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.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl On The Train
By: Paula Hawkins

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller/Suspense

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train… – Goodreads

Having reached a decent popularity after its release, The Girl On The Train is compared with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (review), which happens to be one of my favorite books. While its not quite the same level as Gone Girl, the novel embraces the culture of people watching to its full potential and structures its point of view between three main female characters as they each experience different sides of the spectrum. The first being Rachel, the girl on the train who lives a routine life and envies the life of this home and couple that the train she commutes on at the same time everyday, making her reminisce her own marriage before it was broken and when she used to live a few houses down from this couple. As she fantasizes about this couple, the second point of view turns to the woman of the house that she looks at, Megan who ends up missing and the police investigation opens for her which leads Rachel to share what she’s seen that could be suspicious and also approach Megan’s husband, Scott which opens up another can of worms as she ends up peaking the attention of her ex-husband’s current wife, Anna who takes up the third point of view. Through these three, the mystery unfolds as to what happens to Megan and who is involved.

The Girl On The Train is a good premise. Mystery thrillers have been rather plentiful to say the least however this one does build up a pretty decent reveal. The novel is well-written and the structure is good as well as the first person view from three characters helps piece together the novel but still with a good amount of unknowns from both their own characters and the people around them. It helps construct these three very different sort of female characters with their own pasts and different values that end up setting up their relationships around them as well. Alternating between characters and point of views is probably one of my own favorite novel structures and this story fits in it really well. This in turn builds up these three characters so that they each can also have their own interpretation. In this case, Rachel takes a center stage since she is “the girl on the train” which is the book is titled after and her character is by far the one with the most depth which crafts her into a rather realistic sort of character who has plummeted into alcohol after her divorce, making most of her life rather blurry and spiraling downwards with this mystery giving her something new to focus on.

The mystery element of the novel is the highlight of the story as a whole. It builds up and is crafted rather well. The thriller element is definitely there mostly because these characters all are rather imperfect in their own ways, making them feel hard to truly erase them from suspicion for one reason or another. However, the thrill is mostly with all the characters, not just the main three female characters but also the other ones who all feel like its one big cycle of waiting for their stories to unfold to rid them of suspicion. It throws a few twists here and there, some land more unexpectedly than others. The big reveal of who is responsible does end up being rather surprising and a decently executed twist.

Overall, The Girl On The Train is pretty good overall. There are some little bits here and there that feel like it could be polished a little better in execution. Sometimes, reading a slew of characters which was completely imperfect also feels a little hard to completely bond into the book and its events as is the situation here which at times feels a bit tiring as it cycles around some events a little too much. However, the mystery is decently crafted, the structure keeps things moving from one side of the story to the next, even if some of it jumps back and forth in the timeline and the thrilling parts are mostly from character development and a believable yet unpredictable reveal.

Goodreads score: 4/5

TV Binge: Deadly Class (Season 1, 2019)

Deadly Class (Season 1, 2019)

Creator: Miles Orion Feldsott & Rick Remender

Cast: Benedict Wong, Benjamin Wadsworth, Lana Condor, Maria Gabriela de Faria, Luke Tennie, Liam James, Taylor Hickson, Jack Gillett, Tom Stevens, Michel Duval, Sean Depner, Olivia Cheng

A coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of late 1980s counterculture, which follows a disillusioned teen recruited into a storied high school for assassins. – IMDB

Based on the comic book series of the same name by Remender and Wesley Craig, Deadly Class is set in the 1980s revolving around a hidden private academy called King’s Dominion which trains those skilled with assassin abilities, honing their unique and individual skills. Its with this that Marcus (Benjamin Wadsworth), who is on the run for allegedly burning down the orphanage he lived in that he is recruited by Master Lin (Benedict Wong) with a little help from his trusted student Saya (Lana Condor). Not from an elite dangerous order, Marcus finds himself not truly fitting in except for a group of misfits at the school as he navigates through this new environment and embraces his own capabilities as new dangers start targeting both the school and himself personally.

Deadly Class is an interesting existence. It embraces and integrates its comic book roots as it does add in these animated sequences especially when recalling the past of the key characters with this group of friends that has bonded together due to different issues. Their back stories help explain the motives of their characters. The comic book elements down to the whole cinematographic elements of the show gives its a lot of style whether its the character designs or King’s Dominion. The whole tone of the show blends well together and is visually appealing for the most part, capturing both the environment of the school but also the grimy outside world that exists which polishes them as they go on their own “missions”.

