Split Screen is a new series of articles focusing on two films that pair well together as a double feature. The connection could be anything – themes, style, cast, or maybe a combination of many things. The films I select will be those I generally consider to be very good. I’m in no way suggesting you should feel the same. The subjective nature of cinema, or any art, is what makes conversations about it so provocative.

The objective is to spur conversation. Tear apart my kooky analysis, or shower me with praise for opening your eyes to new ideas.

At the very least, maybe I’ll add some good flicks to your cinematic radar.

Ah February, when aisles at big box retailers turn decidedly pinkish/red and humans pretend Conversation Hearts candies are edible. (They aren’t. Just because you can stencil words onto sidewalk chalk, doesn’t mean you should eat it.)

Valentine’s Day.

It’s the time of the year where relationships are put to the test, success or failure teetering on the purchase of just the right gift to say, “I love you.” (Helpful Hint: Anything displayed at the register of a Cumberland Farms is likely to be frowned upon)

Cineplexes fill up with fans eager to engage in the latest Fifty Shades of Penthouse Forum film, and streaming services load up the greatest hits from Ryan Reynold’s early ‘aughts iMDB page.

But, for our purposes here, I’m going to focus on the antithesis of Valentine’s Day… the relationship gone bad. Call me the anti-cupid.

The two films that came to mind when I conceived this particular theme were 2010’s Blue Valentine (written and directed by Derek Cianfrance), and 2011’s Take This Waltz (written and directed by Sarah Polley.)

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine cross-examines the relationship between married couple Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). Bouncing timelines back and forth between the early stages of exciting, youthful romance, and the tumultuous road to dissolution, the film pulls no punches in exposing the harsh realities of broken love.

Staying focused strictly on the relationship, and how each action shapes its direction, allows the film to breathe naturally. As Dean and Cindy’s marriage becomes increasingly combustive, we feel the rawness of the emotional strain tugging at them. We are given just the right amount of exposition to acquaint us with both characters, helping us understand the impact each of their actions has on the overall relationship.

In the end, there’s no way for the audience to dodge the inevitable heartbreak, even though we can see it forming throughout the film.

Take This Waltz

Take This Waltz centers on another doomed marriage, but takes a different approach to getting there. Here, Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogan), gradually become distant partners. Lou, oblivious to Margot’s feelings of boredom and loneliness, is focused mainly on creating a chicken cook book. Margot just wants to find the fire that once burned in her relationship.

Enter the good looking, single neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby); a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, capable of turning on an innocent charm just effective enough to lure the vulnerable Margot. Daniel is a master of manipulation, constantly planting seeds to entice, but always leaving Margot to make decisions for herself.

The film takes the infidelity trope and bends it by focusing on the female as instigator. Doing so feels refreshing compared to the usual patriarchal charlatan character that often accompanies stories in this genre.

By the end of the film we are left with deeply flawed characters with honest feelings of regret and remorse. It’s an expose of human nature and the need for acceptance and intimacy, turning a lens on the consequences of acting on those needs outside of the marital union. It’s sad to see two people who clearly have feelings for each other fail because of their inability to provide the emotional support an effective relationship needs to succeed.

The Connecting Point

The prevailing theme in these films is relationships, and the tenuous line between succeeding and failing in them.

Even though we get to essentially the same place by the end of Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz, our couples take very different paths to get there.

It’s hard to determine which film feels more authentic to our preconceived ideas on modern relationships, because both manage to feel like plausible scenarios. I’m guessing we all know people who have separated due to irreconcilable differences (Blue Valentine), or due to infidelity (Take This Waltz). And I’ll wager that we’ve taken sides in each of those instances. What’s unique about these two films is the way in which the characters are fleshed out, making it difficult to choose who to feel most empathetic towards. Even actions we cannot condone at least can be understood from a perspective of what instigated those actions.

By the end of Blue Valentine we’re leaning more toward #TeamCindy, due to Dean’s progression into booze and aggression. But Dean is also very clearly in love with Cindy- wanting to do the right things to earn her affection and trust- yet can’t quite get out of his own way long enough to succeed at it. Instead of trying to win back Cindy, Dean focuses his attention on trying not to lose her, which proves futile.

In Take This Waltz, we can hate more easily on Margot since she is the one that strays into another man’s bed, but Lou is so ignorant of his lack of attention to her that we can at the very least understand the frustration that led her down that road. Just like many real life relationships, the lack of communication is what ultimately dooms Margot and Lou. Her passive aggressive hints at needing more from Lou just fly over his head.

Both films feel like a gut punch in the end. We generally want to see both relationships succeed, but each fall into familiar couples traps that prevent a happy ending, just as they often do in real life.

This makes each film relatable.

Common Thread

Michelle Williams.

On the surface, Cindy and Margot might have a lot of similarities, but Williams adds subtle personality quirks to each character, making them unique to each other.

Cindy has spent her life trying to overcome her father’s demanding aggression. She has a history a poor relationships, or at least one that we know of. It stands to reason she’s going to keep falling into similar circumstances because it’s what she knows.

But Williams plays Cindy with a self awareness that at least keeps her trying to make the right choices. Dean has a lot of moments signaling he is a good and decent man. But every so often, he presents himself in ways that align a bit too close with what Cindy is trying so desperately to avoid.

Every frustration and regret has etched itself on Williams’ face, and the look of defeat in her eyes is haunting and sad.

Margot’s backstory isn’t as neatly fleshed out as Cindy’s, but based on her current arrangement, it could be reasonable to think she comes from a much more stable upbringing.

Here, Williams still manages to convey frustration and sadness, but with much more of a mischievous tone. Her sad, lonely eyes are at once defeated and contemplating. Margot has a secret, and Williams gives just enough to be both confident and nervous as she exists in her double life.

The Moment

What is “the moment?” It’s the scene in the film that most resonates, at least for me. It could be revealing subtext or providing the “aha” moment in which we connect some of the narrative dots. Or, it just might be a cool scene that stands out regardless of specific motives behind it.

In Blue Valentine, it was a point of no return for Dean and Cindy. Frustrations had been bubbling up throughout the film, tensions were at a peak, and Dean’s self destruction crosses some lines from which he cannot return.

Dean, angry and drunk, shows up at the hospital where Cindy works and causes a scene.

It signifies a final nail in the coffin of this doomed marriage, and both Gosling and Williams are at their best.

