Spooktober Day 26: Don’t Breathe

Disclaimer: I got caught up in an epic vacation, so these are late, but still necessary, because it’s important to highlight horror:

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that seeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

It isn’t an easy thing to sustain tension over the course of a feature, and one of the most recent films that unexpectedly did this exceptionally well was Don’t Breathe. As a new-and unnecessary sequel IMO, though I’ll probably still watch it- was recently released, it makes sense to touch on this particular thriller that stood out at a time when it wasn’t easy to do.

I can comfortably admit that when I first saw this movie I didn’t expect much. While not loaded with the exact same premise, I had seen enough of “similar” genre fare to know this had the potential to disappoint. Well, there are two sides to the coin, and this landed positively, up. Even now, as I show this to new audiences, I’m excited to see reactions, because, while not perfect, Don’t Breathe, is a worthy inclusion in this Spooktober because it works to do exactly what it aims to do. With so many floundering titles, that’s, truly, something.

source: Sony Pictures Releasing

The film starts from an interesting angle. Our main cast is a trio of young thieves, some more likable than others- Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) decide to rob a blind military vet (Stephen Lang) who is supposedly sitting on a lot of cash. Horrible right? It could mean a new start for Rocky, and like any movie of the like, the last “score” they’ll need. From the very beginning, there’s an obvious bad feeling that only increases with each new scene. This isn’t going to be good. Who do you even root for here? That conundrum makes for a fascinating dichotomy that continues for… a good while. Until, eventually, with a dose of just an absurd disturbed decision, forces our audience to choose sides.

Directed by Fede Alvarez, it’s clear that he has an affinity for the genre, and I can appreciate what he infuses by building and sustaining the thrills through the course of the narrative. In many ways, the characters are constructs, not really filled out, and that’s okay. You don’t have to really be rooting for them, to still feel invested in what is happening. Don’t Breathe is often a teeter-totter, between characters, moments, and often- even rooms. What will this new scenery bring? Can they survive? Can they navigate in the dark, and avoid being heard? There’s enough there to prolong our attention and curiosity and that alone is imperative when making a film such as this.

are you Afraid of the Dark?

Don’t Breathe also goes for the creepy factor, full force at times. There’s a taut pin-drop route, that always seems to keep you hooked. The unpredictable nature of the film helps to steer you around unsuspecting, darkened corners that will have you peering between your fingers.

source: Sony Pictures Releasing

Is this the best of the genre? Hardly. However, Don’t Breathe does manage to steer the audience at its will, making it difficult to not watch until the credits, wondering what will come of our cast, friend/foe/both, and ultimately enthralled regardless.

I’d say that’s a pretty successful horror/thriller, right?

Let me know what you think!

Spooktober Day 5: Eden Lake

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

Sometimes, because this genre can be so shocking, there’ll be a film that comes along that finds a new way to unsettle you. This one, does just that- even as I rewatch it now. Even when I know where it is going.

Eden Lake is one of the movies that terrifies, disgusts, and also… infuriates. It has a meanness ingrained within the core, and once our main characters get introduced to it, it overtakes everything else. This is not everybody’s film. Even for the horror-lovers.

The group of local youngsters feel resistant to the yuppy tourists that come their way, and once lines are drawn, things grow even dire.

source: Optimum Releasing

Paige (Finn Atkins) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) are headed to the countryside and lake for a weekend getaway. The couple seem happy, glowing even, and when they make it to the beach it looks like its going to be a lovely time.

When they run into some local, antagonistic kids who seem to relish provoking them, there’s a beckoning dread that sits in your stomach. When an accident happens, things spiral into a dangerous, vengeful place. Once the youth are in “it”, they feel they have to finish what they have started, becoming a cat and mouse of hunting the couple in the forest.

How the situation is handled, on many fronts, is poor, and it ensures the dominoes just keep clanging over, bringing about destruction and pain.

Eden Lake toils with the idea of pride and revenge, and dangles elements of social commentary throughout. It feels a bit like Straw Dogs, in the way that it’s developed to be a survival, realistic (to an extent) horror. For most horrors, even the ones based on true events or enveloped in realism, there are going to be a element of things that you have to suspend, in order to enjoy. Or, in this film’s case, survive.

Our tenacious duo do a lot to fight back, and what they endure is guaranteed to check your gag reflex more than once.

Something that always works throughout the film is the tension and fear, even when some of the character’s decisions don’t seem particularly wise (or for other moments where you wonder- wait, why didn’t they do this? Like most horrors). Despite the antagonists of the film being younger, there’s still a level of belief in their intent. It often reminded me of Mean Creek or Bully or even Alpha Dog in that way, because despite the age there is still a feeling of trepidation, especially once you see what they are capable of.

Jack O’Connell as their leader, reacts often with extreme anger and ill intent, with a performance that is shocking at times. As we meet some other townfolk in the film, its clear that he’s been influenced by his surroundings.

source: Optimum Releasing

Writer/director James Watkins writes some interesting looks at social interactions and skillfully uses his talented cast, as well as an excellently moody score by David Julyan to keep the fear alive. Filled with some near escapes, and lots of surprises, Eden Lake keeps you on your toes.

