MOVIE REVIEW: The Turning

Rating: PG-13 / Running Time: 1 hour and 34 minutes

“The Turning” is a film that leaves much to the imagination in its confusing and jumbled mess of a horror adaptation. Based on the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, we follow a woman named Kate (Mackenzie Davis) who gets a job watching over a couple of children who lost their parents to a tragic car accident. As she becomes comfortable with her new live-in arrangements, she starts to notice something is off with these two kids and the gigantic mansion they reside in. Strange noises, frightening nightmares, and visions of a ghastly looking ghost put her mind and body into panic mode. Once she hears stories of the mysterious deaths that have befallen previous employers of the estate, she immediately fears that her life is in grave danger and that these kids are not so innocent after all.

Brooklynn Prince is such a gem in this film with her boundless energy and cute sassiness she brings to her character. She is turning into a young prodigy to watch over the next five to ten years. Finn Wolfhard displays the angst and darkness that subsides underneath the exterior weird vibe of this haunted setting. He and Prince represent the only shining hallmarks of the film. The character of Kate suffers from a lack of layers that would have helped the audience connect to her intense plight. There is nothing to really point out who she is as a character except that her dad died and her mother currently stays in a mental institution; none of this backstory allows an insight into her wants, needs, or desires which makes her story all the more unfulfilling. Ultimately, the cast is talented but gets the short end of the stick due to an abomination of a screenplay setting the blueprint.

If a story is structured well, it starts the viewer off with a general premise that is easy to follow while traveling through a series of events that will be capped off with a climax. This film decides to do it the hard way and produce a narrative that lacks consistency and relies cheap scare tactics and a confusing ending. Just when I thought I was seeing another generic haunted house film, the last 20 minutes stray far away from the original premise and result in a non-ending without resolution. We don’t get answers to questions such as: Are the kids operating under the control of spirits, is the main character going crazy, or is another entity responsible for the prevalence of terror surrounding the property? It is like a person starts to drink a glass of water that tastes like water until the last couple of gulps start to taste like vodka. A poor attempt at an ambiguous ending plays off like the writers of the film had written themselves into a corner and could not find the way out. This adaption of the novel got ahead of itself trying to put on a modern twist while lacking an ambitious vision. There is no jolt of excitement present in the moments that are supposed to live up to the horror name, every “scary” scene is nothing more than ghosts appearing out of nowhere or characters responding to strange noises all around the house. The film’s direction and editing are a step below average, as well, characterized by stuck in the mud pacing and no style to separate itself from any other run of the mill “haunting” film.

I caught the vibe of “The Conjuring” when the trailer of this film debuted and sure enough, I spotted out the familiar played-out tropes those films have used ad nauseam. No good times are to be had with this film and now it finds itself fading into the populated graveyard of mediocre January films. “The Turning” doesn’t know what it wants to accomplish as a horror experience and then expects the audience to put all the pieces together.


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: 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: Uncut Gems

The experience of your physical and mental senses being run through the gauntlet of a pressure cooker has never been more fully realized. Your heartbeat thumps with each new anxiety-filled sequence that won’t resolve itself, and an escalation of stakes conjures sweat to trickle from the surface of your forehead. Even in the quietest of moments, there is a sense that the viewer and the main protagonist will never find themselves out of the massive black hole that has swallowed them whole. The Safdie Bros “Uncut Gems” is a cinematic experience that demands full attention with its cascading thrills, visual/auditory richness, and Adam Sandler’s tour de force performance.

Set in the year 2012, Howard Ratner (Sandler) is a jeweler stationed in New York City who enjoys an impressive clientele that features a who’s who of musicians and athletes desiring custom pieces that stand out. Ratner receives the delivery that he has been salivating over for months, a rock filled with colorful gems straight from the country of Ethiopia. Ratner hopes to score a big windfall of cash from this prized possession in the form of an auction listing, while also getting serious loan sharks and bookies off his neck over uncovered debts. The plan does not go well due to unfortunate circumstances brought on by mishandled gambling decisions and the chaos of Ratner’s personal life unfolding behind the scenes, sending him traveling down a slippery slope of heightened drama and personal turmoil that can prove undo his quest for a high heaven payday.

