MOVIE REVIEW: Color Out of Space

Rating: Unrated / Runtime: 1 hour and 51 minutes

The best independent films do more with less. When there isn’t a massive budget to fall back on for special effects, the importance of storytelling and conveyance of mood become amplified. Operating on a $12 million budget (which I’d assume a decent chunk of went to star actor Nicolas Cage), Richard Stanley has crafted a gnarly, yet intoxicatingly beautiful aesthetic in “Color Out of Space”, which fits the bizarre nature of this story perfectly. The tale comes from an H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. We follow the Gardner family, who have not too long ago traded city life for a rural family estate located near Lovecraft’s famous setting of Arkham, Massachusetts. Nathan (Cage), the father, is a wannabe gardener and farmer who raises alpacas and is trying to embrace this new country life, while his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is doing her best to work from home via the home’s bad internet connection while recovering from breast cancer surgery. They have three children, all with their own sort of strange qualities. LaVinia (Madeleine Arthur) we first meet in the middle of some kind of Wiccan ritual that she hopes will heal her mother and eventually lead the family back to the city. Her practice of magic and dabbling in the occult continues throughout the film and leads to some pretty horrifying decision making. Her brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) likes video games, smoking weed, and helps out around the house without too much fuss. And then there is her younger brother Jack (Julian Hilliard), who is a bit of a mama’s boy still and gives the film a vessel for some freaky child-based horror. There’s also an old hippie living out in the woods who seems to notice problems with nature before everyone else and a young biologist named Ward (Elliot Knight) who pops in and out of the story and serves as a sort of documentarian for the events that take place.

The first half or so of the film, before things get really weird, I found myself very engaged. Family drama is explored and when the mysterious meteorite crashes into their yard a good amount of time is spent on slowly revealing various sci-fi anomalies that mess with the characters’ sense of sight and sound. Of course, this is based on the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft, so horror is part of the story’s DNA and once it comes, the situation gets nasty quickly. There is definitely some gore, but it’s far from overwhelming and contained to just a few scenes. For the most part, it’s the psychological nature of horror explored here, a staple of Lovecraftian storytelling, and a general haziness of time and space that overwhelms the family as the alien color begins to permeate the landscape and their lives. Cage is given the opportunity to get nuts in a few scenes, but unfortunately, it felt almost out of left-field, very forced, and not a natural reaction I expected from his character. Perhaps if he had gone all-out crazy and stuck to that versus oscillating back and forth between sanity and insanity it would have played better for me. It’s in the second half of the film, where the color from the meteorite is taking over, where I didn’t find myself enjoying it nearly as much. As mentioned earlier, the look of the film is mesmerizing and the score by Colin Stetson contributes strongly toward setting that important mood. I just didn’t care about the characters much at all, and I didn’t find the film to be saying anything vastly important about humanity and nature. It’s a tale of aliens or elder gods or whatever you want to think of them as showing up without any explanation as to why and ruining life for this family in a horrific way. The story is just lacking a bigger picture view that I think would have given it much-needed weight and stakes.

“Color Out of Space” is Stanley’s first feature film in over two decades, though, and it proves the filmmaker most famous for being fired from “The Island of Doctor Moreau” still has talent worth sharing with the world. The visuals alone are worth seeing this movie for and it never dips into lackluster boring territory, even if it doesn’t reach any memorable heights either. “Color Out of Space” is the kind of unique sci-fi and horror film that we deserve to see more of. Though the vision of their directors may not blow every viewer away, seeing something this different from mass-market blockbusters is always a treat.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Underwater

Underwater, no one can hear you scream!
(unless of course they have a mic in their dive suit helmet and you do too, and then you can definitely hear them scream but I digress)

 

It’s easier to just get the comparisons out of the way right off the bat. The hot take will be that “Underwater” is “Alien” at the bottom of the ocean. And, of course, there’s some truth to that, or people wouldn’t be saying it. Sure, “Underwater” follows a female primary protagonist, who is part of a crew trying to stay alive amidst the presence of mythical deadly creatures, but much of the film plays out a lot more straightforward than you might expect, instead resembling a traditional natural disaster escape movie.

Narratively, “Underwater” isn’t too deep (heh), and that’s perfectly alright. Director William Eubank makes a great choice utilizing the credits sequence to provide background information that normally would be delivered via boring, pace-slowing exposition. Instead, a collection of newspaper articles, scientific papers, and memos flashing behind the credits tell us that our setting is a drill site in the Mariana Trench, where the deepest drilling in history is taking place, and that reports of mysterious shadowy creatures have been made. Once inside Kepler Station, we meet Norah (Kristen Stewart), reflecting on the isolation and timelessness of life in the deep while brushing her teeth. Within minutes, though, a breach of the station hull occurs due to an earthquake and what follows is a 90-minute rush to rescue, survive, and escape. Along the way, Norah, a mechanical engineer, teams up with fellow survivors. They include a wise-cracking, Alice in Wonderland obsessed goof played by T.J. Miller (who surprisingly has a few jokes actually land), their calm and collected Captain (Vincent Cassell) of the station, and a few others. The Captain proposes a dangerous plan where they will don their deep-sea suits, descend, and then traverse the nearly 7-mile deep ocean floor to reach another station that still has working escape pods. They all know it’s insane, but they have no choice. What follows is a suspenseful group effort to stay alive; some do, some don’t. At times it definitely gets ridiculous and some of the more chaotic action is nearly incoherent in the dark watery setting, but mostly it’s a hell of a lot of fun, with the dialogue kept at a minimum and the propulsive intensity dialed up high throughout. Stewart is a capable lead and her considerable talent is on display, even when not really necessary. She carries an emotional weight for the crew that elevated the film for me, and she is also a part of the film’s most memorable monster moment.

