Double Feature: Great White (2021) & The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Halloween month kicks off with an Australian shark film double feature. I couldn’t think of a better way than to pair up my fave horror subgenre to kick things off! Let’s check it out!

Great White (2021)

Director: Martin Wilson

Cast: Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Jason Wilder, Tatjana Marjanovic

A fun filled flight to a remote atoll turns into a nightmare for five passengers when their seaplane is destroyed in a freak accident and they are trapped on a raft, 100 miles from shore with man-eating sharks lurking beneath the surface. – IMDB

Great White is an Australian shark film which is mostly similar to The Reef (review), playing on the more serious shark film style where it builds up on tension and atmosphere. The story takes form with the group stranded in open waters and being circled by sharks in a lifesaver as they gradually paddle their way to the closest land. In theory, the film holds a lot of potential since this formula does work well. The emptiness and loneliness of the location plus the unknown elements at play all contribute to that formula. However, what puts Great White in disadvantage is that the story and writing itself is not well-executed and the characters mostly feel a little lacking.

Looking at the story and writing, there’s some big execution issues here. If you follow the time stamps on the film, there’s a decent set up for the situation where the bad stuff happens also relatively quickly. In usual circumstances, that’s a rather decent pacing. However, where things fall apart is that the events focus heavily on the group of stranded characters and the many hidden emotions they have with each other which leads to the story, despite the presence of the shark in the background being a threat, it also brings up on the human side a lot where some characters truly become a very grating experience and wondering when the next attack would be. Thing is, once they start off, things do happen but they do have a great deal of time together in this floatation device before the shark makes a move. The shark attack themselves are rather fun especially since a good part of the film is in the dark so the unknown becomes even more apparent.

The writing issue touched on the characters themselves and Great White has a cast of some good and some bad characters. On one side of the spectrum, there are the knowledgeable resourceful people and on the other hand, the whiny and annoying character (one truly stands out) who is filled with some jealousy in his mind that causes him to act out with some dire consequences. If there was any sort of redemption, its that the final face off with the shark, because there always is one, was really fun to watch. A little wild but still an exciting way to wrap up this whole thing while tying together some of the story pieces together.

Overall, Great White is a more serious shark film that leans on tension and atmosphere. In this case, this was counterbalanced by its human interaction which had its pros and cons. The shark bits themselves were done really well however there were some petty human relationships and conversations that ended causing a lot of nuisance to the story as a whole.

The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Director (and writer): Andrew Traucki

Cast: Teressa Liane, Ann Truong, Saskia Archer, Kate Lister, Bridget Burt

After her sister’s murder, Nic, her younger sister and two friends seek solace through a Pacific island kayaking adventure. Hours into the trip the women are stalked by a shark and must band together, face their fears and save each other. – IMDB

For those who have seen The Reef, this one has no connection to it other than featuring a shark who stalks its characters. The Reef: Stalked plays a little faster pace than The Reef which was a much more slow-burn experience. Looking at this one, the pacing and more frequent action bits adds to the shark film experience while the part which lowers it might be the obvious lower budget Go-Pro camera filming and the very odd cuts from one scene to the next at times including the snippets of the shark, however the shark does make a good few appearances. As much I am comparing the two, its truly to give a general picture for those who have seen The Reef, like myself. The Reef sequel wasn’t really necessary but it can be appreciated.

Taking the approach of films like 47 Meters Down which takes their sequel in a new story with a similar shark concept, The Reef: Stalked definitely finds itself in a different sort of film. This time, the characters are at sea coping with a loss with different members having different experiences and know-hows which contribute or hinder the group’s progress as they go out on kayak. Its mostly focuses on the flotation devices at this point from kayaks to boats to balances which can create their own dangers with the shark’s appearance. Its a neat element for sure as a lot of the more mainstream shark films haven’t played around with kayaking yet so it feels fresh in that sense. The shark also is more active in this one so the danger hits much quicker. Trading in relationship issues, this time the main character is torn between a tense sister relationship and something like post-traumatic stress disorder from a past event creating its hindrance as well.

The acting here is okay for a shark film. No one here feels like they are super awkward but its adequate to get the role across. The dialogue has some decent moments and some that truthfully feels a little hard to digest. It does have a moment which calls sharks “men in grey suits” which of course, that character gets offed first because we all know to not mock sharks in silly descriptions and strip them from their danger element in these films. There is also a moment of childhood endangerment that also creates a rather tense piece which has somewhat of a callback to various other shark films but fits well in this piece to kick off the final act to not only seek help. It is a rather awkward transition of events when the group decides the only way to escape is to kill it which feels like an oddly sudden deduction of events for their situation.

The Reef: Stalked is an average shark movie overall. Compared to its first film, this one is probably easier to get into because it has more action and shark attacks and things move along much quicker after the first scene is established to build up its main character. However, the film does have some moments which transition awkwardly from the weird shark footage cuts to some odd decisions from its characters, its not exactly unpredictable but there are a few good moments.

TV Binge: Resident Evil (Season 1, 2022)

Resident Evil (Season 1, 2022)

Cast: Ella Balinska, Tamara Smart, Siena Agudong, Adeline Rudolph, Paola Nunez, Lance Reddick, Anthony Oseyemi, Connor Gosatti, Pedro De Tavira

Nearly three decades after the discovery of the T-virus, an outbreak reveals the Umbrella Corporation’s dark secrets. Based on the horror franchise. – IMDB

Its hard to not know what Resident Evil is at this point, whether you are a gamer or not. Of course, if you are a gamer, then you are much more familiar with the source material depending how thorough you were with the entire game franchise. After Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil film franchise (franchise overview) which really went off into its own tangent and basically only retaining the world itself and into his own writing and production (depending on the film), a handful of animated films, the reboot of the game once again with Welcome to Raccoon City (review) and last year’s Netflix animated series (review) (which honestly was more like a film split up in 4 episodes), Netflix’s Resident Evil series finally released and it takes the story into the future, decades after the outbreak at Raccoon City and writing up its own story. While I’m not sure its something that Resident Evil fans have been looking forward to, considering some of my friends would like a legit decent survivors escaping Raccoon City story which we’ve seen too many times in my opinion, regardless of whether its good or bad, for myself, the direction was a good one which if successful, will breathe some needed new life into Resident Evil to at least give it a boost into the alternate future. It all leaves the question of whether it was able to achieve that or at least, is Resident Evil still what it is if it takes out the 1998 outbreak setting.

