael K Williams’ hilarious over-acting as the resistance leader (fighting the violence of the Purge with…more violence) and when one character gets pumped full of lead, the reaction of genuine surprise in other character pronouncing, “Jesus Christ…she’s dead!” damn near brought the house down with giggles

P6Where The Purge differs from other modern-day franchises is that there are conceivably many different angles that sequels could take without running the risk of simply being more of the same. Between the two films, a whole number of intriguing ideas are raised but in each case, DeMonaco seems to favour a greater focus on the more linear and perhaps easier path of unchallenging and crowd-pleasing violence. Perhaps, if a third film is in the offing, DeMonaco could spread his creative wings a bit and focus on the bigger picture of the New Founding Fathers or the religious element that fuels some Purgers. Until then, The Purge films remain somewhat of a frustration in that there is so much potential on display only to see it watered down for lots of helpings of the old ultraviolence.

Verdict: A sequel of equality rather than superiority. There is a great film to be made based on the Purge concept; it’s just that neither film has really been it so far. 4/10