The tone and plot point can be a little off-putting as the high school drama for the most part. Especially by the middle of Season 1 when Marcus, Maria and Saya have this very wishy washy sort of love triangle that gets a little frustrating to watch as these three take a turn in their character arcs. Much like most series, when things go bad, everything else is going bad at the same time so its all goes a little crazy which is intriguing to watch how it all unfolds since it adds in other elements that help build up the world but also adds in some annoying bits that seem beside the point especially since Marcus is a character with his own issues that also seem rather easily manipulated into certain situations. With that said, the best parts of the show is the action and assassin oriented bits when each of these characters do work together or go into some outing together to achieve something. The danger and the classes do make it all the more intriguing to navigate but at the same time, it somehow does feel like the angle being this unique school gets lost in the bigger plot. Thats not to say that the enemy isn’t decent. For the most part, its the typical mentally unstable sort of character coming for some kind of revenge but there are some outside forces that are targeting the school as well. The two together works well enough.

Looking at the cast itself, everyone fits their role fairly well. Benjamin Wadsworth plays Marcus fairly well. It does capture that teen angst and inner struggle, considering the show is mostly about him. The standout of the show absolutely goes to Benedict Wong as Master Lin who is a tough headmaster of King’s Dominion but also done in such a well-balanced way. Much like its great to see Lana Condor as Saya to be playing this Japanese yakuza’s daughter who is a femme fatale in training with her motorcycle and her katana in hand. Much like Maria portrayed by Maria Gabriela de Faria whose character is on the more frustrating side but does have a lot of ups and downs but her assassin look is really great.

Overall, Deadly Class is a pretty fun ride for its first season. The premise is pretty original and isn’t quite like other teen dramas especially with the school for assassins setting. Sure, there’s a few things that I wasn’t particularly happy about but it did have some pretty decent style. Its a little sad to see that after the great foundation it set up and the cliffhanger ending that it was cancelled for season 2.

BITS 2021: The Family (2021)

The Family (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Dan Slater

Cast: Nigel Bennett, Toni Ellwand, Benjamin Charles Watson, Keana Lyn, Jenna Warren, Yasmin MacKay, Onyx Spark

A young family, living in isolation and forced into hard labor out of fear of dishonoring their Father and Mother, fight to free themselves from their religious cult. – IMDB

The Family dives into the rural 1800s setting in an isolated farmland who is run by a family who has strong religious faith and the parents makes sure that their children follow their strict rules. Right from the opening scene, the consequences of defying those rules are harsh. The opening scene sets up the tone of the plot as much as the whole scenario that this family lives with a strict father (Nigel Bennet) standing watch while the children work on their various chores and their mother (Toni Ellwand) keeping watching in her chair holding a shotgun in her hands. Its immediately apparent that this family is very different. Throughout the first act, their followings and their rules are laid out one by one. However, when a new member joins them and ends up having altered plans, it makes them question whether their father’s teachings are as true as they’ve believed before. The Family feels like a combination of The Witch (review) and another indie film earlier this year, Glasshouse (review).

The Family is a very decent watch. Its a psychological thriller at its core with both the haunting parent figures who craft their beliefs into their children’s mind, the unknown surroundings outside of their set threshold and a group of children who obviously are not their own offspring. The million questions start firing right from the beginning. What is this religion? Where do the children come from? Is there really an exterior threat? The main focus of the story is through the eyes of their children especially Caleb (Benjamin Charles Watson) as he is now entering adulthood and waiting for his companion to show up. At the same time, he is growing more curious about what his parents are up to and what may lie outside the threshold especially when his chore leads him to follow this odd noise. His curiosity slowly trickles to the others as they start to act on their suspicion especially Abigail (Jenna Warren) who quietly observes each of his brothers’ punishments one by one and hurts on her own. When a new girl enters the picture, Caleb’s infatuation and their father’s change in attitude all comes together to create their suspicion and wavering in faith.

With quiet films like these, its very much in the atmosphere and tone and The Family does this incredibly well. What also helps is that the cast of characters are also very well portrayed. The reactions and expressions exceed any dialogue whether its fear or worry. There’s this lingering unsettling feeling of not knowing when the whole situation will turn around and how they will retaliate when they inevitably will no longer believe in their religious ways and their parents’ teachings as well as try to break free from the rules. The Father and Mother are done incredibly well especially with the Mother who is this more subtle character who doesn’t speak a lot but feels like she has this dominating and manipulative appearance even more than the Father who seems to be running the whole thing. Caleb, portrayed by Benjamin Charles Watson, does a fantastic job as well. His character having the most development and change as he is the focal character right from the start as he experiences quite a few events throughout the film. However, in a more subtle role, Jenna Warren as Abigail also does a great job despite the lesser dialogue especially in the final act.