Adding to the massive characterization of this New York City thriller is Daniel Lopatin’s chilling score, featuring a mixture of 80’s inspired synthesizers, monk chanting, jazz-influenced instrumentation, and pounding drums. The musical accompaniment is important to creating an atmospheric high on par with the thrilling events provided by the story. This is one of the best examples of the year in how a score can serve as a mirror to the emotional texture a film wants to supply the audience. There is an immersion element present in the sound design that is chock full of details and pays emotional dividends. One great example is a sequence that takes place in a club where the insurmountable boom of early 2010’s rap and R&B surround the auditory landscape, filling viewers with an  actual rendering of the chaos present on the screen

Sandler proves once again that he is not just useful in the comedic arena but can also encapsulate larger than life characters. He became Howard Ratner down to the accent, personality, walk, and contradictions. It is fascinating to watch him lose himself and take over the DNA of the film with a performance that is equal parts compelling, entertaining, and award-worthy. Lakeith Stanfield is wonderful in his supporting role and continues to travel upward to respectability in the cinema world. Basketball enthusiasts will be ecstatic to see Kevin Garnett have a major role in how this film unfolds, too. He is such a loveable cult of personality, playing himself, which is far from a fault but icing on the cake.

The Safdie Brothers feel right in their element with another adrenaline-filled ride that follows their previous breakthrough “Good Time”. This effort strikes white-hot with the handling of tension and offers a great exploration of morality in the dangerous world of high stakes gambling. The intense direction sparks growing suspense and dread that never leaves. Quick cuts, push in close-ups, and panning shots are employed with a showmanship style that captivates. It can be very hard for most films to keep up high energy because there is a risk of driving off the tracks and losing a sense of newness present in the tone. The Safdie Brothers have incredible talent displaying prominent control which keeps the audience hooked into what will be coming around the corner. This all leads to a shocking conclusion that will not leave my mind even with the advent of a new decade. Let’s just say that viewers will get their money’s worth, but it may not be in the manner of what they expected.

Darius Khondji’s work as cinematographer is visually powerful and hard to keep from gawking in amazement. The use of neon and fluorescent lighting in evening vignettes feels natural to the worldwide reputation of New York, also known as “The Concrete Jungle”. There is an air of grittiness, but also classy opulence, in the production design; apartments and houses that give off the style of high taste even with the characters and sequences involved being rife with uncertainty and sometimes illicit behavior. The look of a flashy extravaganza complete with luxury but embodying the same surface area as a Scorsese crime drama in homage brings the film home in a majorly impactful way.

“Uncut Gems” is a film that will test your strength and stamina in how much intensity one human body can handle. It is a drama that builds and builds on entertainment, suspense, and fascination until it releases it all in a climactic supernova, making it an integral part of the year in cinema.


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 202: Knives Out

This week we’re joined by film critic Kolby Mac to discuss Rian Johnson’s crowd-pleasing whodunit murder mystery. We compare its signature detective to iconic ones of the past, talk about the use of immigration as a theme, recount our incredibly fun theatrical viewing experiences, and much more.

Knives Out Review – 0:00:58

The Connecting Point – 1:00:48

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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.

Episode 188: Ad Astra

This week we head into space with Brad Pitt for an introspective, meditative, thoughtful exploration of daddy issues that has moments of action blockbuster mixed in as well. Does this tonal marriage work? Were we able to feel what James Gray was putting down? Tune in to find out.

Ad Astra Review – 0:00:53

Connecting Point – 1:03:47

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Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

MOVIE REVIEW: Ad Astra



 

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: Where’d You Go, Bernadette


Erynne Hundley is Seattle-based writer and film critic, currently writing and editing articles for Essentially Erynne and Feelin’ Film. She prides herself on crafting spoiler-free film reviews that balance franchise history, stylistic approach, script interpretation, and the emotional turmoil the final piece creates. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram for article updates.