thriller

REVIEW: Crawl (2019)

When Haley (Kaya Scodelario) goes to check on her father (Barry Pepper) during a category 5 hurricane, she finds herself trapped in a flooding house with deadly alligators.

Crawl is a combination of creature feature and disaster movie and with that it has a lot of the usual tropes, but it uses them well. There is a fair few jump scares, but they feel earnt as the film knows how to crank up the tension, leaving you almost constantly on edge. The jumps care’s release the tension just for a moment but then you realise something truly horrifying is happening and it’s hard not to look away.

One thing about Crawl that makes it feel extra tense is how something like this could happen. Not the deadly alligators going on a rampage in a hurricane, but the hurricane and the dangers it brings. Characters must rely on wide-up torches and radios as the water levels rise and the threat of flood defences failing and making everything worse is a real problem. It’s not just the alligators Haley and her dad have to survive, it’s the elements as well.

Crawl tells a simple story well – it’s runtime is under 90 minutes and the pacing is so incredibly tight that you encounter the alligators much quicker than you’d think. Scodelario and Pepper both give great performances as Hayley and her dad’s interactions feel believable as they fight to survive together. Also, the script is great as through their short conversations throughout the film you learn about their history which helps flesh out their characters without it ever feeling like a big exposition dump.

Crawl has all the makings of becoming a classic creature-feature. It’s tense, scary, claustrophobic and suitably gory and knows how to give the audience a brief reprise through humour every now and then too. The song that plays over the credits is so unexpected but also ridiculously perfect. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Open Grave (2013)

When a man (Sharlto Copley) wakes up in a mass grave, with no memory of what happened to him, he must determine if the murderer is one of the five strangers who rescued him, or if he himself is the killer.

Open Grave is a tense, well-acted film, and it really works when you know as little about the story as possible. It’s creepy and unsettling and it will definitely make you jump a few times.

The atmosphere that’s set up from the very beginning is foreboding and unsettling. The deep pit the protagonist wakes up in is in the middle of nowhere, with the only house nearby being occupied by five people who either can’t remember what happened either, or can’t communicate what they know.

The way the story is played out means you are trying to figure out what’s happening at the same time as the characters are. The suspense is maintained throughout as different characters discover different elements to the truth but as they have no reference point, it still doesn’t always make sense to them – or they jump to what could be a very wrong or dangerous conclusion.

Sharlto Copley is brilliant as a man who is not sure who to trust and, as he gets flashes of memory, he’s not even sure he can trust himself. The rest of the cast are great too, managing to juggle the right amount of fear and suspicion with the desire to survive.

Open Grave is a compelling film that’s sharply directed and knows how to build the tension. The way it sprinkles in answers throughout is great as it’s not until the end of the film do you see how everything fits together. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Netherlands: Safe as Houses by Simone van der Vlugt

Trigger warnings for rape.

Home is supposed the be a safe place, but when a man forces his way into Lisa’s house taking her and her five-year-old daughter Anouk hostage, there’s no where to hide. In the coming days, Lisa will do just about anything to keep her daughter safe, but all the while she wonders why the only witness to her attack has not raised the alarm.

Translated by Michele Hutchison.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Julia Binns and due to both the narration and the story itself, I flew through this book. Safe as Houses is such a compelling story, there’s no slow set-up, instead within the opening chapters Lisa’s home is invaded by a dangerous criminal. It’s fascinating to see how Lisa tries to relate to Kruger, the escaped criminal who has a twisted mind, in order to try and keep herself and her daughter safe. Numours times Lisa ponders how she would react if she didn’t have Anouk with her and this book truly shows the strength of a mother’s determination.

Kruger is a violent man and he sexually assaults and rapes Lisa, believing she’s interested in him and wants it. She shuts down and can’t say no as she’s terrified of what he might do if she puts up a fight. Those scenes are tough to read (or in my case listen to) and they really made my skin crawl.

The emotions of the different characters are fully realised, and they all act in believable ways. Even five-year-old Anouk is neither too mature for her age nor an inconvenience to the plot. She’s a child that on some level knows that things aren’t good as her mother is hit in front of her and they are forced to sleep in the basement, but she also still wants to do finger paints and play with her dolls. When there’s the more everyday moments between Lisa, Kruger and Anouk, having breakfast together, or watching the TV together, it makes everything feel even more unsettling and on a knifes edge.

Safe as Houses is an incredibly fast-paced story so it’s unfortunate that while the conclusion is thrilling, it also comes to an abrupt stop. It’s the sort of ending where I wish there was an epilogue so you could see how the characters are coping because they went through such horrendous things in order to survive. I just wanted a little more from the conclusion after enjoying the rest of the novel.

Safe as Houses is a gripping thriller that’s often tense and scary. It’s a proper page-turner though not necessarily a thriller that will stick in my mind for a long time. Still, it was a strangely enjoyable read. 4/5.

REVIEW: Bird Box (2018)

When a mysterious force decimates the population, the one thing survivors do know is that if you see it, you die. Blindfolded and following her last hope for safety, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her children embark a dangerous journey down a river to the one place that may offer sanctuary.

Bird Box starts with Malorie telling her two children the rules about what they’re about to do, the most important one being – never take off your blindfold. As they set off on their journey, the film goes back to six years earlier and that’s where you slowly start to learn how Malorie ended up in this dire situation and how the world started to collapse.

For the most part, the film manages these two plots well as there’s multiple flashbacks and in fact the majority of the film is about Malorie meeting other people and them all learning how to survive together. However, having these two plots does make it a bit over-stuffed and potentially a bit longer than it needs to be.

