Archive for the ‘ Suspense ’ Category

John Wick

You know how some people play video games they have played a dozen times or more, just trying to breeze through in the least amount of time and in the most efficient way possible? The video game players call them “speed runs,” and John Wick very much felt like that’s what I was watching, just with more style, better acting, more humor, a better idea of what world we are living in, and less tedium. But, still, our hero feels a lot like the protagonist in a speed run of the latest first-person shooter.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired hitman whose wife dies of some unnamed disease almost the very first scene of the film. A day later, he receives a dog in the mail, with a sweet letter from his wife telling him that, since he can’t love her anymore, he should love this dog. It’s a very cute dog. But, before you know it, some Russian gangsters have broken into his house, killed the dog, and stolen his incredibly nice Mustang — don’t ask me to tell you what it is beyond “a Mustang,” since my knowledge of cars is exactly null.

So, John decides to take revenge. The main perpetrator was Iosef (Alfie Allen), who is the son of a big-time criminal, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist). Viggo and John used to be partners, but John manages to get out of the business, and there’s not a lot of ill-will between them. But Viggo knows that John was the best of the best, and that his son will most likely die. In addition to a whole host of nameless guards — who serve as cannon fodder — he enlists the help of two other hitmen to try to take out John: Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), and Marcus (Willem Dafoe).

Most of John Wick consists of our hero walking into a place and promptly shooting the dozen or so Russians that are there before getting a clue as to where his target will be. Rinse and repeat about five times, and you have John Wick. When Viggo told his son — and the audience — that John was the very best, “the man you hire to kill the Boogeyman,” he wasn’t joking. John is playing on easy mode.

Watching John progress through these action scenes is a visceral joy. He does it with such grace, style, easy, and efficiency that you can’t help but love watching him go about it. These scenes are so wonderfully choreographed and performed that they do make John seem like the coolest hitman you’ve ever seen. He seems to know exactly where everyone will be at any given moment, and a couple of body shots of a headshot later, and he’s already moved onto the next target. It’s incredibly entertaining.

I figured this would get boring, but it doesn’t. The action scenes aren’t all the same, which helps. They take place in a few different locations, and consists of a little more than just random gunfights. But the film also manages to create intrigue into its world, which was a nice added touch. There’s a whole code by which these characters live, including having a hotel designated just for hitmen, under which no business can be conducted. Even though John’s been retired for several years, everyone knows him and lets him go about his business. John Wick gives us these details in short bursts that seem unimportant at the time, but you piece them together and start to realize just how well this world was thought out.

It’s surprising how many laugh-out-loud moments are contained within John Wick, but there are a number of them. Perhaps the funniest parts come from single-word responses. Not one-liners, but one-worders — which should become a thing, by the way. A simple “oh” can go a long way, which is something you’ll find out with this film.

John Wick is a very enjoyable action movie. It has wonderful action scenes that are filled with flair and are choreographed and performed wonderfully by the cast. It’s surprisingly funny, too, and contains some impressive world-building, which is a nice added touch. John Wick isn’t a deep character, and Keanu Reeves acting is hit-or-miss, but he certainly does well with the action scenes. This is a dark and exhilarating action movie, and if you’re a fan of action, this isn’t one to miss.


Disturbing Behavior

Being the new kid in a small town isn’t the easiest experience on the best of days. Everyone else already knows each other; you stand out from the crowd without so much as saying a word. Now imagine being the new kid in a town where the most prominent faction — the Blue Ribbons — are all perfect angels. Except that they might actually be pure evil, and that you are the only person who will be able to stop them. Such is the life of Steve (James Marsden), who begins Disturbing Behavior moving to Cradle Bay, a coastal town.

Steve immediately befriends some outcasts. Gavin (Nick Stahl) is a stoner. U.V. (Chad E. Donella) is also a stoner. Rachel (Katie Holmes) is “the girl.” She’s friends with the stoners so she’s probably also a stoner. A rundown of the cliques and factions occurs, and we’re shown the Blue Ribbons, and how perfect they are, even if something doesn’t seem right about them. It’s like they’re too perfect, and also people sometimes wind up dead. Former outcasts are met by Blue Ribbons and instantly “converted.” It’s almost as if mind control is being used…

More and more people start becoming Blue Ribbons until it’s eventually time to do something about it. So, Steve and co. have to both uncover just exactly what’s going on with the Blue Ribbons, and then put a stop to them. That is assuming, of course, that something is actually wrong with them. I wouldn’t want to give that away, now, would I? Wait. Of course I would. Something is definitely wrong with them. We wouldn’t have a movie if there wasn’t.

