mystery

REVIEW: The Tale (2018)

After her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story she wrote when she was thirteen, Jennifer (Laura Dern) tries to re-examine her first sexual relationship, the people involved and what truly happened that summer.

The Tale is based on writer and director Jennifer Fox’s own experiences and based on the story she wrote as the teenager. This makes this story all the more compelling and heartbreaking as it’s a sexual abuse survivor, telling her story in her own words as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her.

This is not just a story about abuse, but a story about memory. Jennifer can remember her riding teacher Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki) and her coach Bill (Jason Ritter) so vividly but has difficulty picturing herself in those memories and remembering how she felt and what she knew. As she reconnects with people who spent the summer with her at the riding school, Jennifer begins to realise that some of her memories don’t match up with other people’s recollections.

The Tale is told with two narratives running parallel to one another; Jennifer as an adult, suddenly having to confront her past, and Jenny as a child (Isabelle Nélisse) living the experiences Jennifer is now recalling. Both Nélisse and Dern give powerful performances. Nélisse is brilliant as she slowly becomes less naïve about the world but still believing that what she’s experiencing is a relationship and that Mrs. G and Bill really love her. Dern is phenomenal as she perfectly captures the anguish as she revisits her past and now she’s older she can start to put into context what she experienced. The scenes where young and present-day Jennifer are in the same space helps show the haziness of memory as between the two of these points of view they try to find the truth of what happened.

The Tale handles the sensitive subject matter with grace and care. It’s a tough film to watch as it doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and sexual content. However, it’s powerful to see an independent and strong-willed woman reassess the trauma she experienced and decide what to do with that information. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Wind River (2017)

When game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the dead body of a young Native American girl (Kelsey Asbille) frozen in the snow, FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in to investigate the murder.

Wind River is an atmospheric and haunting film. It’s beautifully shot and has a wonderfully melancholy score. The setting is a character itself and the beautiful yet often desolate snowy landscapes adds to the isolation the characters feel. All these elements bring an extra level of harshness to the story. This is an environment where only the strong survive and the characters you meet are made from the environment they live in.

Jeremy Renner is fantastic and his performance here is one of his best to date. Gil Birmingham plays Martin, the father of murdered Natalie and he is brilliant. There’s a scene when he opens the door to Renner’s Cory and the emotions that play across his face is like an acting masterclass. Olsen’s Jane Banner is a pleasant surprise as while she’s not used to the environment she’s thrust into, she’s competent and smart and can more than hold her own.

The mystery may not be the most complex, nor the most original, but it is the characters that pull you into this film as they fight to discover the truth. Wind River is gripping and eerie and it’s almost uncomfortably gritty and realistic. The final act is heart-pumping stuff but it never becomes outlandish. Wind River is a chilling film and one that will stick with you for a while. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The babysitter cancelled last minute and Anne and Marco’s neighbour didn’t want their dinner party interrupted by a crying baby. So they leave her at home. They’re just next door, they have the baby monitor and will go and check on her every half hour, she’ll be fine. But it’s not fine. And when Anne’s desperately searching their too quiet house she comes to the dreadful realisation her baby is gone. Her baby is gone, the police are in her home and who knows what they will uncover…

The Couple Next Door is a gripping and twisty mystery. You never quite know where it’s going to go next as these characters lives very quickly start to unravel and more and more secrets and lies come to the surface. There’s tensions between Marco and his in-laws, Anne feels guilty and blames her husband for the fact they left baby Cora on her own and the press is out to get the family for the perceived neglect of their daughter.

I really felt for both Anne and Marco. Their whole world’s been turned inside out and the desperation and confusion they feel over their missing child really comes through in the writing. They are both unreliable narrators, Anne especially, which adds to the uncertainty both you as the reader feels while trying to piece everything together as well as the detectives looking into Cora’s kidnapping.

I feel like the writing in The Couple Next Door wasn’t the greatest but it was a compelling story that often had surprises and revelations at the end of each chapter which helped make it a very quick read. Sometimes the twists did seem a little far-fetched but as it was such a quick and enjoyable read I didn’t really mind too much.

The Couple Next Door is a good mystery thriller that leaves so many breadcrumbs for the reader to figure out the mystery but there’s so many unexpected revelations that I never did figure it out till the book actually wanted me to. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Graces by Laure Eve

The GracesLike everyone in her small seaside town, River is obsessed with the Graces. They’re a family with wealth, secrets, beauty and glamour, and everyone says they are witches. River wants to be like them and she wants to be liked by them. River wants to be a part of the Graces world and she knows exactly what she’s doing. Doesn’t she?

The Graces is a slow, atmospheric book that has a lot of mystery. You don’t know why River and her mum have moved to this town, you know very little about the Grace’s and while there is talk of magic and spells are performed it treads that fine line of being real and just a fantasy. The magical element of The Graces is one of the interesting things about the story, is magic real or does it not matter if it’s real or not, what matters is what you believe to be true? This is the idea that runs throughout The Graces as various things happen that make you question whether magic is really playing a part in these characters’ lives or if it is all pure coincidence.

It’s hard to connect with both River and the Grace children because they all hide so much of themselves from everyone. With the Graces, it adds to their mystery and makes sense but with River, even though the book is from her point of view you don’t really know much about her or her motivations for wanting to be so close to the Graces. It’s hard to connect with River as she seems to be keeping secrets from her friends and from herself so you never really know who she is. River changes herself to make the Graces like her, watching how everyone else who don’t manage to get the Graces attention acts and doing the exact opposite.

The Graces, Summer, Thalia and Fenrin, are a part of a family that likes to keep their affairs private and that just adds to the mystery surrounding them. They’re glamorous and come from old money so the weird things that happen around them could easily be put down to that rather than magic that Summer and River both desperately want to believe in.