Sandra Bullock is fantastic. Malorie manages to be strong, desperate, thoughtful and cold all at once. She is the focal point of the film and you can feel her terror. The supporting cast is great too, some have less to do than others – it’s easy to forget about Jacki Weaver’s character – but when they’re on screen they all bring something to this desperate and very different group of people.

Bird Box knows how to amp up the tension and bring the scares when needed. It’s all about less is more, and it’s the fear of the unknown that puts you on edge. An eerie score along with tight direction makes the story which could verge on the outrageous, be more uncomfortable and enthralling.

Bird Box is tense and, at times, horrifying. The performances suck you in and at times it can be a heart-pounding experience. It’s now available on Netflix and is definitely worth a watch. 4/5.

REVIEW: Gattaca (1997)

Set in the near future, parents genetical modifying their unborn children to be the best they can be is the norm. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is an in-valid, someone who was conceived naturally and because his genetic make-up wasn’t modified is seen as inferior. In order to follow his dreams, Vincent assumes the identity of genetically superior Eugene (Jude Law) but soon the authorities are closing in and Vincent’s secret is under threat of being exposed.

One of the best things about Gattaca is its world-building. In many ways it’s quite a small film, it has only two main locations, three main characters and a very self-contained and character driven plot. But the way this idea that genetically modification has become the norm and anything else is seen as wrong and worthless, is interwoven so well in the characters actions, the story, and little every day life details in the set design, makes this future seem so realistic.

Through the costumes, the buildings, and the way characters interact, the world of Gattaca seems like a very uniform and sterile place. Because of the environment they’re in, when Vincent begins to get close to his co-worker Irene (Uma Thurman) you get a sense on unease. Not only because any relationship between them might expose his secret but because it feels like romance and love doesn’t fit in this world.

Vincent is a character who is almost instantly likeable. Eugene, on the other hand, is biting and cold and it’s as his relationship with Vincent evolves from being one where they both need something from one another, to one where they are almost friends, that makes Eugene more sympathetic and likable. Hawke and Law give great performances, bouncing off each other as their characters find their feet around one another.

Gattaca combines its sci-fi premise with a tense crime thriller, but at its heart Gattaca is an absorbing drama. It has a world that’s rich with ideas and it’s a film that believes the audience is intelligent enough to follow these characters in a world that’s so different yet it’s a world that you can see coming to pass at some point. 5/5.

REVIEW: Widows (2018)

Four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead criminal husbands, take their lives into their own hands as they conspire to steal the money they need to repay the men who are out to hurt them, and to make a better life for themselves.

Directed by Steve McQueen who cowrote the screenplay with Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl and many other twisty stories, Widows is a tense heist thriller that never lacks in character and world building.

Widows grabs your attention straightaway, with the heist that goes wrong and leads to four career criminals dying. From then it’s an exploration of the people who are left behind and their grief and loss of what to do next. Viola Davis’s steely Veronica is the one who brings the widows together. She has plans left to her by her late husband (Liam Neeson) and needs help in order to get the money to stop those who wish to hurt her.

All four leading ladies are magnificent. Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda is struggling to provide for her young children, Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice has no career prospects, and Cynthia Erivo’s Belle is working multiple jobs to keep herself and her family afloat. They are four very different characters but they come together with one goal in mind. That’s not to say they don’t have their disagreements, but together they find a strength and determination that some of them didn’t know they had.

Set in Chicago with a backdrop of criminal activity, by politicians and more traditional criminals alike, Widows manages to be a compelling story about interesting and layered women while also managing to bring in race, politics and class into the story. These elements flesh out the Chicago setting. Colin Farrell plays Jack Mulligan, a career politician and whose family has been elected to office for generations, while Brian Tyree Henry plays Jamal Manning, a man who has criminal connections but is from the neighboured he’s campaigning to represent. These two men each have underhand dealings but they approach illegal activity, politics and violence in very different ways.

While Widows is building towards a heist, it’s the characters themselves and the stages they have to go through to prepare for the heist that’s the main focus of the film. That doesn’t make it, or the final crime, any less satisfying. You learn about these women, the hardships they’ve faced, and the forces that are out to stop them, and you soon realise that nothing is going to stop them from doing what they set out to do. 5/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible (1996)

As the latest film in the Mission Impossible series is released at the end of July, I thought I’d rewatch the series and review them all, posting a review a week leading up to Fallout’s release.

When his team is killed, and he’s presumed to be a traitor, Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must discover and expose the real traitorous spy without the help of his organisation.

Mission: Impossible is great because it feels like an old-fashioned spy thriller rather than a full-on action film. It focusses on the mystery behind who is the real mole in the organisation and while the set-pieces it has are gripping, it’s very much a character driven film.

The settings also make it feel almost timeless. The way the foggy streets of Prague are lit gives the scenes there an almost film-noir feel. Those scenes introduce the team, led by Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), showing how each of them fits into their roles, and some of their cool gadgets too, and how things can quickly unravel when there’s potentially a traitor in their midst.

The iconic sequence midway through the film, you know the one – Ethan Hunt is hanging on a wire, into a room where he cannot make a sound or touch the floor – is fantastic. It’s so tense and thrilling and a large part of that is due to the fact that there is no music. As soon as Hunt enters the room, it’s just the sounds the characters make that you can hear, nothing else. This cranks up the tension to almost nerve-wracking levels.

Mission: Impossible is a great spy thriller with a lot of twists and turns. The few action sequences are great, though the finale is a bit over the top. That being said, it’s a finale built on the revelations that Hunt, and the audience, has been seeking throughout the film, so it’s pretty satisfying. 4/5.