One of the weird things about Netflix’s insatiable desire for content is that they’re producing (or purchasing) so much of it that many individual works get lost in the throngs of new releases. A good example happened to me last week, when I realized that there were two newly released films on Netflix that I hadn’t heard anything about (nor seen upon opening the app), but which were directed by two guys I find interesting. Jim Mickle isn’t exactly a household name, but he directed films like the vampire apocalypse story Stake Land and the excellent Texas noir Cold in July. Vincenzo Natali might be marginally better known, but he’s most famous for Cube and TV work on series like Hannibal and Westworld. Again, neither are marquee names, but in film nerd circles, both names turn heads. Did their two films live up to expectations? Eh… sorta?
- The Silence of the Lambs (trailer)
- Lotion in the Basket (Robot Chicken)
- Shining (fake trailer)
- In the Shadow of the Moon – When a trio of mysterious murders turn up in Philadelphia in 1988, a police officer who is bucking for detective becomes intrigued by the case. Weird injections that defy scientific explanation and a killer’s cryptic last words only add to the mystery. Nine years later, more murders with the same M.O. appear, and the now-detective descends into full-blown obsession. And so on! This starts out as a pretty intense police procedural and serial killer story, then shifts in a more science fictiony direction, before settling on a Lost-esque series of events that ultimately prove unsatisfying, though
not entirely without merit. At its best, towards the beginning of the movie, it sorta evokes that X-Files or more accurately Fringe-like (er, the good parts of Fringe)) exploration of science-ran-amok. As the film progresses, it gets more and more predictable, yet somehow makes less and less sense, and culminates in a crushingly didactic monologue that almost sinks the entire endeavor. All that being said, the nuts and bolts filmmaking is well crafted, fast paced, and exciting enough to keep things interesting. Mickle has a keen eye and directs action well, but the script lets him down a bit.
The performances are all good considering the material, and the production values are actually pretty great. As a Philly guy, I appreciated some of the regional touches (the Septa bus, the Wawa cameo, etc…), even though it’s otherwise clearly not shot in Philly. The action and pacing were quick enough that my dumb engineer’s brain would come up with a lot of questions, but not really have time to get annoyed by them… until after the film ended (i.e. you’re police and you see three murders where people started suddenly bleeding out through all orifices like they were injected with some sort of biological weapon… but there’s no talk of quarantine or other protective measures; the twist about where the killer comes from implies a whole host of questions which the film doesn’t even pretend to engage with; and so on). I keep complaining about this film, but it’s actually pretty enjoyable. There’s a place for technically well-executed, pulpy, trope-driven thrillers like this, and its worth checking out, I just wish some its wrinkles were ironed out a little more (or maybe if they fully embraced the wrinkles or something). **1/2
- Cube (trailer)
- Haunter (trailer)
- Triangle (trailer)
- In the Tall Grass – A pregnant woman and her brother are driving through Kansas. At one pit stop, they hear a young boy’s cry for help coming from a field of tall grass. They go in to help, but can’t seem to find their way out… and something sinister is at work. Based on a short story by Stephen King and Joe Hill, the premise evokes Natali’s most famous work, Cube, by crafting a constantly shifting, disorienting space… and not quite knowing how to solve the puzzle. Naturally, the story focuses more on the interpersonal relationships between the woman and her brother, the boy and his family, and so on, and the mysteries of the field and the evil rock get short shrift. Not necessarily the worst tactic, but the relationships aren’t particularly special and the one-location setting gets repetitive pretty quickly. At its best, it reminded me a bit of House of Leaves, but it drags a bit too much in the middle, and much of the premise doesn’t lend itself to logical explanations. Again, not necessarily terrible in a horror flick; such nonsensical physics can be frightening, but something about this doesn’t quite hold together. Like Mickle’s entry above, Natali’s filmmaking chops are still effective. The film looks great, and despite their repetitive nature, he’s able to coax a lot of visual strength out of a field of tall grass.
Remember a few years ago when Shyamalan tried to make the breeze and grass scary in The Happening and failed miserably? Well, Natali is actually able to coax some tension out of this sort of thing. The performances are mostly good, with the standout being Patrick Wilson, who’s clearly having a blast in this role. Its slower paced and drags a bit more, but it’s not really boring either, so it still has plenty of appeal. It’s been getting brutal reviews, which aren’t entirely unwarranted, but it’s not as bad as the aggregators would have you believe. **1/2
Stay tuned, a trio of Horror Noire will follow on Sunday…