The setting of The Graces, this beautiful small town on the British coast adds to the mystic surrounding the Graces. They are a family who has been in the area for generations so the woods and the sea almost seems a part of their identity. This adds to the mystery and potential magic of the story.

The Graces is an intriguing read even though not a lot happens until about two thirds of the way through. There’s something about the mystery that kept me reading even though I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. 3/5.

REVIEW: Odd Thomas (2013)

odd thomas movie posterSmall town cook Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) isn’t exactly normal. He can see dead people and sense when something bad is about to happen. When he encounters a mysterious man (Shuler Hensley) with links to dark forces, Odd must do something before the whole town is under attack.

Odd Thomas is a supernatural, horror film but it also fun and full of surprises. While it’s got a lot of death and evil creatures, Odd Thomas is more of a mystery really as Odd tries to figure out what’s going to happen to the town and when. All the strands of the mystery are there; some are more obvious than others but it doesn’t take anything away from the twists and turns.

The CGI in Odd Thomas isn’t the greatest but it is used sparingly and as the focus is more on the characters than big action-set pieces, the dodgy CGI doesn’t pull you out of the film too much.

One of the highlights of Odd Thomas is the characters. They are all likeable and believable and they actually communicate with each other. The fact that Chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe) knows about Odd’s supernatural gift means that Odd actually has help in catching bad guys and has someone to cover for him from the rest of the police department. Odd’s girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) also knows about Odd and supports and helps him when she can as well as being the voice of reason when he’s being reckless. So often in films about a guy with special abilities who must save the world, he keeps everything a secret from the people he’s closest too, causing unnecessary problems and conflict – Odd Thomas manages to avoid this cliché.

Odd Thomas is a fast-paced, mystery/horror film with likeable characters. It packs an emotional punch and is well-worth a watch. 4/5.

REVIEW: Slated by Teri Terry

slated by teri terryKyla has been Slated. Her memory’s erased, her personality is wiped blank and her memories are lost forever. The government claims she was a terrorist and that they are giving her a second chance – as long as she plays by the rules. But Kyla isn’t one to believe things just because someone tells her, and when she dreams things she shouldn’t know, are they dreams or are they whispers of her past? Someone is lying to her and nothing is as it seems. Who can Kyla trust in her search for the truth?

Slated is a gripping book. Some might feel it’s pretty slow and in some ways that’s true as it’s very character driven and there’s very few big action moments. It’s all about Kyla learning about herself, her new family and where she fits into her new life. She can’t remember anything so her family has to teach her simple things like how to wash the dishes and to tie her shoelaces. In many ways she is a child in a sixteen year olds body.

I found Kyla fascinating, she doesn’t act like Slated’s are supposed to act. She doesn’t know why this is, it’s just who she is but it causes problems when she asks too many questions. She’s intuitive and often untrusting but she still finds a way to express herself and tries to look after herself and others. As Kyla slowly learns more about her world and her past, you start to understand why she is a bit different but it never feels like the Chosen One cliché.

The intrigue surrounding Kyla’s world is brilliant. Slated is set in the near future in Britain so in some ways it’s familiar but in others it’s different and more sinister. Slated never stops and explains how the government and its laws work, it expects you to pick it up as Kyla does so you never really know who you can trust which is great. There’s always a sense of foreboding due to the way the mysterious Lorders dish out punishments.

Throughout Slated there’s a sense of wrongness that becomes clearer as the story progresses. The things Slated says about government control, terrorists and young people is timely and gripping. I definitely liked what it said about people being scared of those who ask questions and go against the status quo, it was definitely something you could relate to when the main story is about a girl who is a complete blank slate.

Slated is an intriguing start to a trilogy where you never know what you can believe. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

conspiracy of usAvery West is sixteen years old and knows nothing about her father until a boy comes into her life saying he works for her father’s family and they want to meet her. Soon she’s on an adventure in Paris, learning about her so-called family that is a part of a secret society called the Circle that seems to be able to control the world and her part to play in a prophecy. Two boys who work for Circle are Jack and Stellan and Avery isn’t sure if she can trust either of them as she discovers the prophecy is more like a conspiracy and it could destroy her life, along with the world.

The Conspiracy of Us is a great adventure story. It incorporates secret, world-controlling societies (think of the conspiracy theories about the Illuminati) with historical figures like Alexander the Great and how they relate to what’s going on today a bit like The Da Vinci Code. It’s a fast-paced book as you follow how all these clues are connected together and how it relates to a prophecy that Avery appears to be the centre of.

Avery is your standard YA heroine but a lot of her actions make sense. Thanks to her mother’s job, they’re constantly moving around the country so she’s never really made any long term friendships or connections meaning she’s quite closed off. What she’s always wanted though is to know who her father is so when that opportunity comes along she’s almost painfully naïve as she impulsively follows Stellan abroad in the hope to find him, not realising how reckless her actions could be.

Jack and Stellan are both intriguing characters. They both clearly have painful pasts but the way in which that has shaped them is different. There is a bit of a love triangle in The Conspiracy of Us which isn’t so great (not a fan of love triangles) but the way it sets it up means there’s interesting character moments.

One thing I really liked about The Conspiracy of Us is that it throws you pretty much straight into the action, there’s no long set up or world-building so with 30 pages you’ve met the three main characters and the plot is really kicking off. While the starting point of the book might not be that fleshed out, when it comes to the descriptions of cities like Paris and Istanbul, they were very vivid.

The Conspiracy of Us is an action-packed ride and would be great for people who like stories about treasure hunters. 4/5.