Category Archives: Thrillers

The Dig (2018) Review By Philip Henry

 

The Dig Review

Director: Andy Tohill & Ryan Tohill
Writers: Stuart Drennan
Stars: Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Emily Taaffe, Francis Magee

This low budget Northern Irish film got a limited theatrical release last year and since then has been doing the rounds of the festivals and picking up awards and favourable reviews wherever it screens. It’s just been acquired by a US distributor and is due for another limited release in cinemas over there before it hits streaming and VoD platforms, which is probably where most people will find it.

So for a low budget film shot in 18 days, it’s doing very well. I went into it knowing nothing at a local screening and was able to chat with the producer and one of the directors after their Q&A. The film was shot not far from where I live on a bog during the bitterly cold November in 2017. It’s the sort of barren landscape rarely seen on-screen, but it suits the needs of this story perfectly.

Vikings star Moe Dunford plays Ronan Callahan who returns to his dilapidated family home after fifteen years in jail. He complains to local cop Murphy (Francis Magee) that Sean McKenna (Lorcan Cranitch) is on his land digging holes. Murphy refuses to do anything about it, having nothing but contempt for the ex-con. What the script slowly reveals is that Ronan was in jail for murdering Sean’s daughter. The body was never found and Sean has spent fifteen years systematically searching the huge bog behind Ronan’s home for her body. The thing is, Ronan doesn’t know where she is either, for although he was convicted of the murder, he was drunk that night and can’t remember what happened.

The prospect of watching people dig holes in a bog may not sound like an enticing way to spend your evening, but due to the clever script and direction, the film actually feels more like a murder mystery, albeit one with a very unconventional structure. The script tightens its emotional grip minute by minute, making you want to know what happened just as much as Sean does.

I’ve never seen any of Vikings, so I was unaware of Moe Dunford’s work, but he excels in this role. Ronan is a tortured soul still paying his penance after his jail sentence has been served. He doesn’t remember if he killed the girl or not, but without a clear recollection to the contrary, he takes all the hostility and punishment directed at him like a beaten dog. Lorcan Cranitch, who I’ll always remember as Jimmy Beck from Cracker, plays the broken father, literally searching for closure. Emily Taaffe is perfectly cast as Sean’s surviving daughter Roberta who is just trying to hold her father together. She dutifully brings him his lunch every day on the bog or he’d forget to eat, and that tells us a lot about her dedication and her father’s single-mindedness. Murphy, the cop, is a modern day sheriff, more likely to deliver a gut-punch than a restraining order if he feels he’s justified and Francis Magee seems tailor-made for that part.

It’s refreshing to see a murder/ mystery made in Northern Ireland that doesn’t fall back on the old Troubles clichés. This is a universal story of loss, devotion, grief and love that could’ve been set anywhere, but the landscape and nods to Irish folklore give it an extra layer that other locations might’ve missed. It’s a step towards genre film-making in Northern Ireland and one I welcome. Hopefully this leads to bigger things for the Tohill brothers and writer Stuart Drennan. Keep an eye out for them.

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Negative (2017) Movie Review By Steven Wilkins

Negative Review

Director: Joshua Caldwell
Writer: Adam Gaines
Stars: Katia Winter, Simon Quarterman, Sebastian Roché 

When a casual photographer Hollins (Quarterman) snaps a photo of a seemingly unassuming woman named Natalie (Winter), his life is flipped upside down when she shows up to retrieve the photo.

With very little explanation, she informs him that his life is now in danger and in order to survive he must flee with her to Arizona.

After being left in the dark for a spell, she finally explains her shady MI-6 past and all that’s transpired up to the point of the photograph. On the run from the cartel hunting her, this pretty much turns into one lengthy road trip full of empty convo that tries desperately to deliver suspense.

Unfortunately, this movie SEVERELY lacks the one thing you would fully assume would be front and centre action.  It isn’t the final act of the film that you’re rewarded with some bloodshed.  At this point, the story unfolds and you’re either fully committed or completely exhausted and ready for it to just be over with.  One could assume this all looked great on paper and it’s clear this is a low low budget film but the delivery falls slightly short of what it’s aiming for.