Resident Evil series delivers a parallel storyline. This first is set in the past and an alternate present in our terms in 2022 when 14 year old fraternal twins Billie (Siena Agudong) and Jade Wesker (Tamara Smart) move to New Raccoon City, an Umbrella planned community as Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick) works on finalizing a drug called Joy for Umbrella corporation to hit the markets. Umbrella is now under new leadership under the daughter of Dr. Marcus, Evelyn (Paola Nunez) who reclaimed her father’s company. However, when the twins break into the lab, they learn some dark secrets there which ends up putting their lives in danger. The second plot runs in the series present in 2036 as it follows a grown-up Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) who is studying the “zero”-filled world to track their evolution and mutation of the T-virus. Zeroes are what “zombies” are called in this world. As Jade tries to evade Umbrella who is hunting her down, she is helping do research for a hidden organization The University who tries to present the old world artifacts.

Looking at the story premise, the series takes a decent step forward. Its pretty ambitious considering its bound to disappoint a lot of franchise fans seeing as it revamps the entire story and only uses the Raccoon City event everyone is familiar with as a backdrop. However, pushing it to the future is a good idea and with what they have, the parallel being there retains both elements of still keeping the T-virus and its existence along with Umbrella still having dark secrets and they things they are trying to hide from their past while adding in a central character which never has been the center with Albert Wesker in the future, even if he still is top bill but more supporting than the twins. At the same time, the 2036 events is proof that whatever Umbrella was trying to do under new management wasn’t contained as the world is in its apocalyptic state with zeroes running rampant and in its own way, introducing this new world’s monsters whether the “zombies” or other mutations. In that sense, the story does try to maintain a balance. The two sides of the story do work well to complement each other and each has their redeeming qualities and tension. Of course, the 2022 events with the teen twins in their school environment adds the teen element as they try to blend in, get bullied and try to make friends. Some of that feels a little mundane in the spectrum of things but luckily, the casting for the young Jade and Billie are decent, even if their teen characters are a little frustrating a times.

Taking a quick glance at the cast, its some rather fresh faces. Adult Jade Wesker is played by Ella Balinska who was previously in the reboot of Charlie’s Angels (review) as one of the Angels. Jade is the focus of the series and she takes the role pretty well. The action sequences involving her are done pretty good and as she does get caught up a few dicey situations. Her younger self portrayed by Tamara Smart is a little more frustrating to watch as mentioned above. Billie on the other hand portrayed by Siena Agudong is done pretty well. Her character goes through a lot more in the younger sequence and puts her in constant inner struggles. The older self is portrayed by Adeline Rudolph (plays Agatha in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) which was a pretty short presence in this season. Lance Reddick’s Albert Wesker is probably not the expected choice however, the character itself is built pretty well to fit in this world. Honestly, I haven’t seen Lance Reddick other than as the hotel manager in John Wick films and his role there is fairly small but so good. Seeing as Wesker’s side of the story is rarely dived into thoroughly, there is a lot of space to build it up. Focusing on his daughters makes it all the more good as he is there but it adds a new generation to the new Raccoon City and the future of Resident Evil’s setting. Its a pretty nice touch (perhaps I’m just overthinking it as usual).

What’s Resident Evil without its villains and here, the villainous character here is Evelyn Marcus which is played relatively well by Paola Nunez. Sometimes, Evelyn is fairly annoying as most villains are but she has a dangerous edge to her that carries well enough, some parts a little overdone but there is some development. Of course, the other villains are the zeroes and the mutated creatures. In that sense, the mutated creature designs here are probably the element that I’ve always loved about the franchise and in this case, this new future brings in some giant versions of animals which are quite fun to see. If only there was more then the 3 or so types shown. This does tie in to the world building which honestly gets showcased much more in the 2036 side of the story as there’s so much more to discover in the wastelands.

In the end, your enjoyment of this series will hang heavily on asking the the initial question as to what makes Resident Evil, well, Resident Evil. While this series pushes it to the future and uses Umbrella and the T-virus as its foundation, it still doesn’t feel too different from being another zombie series, but then that is what Resident Evil is, right? Its another type of zombie franchise, except in this case, its set with a younger cast, has a bit of teen and family drama and a few other tangents. Or perhaps the 1998 events of the outbreak is what makes Resident Evil what it is or perhaps its the main cast of Chris and Claire, Jill and Leon, who obviously is not in this series so this will definitely not fit. If we look at this from solely an action horror series, then its actually not too bad as it does have a lot of action and a good bit of horror.

Double Feature: Profile (2018) & Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Profile (2018)

Director (& co-writer): Timur Bekmambetov

Cast: Valene Kane, Morgan Watkins, Christine Adams, Emma Cater, Amir Rahimzadeh, Shazad Latif

An undercover British journalist infiltrates the online propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State, only to be sucked in by her recruiter. – IMDB

Released as part of the initial three Screenlife films aka cyber found footage along with Searching (review) and Unfriended (review), Timur Bekmamtov delivers Profile, a film about a UK journalist Amy (Valene Kane) who goes undercover and engages into an online conversation with a jihadist Bilel (Shazad Latif) to learn about their ways of recruiting religious converts, their operations and how these converts are transported. As she uses her alias profile Melody to talk to Bilel, a leader who wants to woo her, she starts to blur the reality of her assignment with this new relationship during the process and things go out of control with both her boyfriend and her boss. 