There’s a lot to love about The Family. It grabs the psychological thriller elements really well. There are a few interesting twists here. While its nothing that becomes very surprising but the tension and atmosphere is done very well as it uses the isolated natural setting efficiently and creating their whole life in this space. The questions are all answered by the end especially the ending itself giving a really nice touch. A really well done thriller through and through.

BITS 2021: Woodland Grey (2021)

Woodland Grey (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Adam Reider

Cast: Jenny Raven, Ryan Blakely, Art Hindle, Katharine King So, Chelsea Goldwater

When a man living alone in the woods saves the life of a young woman, they are forced to coexist. Chaos ensues when the woman makes a terrifying discovery in the woods behind the man’s home and unleashes something truly haunting. – IMDB

Isolated woods setting is such a great setting and its nice to see that it is being used more and more in recent horror and/or thrillers. The helplessness and emptiness and difficulty to navigate makes it all the more dangerous. Woodland Grey captures all these elements. In the face of meeting a solitary loner in the woods who appears to be saving this young woman who has her own baggage to set off this spontaneous hiking trip and to make a rather ominous discovery, the typical assumptions can be made which are gradually revealed to be something else. The film itself drives the story rather well from that point on and keeps a constant grasp on the situation adding in a little something while also giving space for flashbacks to better understand these two characters and why they have ended up in the woods.

Woodland Grey thrives from a certain fear that is similar to that of films like Blair Witch where something more sinister resides in the woods. When this fear is revealed (as most synopsis have already revealed which doesn’t exactly make it a spoiler but it kind of is), it sits in a rather mysterious and unknown space for the remainder of the film. It also has a similar mechanism where the crew seems to be stuck in a loop. Not a time loop but just a literal loop in terms of area where they cannot escape this place, or can they being the main goal from that point on. The concept of the hidden mysterious entity is a rather decent concept except in execution here, it sits in so many questions and most of them unanswered by the end that it becomes so confusing by the end that its a little hard to digest what was watched when so little of the result can be fully understood. Normally, I do love films that give the mind a nice boggling but leaves space for some mystery to sit but this one has too many confusing moments by the end that even the ending itself feels too open to find some type of closure for this film or even contemplate further. However, the whole story structure moving from past and present is well thought out where the past and present does work well together.

However, the film is executed very well as it does use its location very well. The woods and the wandering isn’t just that. Every detail does come into play at some part of the story. Some of it is fairly predictable and rather easy to see where it goes but still, the mystery and atmosphere does help to make those moments still have a certain psychological fear attached to it. In films like this, a lot of it does revolve around well-crafted logical characters and whether in terms of the solitary man or the hiking girl, their reactions to their encounter all does make sense. Adding in their back stories in the flashbacks, they have a good development throughout. The most important one being the urgency of why the girl must escape the woods within a certain timeframe being a big underlying factor.

Overall, Woodland Grey is a decent psychological thriller. There are certain thrills to be had especially with all the mystery and the twist upon twists which sometimes are predictable but some that do have a nice bit of creativity. With decent characters and acting along with a good nature backdrop and a mysterious threat that never seems to be fully explained, the film is mostly a good viewing experience perhaps right up to the end when things truly feel a tad unresolved and hard to fully comprehend.

BITS 2021: Flee The Light (2021)

Flee the Light (2021)

Director: Alexandra Senza

Cast: Annie Tuma, Ariana Marquis, Jamar Adams Thompson, Jane Siberry, Caroline Raynaud

A psychology student attempts to cure her sister’s crippling psychosis only to expose them both to its origin: an ancient creature intent on claiming their souls. – IMDB

Flee the Light is an intriguing premise. It meshes a storyline, something like a lore from its past to its present day that goes through generations of something awaken from the past which haunts these sisters which dabbles into sorcery and the concept of light and dark. The premise itself as a whole works well especially when this unknown entity seems to be preying on them and ready to possess them at the right opportunity. As one of the sisters try to help the other more unhinged one, it first becomes a whole acceptance than this whole situation surpasses that of science and dives into the occult practices to get to the bottom of the situation. With some cryptic and odd encounters as well as their own journey facing this together, the story is a little bizarre in places.