The movie occasionally teeters on ridiculous, but it is always enthralling. For good or for worse, for shock or recoil, you’re there, dissecting what’s happening with a keen curiosity. It’s haunting and lurid, but the performances make this British-horror quite effective. Despite how I feel about aspects of the movie, or how it makes me- in response- feel, there’s a boldness to it that I can’t ignore.

A survival thriller with no shortage of cringe inducing moments, Eden Lake hurts – no really- to watch at times. In many ways, this film will frustrate most to nauseam.

The way that Watkins creates such sustaining tension, is impressive. I think even when the film begins to rub you the wrong way, you’re still being pulled along on a string, wanting to see what’s waiting on the other side. And it isn’t pretty.

Wrath of Man (2021)

A new Guy Ritchie movie? And we’ve got Jason Statham? Color me intrigued! (With a light shading of skepticism).

In their newest collaboration (after many years apart) Statham plays the mysterious “H” a newly hired security guard for an armored truck company. What they don’t know (same as the viewer) is that he isn’t quite who he seems. If you’ve watched a Statham movie, like, ever- you’ll know that he means business. His business here? Revenge.

But, we’ll get to that.

One Crime, Two Crimes, and a whole lot more

As the film opens we’re shown a robbery, one that is inevitably the catalyst for the story, delivered to us in pieces over the course of the film. We’re merely spectators here as the camera immerses us inside the armored truck, feeling the tension, but still being limited to what we can ascertain. The opening credits are akin to a Bond film visually, (which makes me wonder what that particular team up would look like) and it immediately sets the style for the rest of the film. There is also the use of chapter names, which- while at first- seemed unnecessary, somehow won me over. Specifically the last. In many ways, despite a thin plot, the movie was overly heavy-handed with its intentions (and especially the… dialogue- which tickled my gag reflex on more than one occasion).

Yet from the very beginning the tension is present, festering, as we slowly understand the motives of our lead, and well, his full wrath.

source: Paramount Pictures

Jason Statham is no stranger to a character like this, but it’s one of my favorite performances of his in some time. His cool, icy demeanor doesn’t falter, strutting into danger with the collectedness of Terminator and a firearm efficacy that’s chilling. As a grieving, anger fueled man on a rampage, Statham does drive the lean plot with evident rage.

What are his intentions?

“A Dark Spirit”

“H” is a man with power in the criminal world and when a heist goes wrong, his teenage son is killed. This sets him upon a mission to find his killer. Eventually he finds his way to Scott Eastwood (channeling some serious Waingro from Heat, a far superior film- watch it if you haven’t) who is part of another crew. He’s a hothead, clearly making impulsive, selfish decisions; the kind of guy you somehow hope is responsible. It makes rooting for the antihero at the center a lot easier. Also, for screenwriters Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies, a stock antagonist requires less imagination.

The Mystery of “H” doesn’t take long to decipher, but the film unearths his story at the right pace. It takes its time to build. The score by Christopher Benstead permeates throughout, teetering between frustratingly insistent and understandably pestering. There’s something rather sinister underlining the film, with some sequences reaching a disturbing height, but there’s also a sense of grief in H’s intentions, that’s evident, and clings to Statham throughout.

source: Paramount Pictures

We get answers in different ways, from H’s dedication to finding those responsible, to meeting those who are. It, of course, culminates in a big bloody final heist.

The supporting roles work, but are pretty by-the-numbers, with appearances by Holt McCallany, Josh Harnett, Jeffrey Donovan and Laz Alonso (to name some). Suffice to say, primarily a male-dominated picture.

When it comes to Ritchie movies, they tend to be hit or miss. I can tell this will divide audiences (and it has) especially fans, with his decisions here. So, what was is that made me lean (streettchhh) towards favor?

so much wrath

In this instance I tried to go into this without expectation, after all- I had enjoyed his last outing, and being reunited with Statham– it seemed like it could be promising. In some ways it was like my first theatrical experience post-pandemic. Though it wasn’t, it sure felt like it, and maybe that tinged this experience with an extra level of enthusiasm. However, I admittedly did enjoy Wrath of Man. Is it perfect? Hardly. Problematic at times? Eh, yes (gulp). But, is it entertaining? Absolutely. It’s a full-throttle thrill ride that manages to mar dark intensity with an action-filled narrative. It is one of the more serious notches in Richie’s recent belt, and I was surprised by that.

Wrath of Man is really Statham‘s, what I’ll call, “Symphony of revenge” featuring many bodies falling, and bullets a blazing. With a killer (in all ways) ending, it’s about as joyful as one can expect from a movie like this. However, there’s a level of escapism through cinema that can be found here, with some compelling sequences and great action, but temper your expectations.

It was a moody piece, one that could have been much better with the right cohesion, writing, and less concern for being “cool” and more for striving for originality. I think there could have been an even better film if it had shed some of its concern for excess. Still, if you can disconnect from that and from the overly masculine intent, you’ll find Wrath of Man to be a entertaining, thrilling, ride.

Have you seen Wrath of Man? What did you think? Let me know!

Currently in theaters.