The great thing about Netflix is that it gives you a lot of TV and movie watching options. The bad thing about Netflix is that it gives you…a lot of TV and movie watching options. So many that it can be overwhelming. I’d guess around ninety percent of our time spent on Netflix is scrolling through thousands of movies and TV shows, before finally deciding on something three hours after you’ve first logged on. The aim of this column is to provide easily accessible Netflix suggestions based on a different focal point each week.
The amount of films I’ve seen this week is sheer insanity. In the theater, I only had a screening of Dumb and Dumber To (one I seemed to cull more enjoyment from than many others) but the real work was put in at home. After digesting a viewing of The Graduate (one of my all time favorites), I continued to dive head first into dissecting the films of Ridley Scott. In my pursuit to see and revisit each and all of his films to produce a ranking prior to the release of Exodus: Gods and Kings, I tapped into a whopping six Scott flicks. Additionally, I did a little DIY horror marathon in anticipation of an end of year list that will now go unmentioned. As you can likely tell, it seemed like Halloween all over again the way the horror was a’flowin’. So strap in for a horror-y dose of Weekly Review.
LATE PHASES (2014)
A blind ex-military man is a fresh arrival at a retirement community spinning from a string of unexplained animal attacks. Werewolfness ensues. Late Phases premiered this year at SXSW (I missed it) to middling reviews as the first English language film from Spanish director Adrián García Bogliano is a little too jokey and yet not quite campy enough to really capture love from either side of the isle. Putting in an performance more devoted than the script deserves, Ethan Embry plays a hardened man who inexplicably puts the pieces to Phases‘ werewolf plot together like boxed cake. What rises above the paint-by-numbers kill-fest is Embry’s hard but tender relationship with his son, though that goes underdeveloped as well. The practical effects are appreciated, if not a touch juvenile, making this a mostly miffed effort. (C-)
ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (2014)
All Cheerleaders Die is an interesting concept – a satirical supernatural battle of the sexes – but its choppy execution leaves it high and dry. A higher-budgeted remake of directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson own 2001 film, Cheerleaders is an aggressively jarring film, offering scenes that are genuinely great and following them up with a bevy of truly embarrassing ones. Perhaps the most pronounced problem of the film is McKee and Sivertson’s apparent misunderstanding of satire, as their flick falls back on the very tropes it tries so openly to mock time and time again. (D+)
Bryan Bertino‘s long awaited follow up to The Strangers is desperately in need of a plot. Mockingbird follows three narratives – a couple, a young woman and a chubby social pariah made to dress up as a clown – as a mysterious and malicious group forces them to videotape their each and every move under threat of death. Mockingbird is great at building atmosphere but for all the building, there is no blueprint apparent. Rather, Bertino subjects us to one long-con that pays its tab in chump change, offering a “twist” surprise that wouldn’t look amiss in a Shamalayan film. Bertino’s proven his talent for conjuring moodiness, he now just needs to prove an ability to summon up an actual plot. (C-)
THE DEN (2014)
Yet another found footage-based horror flick (with even more to come), The Den is an effectively told cautionary tale about online identity and personal security filled with just enough nasty scares and gruesome bits to legitimize a committed watch. In “The Den”, an online chatroulette-like social network, Liz witnesses what appears to be a real murder. Melanie Papalia stars as said young woman, a socialite with a hazy research grant that lands in her over her head amongst a group of nasty internet guerillas set on terrorizing her and those closest to her. First time director Zachary Donohue starts off a bit rocky but as the film moves into its second and third act, Donohue’s confidence and originality grows, making for a rather solid, if not entirely original, horror debut. (C+)
BANSHEE CHAPTER (2014)
Blair Erickson‘s film starts with actual news footage (one clip features President Bill Clinton) dishing the goods on the US government’s involvement with administering doses of highly effective mind-altering drugs on test subjects. From a historical perspective, it’s gnarly stuff. As a film, it works in fits and starts. Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s 1920 short story “From Beyond,” Banshee Chapter stars Katia Winter as a journalist who teams up with a Hunter S. Thompson-esque character (Ted Levine), to uncover the mystery behind a formula known as DMT-19. Though the acting from Winter and Levine is sturdy, the plot feels oddly hollow, hitting familiar horror beats along the way. Adaptation or no, Erickson misses out on the novelty of telling a politically motivated tale within the horror genre. Shame. (C)
THE BORDERLANDS (2014)
Where The Den, Mockingbird and Exists all commit the cardinal sin of less-than-compelling characters, The Borderlands shines because director Elliot Gouldner rightly realizes that even in found footage movies, you need great characters. The Borderlands has plenty. Robin Hill and Gordon Kennedy star opposite each other as two Vatican investigators sussing out the legitimacy of a miracle claim and both bring life and complexity to their characters. Hill (who worked on other great horror flicks Kill List and Sightseers) is full of zingers while Kennedy brings a dark compassion to his bent-out-of-shape believer. Though the first couple acts feel a lot like just another haunting done found footage style, the claustrophobic last act is a thrill ride into hell itself. (B)
A total jumbalaya of found footage cliches, Exists is a profoundly uninspired effort. Helmed by Eduardo Sánchez of Blair Witch Project fame and fortune, Exists follows a group of thoroughly uninteresting teenagers on your typical cabin in the woods venture when they come across Bigfoot. Chases and death follows. What Exists fails to understand is that in order for proceedings to be compelling, we have to at least have some semblance of connection to the characters or else their fate holds little to no value. As such, Sánchez squanders half-decent makeup and a chance to reclaim good standing in the horror film community with this tasteless dud of a risk-adverse experiment. (D)
A surprisingly well-made foray into supernatural realism, Wer hues closer to reality than you would expect of your average werewolf saga. Partially thanks to the perfect casting of Brian Scott O’Connor, William Brent Bell‘s fourth film is also likely his best. Where most werewolf flicks take a hairy wrong turn, Bell uses a human rights plot and minimal special effects to breathe new life into familar territory. Not scary so much as it is smart, Wer is a strong example of frugality done right. (B-)