In Take This Waltz, the moment signifies everything that presumably crosses the minds of two people engaged in forbidden love, without one word being spoken.

Margot and Daniel are on an amusement park ride called The Scrambler. As they whirl around, so many different expressions come across their faces; joy, sadness, melancholy, and even regret. In the end, it’s hard to tell which of these moods wins out.

Plus, The Buggles.

Consider This

Here’s a topic for discussion…

How do you feel the dissolution of relationships in these films is shaped by the perspectives of the writer/director, one of whom is male (Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine), and the other female (Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz)?

Closing Thoughts

Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz share a lot of similarities but are uniquely different experiences. Each offers a different perspective on how a relationship might struggle and ultimately fail, but neither is afraid to explore the harsh truths that come with it.

Each film is helped by great writing and directing, and a top notch cast willing and able to express deep emotions and vulnerability in order to bring their stories to life.

This isn’t meant to be a deep dive analysis at hidden subtext in these films, just some insights to ponder and discuss.

Let me know if you have seen either of these films, and if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said.

phpxnctheamSTEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and is mildly amused by pandas.

Steve’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Despite all of the turmoil oozing out of Hollywood this year, 2017 still managed to supply us with a bevy of wonderful films to enjoy. I feel like a lot of blockbusters rose to the next level this year, and as always, there were plenty of fantastic independent films to balance everything out. My top 10 of the year is indicative of this balance.
As always, there were a handful of potentials I just haven’t had a chance to see yet, either due to lack of time, or due to the geographical restrictions of living in the great tundra that is Maine, where we aren’t typically privy to early releases. So, some of the buzz worthy films that I haven’t yet peeped… The Darkest HourPhantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, and Wonderstruck. I’m sure there are a few more, but these stand out for me at the moment.

Shuffling the top 10 deck was difficult this year, simply because there were so many excellent films to choose from. I seriously feel that many of my 11-20 list could easily be considered for higher standing. But, as they say, you have to be prepared to kill your darlings.

I’m not going to regale you with any commentary on my “not quite” top ten (ie: 11-20), but I’ll list them, and you should know that all are fantastic and should be on your cinematic radar.

Those are…

20     Logan
19     Beauty & the Beast
18     Detroit
17     Baby Driver
16     Gerald’s Game
15     The Big Sick
14     Star Wars: The Last Jedi
13     Brigsby Bear
12     mother!
11     Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And the top 10…
Steven Soderbergh comes out of “retirement” to give us Ocean’s Eleven with rednecks, but he never cheapens the experience with tired cultural cliches. Okay, there are a few tired cultural cliches, but they don’t drag the film down. The characters have depth and the actors are all in on this madcap adventure which finds them plotting to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway on the 4th of July. What could possibly go wrong?
This is the film Patriot’s Day wishes it was. Choosing to focus less on the capture of the perpetrators of the cowardly bombing of the Boston Marathon, Stronger instead follows the story of bombing victim Jeff Bauman, played here with ferocious abandon by Jake Gyllenhaal, and the struggle of coming to terms with being thrust into the spotlight as a symbol of hope for an entire nation.
The rebooted Apes trilogy comes to an end with one of the most heartfelt and well crafted war movies in recent memory. This series has gotten better with each installment, hitting all the right notes in the telling of Caesar’s story. The special effects are unmatched. And I’m coming around to the idea that Andy Serkis deserves some recognition from the Academy for his motion capture work.
7 – Get Out
It’s not often you find a horror film getting so much attention during the awards push, but Jordan Peele’s take on race relations in our society disguised as a genre film is simply outstanding in its structure. Funny, scary, and poignant- wrapped up in a tight script, Get Out is a breath of well intended and needed fresh air- conveying a necessary message in our current cultural state.
With undoubtedly one of the best scenes of the year- as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) ascends to her rightful place as warrior princess in the Battle of No Man’s Land, a female icon is finally emblazoned into the fabric of cinematic geekdom. Director Patty Jenkins was without a doubt the right choice to bring Diana’s story to life on the big screen, and to see the impact on the faces of empowered women and girls is easily one of the hallmarks of the 2017 cinematic year.


Based on the making of the 2003 “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, The Room, James Franco deep dives into the persona of eccentric writer/director Tommy Wiseau and the calamity that surrounded the  production of his cinematic oddity. Watching The Room is highly recommended before jumping into The Disaster Artist. Having that context greatly enhances the appreciation for what Franco achieved…..Oh, Hi, Mark!


A deeply moving look at grieving and loneliness, A Ghost Story will not be for everyone. Each scene is a haunting portrayal of loss, shown from both sides of the equation- the living that must move on, and the dead that cannot. This is a deeply emotional and affecting film, shot in a way that can often be uncomfortably slow of pace. Those with a lack of patience may struggle, but if given a chance, this is a film that will resonate on a deep level.


Having worked for Disney for nine years, this story felt very close to home for me. Knowing there were pockets of people living far beneath the poverty line mere minutes from the front gates of the Happiest Place on Earth make me feel equal parts ignorant and culpable. This film is an unflinching look at people living day to day in the shadow of a world that has essentially left them behind. Yet, in all of its squalor, the spirit of six year old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her friends is rooted in an innocence that is often as hopeful as it is bleak.

2 – I, TONYA

Margot Robbie is fantastic as figure skating’s bad girl, Tonya Harding. Director Craig Gillespie shoots the film in a way that accentuates the zany humor of the scandal surrounding the 1992 olympic games, but he never cheapens the awful abuse levied against Harding by her family and her on again / off again love interest, Jeff Gillooly (here portrayed by Sebastien Stan). Harding, while not completely innocent, is treated mostly as a product of her environment, unable to free herself of the bad influences in her life, and she comes away here as a mostly sympathetic figure. Allison Janney, as Harding’s Mom, is a stand out.


In what seems to be a renaissance of coming of age films, Lady Bird raises the bar even further, perhaps to a place unaccessible for whatever comes next. Greta Gerwig’s scriptwriting is so tight, it’s difficult to find any flaw in the narrative of high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, all at once head strong and in search of an identity. Her contentious relationship with her mother Marion (an award worthy Laurie Metcalf) provides the crux for everything happening on screen. The result is a heartfelt and sometimes difficult look at love and familial relationships, told in a refreshingly honest way.