Screenlife is a fascinating subgenre that fits very well to the modern world we live in and breathes new life into the found footage genre. The three Screenlife productions by Bekmamtov all vary in scenario and genre, showing the potential of the variety of stories it can tell in a convincing way through the screen of someone. The cyber element used here focuses heavily on the accessibility of information at our fingertips and the ability to multitask while in a conversation. It exposes a world of danger that resides online. Unlike the other screenlife stories, this one is based on a non-fiction book In The Skin Of A Jihadist. The fact that its based on a real event makes it even more captivating. 

When dealing with cyber found footage, this one is centered around two main people, Melody aka Amy and Bilel. Their characters become the focal point especially for the former as it’s all from her point of view aka her computer screen. Her character is fantastic as the contrast of nervousness of setting up the first conversation to the ease of diving into believing Bilel to the big finale makes her character rather complex or perhaps gives a nod to how convincing the character of Bilel is. He becomes a real and convincing person when he seemingly can offer so much and knows the right things to say: shedding a bit of personal information at the right time and sharing an insight of the positivity that surrounds him as well as the dangers. However, it’s all an expectations versus reality situation that drives to a rather intense finale. There are some sudden character shifts and it has to do with the subtle and fast moving timeline however the interactions between the two along with Amy’s research along the way is some shocking stuff.

Profile might not quite hit the epicness of Searching in the Screenlife films by Bekmamtov, however, it definitely packs a punch with the narrative. A lot of these films do work so much better watching it on a computer screen than the big screen in terms of involvement. Much like documentary films like Caught In The Net which tries to lure out its predators in a real situation, this adapts a true story into a believable scenario with this format which suits the whole investigation very well. It’s definitely worth a watch. 

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Director: André Ovredal

Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Lorraine Toussaint, Kathleen Pollard

On Halloween 1968, Stella and her two friends meet a mysterious drifter, Ramón, and uncover a sinister notebook of stories. – IMDB

Based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was co-produced and the screenplay co-written by Guillermo Del Toro. The story follows three friends as they find a sinister notebook of stories which writes itself and eventually, the people around her start disappearing. As danger creeps closer to themselves, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) has to act quickly to find out the truth about the girl Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) who lived in the haunted house where they found the notebook in order to hopefully put an end to the string of events which as befallen them.

In some ways, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark almost plays out like a horror anthology. The different stories being written throughout the story reflect a different segment for the different characters who are Stella’s group of friends. While the film focuses on the angle from Stella’s point of view as she is the one who took the book and asked for its help in the first place, it becomes an “evil” that she can’t get rid of even after regretting her choice. Its also because of these moments that the film’s main storyline around Stella and finding out about the Bellows history becomes what strings along the story but its hard to not feel like there is a sense of disjointedness when the strength is in the little stories themselves and this isn’t meant to be an anthology. That is coming from a person that hasn’t read any of the source material so maybe its the issue of adaptation.

The cinematography is the standout element for the film. While the stories themselves might not be all that scary in execution, the horror elements is mostly from the different forms of the horror figures that it brings to life in a varying dark and creepy atmosphere that somewhat exceeds that of what you’d expect from a children’s book adaptation. Each story has their own horrific element and as the story is being written and the actual events are going down, it leaves space for anticipation of what comes next and what horror is waiting for that character. Most of them are great imaginations and as they come to life really add in the darker element for this film set around these simple horror stories to scare children. Perhaps its the simplicity that makes them work even more.

Overall, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is visually appealing especially when bringing to life the horrors of the stories. The premise itself is also quite good as a foundation especially for a children’s books series and actually some of the horrors in the film feel almost too much for children however, the execution does leave a little to be desired. While the separate stories are really fun to see come to life, the main plot line isn’t quite as well told and with the teen cast, some bits are still rather silly.

TV Binge: Stranger Things (Season 4, 2022)

Stranger Things (Season 4, 2022)

Creator: The Duffer Brothers

Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Priah Ferguson, Matthew Modine, Maya Hawke, Joseph Quinn

When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief and his friends must confront terrifying supernatural forces in order to get him back. – IMDB

Its been a while for Stranger Things and now that the two parts of Season 4 are finally released, its time to give it an overall look. Season 4 of Stranger Things definitely takes things back up to the hype of its first season. Not only do the ending 2 episodes become incredibly long running at 1.5 hours and 2.5 hours respectively but the whole show in general shows off a lot of writing especially when referencing back to almost a circle effect as events from prior seasons all come together from looking at what happened exactly with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) at the Hawkins Lab that lead her to run away to the initial group being separate for various reasons but all coming together in their different places, showing off the extent of the Upside Down and the hive mind of the demogorgons and also what connects them all together. Its an elaborate story and one that truly elevates especially in terms of the script.

Since I never managed to get the TV binges for Season 2 and 3 out, its suitable to talk a little about my feelings towards it. The last 2 seasons were decent but never quite lived up to its first season, even though season 3 did end on quite the big change with a lot at stake in its big finale. Perhaps its how it felt a little been there done that with the same similar plot of the Upside Down and Eleven’s powers and Hawkins Lab and sealing the portals and such. There were some decent new characters as well, even if some didn’t last. The threat doesn’t seem to change even if the dynamic between the friends shifted a little and still had some fun moments.