While the premise of the film itself is pretty decent, there are some little issues in execution. This is a minor issue which relates mostly to a flashback that builds up the whole plot and twist. The repetition of it loses its effectiveness with its frequency perhaps. The purpose of it is rather good but rather having a little less repetition perhaps would benefit it in my opinion (but of course, I’m not a screenwriter). The setting especially when the reach the cabin setting as the past merges with the present bringing the beginning moments of the film together in plot does work really well while the setting also creates a nice atmosphere and tone to the film which brings in a little bit of answers but also some mystery. This whole entity (not sure what else to call it) is also rather well constructed as it remains mostly mysterious throughout but still has that threatening/danger element that’s moving closer as the story progresses.

Much like the supporting characters that are introduced which feels very useless overall. The story’s focus is mostly on the sisters and these extra encounters are all a means to an end giving them rather empty shells, some more than others. However, the sisters are well-crafted characters and yet the acting also seems to lose a little bit of the desired effect mostly for the character of Andra (Annie Tuma) who has a more complex role and experiences some really weird stuff particularly one scene when she seems to be woken up from this whole situation. It sometimes makes the character feel awkward like the script or whatnot doesn’t seem to jive exactly with the whole situation. Its hard to exactly say what it is. The character does come together in the final act.

Overall, Flee the Light is a decent directorial debut for Alexandra Senza. The film itself is done well and there are little things probably more related to script that affected the whole execution. The premise is also pretty intriguing which introduced a mysterious entity from the past, almost like a old lore. It didn’t get a whole lot of depth but still had a decent threat element.

BITS 2021: Peppergrass (2021)

Peppergrass (2021)

Director: Steven Garbas & Chantelle Han

Cast: Chantelle Han, Charles Boyland, Michael Copeman, Philip Williams

During a pandemic, a pregnant restaurateur tries to rob a priceless truffle from a reclusive veteran. – IMDB

At this point, anything set during the pandemic is still fairly realistic as it is still more or less in the world. Peppergrass using the early phases of lockdown as its setting gives it a grounded moment as it took the struggling restaurant and bar businesses in its desperate moment to craft a situation where these two resorted to more extreme measures to ease their financial situation. With a beautiful isolated woods setting that brings forward a wilderness dangerous setting, the script itself almost feels a little to thin to keep its momentum going as the result is a rather lackluster hiding in the woods movie experience with only a few moments of conversation to make it more intriguing that pads out the main character. Visually, there are some really decent cinematography scenes and the setup and the ending both has some more action to keep it exciting but the middle bit is a bit of a drag as its mainly a solo quiet wandering in the woods even if the pregnancy seems like a question that hangs in the air but never directly addressed but more of a subtlety.

Wilderness settings and isolated cabins are always a rather effective horror and thriller element. The setting itself gives it the mystery especially when its wandering around in the dark woods which can also mask the danger that could be lurking in its shadows. Peppergrass starts off that way for sure as the two get separated fairly quickly and the film quickly turns its focus onto its main female lead, Eula played by Chantelle Han. The whole film itself is fairly subtle leaving a lot of space for the camera to give those little details especially when it comes to her pregnancy with a shot at the pregnancy test or the nausea along the way right down to the whole reveal about the nature of peppergrass, which also happens to be the name of her restaurant that she is trying to keep alive during the pandemic which also leads to a conversation of the insight to her backstory a little.

Things is, subtlety and darkness and the woods setting and even the isolation are all great in most horror film as it keeps it minimalistic but keeping the unsettling feeling rather alive but something here just doesn’t jive with it as the story is too thin, the character Eula doesn’t have enough to make her feel like she’s worth fighting for and then the tension never feels strong enough to keep the film engaging especially in its second act. That’s not saying that Chantelle Han didn’t do well as her character does have those moments of desperation and survival as she stumbles through the forest and in the few perilous events that happen much like the woodsman that she meets played by Philip Williams who really only shows up for a little part of the film but the conversation with Eula was one of the better moments and gave quite a bit of insight on the character primarily.

With all that said, Peppergrass is a good concept and premise. The setting and the isolation is done really well. The cinematography creates some very nice shots and truly highlights the isolated woods setting much like using the pandemic as a back frame for the story at hand. However, the script is lacking with both its characters and the substance for the motive or even the character arc that feels almost overly simple making it have a decent set up and finale but not enough to hold itself up in the second act.