Steve’s first cinematic experience dates back to 1972, when his Aunt took him to see Dumbo at Buffalo’s historic North Park Theater.  With the seed planted, his love for movies has blossomed into a full time obsession over the years, and he will happily engage in conversation about all things film related, especially the works of Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino.  He also manages to find time to keep current on the plethora of great television shows and comic book series, and build upon his retro vinyl collection.

He lives in South Portland, Maine with his wife and a menagerie of small furry pets.  When not engaged in the latest pop culture phenomenon, he spends time working on creative writing projects or updating his personal blog, popcornconfessional.com.  Follow him on social media at facebook.com/popcornconfessional/ and Twitter@woosterbbb.


In an understated though pivotal moment in the film, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) posits to Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) that perhaps love and attention are one in the same. It’s a subtle theme that lives within Lady Bird, the feature directorial debut of writer/actress Greta Gerwig.

Culling bits and pieces from her own early aughts upbringing in Sacramento, California, Gerwig skillfully maneuvers her characters throughout the film in a way that feels uniquely honest and realistic. Every time you think the story is headed toward obvious conclusions, she pivots, landing in a place completely unexpected. Each character, even those with the slightest of screen time, feels fleshed out and genuine. Setting her main family dynamic against a struggling middle class existence, eschewing traditional white bread tropes and first world problems for an intimate look at familial relationships not backdropped by unrealistic lavishness, gives Lady Bird a refreshing tone. It’s not that Gerwig doesn’t explore social and economic class as a foil for her protagonists, but she doesn’t dwell there. Gerwig is far too accomplished a writer to waste time on exploitation of the haves versus the have-nots, instead allowing her characters to live and breathe within a realistic world, facing and conquering (or not) realistic problems, and landing in a place her audience can believe in and relate to.

The catalyst for all of this is of course Ronan as the titular “Lady Bird”, a moniker she gave to herself, presumably as part of her rebellion against her hyper-critical mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird dreams of the day she can be free of “soul-sucking” Sacramento- the “midwest” of California as she labels it- and go live where the culture is. She is equal parts inconsiderate and selfish, but is impossible to dislike.  Attribute that to the talent of Ronan, who embodies Lady Bird with an inquisitive charm, albeit with an irascible discontent for her mom’s inability to rationally communicate with her.

Gerwig gives a masterclass on adolescent relationships. Whether Lady Bird is navigating the waters of first love- the boyish good looks and sweet naiveté of Danny (Lucas Hedges) and the rebellious, rock-n-roll charm of Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) each providing unique challenges- or best friendships, both real- a scene stealing Beanie Feldstein as the perky, insecure Julie… or fake- the high on social stature, “cool girl”, Jenna (Odeya Rush)- there is an innocent honesty to each. It would have been easy for Gerwig to assign a villainous arc to numerous characters, but she instead decides to keep these kids as authentic as possible. We will like or dislike certain characters, but there are no cruel intentions behind any of them, even when they make poor decisions.

But it’s the family dynamic that exists within the center of the film. Tracey Letts, as Lady Bird’s father Larry, gives such an emotionally understated performance. He is the anti-Marion, choosing to internalize his struggles. While Marion is outwardly critical, Larry hides his emotions behind computer solitaire and a bottle of anti-depressants. He would rather see his daughter happy than express his hurt at having to drop her off a block from school to hide her embarrassment over his uncool car. Lady Bird’s adopted brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live in girlfriend, Shelly (Marielle Scott) don’t get a lot to do, but both serve the story at appropriate moments.

Of course none of this works without the tour de force performance by Metcalf. Marion is hopelessly passive aggressive toward Lady Bird, and their interactions more often than not devolve into an argumentative tit for tat ending in regretful insults and shattered feelings. These women are outright mean and spiteful to each other, but when Ronan and Metcalf are locked in, both performers are firing on all cylinders and will be hard for Academy voters to ignore when Oscar voting commences. Also credit Gerwig’s ultra tight script, which never incites false emotions with overly dramatic beats. The tensions between Lady Bird and Marion feel completely organic, and their frustrations with each other are a natural conclusion given their strong personalities.

At one point, Lady Bird asks of her mother, “Do you like me?” The exasperated Marion replies, “Of course I love you.” Lady Bird asks again…”But do you LIKE me?” Marion can only stare back at her daughter, unable to find the right words, just as she has throughout the film. Through all of the hurtful, contentious interactions between Lady Bird and her mom, there is clearly an underlying love of each other, even if neither of them can convey it properly. It exists within each concerned glare from Marion’s tired eyes. It exists when Lady Bird is quick to jump to her mother’s defense whenever an outsider speaks down on her. And it exists profoundly in the film’s final sequences, in moments of regret and self realization. It’s nice that Gerwig doesn’t completely wrap her ending up in a bow, instead opting for something ambiguously hopeful. Lady Bird is finding the best version of herself through trial and error; an opportunity in which her mother has worked many double shifts trying to provide her. And there is that final moment, when Lady Bird commits her confession ironically outside the church she has just exited, not contentiously and not spiteful.

This is as close to flawless as a coming of age film gets. It proves that love can hurt. Sometimes the very things we try so desperately to get away from are the very things we seek when we feel lost without them. Sometimes all that matters is what’s scribbled on some crumpled up note paper, or a pretty dress found on a thrift store clothes rack, in a dance with a true best friend, or a well timed Dave Matthews song.

Love exists if you are paying attention.



MOVIE REVIEW: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Bringing the members of an estranged family together for a series of dysfunctional hijinx is nothing new in film, and writer/director Noah Baumbach (Mistress America, Frances Ha) has built himself quite a filmography while dealing from this particular creative deck. He feels like a throwback to early Woody Allen, creating characters with quick wit and sharp tongues; riffing off each other’s eccentricities in ways both comical and sincere. Also akin to Allen, the majority of Baumbach’s stories utilize understated New York City locales as backdrop, eschewing grandiose settings for simple brownstones and corner eateries that lend authenticity to his ensemble.

In his latest work, The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach explores similar themes to his exceptional 2005 film, The Squid and the Whale. Family dynamics as related to divorce, bitterness, and regret swirl throughout Baumbach’s tight script; his characters learning and growing as each suppressed resentment is gradually exposed.