In theory, Disturbing Behavior is supposed to be a horror movie, or perhaps a semi-scary thriller. It is neither. There are no scares or thrills to be found. There is also no character development, good acting, competent dialogue, or anything beyond a kind of interesting premise. I’m not sure what someone is supposed to get out of Disturbing Behavior but it’s something that I wasn’t able to find. From almost start to finish, there was nothing to enjoy about this production. It was dull and dumb.

There are barely enough ideas here to make a feature film. Disturbing Behavior runs just over 80 minutes and about half of that probably could have been trimmed. The film’s director is David Nutter, whose greatest prior success was probably directing some X-Files episodes. At 44 minutes long, Disturbing Behavior probably would have been more successful. It would play well on the small screen, too. Consumed with commercial breaks and all, it would distract for an hour of TV while you wait for the next sports game to come on, or right before bed.

But as a feature film? It’s just not good. The standards are raised when you’re asking your audience to pay ten bucks or however much to view your product, and when it’s not even as good as a mystery TV show they could watch for free, you’ve got some problems. The only reason to watch Disturbing Behavior is if it’s on late-night cable and you can’t sleep. Chances are that it’ll put you right to sleep. Writing about it now is giving me just that sensation.

There’s a good chance that the film was made quickly and cheaply, done when the actors had some free time over a couple of weeks just to try to turn a quick profit. You know those comedy films that show up every now and then that look like buddy hang-out projects? Same kind of thing, except I have no idea if the actors here are friends in real life. I do know that they’re bland and don’t show any acting talent in this film, but I don’t know if that’s a fair indication. I don’t know how easy it would be to show enthusiasm for this project.

Disturbing Behavior probably had a decent idea for a movie buried somewhere within it, but that premise doesn’t shine through in the finished product. This is a dull, drab, and dumb movie with very few, if any, redeeming qualities. It’s not scary, it’s not thrilling, it doesn’t make you think, it doesn’t make you feel, and it won’t make you appreciate a single aspect about it. There are TV shows with better episodes that require half the time and none of the financial investment (assuming you have cable). Watch one of those instead.


See No Evil 2

In 2006, WWE was starting to get into making feature films starring its performers. The first one — at least, that truly felt like a WWE production — was See No Evil, an R-rated slasher movie starring Glenn “Kane” Jacobs … as the villain. If you remember that movie, you’ve got a better memory than I. Kane played Jacob Goodnight, someone who was abused as a child and now kills people and sometimes rips their eyes out, because childhood abuse is no laughing matter. Kane made for a scary villain but the film sucked because it wasn’t the least bit surprising or inventive.

Now, eight years later, Kane is back in See No Evil 2, which takes place the night after the original murders, which have been retconned to taking place in 2014. I don’t recall if the original film mentioned a year, but even if it did, who would remember, and who would go back to check even if they didn’t remember? This time, we’ve set the film in a morgue. Jacob Goodnight is dead, we think, and arrives at the morgue late that night. He’s examined by two people working the graveyard shift, Amy (Danielle Harris) and Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen).

It’s Amy’s birthday, but since all the murder victims are arriving at the morgue, she decides to postpone her plans with her friends to deal with them all. The surprise of surprises happens when her friends surprise her by visiting her at the morgue. The friends: Tamara (Katharine Isabelle), Kayla (Chelan Simmons), Carter (Lee Majdoub), and her brother, Will (Greyston Holt). They all party. But, eventually, they realize that Jacob Goodnight isn’t dead. They’re now trapped in the morgue with a serial killer.