What makes Season 4 work better even if some of the threats are familiar, is that there is more depth. There’s a lot of change and it justifies that a certain amount of time has moved on since how things ended in Season 3. It brings in topics of bullying and the 80s satanic panic along with new characters coming into play. The 80s theme is still very vibrant with the soundtrack, even surpassing that of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill and Metallica’s Master of Puppets. It helps that the crew is all split up in different locations which adds some freshness as the adults are in Russia, the kids are split between Hawkins and California while Eleven needs to reconnect with her powers despite the people involved. There’s a lot to talk about just in terms of the many tangents of the plotline. The most direct would be the whole process of Russia where the adults come together with Joyce (Winona Ryder) working with Murray (Brett Gelman) to follow a message allegedly from Hopper (David Harbour) and they head off to save him. As much as the kids are a part of the story, the adults are also rather important as well. This side of the story as dangerous as it is actually packs a lot of comedic relief whether its the dialogue from Murray or Joyce and their very unplanned way of trying to save Hopper.

The whole dynamic between the friends shifts as they get older with different priorities like wanting to break away from being the Dungeons and Dragons nerds to being the popular jock. While Eleven in her new environment with Will (Noah Schnapp) experiences her powers gone after the last season’s events and has to deal with bullying. Despite all this, everyone tries to pretend everything is okay when it isn’t which is the main reason for some of the conflicts here afterwards. With new alliances, the main one being the new character Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) who is wrongly accused of a fellow classmate’s death in his trailer as well as Steve’s (Joe Keery) work buddy Robin (Maya Hawke). Its nice to see that as Lucas falls out of the group for a bit, his sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) steps up with a bigger role as she is a little body with a big attitude who is incredibly fun to watch. With a lot of the relationships and little other things put into the backdrop as they group together to fight against the new enemy Vecna, it all builds to a rather big thing with some serious aftermath affecting not only the Upside Down but also Hawkins as a whole. What deserves a big mention, other than Eleven’s side of the story as she’s always a big part, is that Max (Sadie Sink) gets a much bigger role in this season as what happened in the previous season haunts her to the point that makes her mentally weaker and giving the chance to be trapped into a deadly situation.

Stranger Things Season 4 is definitely a step up from the previous 2 seasons. While it seems to jump around a lot, the difference in locations and the different groups of characters working together in one scenario to the next gives off parallel storylines that drive the story further. The writing also adds depth as it does pull a lot of the world that they’ve been building all these seasons together giving it a circle effect (which I have to admit is something I particularly love seeing in any sort of film or TV as it makes it feel very clever). The characters, new ones especially did such a great job, no matter if it was the bully or the jock or Eddie Munson who all delivered the necessary effects. It is nice to see Steve’s character have some other purpose than being the babysitter at the end while Eddie and Dustin does build a nice friendship as well. If there was one thing to criticize (and I’m sure there’s more especially some bits of the episodes working towards those 2 final ones) more strongly is its the whole cliffhanger ending, which from memory Stranger Things always did have the tendency to do to build up the anticipation for the next season. With that said, its not so bad since their final season is going to happen so hopefully we will see that released soon and see how the Duffer Brothers wrap up this whole world.

Double Feature: Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020) & Rogue (2007)

Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020)

Director: John Pogue

Cast: Tania Raymonde, Nathaniel Buzolic, Emerson Brooks, Bren Foster, Reina Aoi, Alex Bhat, Siya Mayola, Avumile Qongqo

Studying the effects of climate change off the coast of Mozambique, a marine biologist and her team confront three genetically enhanced bull sharks. Now, a new bloodbath is waiting to happen in the name of science. Will humans never learn? – IMDB

While Deep Blue Sea (review) is undoubtedly one of my favorite shark films ever, Deep Blue Sea 2 (review) was absolutely one of the most unsatisfying ones that I have watched. Its hard to fathom what this final film in this series is going to bring especially as it plays out as a direct sequel to the second film. Deep Blue Sea 3 might not really be any incredible shark film but it does deliver some decent entertainment. Of course, this depends what you look for in shark films. For myself, itself some creative shark kills (ridiculous as some of it might seem) and some fun characters and dialogue that might even add in a few laughs. As serious as Deep Blue Sea is, whether its the age or the bad effects, it had a decent balance of tension and fun to make it stand out. Deep Blue Sea 3 might not be in the same league as tension isn’t exactly high on the charts as the plot is a little too silly but there are some things that are done well enough to have a good time.

As mentioned before, Deep Blue Sea 3 picks up after the events of the second film as they try to track down the genetically enhanced bull sharks before they mate. Conveniently, they end up at an abandoned village on the water which has 2 inhabitants remaining and a small shark preservation crew has taken over with a underwater nursery to help monitor and preserve great white sharks. The crew itself consists of marine biologist Emma (Tania Raymonde) and Shaw (Emerson Brooks) who is something of a mentor and the muscle here, much like the tech-savvy Spin (Alex Bhat) and marine analyst Miya (Reina Aoi) are behind the scenes monitoring the situation when the boat carrying Emma’s college fling Richard (Nathaniel Buzolic) and his crew who are commissioned to find the bull sharks enter into the picture but decides to hide the grittier facts of the whole situation until they slowly get revealed and things get way out of control.

Let’s be honest here: Deep Blue Sea 3 is not exactly a great shark film, its not probably not even considered a good one. Looking at the plot and the dialogue, it walks on some thin ground. There’s some unnecessary romance side plot that doesn’t get anywhere; the usual untimely confession of feelings right before things go bad; some of the attacks are extremely predictable; dialogue feels a little ridiculous and cheesy at times. We’re not even looking at the big picture of the plot especially with the “bad guys” being not only the genetically modified bull sharks who not only swim backwards (which was a trait from the first film) but also recognizes bombs and reacts to mommy shark’s frequency, the bad guys are the crew from the big corporation who suddenly decides that they need to get down to business to get rid of the sharks and then decides to do stupid decisions like getting their minions to finish up a fight or just drop their weapons and go into hand to hand combat. Its actually quite funny to watch in all its ridiculousness. However, as much as there are things to criticize about the film, Deep Blue Sea 3 doesn’t really take itself that seriously and that really does help with the whole thing since it makes the second half when the whole island village goes down all the more fun with the sudden and unexpected shark kills to the big showdown finale.