Far from a must see but decent enough to burn some time, Negative is nothing more than an excuse to pop some popcorn and log in another viewing. Enjoy.

Rating: C

Glass (2019) Movie Review By The Movie Couple

Glass Review, Security guard David Dunn uses his supernatural abilities to track Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed man who has twenty-four personalities.

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

Movie Couple here!  We saw Glass this weekend!  Remember we are just a married couple that loves movies!  We’re here to tell you if we liked it.  Film students we are not!  Just a quick reminder of our rating system.

Mrs. Movie Couple and I, rate films on whether they are worth the cash spent on a night out.  we use a 1-6 Dollar Bill system.  1-2 Bills equal a waste of both our time and money!  3-4 Bills equal Meh to Pretty Good, money well spent!  5-6 Bills equal Wow!  Well worth the price of dinner, movie and sitter!  Please take our money again!

We both are old enough to have seen Unbreakable in the theatre (you do the math on our age, yes we were together then as well).  As fans of that film we were eager for this installment.  I had seen Split and was as shocked as everyone else when it turned out at the end to be an extension of Unbreakable.  Mrs. Movie Couple, saw Split on demand at my recommendation.  Full disclosure, we both loved Unbreakable and were (no pun intended) split on Split.  I was a huge fan, my better half not so much.  So now that you have our history with M. Night Shyamalan’s “Trilogy” in the making, lets get to the review.

Glass picks up right where Split left us.  Bruce Willis’ David Dunn in pursuit of James McAvoy’s Kevin Wendall Crumb better known as The Horde.  Soon events bring the two under the care of a Psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (like at the center of comic books?…) played by Sarah Paulson.  Kept under heavy guard as well as lock and key, Dr. Staple is convinced that they and many others suffer from a delusion that they are superheroes right out of a comic book.  She is a specialist in such areas.  We learn that she has been treating Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, the Title bearing Mr. Glass, sometime during his incarceration for his actions in Unbreakable.  She is here to help!  She seeks to cure them of this infirmary.

That is a spoiler free plot description.  This could have gone a long way to create suspense for us Unbreakable and Split fans, Is she right?  Are our hero and villains simply nuts?!  Unfortunately, M. Night has proven thoroughly in Unbreakable and Split that this is not he case.  Had we even for a moment in either previous film been left with doubt, this could have kept us guessing.  Had M. Night envisioned this as a trilogy from the beginning, I think that would have been the avenue he would have taken and it would have worked better.  Not to say this movie doesn’t keep us guessing, at least a little.  If you’ve seen the trailers, as Jackson’s Mr. Glass says the bad guys do indeed team up!  And for fans of the first two films it is exactly what we hoped for.

Anya Taylor-Joy returns as survivor girl, Casey Cooke, Spencer Treat Clark is also in tow as David’s now adult son, his “guy in the chair” if you will and Charlayne Woodard shows up as Mrs. Price all of them important anchors to each of the main characters.  Is Dr. Staple on the up and up?  Will the combined might of Mr. Glass and the Beast be more than a match for David Dunn’s Overseer (a nickname he has garnered on line for his vigilante activities)?  If that sounds like a comic book cover, it’s intentional!  All this gets answered and some other twists arise along the way toward our conclusion!   Mr. Glass longs for his life to become  just like the comics he read and worshiped growing up and this is his movie after all.  The conclusion to this film is not what everyone is expecting and some of the twists will have M. Night fans ecstatic and his detractors rolling their eyes.  The performance by McAvoy is a standout!  His portrayal of all the Horde‘s personalities is every bit as good as it was in Split and maybe even better.  His scenes with Taylor-Joy were a highlight!  I can’t praise him enough for his acting skills in this film.  He’s been just OK to us in other things we’ve seen, but here as in Split, McAvoy is a tour de force.

So here we go!

Mr. Movie Couple:  I loved it!  Yes, you may be able to see the twists and reveals coming a bit, but as a conclusion to what started in Unbreakable and Split it was perfect.  It had an ending that I didn’t see coming, as if the film was a relic of the 70’s cinema.  Can’t say why without giving much away, but I mean that in a good way.  Willis and Jackson were great, they slipped back into the roles of David and Elijah as if no time had past at all.  McAvoy for me was worth the price of admission alone!  He was simply amazing!  The ending felt open ended, as if M. Night could return to this ‘Universe’ should he want to, but it won’t be necessary.  If this completes the trilogy with no more to come I feel it was a job well done!  Reviews are mixed, but I enjoyed this film and recommend it highly!