The patriarch of the Meyerowitz family is Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a man who leads life with equal parts cynicism and narcissism, both traits having an adverse effect on his relationships with his three grown children. From behind a grizzled old man beard, Hoffman plays Harold with a wry sense of entitlement. A once semi-successful artist, he is continuously drawn to the allure of unearned accolades and notoriety. Hoffman is doing his best work in years, and this role is tailor made for his matter of fact style.

Harold’s three children, Danny (Adam Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and Matthew (Ben Stiller), have journeyed to New York to celebrate Harold’s upcoming show at a local college. Clearly the first time the siblings have been together in some time, and exacerbated by Harold’s quirky sensibilities, it’s only a matter of time before the animosities each child carries from their upbringing bubble up like a spring loaded, therapist’s couch confessional.  Sibling rivalry and a strong sense of being unfairly judged for their decisions in life by their father has led all three kids to a place of resentment, in varying parts towards Harold and each other.

Elizabeth Marvel is given the least to do amongst the three kids, but her sour, frumpy Jean manages to steal every scene she’s in. It’s unfortunate Baumbach doesn’t do a lot with Jean, and her point of view suffers as a result. She comes off as someone who just accepts her lot in life, with little control over her destiny nor motivation to challenge it. Ben Stiller is also up to task, but his Matthew doesn’t feel like a stretch for him as an actor. There are stark similarities between this role and his turn as Chas Tenenbaum in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Matthew is driven by unreasonable expectations for success, but his insecurities dictate that he will alienate those around him with an incessant need to prove his worth.

The true standout here is Adam Sandler. Every once in a while, Sandler will dabble in a dramatic turn and remind us that there is some talent to be found there. I really wish he would stick with roles such as this and stop with the lazy “vacation with my bros” comedy crap that has devalued his stock as an actor over the years. Sandler’s Danny is a nuanced, three dimensional character filled with hurt and resentment, and Sandler digs deep in a lot of scenes to bring forth those emotions. He even gets to champion the daddy/daughter dynamic missing between Harold/Jean, in scenes with his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten), who is starting her freshman year in college. There is a particular scene between the two which involves a piano riff and a made up song about how they need each other and how they will always be there. It’s a moving moment, and a testament to how Danny is determined not to become his own father.

Baumbach adds a few bit characters as window dressing, most notably Maureen (Emma Thompson) as Harold’s current wife; a frazzled, inebriated eccentric with colored glasses and frumpy smocks who looks like she spent a lot of time getting into the 60’s.

One of the best things about Baumbach is how he manages to infuse drama with hilarious, natural comedy. Whenever the story takes a serious tone, there is always a sharp line such as, “Maureen, get your granddaughter more shark.” It reminds us that real life is going on around these people, and their struggles in life are balanced by moments that are meant to be laughed at. Even though we know there are no people in this world that hold conversations quite as naturally as those in the film, it’s that balance that gives Baumbach’s work authenticity.

One gripe I have with Baumbach is that his film’s aren’t very diverse. I’m not that guy that gets caught up in checking boxes, but if New York City is your muse, it would be nice to occasionally see a person of color do something more than serve your food at a cafe. A lot of his films feel culled from the world of HBO’s Girls (a show I adored, for the record); a show that was also criticized for its lack of diversity.

If you find yourself drawn to Baumbach’s other work, specifically The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, and Mistress America, I think you’ll find a lot to like in The Meyerowitz Stories.  This is a film that aligns neatly within the filmmaker’s wheelhouse, with the same biting wit and interpersonal drama that drives most of his narratives. The calculated risk of allowing Adam Sandler to carry the torch pays off in a big way. Baumbach typically won’t leave his characters in a bad place at the end of his films, and nothing changes here. If you tend to like satisfying resolutions, not to insinuate that all of the past damage is undone, but each character finding themselves no worse for the wear, you can rest assured the Meyerowitz’s will find themselves in a similar spot in the end. – By Steve Clifton





MOVIE REVIEW: The Glass Castle

How does the old saying go? You can’t choose your family? If you could, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would willingly pick the Walls family. The Glass Castle, based off the memoir of journalist Jeannette Walls, tells the story of a dysfunctional family living way below the poverty line, desperate to find a balance between survival and hope. Held afloat by powerful performances by Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) and co-writer  Andrew Lanham (The Shack) do a decent job in spotlighting  the shocking day to day experience of being a child of Rex (Harrelson) and Rose Mary Walls (Naomi Watts.) But this membership holds no privileges.

The Walls structure their parenting (use that term in the loosest possible way) philosophy around indifference and empty promises. The result is an environment suited to reckless endangerment, emotional and physical abuse, and a disinterest in pursuing any exploit that might better their lot in life. A lot of this neglect is shadowed by a delusion that everything will work out, which only serves to justify their lack of effort and responsibility.  Added to that is the drunken state Rex usually resides in, and the blissful ignorant haze that gets Rose through life. It’s a frustrating and often uncomfortable watch- one that is all too easy to judge from the sidelines- yet one that is peppered with just enough sentimental moments to play with our emotions and rage against our instincts as rational human beings.

Where The Glass Castle falls short is in its inability to push the boundaries outside the Walls’ family bubble.  Something the book does very well is focus on the societal impact of living in this level of squalor, especially on the children. They are bullied at school. There is a constant fear of social workers intervening. The images the book conjures in your mind are infinitely more graphic than what is depicted onscreen. The film brushes over a lot of that in favor of keeping within the confines of interpersonal family relationships.

Told primarily through the lens of young Jeanette, played with a wide-eyed precociousness by Ella Anderson (The Boss), all of our emotional chips are wagered on the fallout from Rex’s indiscretions and how they impact his family. Promises of one day striking it rich and building a fantastical “glass castle”, Rex manipulates Jeanette with false hope. As his children get older and more wiser to his bullshit, Rex flees deeper into his alcoholism, leading to much darker situations that are likely to leave audience members sickened with disgust. But, throughout all of the hurt and anger justifiably levied against their parents by the children, there is always an air of unconditional love lingering. That’s where a lot of people are struggling to hang their hat.