There’s really not a whole lot to say about Deep Blue Sea 3 because its a rather middling experience. Its a fun time for sure if you enjoy shark films the way that I do in all its stupidity and ridiculousness but delivering some shark kills that take you by surprise. I mean, the effects here for the sharks at times reminds us that Deep Blue Sea from the start until now doesn’t seem like its changed much and that is a good or bad thing. Deal is, there are a ton of issues with Deep Blue Sea 3 that you can hate on it a lot. Honestly, I feel like they should have just left Deep Blue Sea in 1999 and never done any sequels but since the sequels are here, at least this one isn’t quite the wreck that the second film was. Maybe it simply had to do with the fact that its not another underground facility but much more minimalistic and embraces the “open waters”/open space a little bit more and keeps things above ground a little more as well.

Rogue (2007)

Director (and writer): Greg McLean

Cast: Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington, Caroline Brazier, Stephen Curry, Celia Ireland, John Jarratt, Heather Mitchell, Geoff Morrell, Damien Richardson, Robert Taylor, Mia Wasikowska, Barry Otto

An American journalist on assignment in the Australian outback encounters a man-eating crocodile while trapped on a rapidly flooding mud island. – IMDB

Allow me a moment to celebrate as Rogue finally gets added to the Netflix catalogue (Netflix Canada at least). Not the Megan Fox action thriller but the Australian crocodile creature feature. With the fun experiences of several crocodile/alligator creature features like Crawl (review), Alligator and Lake Placid (review), Rogue has been a film on my radar for a pretty long time and it lived up to my expectations. Directed by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean, Rogue steers away from the torture porn horror style and dives into the creature feature genre as a group of tourists get stuck on a tiny mud island as the tide comes in with a crocodile lurking nearby ready to attack.

Australia is such a prime location with all it deadly animals lurking about for creature feature content and yet, there’s not quite enough films to use that setting. Rogue actually takes the creature feature for a very different ride. The film captures the beauty where this tourist excursions are taking place, focusing on the nature around them and the lay of the land from up above and takes the time at the start to give this boatful of tourists as well as their tour guide a chance to show some of their characteristics and personalities before thrusting them into danger. It gives some context to who this group will be dealing with.

At the same time, the crocodile doesn’t really get as much camera time and is slowly revealed bit by bit. It gives it the mysterious element of how big this crocodile actually is while still using a crocodile’s hunting both to educate the viewers but creating some foreshadow of what to expect. There’s the unexpected window between kills which looms over the tourists and just how quickly they can be picked off while how much risk is too much risk to try to get off the island with both the night and the tide coming in all becoming pressuring factors. The way that the film uses these elements is what makes Rogue a tense creature feature.

Looking at the cast, there are some familiar faces here with Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan and Sam Worthington are the obvious recognizable ones. They also are the leading and bigger roles here with a little more focus on their characters throughout the film. Michael Vartan plays a travel journalist who finds himself becoming quite the hero in the process as the group starts falling apart and everyone’s true colors start showing. For Wolf Creek fans, John Jarratt appears here in a much more toned down type of role, much like there’s a young Mia Wasikowska playing the young daughter of a couple on the tour. With bigger groups of this, there are always a few characters which are outlined a little frustratingly and this was no exception.

Overall, Rogue is a pretty effective creature feature. It delivers a pretty tense crocodile creature feature. The beginning set up is a great contrast to the actual crocodile hunt portion. As much as its almost one location, the final act takes it into another area which gives it a nice change and adds to the danger element to push it a little further. Definitely an enjoyable one and one that I’d highly recommend to check out.

Double Feature: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) & Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Director (and writer): Johannes Roberts

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough, Lily Gao, Chad Rook, Marina Mazepa, Nathan Dales

Set in 1998, this origin story explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City. – IMDB

*Originally reviewed for Friday Film Club*

Adapted from the first and second game of the Capcom video game series of the same name, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City sets itself on a parallel storyline which sets itself in 1998 when the zombie outbreak starts in the small town of Raccoon City and the group of survivors try to make it out where the events take place both in the Raccoon City Police Department but also at the Spencer mansion where the outbreak was suspected to have started.

Being undeniably avid fans of Resident Evil here at Movies and Tea as we covered all the Resident Evil movies by Paul W.S. Anderson being one of our biggest episodes to work on, and an upcoming episode in the works for its animated films, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is a film that was announced with rather mixed sentiments, some didn’t like the casting feeling like it didn’t do the actual character design justice to its original game design however the film also did finally bring in all the favorite characters and created a story adapted from the actual games. However, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent alignment for a video game adaptation. Taking away the lesser role for their favorite character Leon Kennedy and dropping him to his rookie status who genuinely grows throughout the film as he encounters more, the fan faves are also all here with Claire and Chris Redfield holding down the fort on each of the locations as they move closer to each other. At the same time, the film also manages to bring in some other key characters like the well-known Albert Wesker and Jill Valentine, giving them an origin of where they come from.

This new reboot of Resident Evil, under the direction of Johannes Roberts does give it a lot more link to the story that the games are telling and the world building also deserves a lot of credit. Some scenes are almost identical to its game counterpart making it quite the treat for lovers of this gaming franchise, especially with its recent game remakes. At the same time, it still adds in a lot of eerie scenes whether being the zombie design to the mutations caused by the virus and looks into the connection of Claire and Chris Redfield’s story both when they were kids and their encounters to the present day, centering the story around them. Sure, in terms of story direction, Leon Kennedy being one of the bigger characters of the games does fall into the backseat a little and becomes more of a goofy rookie who is trying to catch up with the situation with better and more experienced cops but perhaps its a nice change to see the focus remain on one part of the story and if it does have sequel, it gives it more space to expand on the other characters’ storylines.