Mrs. Movie Couple:  She liked it!  She really liked it!  Which quite frankly surprised me.  She felt it was a little slow, but felt the conclusion was perfect and surprised her more than she expected it to.  She was also highly impressed with McAvoy.  She couldn’t take her eyes off his performance was her exact words.  At first she didn’t care for the storyline between Taylor-Joy and McAvoy.  She could not understand the victim interacting with her attacker, But by the movie’s conclusion she felt it was her favorite part!  She loved how Casey had become almost Belle-like to Crumb’s Beast!  Again her words not mine!

We both talked about the actors, characters and the film’s conclusion many days after watching it and for us that’s a ringing endorsement.  I give it 5 Bills, the Mrs. gives it 4 Bills, So we give Glass a 4.5 Bills!  I say well worth the money spent on a night out!

So until we head out to the cinema again, which could be a while if the Government Shutdown continues, hard to justify movie tickets and sitters with no paycheck!  See you next date night at the movies!

Small Town Crime (2017) Movie Review By Darrin Gauthier 

Small Town Crime Review, An alcoholic ex-cop (Hawkes) finds the body of a young woman and, through an act of self-redemption, becomes hell-bent on finding the killer but unwittingly puts his family in danger and gets caught up with several dark characters along the way.

Directors: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
Writers: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
Stars: John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer 

Plot:  An alcoholic ex-cop (Hawkes) finds the body of a young woman and, through an act of self-redemption, becomes hell-bent on finding the killer.

Running Time: 91 Minutes

IMDB Score: 6.6

Why I Watched It: Mostly the cast, the trailer looked promising.

Random Thoughts: First off Small Town Crime is a bad title, alright not bad but boring and very generic honestly a 100 movies could be called that.

Octavia Spencer was one of the producers on this and what’s interesting about that is the film isn’t a star vehicle for her, she’s in it but a supporting role.

What I Liked: I didn’t know much about this film, I knew just what the trailer told me so I went in kind of blind or trailer blind and as it started I was wondering if this was going to be a straight drama or more of a crime thriller.  The film very much starts out as an indie character piece, Hawkes plays an ex-cop who is an alcoholic, and we follow him around and at this point I wasn’t sure where the film was going but at one point he finds a girl’s body and then the plot kicks in and we enter film noir/detective territory and for me this is when the film begins to get good, this is pretty much a noir, Hawkes pretty much begins investigating what happened to the girl and he and we meet a lot of quirky characters.  

Let me throw in that I love film noir, detective stories and sadly we don’t get many anymore but this one sucked me in for two main reasons the cast and the script,both are very good and for the most part understated, John Hawkes is a very good character actor and he’s perfect here cause he’s perfect at playing grey, he doesn’t come off good or bad, he’s kind of likeable but you’re not real sure, he has a very brutal backstory and that is done well, done in flashbacks and wants different is Hawkes character doesn’t really talk about it, it’s clear he’s carrying it but it’s not what this story is about.  The main plot is very layered and it tool me awhile to get the vibe that this is almost a private detective origin story.

The film is more straight forward than I thought it would be, this is a tight little thriller, it doesn’t have a lot of action but the violence is very gritty and it’s played straight and at times brutal.  The direction real is subtle, the Nelms brothers to their credit show re-straight and they don’t go big they keep this character based and they build slowly to the plot.  The cast here is very good now a thing of note Octavia Spencer plays John Hawkes sister, now in most films that would require an explanation or a big backstory not here, Anthony Anderson is married to Spencer’s character and for over half the movie we don’t know he’s Hawkes brother-in-law.  I can’t say how much a like a film not over explaining it’s characters and not bogging down a story with melodrama and back story. The mystery is done well I want to give a shout out to Michael Vartan who has the stock role of the helpful cop and Vartan not only underplays but does show he likes Hawkes character without having to say it.