Because of the focus on Jeanette and Rex, Harrelson and Larson get the lion’s share of dramatics to handle. Harrelson is doing some of his best work here. It’s a role that seems built for his irascible style. Larson continues to prove she’s worthy of acclaim.  Even though she really only gets one “awards worthy” scene, it’s a powerful moment in which she’s able to express Jeanette’s long festering frustration with her parents, and it’s quite satisfying as a viewer that has had to watch these kids go through Hell for ninety minutes. I’d like to say the remaining characters leave an impression, but their moments simply aren’t as impactful. Watts is never given much to do other than hang around in a lot of scenes as the compliant waif to Rex’s aggressions. The other kids are there more or less because they have to be.

So the difficult question to answer is, do the filmmakers sprinkle a bit too much sugar on the film to make it more palatable? Do the arguably criminal actions of the Wall’s level of neglect warrant a mostly happy ending? Most of the critics serving negative reviews I’ve seen seem to want to die on this particular hill. The consensus is that transgressions such as these couldn’t possibly align with themes of redemption and forgiveness.  Admittedly, I’m not sure I would be able to find that level within myself, but it’s easy to say that as an outsider looking in. The book and the film seem to indicate that the power of love is strong within this hot mess of a family. Only Jeanette Walls and her three siblings get to decide whether that’s a worthy ending.



Might as well get this out of the way. A Ghost Story is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine any middle ground here. You’re gonna love it, or hate it. Personally, count me as a “love it.” The film worked for me on every happy, sad, frustrating, mournful, tedious, emotional level. Writer/Director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) has crafted one of the most atmospheric, surreal cinematic experiences to hit theaters in a long time.

So what happens when we die? In this universe, Lowery posits that we have a choice to make. We can move on, wherever that leads us, or hang on, searching for ways to reconnect with what and who we’ve left behind. In A Ghost Story, our leading man is known only as C (Casey Affleck), and he’s chosen door #2 after a sudden death leaves him caught between this world and whatever comes next. He has left behind M (Rooney Mara), broken by the grief she feels over C’s loss. What transpires over the course of the next hour plus is a deeply affecting emotional journey designed to make the viewer feel….something. Your milage may vary on what that something truly is.

The film is shot with the intention of making things awkward and frustrating. You are expected to react, positively OR negatively, but at the very least, honestly. There are a couple of ways Lowery succeeds here…

First off, with death typically comes grief; perhaps the most personal of emotional responses. How we manage grief as individuals is a variable, not a singular experience shared by the greater whole. We spend a lot of time with M immediately following C’s death, and the camera of cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo lingers on her, sometimes for an uncomfortable amount of time. M’s emptiness- her broken soul- is palpable, and it’s sometimes difficult to fixate on her, feeling guilty for intruding in such a personal experience. There is a standout scene in which we watch M eat a pie, left for her by a neighbor. And when I say we watch her eat a pie, I mean the WHOLE pie. And I mean a solid five minutes of a singular shot as M devours this pie, and though she never looks up, we can sense her sorrow…her anger…her incessant need to do something to regain a sense of control, even if that involves something as simple as engaging in a gluttonous display of stress eating. I got more emotional resonance from this scene than I did in some full movies I’ve seen this year.  It’s important to point out how affecting this scene is and how wonderful Mara is in pulling it off. For us as viewers, it serves as the point of no return regarding whether or not we’ll decide to see it all through.

Secondly, there is a concept of time which serves as the central theme in A Ghost Story. More specifically, the passage of time, and the infinite loneliness saddled within it. How, pardon the pun, haunting must it be to be caught in a no man’s land, unable to communicate with the people right in front of you, unable to do anything other than watch them move on from you. You are literally watching yourself being erased and there is nothing to be done about it. Eventually, you have forgotten what it is you were even looking for. This is how C spends his endless moments. Standing, staring, existing. Affleck doesn’t have much heavy lifting to do here.  He spends the bulk of the film under a sheet with black eye holes, but somehow this never feels like a cheap parlor trick. It could’ve easily been a cheesy gimmick, like some sort of link to a Charlie Brown Halloween, but it ends up working well.

Eventually, Lowery explores some interesting ideas around time continuum, adding elements to his narrative which expand on the concept of existing with the burden of infinite purposelessness. The atmosphere, one of quiet stillness, where at times you could easily hear a pin drop, is aided by the soft, funeral score of Daniel  Hart.  On occasion, Lowery provides a jolt as the living world intersects with the lingering spirits on screen, and yes, I said spirits. I won’t give anything away, but yes, C might have to carry the burden of loneliness, but he isn’t always alone.

Movies like this are why the art house was invented. I’ll say this… if you can’t get yourself past the pie scene without rolling your eyes in frustration, just cut the chord and go for tacos. If you can hang on though, be prepared for an unique experience; one which may occupy your thoughts for quite a while. I’d be curious to hear from someone who has recently lost someone close, and to see how the film resonates with them. There is sadness in abundance, but also glimpses of hope, and perhaps even catharsis.




MOVIE REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes

I keep wondering what we did to deserve this. In this era of blockbuster fatigue and sequel after sequel of middling franchises grasping for every last drop of blood from the turnip (I’m looking at you Pirates and Transformers), how do we rate a trilogy of films, about talking monkeys of all things, that has been handled with such care- with such dedication to story- as to be considered in the discussion of the greatest trilogies of all time?

The first two films in the series, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, are both above average films that work well in unison as part of a collective whole. The conclusion, War for the Planet of the Apes, piggybacking off the climax of it’s predecessor, is masterful, in more ways than one.

A couple of things elevate this final chapter to its lofty height…

First, Michael Giacchino‘s score is on a different level. Music exists in film to accentuate the experience, ramping up or slowing down as needed.   A lot of time, the music just exists as white noise in the background, unnoticed. But when that music works its way into your core being, ebbing and flowing with the tempo of the visual experience, forcing you to feel every crescendo of action or tender emotional beat, music has done more than accompany.  The music here transcends conventional usefulness and forces the viewer to swallow the film whole.

That’s what a film’s score should do. It looks for the viewer who isn’t engaged (how that could be in this instance I don’t know), grabs them by the ear-hole, and makes them be engaged. In War, the dramatic beats of the timpani as a call to arms, or in the quietest of moments when the distant ding of a triangle accompanies a fallen teardrop, Giacchino provides emotional guidance, almost cathartic in its precise execution.

