Ti West’s The Innkeepers is a brisk, creepy little thriller, despite the fact that nothing much of significance happens for the first 90 minutes. It’s like the twin brother of West’s fascinating The House of the Devil (2009), a film that builds its scares with mood and quiet, instead of false jumps and musical stingers. Few horror movies any more have me sitting on the edge of my seat, but The Innkeepers somehow managed to do it, and do it well. I have a suspicion that, based on these two films, West may well be the new horror auteur.
Archive for the ‘Suspense’ Category
Tags: Film, House of the Devil, Movies, Review, The Innkeepers, Ti West
Tags: Film, Jessica Chastain, Kathy Baker, MIchael Shannon, Movies, Review, Take Shelter
There’s a storm coming, roiling and iron-grey on the vast Midwest plains. Curtis (Michael Shannon) sees it, even if no one else does. He feels raindrops, rubs them between his fingers. It looks almost like motor oil. This is a vision, but Curtis is maybe not so sure about that. The sky clears, as if by magic, and he moves on with his day.
By the end of Take Shelter, an intense and gripping film by Jeff Nichols, Curtis will have had more visions, each more harrowing than the last: strange bird formations, levitating furniture, a horrific carjacking. His growing instability will test the faith of his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and best friend, Dewart (Shea Whigam). He will jeopardize treatment for his hearing-impaired daughter. And his loyal dog will fare no better.
Tags: Chris Pine, Denzel Washington, Disaster, Film, Movies, Review, Runaway Train
What’s It About: A freight train filled with tons of diesel fuel is boring, full-throttle, toward a Pennsylvania town. Soon-to-retire conductor Frank (Denzel Washington) and upstart newcomer Will (Chris Pine) are unceremoniously tasked with heading off the locomotive before disaster strikes. They’re helped out along the way by a feisty yard manager, Connie (Rosario Dawson), who instructs them on the path of the train from the relative safety of her command post, which means she was really never in danger to begin with. Do they stop the train before it derails and kills thousands of people? Does the title make a declarative statement that must otherwise be refuted by the outcome of the film?
Is water wet?
What’s It About: George Clooney figures in one of his best performances as Jack (or Edward, or who knows), a skilled assassin sent to the Italian countryside to await his next–and hopefully last–assignment. His mission, as it turns out, is a simple one: supply a weapon for the beautiful and deadly Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), who has been hired to hit a target unknown to all but her. As Jack methodically takes to his task, his focus and determination both frightening in their intensity, he meets two people: a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) bent on digging into Jack’s past, in the hope of helping the assassin atone for his sins; and Ingrid (Irina Björklund), a local prostitute, who makes the mistake of falling in love with a man of limited emotional context. (more…)
(Back to things after a long break. And since I’m still trying to figure out a format that works best for me, I thought I’d try something new.)
What’s It About: Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck, who also directed) commands a small group of bank robbers fresh off a recent heist, in which they kidnapped–and subsequently released–bank manager Claire. MacRay’s mentally unstable “brother” and cohort, Jem, convinces himself that Claire will talk to the FBI and recommends taking care of things. Doug, ever the polite criminal, promises to smooth things over by arranging an accidental run-in with Claire at a laundry mat (they were masked, of course, so she doesn’t recognize him) and soon finds himself falling in love. This leads Doug to think it might be time to leave the business–much to the chagrin of his benefactor and boss, Fergie “The Florist” Colm–setting up a moral dilemma as the group tries to get him to pull one last job. (more…)
Balanced somewhere between madness and sanity, Shutter Island is a noir masterpiece about secrets, lies and, ultimately, the undeniable power of forgiveness.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives what is perhaps his most electrifying performance as Teddy Daniels, a Boston federal marshal who talks like Sam Spade and smokes unfiltered cigarettes as if each one is his last. In his crisp suit and hat pulled low over his eyes, he’s a man of strict procedure, driven by the need for justice. It’s 1954, and Teddy has been assigned to a peculiar case: A female patient at Ashcliffe Hospital, a sprawling sanitarium set among the rocks of Shutter Island, has escaped. The only evidence she ever existed is a note that reads: “The Law of 4. Who is 67?” How did she escape? No one seems to know. Certainly the hospital’s ominous chief of staff, Dr. Cawley, finds it all mysterious. Played by Ben Kingsley as a man weary of antiquated psychiatric practice, Cawley intimates that Rachel Solando—who was convicted of drowning her three children—all but vanished from a locked cell. Teddy is not so sure; she must have had help from the staff. Teddy’s new partner, Chuck (a very good Mark Ruffalo), of whom he knows very little, agrees.