What I Didn’t Like: Now the film is brisk at 91 minutes and it moves well but I do fell the beginning dragged, we see Hawkes character but we don’t learn anything about him, it takes the plot for us to get a clue about him.  I fell they could have used the first 15-20 minutes better, set him up a little more. I liked the cast but a couple of actors are very underused,  I love Robert Forster he has one good scene and that’s it, same as Clifton Collins Jr, he’s good here and he has a good little arc but he could have been drawn out better and defined more with more screen time. I will say for the most part the film does try very hard to be different but they do go to the huge cliche of someone getting kidnapped and we have to make an exchange finale, and yes a big shoot out, it works but it’s very very stock.

Final Thoughts: I enjoyed it, it is a little left of centre, not Hollywood or popcorn at all, it does a nice job of telling a well crafted but small scale film noir.

Rating: 8/10

The Shallows (2016) Movie Review By Darrin Gauthier

The Shallows Review

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writer: Anthony Jaswinski
Stars: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo

Plot:  A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 78%    Audiences 54%

Why I Watched It: I almost didn’t, was dragging my feet cause for the most part shark movies are cliched and same old same old, plus the shadow of Jaws is very large.

Random Thoughts:  I will say I’m coming around on Blake Lively, I wasn’t much of a fan, she’s fine but not my favourite, and she’s one of the reason it took me awhile to watch this cause it’s like mostly her and a shark for the run time of this movie.  Seeing the adds for this movie I was like this is an excuse to see Lively in a bikini for 90 minutes, but I saw All I See Is You, which I didn’t really care for but did like her performance and that kind of swung me around to watch the film, that and it was a killer shark movie.

What I Liked: This one was a very pleasant surprise for me, I not only enjoyed it but was a little shocked I did.  This is a very small film scale wise, heck all the danger is like 200 yards away from land and no danger but once the action starts this is a very well done little thriller/horror movie they played it small and intense and made it about survival.  It’s one of the rare cases where having a shark act like a serial killer worked in a movie.

The film works cause it’s not man versus nature it’s Blake Lively’s character versus this shark, the shark knows she’s there and wants to eat her, she knows the shark is there and doesn’t want to be eaten.  I give the film a ton of credit for keeping this intense and for the most part grounded, they didn’t go over the top and they stayed clear of going campy and silly.  Lively does a good job of making us care if she survives, she’s tough smart and scared, and it works so much cause she doesn’t play it like a macho action star, she wants off the rock, she doesn’t need to kill the shark she just wants to get to land, and we also have the ticking clock cause the tide is coming and she’s injured so she has to be proactive she can’t just wait to be rescued.

The film is very well directed and shot, not easy to make a film in water, go ask Kevin Costner, but they kept the film tight and for the most part they kept the tension and the horror retched up.  The story is tricky, a women gets attacked by shark and now she has to get to shore, that’s maybe a 30 minute story there, but the filmmakers used the passing of time well, every minute of screen time that is being used up we know Lively’s character is closer to death one way or another.

The action stuff is very well done it’s been awhile since a shark movie got to me and this did, the ending is very well shot and it built up really well.

What I Didn’t Like: I know it’s hard to call an 86 minute movie long but it is, the beginning is slow and really they had to pad the run time but still it felt the need to had melodrama to a shark movie, did we care that this character left medical school, that her father was upset about it, we don’t need a soap opera sub-plot to make us care about her.

Other than that, not much to complain about, it’s not perfect but it’s a shark movie.

Final Thoughts: A solid horror/thriller that is much better than I thought it was going to be and yes I almost like Blake Lively, by the way she was very good here the biggest thing was making sure we cared she lived and she did that.

Rating: 7/10

Panic Room (2002) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Panic Room Review

Director: David Fincher
Writer: David Koepp
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto

It’s hard to believe anyone other than Jodie Foster in the leading role of Meg Altman in the film Panic Room. For almost 2 hours of this Crime Drama Thriller it is Foster who carries the film and some might say a difficult film to keep the suspense up and intensity in what is set in a house in New York with a handful of cast members. Before production the role of Altman was Nicole Kidmans until she found out she was expecting the arrival of her daughter, Sarah. Nevertheless, Kidman would still “appear” in the film in another role, although a cameo as the voice of Meg Altman’s ex husbands girlfriend on the phone. Panic Room is about a divorced woman Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her diabetic daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) who take refuge in their newly purchased house’s safe room, when three men break-in, searching for a missing fortune. Only trouble is, the fortune is in the Panic Room.