The concept of “Underwater” certainly could have been presented in a longer, smarter, and more dramatically heavy film – one that isn’t so predictable, doesn’t play fast and loose with science, and gives a more thorough explanation about the creatures encountered. But that’s not this movie, and as I said in the beginning, that’s okay. What “Underwater” does is deliver a fast-paced, claustrophobic, action-thriller (backed by an excellent Marco Beltrami/Brandon Roberts score) that works perfectly fine without sea monster aliens even introduced, but that takes joy in leaning into its creature feature third act. It’s wild and at times silly, but I had a great time watching it and would gladly sit through it again when it releases on home video. Not every movie needs to have depth (heh again) to be entertaining, even if its title makes you think otherwise.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Grudge

It has been said that the month of January is a dumping ground for studios to unload projects that spark the least potential to be a success. As much as it pains me to say, this claim has been verified with the release of Nicolas Pesce’s “The Grudge”, a horror film that tries to juggle so many characters and superficial subplots that it drops the ball on every level. There is no time to connect with any of the characters who find their life altered by a vengeful ghost known only as “The Grudge”, an evil spirit that stalks anyone unlucky enough to inhibit the space that it calls home sweet home. Suspense and tension should cover every nook and cranny of this narrative, but they’ve been replaced by unimaginative and overused horror tropes. Dullness is the rhythm that carries this horrid horror remake to a land of no distinguishing qualities.

The film uses a non-linear story structure to try and separate itself and the results are less than inspiring. The different storylines are misconstructed into a mess of exposition dumping and paper-thin characters. Our main protagonist is used as a plot device to force the audience into badly edited flashbacks that feel out of place to the overarching narrative. Her role as a police officer gains her access to different files of Grudge victims from past events that all took place in the same haunted house. At times, you think you are following one set of characters and then you are jarred backward to experiencing a different set out of nowhere. Confusion peaks when you are shown the climax of a subplot only to then travel to the beginning of it, erasing the opportunity for authentic stakes. It’s hard to feel connected to the outcome of this film given that none of the characters are written to be anything more than easy fodder for the main villain; there is no personality, charm, or emotional guts to make the serious moments more than forgettable. Consider the biggest crime of this film to be undercutting the supreme talents of a pair of talented actors such as John Cho and William Sandler. This screenplay dealt them poison in the amount of cringe dialogue and farce use of depressing storylines which would ruin any actor’s chance of making their performances work. To make things worse, the final act is essentially a rush job in trying to wrap up all the tangled web of storylines before the audience makes it to the finish line. It felt like the writers submitted the screenplay as the first draft with no revisions or corrections to the flow of different set pieces.

Horror and suspense was manufactured straight from the bargain bin section of the generic store. There is an abundance of poor jump cuts, odd implementation of sound effects, lackluster visual effects, and weak lighting in dark scenes. Some scenes suffer from having human faces drenched in too much darkness; terror scenes didn’t have a stressful effect because there was no way to see the characters or the monster moving around in the environment. There was a weird instance of people popping in and out of the frame, masquerading as a scary surprise. It’s just very easy to see coming and no creative juice is present. I have seen all of the terror tricks this film tries to make unique and it all turns out so bland and tepid to watch. The musical accompaniment to these scenes comes off too hard as a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross knock-off with badly composed use of pounding drums and broken electronic notes.

“The Grudge” is the kind of experience that will drain the life-force out of the average viewer. It has no crowd-pleasing moments and treats the audience as a child who needs their handheld to navigate what should have been a simple horror film. This is one of the few films I have witnessed in the last few years that does nothing well and is an embarrassment to not just horror but any cinematic genre. 2020 has started off its year by providing me a top candidate for one of the worst films of the year.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Black Christmas

The best experience anyone can have going to see a new film in the theater is being surprised by what new ideas it brings. Audiences are dazzled when venturing into the unknown and having their imaginations sparked. Contrary to that, some films follow the trends and cliches that have been established before. One genre that has fallen victim to this syndrome is horror films, specifically more so the reboot variety that aims to introduce an old story to new generations. “Black Christmas” is a case of a reboot trying to bite off more than it can chew in trying to balance the brand of horror its predecessors emulated while roping along social message parallels. It all adds up to a horrible cinematic experience and an easy candidate for a “Worst Of The Year” label.