Secondly, Andy Serkis. I’ve been that guy over the past decade claiming what Serkis does is not true acting, and all of the hubbub over championing him for Academy honors as such should be beaten down. Well, color me converted. Serkis IS Caesar.  Every twitch- every nuance- every look into the depths of Caesar’s tired, battle weary eyes is like looking into the inner core of someone we should feel guilty for having bothered.  Serkis has taken motion capture to a masterful level. Not only should he be in the discussion of best actor, there should probably be an award adorned with his name given out for the best in the motion capture arts each year.

That said, Weta Digital, the New Zealand based visual effects company spearheaded by Peter Jackson, should hold exclusive rights to do all VFX work in all films from this point forward. In all three films, the way in which the apes move on screen is seamless.  It’s near impossible to tell that the humans and the apes aren’t truly coexisting within this world. When we aren’t distracted by sketchy CGI, we can concentrate on the important things, like getting caught up in the story and the characters. Isn’t that novel.

As for the story, is it any good? In my opinion, absolutely. There is a Shakespearean quality to this overall story, coming forward in earnest midway through the second film with the relationship between Caesar and his nemesis, Koba (Toby Kebbel).  In his third film, Caesar is forced to come to terms with the fallout of his actions leading up to this point, as a new dramatic turn of events muddies the waters of his already fragile psyche. Caesar’s will to lead is tested as new priorities consume him.

Themes of morality have hovered over this series from the onset. The Apes are intentionally constructed as sympathetic characters.  Beasts yes, but never in a way that suggests they seek anything other than a means to coexist with humans.  The humans, well, they just can’t help themselves from doing what humans do.  It’s the human’s God complex exhibited in the first film, along with a nasty little flu bug,  that brought us to this point, and the humans still can’t find a way to settle differences without succumbing to destructive tactics. Eradicate enemies. Destroy. Kill. It’s never, hey, these monkeys are freaking talking to us in English! Because, human.

The main human villain here is Woody Harrelson, known only in the film as The Colonel.  This is undoubtedly a role designed for the type of actor Harrelson is. No nonsense, ruthless, and devoid of any semblance of ethical fortitude. He isn’t constructed with a ton of depth, and he doesn’t need to be. His lengthy diatribe of why he is how he is warrants perhaps just a touch of sympathy from the viewer- at least we understand where he’s coming from- but Harrelson urges just enough dickishness from the character to keep any good will he might have earned at arms length.

Also notable is young actress Amiah Miller, as the orphaned girl, Nova, who is forced to tag along with Caesar and his posse on their journey. Miller’s scenes, especially during times of emotional strife, are next level. Stricken with a side effect of the Simian Flu in which she loses her ability to speak, Miller must carry the full weight of her character with her eyes and expressions. The more subdued the scene, the more brilliant is Miller’s performance. One scene in particular, as one of the apes is wounded, will stick with you long after the film, and the credit goes to Miller’s unspoken emotional gravitas.

Adding a touch of levity to the film is newcomer, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). His presence is welcome as the story does travel down some weighty, emotional paths.  Nothing that Zahn does with the character pushes the film into corniness, but he does provide a couple of laugh-out-loud moments.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. There is an emotional yet oddly cathartic final scene which sums up Caesar’s journey to protect and serve the Apes. It works as both a catalyst for future installments of the franchise or as a final exclamation point if that’s what the studio prefers to do. Director Matt Reeves has created such an immersive, thoughtful experience with endless re-watchability.  These damn, dirty apes are the gold standard from which the summer blockbuster should be based upon from here on out.



The Best Films of 2017 (So Far)

It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through 2017.

Traditionally, the first half of the year is a mixed bag. We must endure the dumping grounds known as January and February, hoping maybe something of note will slip through the cracks.  Summer seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, as some big budget players try to get a jump on the blockbuster season with notable releases in March and April.  And then the popcorn season officially begins in earnest on that first week of May, and the cineplexes fill up with loud explosions, CGI, and cute animated critters.

When looking back on films you’ve enjoyed from January to July, it’s always interesting to think about how many of them will actually land high on your top ten list come year’s end.  Let’s face it, for many of us, some of the best films roll out after October first, either as Oscar bait or holiday blockbusters.  The back half of 2017 is loaded with some serious heavyweights in both regards, so it’ll be fun to see how it all shakes out.

That said, the staff at Feelin’ Film has compiled our individual top three films of the first half of the year, presented for your reading enjoyment below.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on our picks, and invite you to leave your thoughts and own lists in the comments section or on the Facebook page.  Or, if you just want to mock Aaron for his pretentiousness, that’s okay too.

Without further ado….

#3  Steve – Beauty & the Beast

I admit I’m a bit bias here, with having been a slave to the Mouse House for nine years of my existence.  I met my better half at Disney and our first date was actually seeing the animated version in theaters.  Personally, I think this is one of Disney’s best tales, and the live action film was everything I hoped it would be.  Haters gonna hate, but I think Emma Watson was a perfect choice for the role of Belle, and the production value is a high point.

#3  Don – Lucky

In a rare and perfect leading role for his stature, Harry Dean Stanton play the titular nicknamed war veteran, diner regular, and barfly slowly coming to grips with his own quickly approaching mortality.  In “…if it hasn’t killed me yet” fashion, the rough edges of this straight shooter melt away to a warm heart at the core as he looks into himself and his small town connections.  Lucky washes its salty kick with a soft finish, without a wasted spec of storytelling patience.

#3  Patrick – Spider-Man: Homecoming

My man Peter Parker comes swinging onto the big screen once again, but this time I think the filmmakers found the perfect balance of what makes your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man work.  Tom Holland is a great long-term investment, and the deal between Sony and Marvel Studios is a win-win for EVERYONE.  I’m looking forward to seeing how creative both companies will get with this latest and hopefully final iteration of the web-slinger.

#3  Jeremy – Spider-Man: Homecoming

I didn’t think it would be possible for me to enjoy a comic book film more than I enjoyed Wonder Woman, but Spider-Man proved me wrong.  It’s a perfect combination of cast and story; comedy and drama; thrills and fun.

#3  Aaron – Get Out

This place on my list is extremely competitive.  Personal Shopper, The Beguiled, and The Lego Batman Movie all deserve recognition here.  But the most impactful film of this group was my experience seeing Get Out among a packed, diverse crowd.  Jordan Peele has taken his trademark humor, social commentary, horror, and thriller aspects and reassembled them into one of the most creative, intense, crazy genre-benders I’ve ever seen.  It’s one of those rare films that feels “important” while also being incredibly entertaining, and it’s one film I suggest everyone see.