TADFF 2021: Nightshooters (2018)

Nightshooters (2018)

Director (and writer): Marc Price

Cast: Adam McNab, Nicky Evans, Rosanna Hoult, Jean-Paul Ly, Richard Sandling, Kaitlyn Riordan, Mica Proctor, Nicholas Aaron, Ben Shafik, Doug Allen

An action thriller about a group of filmmakers who find themselves on the run from a violent horde of criminals after witnessing a brutal gangland execution. Unable to flee the derelict building they have been shooting in, the hapless film crew must use their technical skill and cinematic knowledge to defend themselves. The stunt man is a martial arts master, the special effects guru disregards safety and sets lethal traps, and the sound department strategically lay radio mics to detect when the hoodlums are on their way. Cue lots of thrills in a cat and mouse game of survival. – IMDB

For fans of The Raid and Snatch, there’s a lot to love about Nightshooters, a low budget action thriller that takes place in one location, a soon-to-be demolished building which almost feels like some kind of the real situation being reflected in a more fictional setting but similar as the story also features a group of filmmakers making a low budget film in a soon to be demolished building with a few hours countdown. This right away sets up this urgency that this will come into play as the two groups goes up against each other. While there is not actual counter, its a little detail that really does bring the setting as a constant reminder.

When the crew ends up witnessing a crime execution in the other side of the way and the criminals goes after them in this building, its all a great set-up in the first act which sets the tone especially in terms of the dark comedy and the characters involved and their basic characters and abilities. Much like how it naturally flows into some fantastic action sequences and choreography when it gets into the criminals against filmmakers running and hiding through this building which is both dangerous as it already has all its demolishment explosives in place which could easily be triggered but also the criminals being rather a wide group of characters and lethal in their own ways as well.

Talking about the characters, there’s so much to love about them as well especially when it comes to the film crew themselves. This group is definitely the characters which are meant for the audience to connect to a lot more. Their different roles and their abilities and know-how come into play as they try to survive the chase from the other criminals. With a lot of the action sequences powered by a fantastic action choreography and sequences with Donnie played by Jean-Paul Ly (also, could the name be a nod to Donnie Yen?), there’s some exceptional moments here through these fight scenes.

However, not only their more professional fight sequences are great to watch but also a moment where the more amateur fight moments like one with the character Kim (Mica Proctor) which was a lot of fun but the other character encounters also leading to some creative death sequences as they defeated the criminals one by one. There are some really cool effects executed there. The stand-out characters has to be the three girls of the film crew as they are very resourceful especially Ellie (Rosanna Hoult) who has some foreshadowing in what she will use at the beginning but also a lot of other know-hows that effectively come into play. Of course, for much more personal reasons, Kim is a character I rooted for (considering I’m also a Kim and she kind of reminded me of myself).

Overall, Nightshooters is a really entertaining low budget action thriller. Its effective in what it achieves as the setting and the tone is used really well. There are definitely nods to other films throughout that are rather apparent but also fit incredibly well and adds to the film itself. There’s a cast of characters that have their own value and personality which adds contrast and makes them all stand-out and fun to watch. Nightshooters has a very straightforward plot which works well with what they are trying to do.

*Nightshooters is available on Toronto After Dark Film Festival from October 13th to 17th on their virtual platform. You check it out HERE*

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Thomas Cocquerel, Holland Roden, Indya Moore, Carlito Olivero, Deborah Ann Woll

Six people unwillingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive. Joining forces with two of the original survivors, they soon discover they’ve all played the game before. – IMDB

Taking place soon after the ending of Escape Room (review), the sequel starts off the previous films survivors trying to track down Minos and reveal their evil plans. However, they yet again get caught up in another escape room game when their subway tram breaks away from the rest and takes another course where they realized that the other people are all past survivors of previous Escape Rooms each themed with their own experiences and traumas with one survivor quickly revealing the subtitle of the sequel “Tournament of Champions” near the very beginning.

While Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a sequel, it isn’t completely necessary to see the first film as the beginning of the film does a quick recap of what happens and fills in the audience of the key elements that needs to be remembered and if you happen to be one of those adventurous audience who likes to jump into sequels regardless of its prior film, then that should helps. Much like its first film, it manages to retain one of its strengths and that is the room designs themselves. The room designs here right down to the different dangerous elements and the time countdown really kind of ups itself from its predecessor. If anything, the progression of room designs all have their own story and even their own sort of flow. For viewers of the first film, it might start seeing this sort of similarity in the general progression of the rooms. This one starts on fairly high stakes as it plays with electricity and does slow itself down. There’s a lot to love here as each room gives pretty engaging obstacles to solve its puzzles, each having its own theme as well.