Overall, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent reboot. Its one that stays much more true to its source material and still manages to recreate these eerie atmospheres using its two key locations as their focal points. It has a little something for both fans of the games and new viewers trying to follow the story. Its pretty well-balanced film in terms of action and horror.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroines Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord. – IMDB

Superhero and comic book films have really been a bit overwhelming and not exactly on my radar regardless of Marvel or DC at this point. However, as Birds of Prey is leaving Netflix Canada and I do really like Margot Robbie, it felt like a decent film to catch up on. Surprisingly, the film was a pretty fun ride and also brought another femme fatale role for Mary Elizabeth Winstead as The Huntress which was also nice little surprise. The film overall is about these different female characters who team up against a vicious crime lord for their own personal reasons despite focusing on a post break-up with Joker Harley Quinn who ends up making some ridiculous decisions like blowing up the chemical plant and buying a hyena as her pet.

While superhero films all seem to entail the same thing and it all feels rather cookie cutter in terms of plot, making the whole situation fairly predictable, Birds of Prey is pretty fun. Perhaps its the over the top element which makes everyone from Harley Quinn to its villain feel rather cartoony and comic-like or its the fact that this film is about superheroines who find themselves teaming together for their own purpose and having their own style when it came to the big final showdown, these things all add color to the film and makes it entertaining. All the odd elements come together especially all these different ladies to make it a fun team-up.

With that said, the casting is pretty good, not only for its main ladies from Margot Robbie as the titular lady but also Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez as the cop Renee Montoya who is fed up with not being fully recognized in her efforts and Jurnee Smollett as a talented singer with a killer voice as Black Canary plus a little pickpocket girl Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco, but it also includes a rather over the top villain playing Black Mask with Ewan McGregor who was pretty decent and almost channelling the rich boy begging for recognition type of character so lashes out in extreme ways to get what he wants but also a supporting roles by Ali Wong.

Birds of Prey is a pretty fun movie overall. There’s not a whole lot to say about it but the stylistic approach and the wonderful kick-ass femme fatale casting does make for some entertaining moments. Its refreshing to see a group of superheroines band together against the villain and this film delivered the whole package pretty well.

The Sadness (哭悲, 2021)

The Sadness (2021)

Director (and writer): Rob Jabbaz

Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Emerson Tsai, Wei-Hua Lan, Ralf Chiu

A young couple trying to reunite amid a city ravaged by a plague that turns its victims into deranged, bloodthirsty sadists. – IMDB

The feature film directorial debut for Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz is a Taiwanese horror gorefest. Heavily inspired by the Cross comic book series, The Sadness sets in a viral pandemic called Alvin Virus that infects its victims making them fulfill their homicidal desires from extreme violence to rape. Basically just think about the most maniacal, bloodthirsty and wrongest things that could happen that The Sadness manages to get it in, probably even some of it being unthinkably horrible. While horror isn’t normally a go-to for Taiwanese films, Rob Jabbaz makes this one completely out of control. The gore element delivers to a disturbing level and this film is definitely not for the weak stomached and is full of all kinds of trigger warnings. For those who love this sort of film, this one goes for both a visual gore fest but also keeps some more disturbing elements off camera for your own imagination to fill in the blanks.

The Sadness builds its story around two perspectives which are from the two characters who are a couple called Cat (Regina Lei) and Jim (Berant Zhu) trying to reunite amidst the craziness that is surrounding them. Cat and Jim has a pretty thin back story from the start but does craft them through the little disagreement at the beginning in their fairly mundane life of two youths trying to make a career with Kat heading off to work while Jim takes her to work but is between jobs. When the viral outbreak starts, the two set off on different paths which gives way for an array of different scenarios to occur from the mountainous secluded areas to the tight spaced subway car and station tunnels to its big finale at the hospital. This viral outbreak crafts different groups of infected and the film touches on all of it even if its not as extensive as the homicidal elements especially focused on one older man (Tzu-Chiang Wang) who can be considered as the main villain of the film. And oh boy, does the script take his character far into the depths of the worst impulses triggered by this virus.

As I consider whether this film is just about presenting something very on the surface with its extremity and using a viral outbreak to craft a scenario suitable for it, the story does reflect a bit on society and its doubts and ignorance but also the virus itself does have a little moment at the beginning and the final acts when its basically outwardly discussed. However, as much as its not really talked about, there are little signs here and there that help paint a picture of what it is and makes you think a little more about what it does and why the film itself is titled The Sadness. There’s still a small part in my mind that thinks the actual nature of the virus should have more explanation but there is a power in not explaining too much since it brings in a different element of unknown as to when the trigger point of the virus attacks the infected.

Overall, The Sadness is a crazy ride: gory, blood-soaked, gut-wrenching, disgusting, sitting on a ton of trigger warning. Its definitely not for everyone. For myself, its really does get a little extreme at certain points and one scene in particular really did bother me quite a bit. However, there’s a lot to appreciate about The Sadness and its mostly the ability to push the content and go all the way. There are some low budget practical effects and then some contrasts in music selection to what’s happening on scene and a myriad of ways that people are killing each other and yet somehow, it all does work together, even if the main characters Cat and Jim are not exactly well-constructed but they do feel relatively realistic and human.

* The Sadness will premiere theatrically across Canada on April 29th and 30th in selected theatres. Starting May 12th, it will then be available as VOD on iTunes (preorder on April 26), Cineplex on Demand, Shaw VOD, Vimeo on Demand as well as landing on Shudder Canada. The Sadness will also be available on May 12th on Shudder USA, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.*

*Screener received by GatPR*

Double Feature: The Invisible Man (2020) & The Crazies (2010)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Director (and screeenplay): Leigh Whannell

Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman

When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see. – IMDB

*Originally published on Friday Film Club*

Inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name, directed and written by Leigh Whannell, mostly known for the co-creator of the Saw franchise as the writer, he modernizes a story using the invisible man science fiction concept and puts it into a domestic abuse story between a scientist and his ex-girlfriend. The Invisible Man tells the story of Cecilia who decides to escape her rich optics scientist boyfriend’s home because of his controlling nature to find out that shortly after, she can stop living in fear when he is reported to be dead. However, she starts experiencing some odd events that makes her believe that he is stalking her with some invisibility technology, trying to isolate her from the world she knows however no one believes her and thinks she is mentally unstable.