#2  Patrick – Wonder Woman

In the muck and mire that is the DC criticism, and the reality that is superhero fatigue, I walked out of this movie feeling incredibly encouraged and refreshed about the future of the genre.  Having never been a huge fan of Diana Prince, being able to keep me engaged and wanting more installments of the Amazon goddess says something about director Patty Jenkins, star Gal Gadot, and company.  I’m looking forward to Justice League even more after seeing this one.

#2  Don – The Big Sick

The Big Sick nimbly moves with a constant levity, even when the potential for heavy drama invades.  That jocular wit makes you appreciate any of the lows that sneak up on you because they arrive bearing tissues for your smiling eyes.  It is one of the best romantic comedies of this short century and one of the best films of 2017, period.

#2  Jeremy – Baby Driver

While it’s probably my least favorite Edgar Wright film, Baby Driver is still thrilling enough to be my second favorite film of the year so far.  Heck, if all I got was a blank screen with the soundtrack blasting, it would probably still land as my number three.

#2  Steve – Baby Driver

Edgar Wright continues to expand his unique visual style in this revved up, supercharged action thriller.  The story of a misguided kid getting in too deep with big time criminals might not seem unfamiliar, but with fantastic performances and the soundtrack of the year keeping tempo with the on screen mayhem, Baby Driver is a white knuckle ride of pure adrenaline.

#2  Aaron – A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is a simple, unique, and poetic film about the fragility of life and passing of time.  Its pacing requires complete dedication and patience from an audience, something that will certainly not appeal to all, and may cause frustration.  However, for those who commit, this is a masterpiece filmmaking effort by the superbly talented David Lowery that will haunt their emotions and thoughts.

#1 Don – War for the Planet of the Apes

So far this year, I’ve only given four five-star reviews, and no film has impressed me more completely from top to bottom that this trilogy capper.  From Michael Giacchino’s score and all of the weighty nuances brimming inside this epic, to the masterful and special performance by Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes carries the highest and best emotionality that actually felt like it mattered.

#1  Aaron – Your Name

This is a story about dreams (and desperately trying not to forget them), time travel, body swaps, natural disaster, coming of age, romance, and deep longing that is emotionally riveting from beginning to end.  Comedic at all the right times, soul-crushingly painful, and yet tender and hopeful.  Your name is an animated masterpiece that goes far beyond its dazzling visuals, and is the film that has most deeply affected me in 2017 so far.  (Note:  This film initially released in Japan in 2016 but did not receive an American release until 2017)

#1  Steve – Wonder Woman

Consider me the chief skeptic when it comes to the DC cinematic universe, but Wonder Woman far surpassed my middling expectations.  It took studios long enough to throw bank at a female fronted superhero film, but man, the wait was worth it.  Director Patty Jenkins handled every nuance with such great care, Gal Gadot owned the role of the princess , Diana, and the importance of what this film manages to accomplish for women everywhere cannot be understated.  Is this not the best cinematic moment of any superhero film ever?

#1  Jeremy – Get Out

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is both the most important and most thought provoking film I’ve seen this year.  It’s gotten funnier and more intense every time I’ve watched it, even though I’m fully aware of what’s coming.  I’d be shocked if it’s much lower on my list come January.

#1  Patrick – The Lego Batman Movie

I don’t know that I’ve laughed this loud and so many times in a theater in a long time.  Everything about this film made my theater experience incredible.  The story felt original, the callbacks to the past franchises were on point, and the jokes felt perfectly placed.  Walking out, I knew I wanted to own it immediately.

There you have it.  Disagree?  Let us have it.  Share your top films with us.  Hopefully, we’ve added something to your cinematic radar and you’ll all soon be feelin’ these films as well.


“Cause the world keeps spinnin’
‘Round and ’round
And my heart’s keepin’ time
To the speed of sound”

– from Hairspray

With every toe-tapping, dashboard banging note, Baby Driver energizes.  It’s not a musical about driving, but music drives the movie; each screeching tire perfectly synched to a tune selected specifically to ride shotgun with the action on screen.

Let’s be honest, the central plot of Baby Driver is nothing new. ​Man has to work off some debt, in unsavory ways, to appease a “boss” who keeps his charges in line with threats and innuendo. Standard gangster fare. Here though, writer/director Edgar Wright (The World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) changes up the game, infusing a familiar narrative with an uptempo beat. Let’s envision a mashup of Drive, The Fast & the Furious, and a badass Spotify playlist. With earbuds firmly in place, Baby Driver puts the pedal to the metal, rarely slowing down long enough to allow its audience to catch their breath.

Our protagonist here is Baby (Ansel Elgort, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars), the expert getaway driver reluctantly on the payroll of Doc (Kevin Spacey, House of Cards), to whom he is working off a debt from an earlier poor life decision. Baby is quiet, often mistook as mentally challenged, but he’s in his element behind the wheel of a fast car and under the spell of a righteous soundtrack. An accident as a child has left him, as Doc tells it, “with a hum in the drum.” Music gives him respite from his disability. It defines him, and is essential in doing his job on Doc’s team. Without the beats, Baby is lost.

Elgort plays Baby with a confidence befitting a kid with mad driving skills and cool shades, but also with a vulnerability, especially in his confrontations with the film’s ensemble of bad guys. Baby trusts his ability to perform when called upon, but his composure is susceptible to rattling when his inward personality is forced to bubble up in weighty social situations. Baby could have easily come across as stiff and mechanical, but Wright forces him into awkward interactions which allow Elgort to show some range with the character.

Also to help Baby relate as a character, enter Lily James (Cinderella) as the requisite love interest, Debora. James is so gosh-darn adorable, it’s easy to overlook her character’s lack of real definition. She feels tacked on as a plot device, dutifully available for Doc to threaten, or to offer words of encouragement to Baby at just the right moments. James isn’t at fault here. She smiles and captures us with her slight southern drawl as directed, but I wish Wright had dug a little deeper, especially given that any girl in their right mind would have run from this situation as fast as possible.

Along for the ride is a cadre of thugs: Griff (Jon Berenthal, The Walking Dead), Buddy (Jon Hamm, Mad Men), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez, Jem and the Holograms), and Bats (Jaime Foxx, Annie, Horrible Bosses 2). Doc never works with the same crew twice, so these parts are interchangeable with a few lesser characters, but these four carry the lion’s share of the load.