From here, most of See No Evil 2 is what you’d expect out of a slasher movie. Goodnight walks around the morgue, the other characters run away from him, and slowly but surely they find themselves with a knife in the chest, or a couple of eyeballs missing, or what have you. They’re picked off one by one, and it’s basically a race to see whether or not the “main” characters — the ones you know will make it to the end — will escape or if Goodnight will kill them.

Except there are surprises. There are subverted tropes. You honestly won’t know who will make it to the end, if anyone does. After the first surprising death, I was even more intrigued by the film, because I had no idea who would survive. That’s part of the fun that’s often lost with these kinds of movies. You can so frequently predict who will see the last few frames; when that doesn’t happen, you’re automatically going to have more fun.

The morgue makes for a suitably creepy environment in which to set this movie. Morgues are inherently scary, as they have a whole bunch of dead people, and dead people are scary — unless you’re, like, into that sort of thing — so putting a serial killer here is also scary. The film has also been shot wonderfully. You can make death gruesome and bloody, or you can make it beautiful … and bloody. The directors, the Soska sisters, chose the latter. They can make blood splatter look gorgeous, and they do that here.

Kane is an imposing presence both in the ring and in movies. He’s large and can be made to look really frightening. He is a perfect slasher movie villain. He even gets to do a little more acting this time around, getting actual dialogue and a couple of reflective and contemplative shots. The other actors are here to run around, look panicked, and eventually die. They fulfill that job nicely. And while there aren’t any huge names, the biggest names in the film won’t necessarily be the ones who survive the longest, which is great and something I really want to emphasize.

See No Evil 2 is a definite improvement on its predecessor, although one has to wonder exactly how hard that would have been. Throw in some surprises, add a little bit of creativity, and make sure you can see everything for the film’s duration, and you’ve already done better. Kane once again makes for a good slasher villain, and the film’s surprises and surprising beauty makes it a slasher film worth your time — even if it is still just watching empty characters being killed one by one.


Another Me

“Well, that was a complete waste of time,” is what I thought immediately after viewing Another Me, which is a young adult ghost story with very little ghost, very little story, and is young adult only in the sense that its leading character is a teenager. Mostly, it’s a go-nowhere mystery movie whose conflicts are tiny and insignificant and whose idea of entertainment is to tell us what’s going on up-front and then treat it like it’s something to hide afterward. No, that doesn’t make sense.

Our lead is Fay (Sophie Turner), a teenager whose initial voiceover narration informs us that her life was perfect until she was 15, at which point her father (Rhys Ifans) was struck with multiple sclerosis. Then nobody was particularly happy. Her mother (Claire Forlani) is obviously having an affair, her dad can no longer walk or fend for himself, and she’s just kind of not all that happy. After winning the leading female role in a school play of MacBeth, her understudy taunts her by claiming she only won the role because her father’s dying. Well, maybe.

This is all (mostly) unimportant background information. One day, Fay begins to think that someone is following her. We see shadowy figures moving in the background — there’s no way she could, but she somehow does anyway, because otherwise they’re doing it for our benefit, and that’s bad filmmaking — some lights flicker, and … that’s about it, really. Fay suspects her understudy is doing it, but has no proof. We know it’s not, and that the understudy is just kind of a mean girl, or jealous girl.

There’s no mystery to it all. There aren’t any scares, no attempt at generating suspense or tension, and nothing even remotely interesting. You watch this movie, hoping that it’ll build to something, or become about something, or deliver a final twist that’ll change your entire perception of what it previously showed you, but none of that happens. Once the last reveal happens, you could write the ending yourself. And it’s barely even a reveal. It’s certainly not something worth watching for.

What else is there to it? Well, there’s watching Fay do very, very little of consequence, which involves a terrible romantic subplot with one of her classmates, or the mother’s affair, which … really didn’t need to exist. Outside the central mystery, which is terrible, there isn’t a single thing to be on the lookout for in this film. Nothing will keep your interest, nothing will make you think, nothing will intrigue you — the film is empty.

It doesn’t help that its leading character, Fay, is so completely worthless. She doesn’t act with any sort of logic, her emotions are, for the most part, relegated to either being nonexistent or fearful, and her actor, Sophie Turner, doesn’t give her anything else to latch onto. She says the lines but otherwise looks dispassionately through most of the film. And when she’s surrounded by better actors, like Claire Forlani, Rhys Ifans, Geraldine Chaplin, or Jonathan Rhys Meyers (as a drama teacher), this really shows.