Issues are abundant in every area, but especially so in a story that is comical and barebones which involves a supernatural/fantasy cult of men who hunt for women on a college campus during winter break. Audiences are treated to a narrative that will have you believe that a statue bust of a dead college founder can possess the souls of young men and turn them into murderous villains intent on keeping women from being a threat to the male population. The classic “toxic masculinity is the real enemy” message hits you in the face like a gust of wind almost throughout the proceedings. As a man, I am a staunch defender of female empowerment, but films like this make that message very obvious, with nothing new to say about this current societal issue nor any pleasant subtleness. “Black Christmas” comes off like a poorly written piece of fan fiction using Wikipedia articles as a source. Saying this film is predictable would be a serious understatement. There are no surprises in store; it can easily be foreseen who the villains are, who will be killed, and all of the twists that carry a facade of being clever. There is no thrill factor, which is a big no-no for an aspiring horror film and the pitiful attempts at comedy all fall flat on the floor. A better place for this cinematic eyesore would be an MTV Original Special or Netflix film with no one having to waste a dime on promotion.

The characters are not unique and suffer from a lack of development which keeps the viewer from caring who makes it to the end and who does not. Even the lead character is shorted by the writing as only being a victim of a sexual assault, with no other distinguishing trait. The villains look and speak like prototypical smug alpha males who lack a menacing presence and are reduced to angry misogynistic trolls spitting logic akin to the “He-Man Women Haters Club” skit from “The Little Rascals”. Imogen Poots was such a winner in the cult classic “Green Room” that it’s painful to see her subjected to this wannabe “deep” horror drama that shortchanges its own feminist message with rudimentary structuring.

“Black Christmas” is one of the worst films of the year and is a joyless bore of generic horror conventions. If you want to see a horror-thriller that has something to say about the female experience in the greater perception of society, check out the original predecessor and gems like “The Babadook”, “It Follows”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, and “Carrie”.

Rating:


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 194: 28 Days Later

We celebrate October with this month’s Donor Pick, a movie that invites us to consider its social commentary, reflect on our own potential for darkness, and enjoy some radical running zombie action.

28 Days Later Review – 0:01:20

The Connecting Point – 0:50:23

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Episode 193: Zombieland: Double Tap

Our traveling companions are back for another trip into Z-Land. Did this long-awaited and much-anticipated sequel hit the same mark that its predecessor did? We explain what did (not much) and didn’t (a lot) work for us.

Zombieland 2 Review – 0:02:06

The Connecting Point – 0:56:01

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MOVIE REVIEW: Zombieland: Double Tap

It’s a sequel too late in the making, but ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP squeezes out enough comedic chemistry from its excellent reunited cast to keep the audience laughing even when the lethargic plot fails to hold our attention. The original foursome of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been living together for 10 years in The United States of Zombieland and are making a home out of the abandoned White House when the sisters once again feel the need to strike out on their own – this time because Wichita fears commitment and the all-grown-up Little Rock wants to experience adulthood on her own. From there the story is mostly a road trip, with the group meeting new survivors, facing off against more dangerously evolved zombies, and contending with a colony of pacifists along the way to restoring their little family.

The film’s primary faults lie in an extreme reuse of/reliance on material from its predecessor, Columbus’ “rules” and old jokes are recycled frequently instead of introducing fresh new ones, and a lack of emotional weight. It’s not that we don’t care whether Wichita and Columbus end up happily ever after or if Little Rock will find love, but the film never reaches the heights of the original’s climactic Pacific Playland sequence when it comes to us caring about the fates of our characters.

The original cast is definitely giving their all even with less than stellar dialogue to deliver, and Zoey Deutch’s inclusion alone will be worth the price of admission for many; her extremely “extra” survivor Madison brings about the best banter in the film and elicited theater-wide laughter numerous times. I couldn’t decide whether I found her character more maddeningly annoying, hilarious, or attractive, and I mean that as praise. Deutch’s performance is definitely the one thing I won’t forget about the film and is worthy of all the memes it is sure to inspire.

Other additions to the cast include a short but hilarious appearance by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, a pair of eerily similar personalities to Tallahassee and Columbus, and an appropriately badass role for Rosario Dawson. However, though not without their charm, these felt more like cameos than significant additions to the plot.

One place the film definitely shines is in the action department, where the high-octane zombie kills are more creative and realistically bloody than ever before. The easily squeamish might want to sit this one since there is vomit and gore galore, but those who can stomach it will be rewarded with some of the most exciting action of the series during the film’s standout climax.

Sadly, the lack of moving, character deepening moments holds this back from being more than just an occasionally energetic, mostly funny nostalgic trip. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP will likely satisfy fans of the first film, but the magic isn’t quite there and it feels like a big time missed opportunity to improve upon the original’s formula. The definition of a mixed bag: see it with tempered expectations and just enjoy the ride. Oh, and be sure to stay through the credits for a special treat.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 192: Zombieland

Kicking off a little mini run on zombie flicks for this October, we discuss one of the more unique entries in this sub-genre. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the United States of Zombieland, but there are moments of poignancy that give us the feels too. So go ahead and push play because it’s time to nut up or shut up!

Zombieland Review – 0:01:30

The Connecting Point – 0:52:13

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Lighthouse


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: It Chapter Two



Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.