I’m not fully sold on Jon Hamm here. He doesn’t feel comfortable in the skin of Buddy. He fares best early on as a standard bank robber, but when the story diverts from heist flick to a tale of comeuppance, as Buddy’s motivations turn to vengeance, Hamm stumbles. It perhaps doesn’t help that Gonzalez’s Darling rates as little more than eye candy on Buddy’s arm throughout the bulk of the film. Whatever they were selling as a couple, I wasn’t buying. She doesn’t do anything to drag the film down, but she’s interchangeable with any other Latina actress in a film staring fast cars.  She’s a cliche, and that’s unfortunate.

Jaime Foxx?  He’s all in folks. Bats, in all of his psychopathic, loose cannon glory, makes the most of his screen time. Foxx manages to remain grounded just enough to be realistically threatening, but it’s pretty clear he’s having a good time chewing up scenery. On the rare occasion when the film slows down to catch its breath, Bats keeps us in.

My biggest struggle with Baby Driver is the lack of character depth. Baby in particular is someone I wanted to know more about. There is some lip service, via flashback, to his relationship with his mother and his less than perfect childhood, but not enough to firmly latch onto him as a sympathetic character deserving of my care. Yes, I wanted to see him ultimately succeed, but only in that he’s slightly less of an asshole than most of the other characters. I actually found that I was often more invested in seeing Debora in a better place, so to that end, I needed to root for Baby by default.

The real character is the soundtrack, culled together from various artists, and Wright doesn’t skimp on the awesome in this regard. Even the most mundane of stories (which this is not) is made better with the stylings of Queen’s “Brighton Rock“, or “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Each tune serves a purpose, whether to bind a set of characters falling in love, or to accompany a hail of gunfire and burning rubber. The failings in character definition are more than made up for in sight and sound. What could have come off as a screen version of a theme park stunt show works because of Wright’s vision and the complimentary hand of cinematographer Bill Pope, who’s camera is often asked to move to the beat. Where Wright’s story leads, Pope’s camera follows.

Baby Driver is everything you want in a summer blockbuster without the blockbuster after taste. There is already talk of a Baby Driver 2, and I’m torn. Here we have a mostly original concept that no doubt stands on its own merits, and while I feel like that should be enough, I also want to see more of the story of Baby and Debora. Because sometimes all I want to do is “head west on 20 in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have, just me, my music, and the road.”

MOVIE REVIEW: It Comes At Night

Each time Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr., Birth of a Nation) picks up his lantern to wander the dark halls of his family’s  boarded up home, he strikes the image of a ghost- perhaps of a weary railroad conductor making his rounds. Tension builds with each creak of the floorboards, and the lengthening of shadows indicate that something ominous lurks. In his sophomore feature length effort, It Comes at Night, writer/director Trey Edward Shults proves sometimes less is more with horror.  Sometimes, what we don’t see is as unsettling as actually revealing the monsters that hunt us.

The audience isn’t given a lot to work with in regard to world building. There is the aforementioned house and the surrounding woods.  Nothing more is required.  The presence of gas masks posit some sort of airborne virus exists, and the gruesome illness that has befallen Travis’ grandfather indicates said virus isn’t screwing around.  Besides Travis, the house is occupied by his parents, Paul (Joel Edgerton, Loving) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo, Alien: Covenant), and the family dog.  Paul’s day-to-day routine is militaristic in nature- designed with safety and survival as priority.

When that safety is threatened, Paul is forced to make some uneasy decisions that will alter the dynamic he’s worked hard to sustain.  The fly in the ointment here is Will (Christopher Abbott, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), a survivor who attempts to break into the home in search of supplies for his family.  Will eventually convinces Paul that his intentions are honest, and with some prodding from his own family, Paul consents to bring Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough, American Honey), and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to live in the house and share resources.

Shults keeps traditional horror tropes at arms length.  He has no interest in burdening the audience with cheap jump scares or semi-visible ghoulies scurrying about.  The tension in It Comes at Night stems from the atmosphere Shults has created.  Most of the film is shrouded in a suffocating darkness- the fear of falling victim to the unseen virus keeping everyone on edge.  Shults doubles down on the uneasiness through his characters’ interactions.  Trust  between the families is paper thin, and one sideways glance can send the new household dynamic into chaos.

Our perspective of this story comes primarily from Travis.  The mood set by Harrison Jr.’s often unmoving gaze provides us a glimpse of a devolving world- a human condition that is gradually unraveling, fed by a lingering deceit and burgeoning mistrust.  The graphic nightmares Travis endures, perhaps symbolic of the film’s title, show us a consequence of the withering psyche of Travis as an individual that’s clearly seen too much.  Harrison Jr. sells all of it, and although we as the audience aren’t privy to any real context of what is happening in this world, the deconstructing of this one small segment of it is enough to earn our attention.

When we aren’t living in Travis’ worldview, the film treads along the interactions of Paul and Will.  Edgerton and Abbott volley their mistrust of each other back and forth, threatening their uneasy alliance almost minute by minute.  As an audience, we wait idly by for something to break.  Both actors succeed in playing off each other’s skepticisms, but each is bound by a sense of personal duty to do right be their family.  Alas, Ejogo and Keough serve little purpose beyond looking frightened and succumbing to direction from their men.

So what is Shults really playing at in It Comes at Night?  Is the virus used as a macguffin to get at a more intimate portrait of social constructs?  Does it really matter whether any of the characters fall victim to unseen horrors when the clear and present danger presents itself within their own interactions?  A lot of time is spent worrying about what lies on the other side of a creepy red door, when the true horrors may reside on the same side as the people who are doing the worrying.

No doubt there are people who will walk away confused, or perhaps even angry.  It’s a consequence of ambiguity. The ending is not conducive to filmgoers needing answers, but that doesn’t mean answers can’t be had.  Monsters don’t always need to be tangible things with sharp teeth and fangs.  But just because we can’t always see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  Paranoia is a big motivator, and it hangs like a thick fog over this story.  How you reconcile the themes within the film, and especially the ending, probably depends on the way your own life mirrors certain aspects within- the losses you’ve been dealt- the people you’ve had interactions with.  It Comes at Night dares to play with those subconscious thoughts and invites you to explore them for yourself.  Sometimes the true horrors lie within us.