There’s nothing else to say. Another Me isn’t a compelling mystery movie. The mystery is easy to figure out — and is essentially told to you near the beginning — but then the film tries to make it seem like a secret anyway. Once you get past that, it’s a barren movie underneath. There aren’t any ideas or characters to grab a hold of, so you’ll spend most of the time wishing to be watching something better, instead of paying attention to what’s going on — and you’ll still figure it all out before the end.


13 Eerie

A generic but not completely worthless movie, 13 Eerie might not change any worlds but it contains a couple of scares, enough gore, and some interesting zombies that will allow you to almost justify spending 90 minutes with it. Is it ultimately worth the time? Probably not, but it doesn’t feel like a waste if it happens to be playing and you happen to be watching it. That’s always a possibility. You never know when the remote might be a step or two away and you’re far too lazy to get up to change the channel.

Set in an abandoned island that used to be used for prisoners, the film involves six forensic science students being taken outside to perform a field exam. Their professor (Michael Shanks) set up three exam sites, so the students are separated into teams of two in order to determine how long the body’s been there, cause of death, etc. Science stuff, anyway. He watches them over surveillance cameras and communicates via walkie talkies, as they’re too far off the beaten path to get cell phone reception.

The surprise of all surprises comes when zombies attack. Well, it starts with one group finding a corpse, asking if it was part of the exam, and then looking back and no longer seeing it. It disappeared. Soon after, people start disappearing. Eventually, the remaining members of the group get together and try to flee, either by killing the zombies or running away from them. Those not so lucky get turned and try to eat their former friends. How can you not at least have some sort of affection for this sort of tired premise?

13 Eerie takes longer to get to the zombie-killing action than you’d expect because of a clever idea: since the exam involves corpses, and the professor is known for tricking students, everyone believes it’s just him playing games on them. This is also the first time these students have worked with real corpses, so their psychological state might not be in the most solid of places. The zombies start by just running through bushes, only seen out of the corners of eyes.

After the killings start happening and being noticed, 13 Eerie plays out like your standard zombie film. You’ll notice entire scenes lifted from earlier and better movies. That doesn’t make them boring here — just derivative. There are a couple of unique scenes, which includes one scene of such incredibly hilarity that I almost want to recommend the movie based solely on it. I laughed harder at one point in 13 Eerie than in most comedies out there. It’s not a comedy but for one moment it becomes a great one.

What it isn’t is particularly scary. Because you’ve seen a lot of these scenes before, you know how they’re going to establish scares. If you know what’s coming, you’re not going to be frightened by it. The zombies are also shown too often and too early on, I think. The more you see something, the less scary it becomes. I can see why the filmmakers would want to show off the zombies, though, as their design is one of the film’s high points. A good amount of work has been put into the zombie costumes and makeup, helping to, well, bring them to life.

There’s also a substantial amount of blood and gore, so if that’s your thing, you won’t be disappointed. The inherent “ick” factor is present given that early scenes involve working with cadavers. Maggots and rotting flesh are both present, and I know that can make some people squirm. I think there’s a wasted opportunity here, though. These are forensic students, but that career path never plays into how they deal with the zombies. It’s just a way to get them to this location.

At least we don’t get superfluous back story about why the zombies are the way they are. We learn that biological testing was done in this location — unbeknownst to our protagonists — and that’s about all that we need. That allows director Lowell Dean to not slow down his directorial debut. The pacing is great, the cinematography is crisp, and there’s nothing wrong with it on a technical level. Some more polish makes it feel less generic, but playing it safe with a debut helps you get more work.

13 Eerie is a well-paced zombie movie with some good looking creatures, a couple of solid scares, and one hilarious scene of comedy. It’s generic to the bone, though, which means that a lot of it feels like something you’ve seen before. It starts out with a clever setup but eventually degenerates to a “zombies attack” movie. There’s little fundamentally wrong with it, and if it happens to be on television some night and you want to watch it, you’re not going to feel like you wasted your time.