The Vanishing is a suspenseful, engaging thriller that provides us with interesting characters, a halfway plausible setup, and then destroys everything that has come before in the last ten minutes.
The premise: While on vacation in France, Dutch native Saskia goes missing at a rest stop. Three years later, Saskia’s husband, Rex, is still searching for her. He tirelessly puts up posters around Amsterdam, gets interviewed on the local news, and even drives away his new girlfriend, Lieneke, with his obsession.
We meet the kidnapper, Raymond. He’s a family man, clean-cut, well-off, a chemist. This is how he knows the properties of chloroform, which he used on his victim. Played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, in a spookily calm performance, Raymond moves with mercurial ease between having dinner with his wife and kids, and rehearsing his diabolical plan right down to the nth detail, which includes monitoring his heart rate. He tries his scheme on a series of women–and ends in failure each time. And then he meets Saskia, whom he charms, in a terrific scene, over who has enough Francs for a cup of coffee.
[Note: This review is for Michael Haneke's original film, not the remake starring Naomi Watts.]
Michael Haneke’s notorious thriller about a family taken hostage by two young sociopaths at their sprawling lake home. The captors play an increasingly disturbing game of mental torture–in the form of witty repartee, lies and humiliation–that leads to appalling physical brutality, all for their own amusement. I wish I could say more about the plot, but that’s all there is.
Haneke does a good job of ratcheting up the tension, which gives the film a sense of power, and the actors are convincing in demanding roles. But all the obvious allusions to the randomness of violence or disaffected youth, or attempts to make a statement about audience voyeurism, can’t disguise the fact that this is really just an exercise in nihilistic violence. Some believe the film to be satire, but I can’t imagine that anyone could find this subject matter even remotely amusing–and I don’t want to know anyone who does. This is a bleak film, dark and depressing in a way few films are, and that equates to utter hopelessness, which isn’t a fun, interesting, or engaging expression of cinema.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
when first we practice to deceive.”
That quote kept turning over in my mind as I watched the great Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows, a film where every character is guilty of murder, and each of them is unaware they have an iron-clad alibi. It also happens to be one of the most stylish examples of 50′s French noir I’ve seen.
Florence and Julien (Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet) are lovers, fresh off plotting the murder of Florence’s husband, Simon, the chairman of a powerful oil conglomerate. The plan goes off almost without a hitch, as Julien shoots Simon, makes it look like suicide, and then creates an impenetrable locked-room mystery. Julien realizes he has left behind a critical piece of evidence, goes back to retrieve it, and gets stuck in an elevator. Florence, believing Julien has forsaken her, wanders the streets at night, forlorn, rain hammering down on her. She looks in cafe windows and watches young lovers canoodle over coffee, as solemn jazz music plays on the soundtrack. As I said, perfect French noir.
Twice this week I’ve been shocked and surprised by films about which I can reveal very little. First up? Christopher Smith’s Triangle, a direct-to-DVD horror film out of Britain that’s so much better than it deserves to be.
Melissa George plays a single mother who joins her friends on a weekend yachting expedition. The boat capsizes in a sudden storm, and all seems to point toward certain death, until a cruise ship appears out of the fog. The survivors climb on board, only to discover that the ship is deserted, despite evidence that it shouldn’t be. George sees–or thinks she sees–someone running down the stairs, setting the stage for a Groundhog Day-style thriller, as George relives the same events over and over, trying each time to change the outcome so that she can flee the derelict cruise ship and get home to her son.