The Invisible Man is a pretty competent horror thriller. It takes the source material its inspired by and puts together a tense and thrilling environment from start to finish. It doesn’t actually give you the feeling that all is well, mostly because not being able to see the threat means that it can be constantly anticipated and gives the sense of insecurity to its audience. Leigh Whannell doesn’t only put together a well-crafted story but also uses the cinematography with both the light and the camera work to build up the tense atmosphere, playing with what could happen and what might be in the empty space as it follows an increasingly suspecting female lead played by Elisabeth Moss. The great part about a story is like this is that there is no hiding the threat’s existence and the reveal that there is someone lurking in the emptiness is very quickly revealed and Cecilia’s sense of security doesn’t last too long. However, what is the goal and who is behind the whole thing is still the big question as the threat doesn’t talk and just acts abruptly.

While there are other character’s in the whole story, a lot of the acting credit does go to Elisabeth Moss who mostly feels like she’s in this film by herself and interacting with thin air. For the most part, its very believable as the invisible man does make her life fall apart. While there are some mechanics of this threat that feel a little off as it plays with the invisible, the saving grace is that the film is always building on the tension in different scenarios but also keeps the threat mostly invisible for the most part, letting the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks which in this case proves to be very effective.

While Leigh Whannell is mostly credited for writing, The Invisible Man proves that he has quite the eye for directing as well especially when crafting a tense environment for a horror film. Whether its the theme, the writing, the execution and pacing or the horror thriller element, The Invisible Man is one well worth a watch.

The Crazies (2010)

Director: Breck Eisner

Cast: Radha Mitchell, Timothy Olyphant, Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson, Christie Lynn Smith, Brett Rickaby, Preston Bailey, John Aylward, Joe Reegan

After a strange and insecure plane crash, an unusual toxic virus enters a quaint farming town. A young couple are quarantined, but they fight for survival along with help from a couple of people. – IMDB

Being a remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film of the same name, The Crazies sets itself in a viral outbreak that overtakes a small farm town as it follows four people who are luckily not infected and join together to find a way to escape town before either the turn called The Crazies get them or the military who is trying to contain this outbreak.

Lets put it out there right now that I haven’t seen the original. For myself, this is a fresh story and movie. Its interesting that infected humans are mostly regarded as zombies and yet, the root of this is very similar to Resident Evil where the whole issue is rooted from an accidental viral outbreak with a group of military trying to contain it by all means. While there is that parallel, the viral outbreak concept is still pretty well structured as The Crazies do have a rather solid cast and the story starts off on a creepy note which ends up turning into a mystery as the Sheriff and Deputy hunt down why this is happening and much like other horror films, the mayor doesn’t take their suggestion and yet, despite their rebellious efforts, its just a little too late.

The horror of the film is much more toned down than other viral outbreaks which do focus more on the bloody and gory element. This one has more violent moments and the infected appearance makes for creepier moments as the group encounters infected previously introduced before their infection, reinforcing the core issue with this bioweapon that is trying to be contained. As each side of the spectrum reveals itself, the situation clarifies quickly. Its a film about the survival as the government’s extreme stance makes them out to be villainous which is as dangerous as the infected around these four survivors.

The cast is pretty decent as well. The Sheriff is played by Timothy Olyphant. Along with him as the core group of survivors is his wife, a doctor in the small town played by Radha Mitchell (most probably know her for Silent Hill films). There is also the Deputy played by Joe Anderson who is the MVP of the whole survival operation. His character has the rarely seen accuracy as the sharpshooter as he saves everyone in a tight situation more than once but also wavers the most in personality. Also part of the group is a young Danielle Panabaker which isn’t really contributing much but worth a mention.

Overall, The Crazies is a pretty good viral outbreak romp. While it lacks in the gore department, it does do well in building up the story and laying out how the whole situation went down and how the bioweapon virus works and has some decent reveals. Its well worth a watch.

TV Binge: Archive 81 (Season 1, 2022)

Archive 81 (Season 1, 2022)

Creator: Rebecca Sonnenshine

Cast: Mamoudou Athie, Dina Shihabi, Evan Jonigkeit, Julia Chan, Ariana Neal, Matt McGorry, Martin Donovan, Kate Eastman, Charlie Hudson III, Kristin Griffith, Eden Marryshow, Georgina Haig

An archivist hired to restore a collection of tapes finds himself reconstructing the work of a filmmaker and her investigation into a dangerous cult. – IMDB

Based on the podcast of the same name, Archive 81 follows an archivist Dan (Mamoudou Athie) hired to a secluded building to restore a collection of tapes left behind by a college filmmaker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi) who moves into the Visser building hoping to capture the lives of the residents but also look for her biological mother but ends up realizing that that the building’s history is a lot more sinister and starts to investigate leading her to discover a cult.

Due to the nature of the show which dives from the present day with Dan and the past via the tape restoration and his process of watching it, the film story unfolds on a parallel. The writing is what truly shines in this series as it crafts both sides very effectively both in terms of the primary mystery element but also having the ability to craft a tense and sinister vibe throughout as it captures the isolation of Dan as he discovers his own side of the mystery as odd occurrences take place and the help of his friend (Matt McGorry) as an outside resource. Much like Melody Pendras who starts to gradually feel more and more of the cult that surrounds her through the strange residents that live there. The sense of danger and insecurity within the building is constructed incredibly well. The use of the VHS grainy element reminding that it is still an image that is being watched does a good job of pulling in and out of this parallel worlds of the past and present especially when it feels like its just watching two sides of a story and forgetting the time element.

