Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Category: Movie a Week 2019 (page 2 of 4)

Sacrifice

After suffering a series of miscarriages, an American doctor moves to her husband’s family’s estate on a remote Scottish island, with plans to adopt a child from a yet-more-remote island equipped with a state-of-the-art obstetric hospital for unwed mothers. When she discovers a bog body on her property, though, a grim mystery involving matricide and a patriarchal cult begins to unravel.

There are a lot of silly things about this movie that even the most intentional suspension of disbelief cannot overcome. I can accept that the doctor is good at detective work, but her handling of both a backhoe and a boat on a choppy North Sea channel are a bit hard to take. And I completely missed how the police sergeant who helps her with her investigation went from six weeks pregnant to giving birth to a pretty large baby in what seemed no more than a day or two in movie time. Based on a novel, it would seem that the film had to do some major time dilation to get its story to fit into an hour and a half.

Still, I enjoyed this movie more than I disliked it. Radha Mitchell, as the doctor, and Joanne Crawford, as the police sergeant, both give solid performances; the scenery is starkly beautiful; and the last 15 minutes is pretty awesomely unhinged, with more tension and drama than I anticipated. It’s not a complete waste of 90 minutes, and if you’ve already seen “The Wicker Man,” “The Apostle,” and “Harvest Home,” you might as well watch this take on creepy-fertility-rites-in-an-isolated-community tale.

Us

A family’s beach vacation is interrupted by their violent doppelgangers.

There are twists and jumps and scares and blood spatter galore in this epic Jordan Peele horror/fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece. I saw echoes of and nods to classic terrors like “The Shining,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Strangers,” and even “Susperia” (in a beautifully choreographed and bloody dance battle). It goes off the rails, especially at the end, but in a good way, and manages to be both terrifying and hilarious. I think I need to watch it a few more times to fully digest everything going on in this movie.

If Toni Collette deserved an Oscar for “Hereditary” (and she did), then Lupita Nyong’o deserves them all for her dual roles in “Us.”

The Descent

Following a horrible accident, a group of women who have enjoyed thrill-seeking adventures together in the past embark on a spelunking trek. A cave-in and poor planning are not the least of the horrors they encounter underground.

The first half of this movie, with the tensions within the group, the one-upmanship played out in deadly circumstances, and the challenges of battling each other and the caves, was scary enough; I’m a big fan of NPS and Appalachian Mountain Club accident reports, and this was a set up for the worst possible trip assessment in the history of trip assessments. Indeed, I found the troglodytes to be a little over the top and wholly unnecessary, though they did provide some pretty serious scares despite being unevenly powered, sometimes fearsome and other times easily knocked around. Darkness and tight spaces and idiot friends are scary enough.

Without Name

Eric goes into a remote forest to survey the land for a secretive developer with his assistant Olivia, with whom he is having an affair. They encounter a rootless young man who shares his anarchist philosophy and his psychedelic mushrooms, along with some local fairy lore. Olivia leaves after a fight, and Eric makes a mushroom tea from instructions in a book left in the cottage where they’re staying. This proves to be a mistake.

I was originally drawn to this movie because about a quarter of the traditional Irish tunes are called “Gan Anam,” “Without Name”; and that proves to be the “name” that the isolated woodland is called by the predictably hostile locals Eric meets at the pub. This is an enjoyable little movie–it does a good job of portraying the disorientation of being lost in the woods, and Eric’s growing paranoia is nicely unsettling. It would pair nicely with Across the River or The Alchemist Cookbook if you’re looking for disturbed-in-the-woods fair.

Into the Dark: Down

On the Friday before the “perfect storm” of a Valentine’s Day long weekend, two young professionals are trapped in a parking garage elevator. One thing leads to another, and another, and yet another, with dire and surprising consequences.

This was a solid thriller; nothing cutting edge, nothing really unpredictable, but still enjoyable, with some good tension and creative use of the cramped elevator as its primary location. Nothing about the story is really surprising at all, but the performances from the two leads are good, and the ending is satisfying. I like this kind of movie/show (not sure where to put the “Into the Dark” episodes, as they’re pretty close to movie quality but just a little longer than most dramatic series episodes) for a workday afternoon: I can half pay attention while doing some relatively rote work, pulling away to the action whenever something dramatic is about to happen.

Baskin

Five Turkish police officers answer a call for backup, and find themselves inside an abandoned police station that is a portal to a strange and terrifying hell.

This is a visually striking film, bathed in red light, buckets of gore, and terrifying images glimpsed at the edge of the screen and lurking in the shadows. The Grand Guignol horrors on display are more than a little over the top, with manglings and mutilations and torture galore, and the story quickly becomes weirdly allegorical while also insanely bloody. It’s definitely nightmare fodder, but stunningly executed all the same.

The Void

A police officer finds a blood-covered man crawling along the side of the road, and rushes him to the hospital. Soon after he arrives, something starts to transform the patients and staff into monstrous and blood-thirsty creatures. When the survivors venture into the hospital’s mysterious sub-basement, they find that much is amiss.

This movie has some great body horror effects going on, and some impressive gore. It teeters between horror and science fiction, with some Satanic cult action tossed in, and that gets to be a bit much, but it delivers some good scares and cringes.

Cold Skin

On the eve of the First World War, a young man travels to an isolated Antarctic lighthouse to serve as a meteorologist. He discovers that the previous meteorologist died under mysterious circumstances, and that the lighthouse keeper with whom he will share the island is keeping a strange amphibious humanoid as a kind of pet/sex slave. Every night, hordes of the humanoids rise from the waves and attack the lighthouse, and the keeper and meteorologist must fight for their lives.

I expected something a little more like “Shadow Over Innsmouth,” but this feels a little more like “Avatar” (albeit quite a bit darker and gorier). There are some gorgeous scenes of the stark Antarctic island, and the underwater scenes are impressive, but the large-scale battles feel clunkily animated.

The Canal

An archivist becomes obsessed with a 100-year-old film that documents a crime that occurred at his home. Meanwhile, his wife has gone missing, and it comes to light that she was having an affair. He begins to lose his grip on sanity, believing that there is something in the house that can only be seen through an old movie camera that is responsible for both the long-ago crime and his wife’s disappearance.

This is a good atmospheric movie, with a few scary moments (particularly when the archivist’s young son is threatened by the ghosts) and some good plunging-into-madness hysteria from the lead actor. And the ending is nightmarish and unsettling, a final dive into insanity. Overall a nice little ghost story.

The Demon Lover

When his followers abandon him over a Satanic sex ritual, occult practitioner Laval Blessing conjures a demon to exact his revenge. Can Detective Frazetta crack the case and stop him before it’s too late? (Also, there’s a really awesome bar fight, and one of the cult members looks like Frank Zappa.)

Over the top horrible and campy, but also strangely fun and engaging. This was clearly made on as little budget as possible, and with an incredibly sparse script, but it leans into its subject and isn’t afraid to take the most asinine premise with utmost seriousness. Set your expectations low, and you’ll enjoy this little romp.

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