Jodie Foster is terrific as the mother Meg. Her primary goal isn’t to protect the house that she and her Daughter have just moved into. Her goal is to keep Sarah safe and suffering from diabetes adds to the complications that I spoke of in Koepps writing. Foster and Stewart do a great job as Mother and Daughter and you must remember that Stewart was only 11 or 12 at the time and shows a great level of maturity in her character portrayal and as an actor up alongside the veteran actor of Jodie Foster holds her own. I like the way that both are strong and focused (particularly Foster) in this plot. There are elements of fear that would come naturally to this scenario but Foster manages to portray Altman as a focused individual and in particular when she requires the cell phone and her daughters medical needs. Foster also portays the character as broken and hurt after her separation from her ex husband. You see this early on in the film where Foster appears distant, distracted by the situation of her relationship.

Junior (Leto), Burnham (Whitaker) and Raoul (Yoakam) as the villains word for me. I like the fact that all three men all have the same goal but how they go about succeeding shows the audience that all three have different approaches and characteristics. Leto’s Junior is the organiser who is a little impatient but will push to get the job done to an extent. Burnham is the technical expertise and helped build the panic rooms in his previous line of work and know the houses structure and outline. Burnam’s intentions are evident from the beginning, he means no harm and only wants the rewards in the most painless way possible. It’s also clear to see that originally from Burnham’s reaction in the arrival of the third member Raoul that the job was between him and Junior and somewhere down the line Raoul has been invited into the job by Junior. Leto as many know is one of the most famous method actors out there at the moment. Here I don’t really see that at this point in his career. His portrayal of Junior is erratic at times and petulant when push comes to shove. Whitaker is the calming presence amongst the chaos. The imposing towering stature of the man is the mirror opposite of his nature, Whitaker’s portrayal is a methodical and reasonable villain that he does well. Yoakam is possibly the biggest surprise of the three. His portrayal of Raoul in the beginning is mysterious and quiet, wearing a ski mask to disguise himself. It’s at the midway point in the film that we see the turn in his character and Yoakam’s performance is the one that stands out to me as he goes from quiet and sneaky to a nasty piece of work and reveals his intentions towards Meg and Sarah.

As far as David Fincher films go, Panic Room probably isn’t one of his best. That’s not to say it isn’t a good film. I mean it just isn’t up to the standards or as iconic as his previous films Fight Club or Seven (Se7en) I love a film that is set in an isolated environment and good writing and dialogue are relied on and in David Koepp we get exactly that. Koepp’s career as a writer is without question a success story in it’s own right. Films like Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way and Mission: Impossible along with a few more have Koepp’s mark all over it. In Panic Room the writer invents realistic scenarios to keep the suspense going and lets be honest you need this in a film set in a house where one party wants to remain safe in the Panic Room whereas the other party want into the Panic Room for their rewards. Sounds like a bit of a stalemate unless there are obstacles in the way. Fincher’s style in this film is the first time I saw that keyhole camera effect where the camera can go through bannisters on the stairs and into the wall cavities etc and at times I felt like the Director had a new toy that he couldn’t put down and for the first 30 minutes or so it became a little annoying. Forgetting that, the look of this old house and the lighting is also one of the movies themes and tones. It’s old, but not creepy. There is a lot of darkness and grey throughout the film and also deliberate out of focus shots that add to mystery and suspense.

Overall Panic Room is an enjoyable and suspenseful experience. Foster and Whitaker are equally brilliant from different perspectives and the supporting cast (albeit small) in Stewart, Yoakam and Leto leave us with memorable characters. David Fincher’s direction created a suspenseful yet somber toned film using rather dull colours and themes creating an isolated feel to the environment these characters found themselves in. It is not Fincher’s best movie by far, but it is a pretty decent film. Recommend.