While there aren’t any big name actors in the cast, probably the most familiar being Matt McGorry for his role in Orange is the New Black way back in Season 1 (I think) and he has gone on to do some other roles over the years, the main cast revolves around Mamoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi playing as Dan and Melody respectively. They both do a pretty decent job for what their role needs to deliver. Perhaps the supporting characters and their odd personalities delivers more although some of it does go a little overboard at times. Luckily, the show does only focus on a few main characters of the Visser building while Dan’s side focuses mostly around a few characters as well. The events craft a lot more of the atmosphere than the characters involved since the sounds and eerie and bizarre situations and the fear of being caught is what brings out most of the effective tense atmosphere. The characters’ interactions and encounters do bring up a lot of mystery and questions that slowly get revealed in the final episodes.

Overall, Archive 81 is pretty good. Its gripping and tense and the mystery is done really well. The angle and the twist also works pretty effectively. The tone and sound design and setting all add to the mystery much like the characters themselves. Unfortunately, the show does end on something of a cliffhanger and wasn’t renewed for a second season. A pity really since it would be interesting to see where it would have headed if it had the opportunity.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Director: David Blue Garcia

Cast: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouéré, Jessica Allain, Nell Hudson, Alice Krige, William Hope

After nearly 50 years of hiding, Leatherface returns to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town. – IMDB

Before we get into the review, I figured I should put it out there that my knowledge of Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is far and few. I haven’t seen the original in the 70s which gets a mentioned in this film and I’ve seen very little of the 2003 mostly because it was one of the first horror films that I saw and I didn’t have quite the stomach or courage to watch it. The only films I’ve seen in the franchise is Texas Chainsaw 3D (review) and Leatherface (review). I keep thinking that I’ve seen the 2006 film as well but I can’t seem to find any evidence of it anywhere and the trailer doesn’t seem to remind me of anything so either I’ve seen and its wiped clean out of my mind or I just haven’t. Looking back at my whole Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise experience to date, it does feel like I’ve watched some rather lackluster films and it probably has to do with the ones I’ve watched in entirety being some pretty subpar films. I can only imagine that it starts off much stronger to have the following it has today.

And yet, with that experience and the convenience of it being a Netflix film, here we are again with 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre which picks up 50 years after the first film when a bunch of young adults head out to revitalize the ghost town of Harlow and making an inconsiderate decision that ends up causing their demise and waking up the chainsaw-wielding slasher that we all know, Leatherface. Suffice to say that I got into this film with fairly low expectations and probably because of that, the film turned out to be slightly better than my expectations. Of course, that’s not saying a whole lot since they do have some rather predictable characters and situations and the whole story with the survivor from the 70s story Sally coming back for her revenge was so very weak especially in terms of the dialogue. However, there are some decent jumpscare moments and slasher moments.

Other than some thin characters and some odd dialogue here and there, the story itself isn’t all that bad and the execution is pretty decent as well since it takes into account the modern day trends with the whole social media and cancel culture and giving the whole story a decent amount of body counts to make it all bloody. Not exactly very gory but still an expected amount of blood is spilled. While the idea of reviving a ghost town with a younger vibe despite its past seems like a rather stupid idea considering the history, they do go ahead with it in a quick manner. This applies to the film in general as the execution is incredibly fast: story moves fast, bodies drop fast and the whole situation shifts quickly.

The use of the link to the ’74 film’s character Sally Hardesty (Alice Krige) is one that lacks some finesse especially since she only shows up as more of a subplot and seems to want to try to bank on what Halloween has done with their last 2 films, giving the film the same type of plot line. However, it never quite works considering that the dialogue is quite laughable but does end up giving the main characters a guide and courage to face Leatherface in the final showdown. Talking about the two sisters as the main character, which is a pretty decent base, it follows older sister Melody (Sarah Yarkin) who is one half of the brains behind the revival of the town and takes her younger sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) who has experienced a near death experience in a school shooting prior to this experience, making her back story most interesting. However, their stories never quite get the depth (as expected with a lot of these slasher type films) and it doesn’t help that some of these events feel a tad disjointed. However, the sisterly connection does come into play here and it does make these two more worthy of wanting them to survive these whole situation.

Looking at Leatherface (and you can all judge my inexperience with this part as its more based on my own limited knowledge of the character), the slasher element is probably the stronger part here. Leatherface is revived in this character when he loses his adoptive mother which sends him on this vengeful path. The issue here really starts in this character feeling like he is going back to his origins regardless of his age. It also dials down to whether you think the face reveal of Leatherface is good as well (although I might be wrong but I feel like in one of the origin stories, can’t remember which film it was, it had the younger version of him unmasked). The mask gives his character fear as well as the iconic chainsaw as his weapon of choice so seeing him as the older man that he is loses a bit of the impact at the start, even if it never does have a complete face reveal but an eye here and a glimpse there. It all depends on how you feel about this angle. It does fade away as the film goes along as Leatherface does go into attack mode very quickly with some quick and shocking slasher moments.

Overall, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was alright. In the slasher department, it does what you’d expect however in the narrative and writing, it feels a weaker at times . The concept overall is decent since it does try to link to the original film and give it both a modern day feeling and bring it back to the nostalgia even if both of these motives seem a little silly. The younger cast has its good and bad moments and while the pacing is very quick and bodies all dropping incredibly quickly, boosting up the slasher blood and gore element, it also might be the reason why no one seems to matter too much since they never have enough time on screen to just be a little pawn meant to be an obstacle before they get taken out. On a personal level, this one is better than expected but then, I seem to have skipped out on all the better films of the franchise from the beginning so expectations are fairly low to start with.