Looking at the characters itself, as mentioned before, they are all people that have won/survived previous Escape Rooms designed by Minos which gives an idea of who they are when they talk about their themed sessions of the group that was gathered. The main character is still the girl from the first film, Zoey (Taylor Russell) who gets involved after dragging along the other survivor from her game, Ben to follow the trail of clues to hopefully take down Minos, however getting caught back into its claws for the next game. These two are almost like the brains of the operations. Perhaps its the element that these all are survivors and know what’s at stake and want to flip it around, they work together much more quickly and figure out the puzzles with a lot of cooperation. The whole cast here is actually pretty decent. There is some bad dialogue and some overacting which happens fairly early in the film but slowly does fade away as other elements of the game starts to piece together.

Keeping to my spoiler-free style here, the pieces all come together to a fairly interesting twist to the film which brings it to its final act. The twist itself being pretty good overall and demonstrates the manipulation and power of this “evil” corporation on many different levels. Sure, I’m going to say it again like with the first film that I’m not a fan of films that seem to want to bait the unnecessary sequel set-up or leave it at this weird cliffhanger like there’s always more which doesn’t keep it as standalone and plus, its so normal for films to do that now that it makes it so predictable and yet, its hard to say that there isn’t a smidge of cleverness and curiosity on how far they can carry this concept.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is currently available to watch on demand and was released on Blu-Ray and DVD today (October 5th).

*Screener received from TARO PR*

TV Binge: The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)

*This is a mostly spoiler-free review however, some elements discussed may take away from the viewing experience so feel free to return after you’ve seen the series.*

The Squid Game (Season 1, 2021)

Creator: Dong-hyuk Hwang

Cast: Jung-jae Lee, Hae-soo Park, Ha-jun Wi, Young-soo Oh, Ho-yeon Jung, Sung-tae Heo, Joo-ryoung Kim, Tripathi Anupam, Seong-joo You, You-mi Lee

Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits with deadly high stakes. A survival game that has a whopping 40-million-dollar prize at stake. – IMDB

Survival games in TV series, movies or books aren’t really unseen or uncommon at this point. The Squid Game is a South Korean Netflix thriller series which sets up a survival game where an initial 456 players are invited from their hopelessness in life and desperation for money with no clue of what to expect until the first game starts and it becomes a do or die situation where it claims to provide a fair and equal world where as long as they follow the rule, they will be able to get out with the prize money.

This is the case for most of the characters here as they meet up during the first game: Gi-hun (Jung-jae Lee), Sang-woo (Hae-soo Park), Ali (Tripathi Anupam), Player 1 (Young-soo Oh), Sae-byeok (Ho-Yeong Jung) who end up teaming up while the players also have those who are much more ruthless lead by Deok-su (Sung-tae Heo) and the more uncertain factor with a woman called Mi-Nyeo (Joo-ryoung Kim). These players are core as each of them represent something different in the society and each have their own personality which sees them making it to certain phases as the teams start forming after the lesson of the first game with a very obvious turning point where they need to change. Its not hard to see who will be the changing factors however, these characters do truly grow on the audience throughout that some scenes that struggle between a selfish desire to survive creates these moral dilemmas between the characters that show the wear that it has on them.

The main character Gi-Hun being constantly in that spotlight as his character has some of the biggest changes from the beginning to the ending that feel subtle but can be seen in his decisions and struggles. Much like the cold Sae-Byeok who is judged by her North Korean background but also changes throughout as she starts to find trust in her alliances. Much like a very naive Ali who wants to win this for his family but ends up being constantly used to forward others plans unknowingly. Each game dives into a different moral element and strategy which takes an profound and poignant turn in the 4th game especially with the old neighborhood setup that isn’t as big as the other game settings but manages to create a significant contrast especially after the previous game’s focus on strategy and teamwork.

While it focuses on the players for the most part, the show also has the flip side with a cop Jun-ho (Ha-Jun Wi) that is investigating the disappearance of his brother which leads him to sneaking around the game headquarters undercover blending into different people from the game. Having recently been impressed by Ha-Jun Wi’s performance in Midnight (review), it was such a pleasant surprise to see him in this very different role and doing a fantastic job. Even if the dialogue isn’t quite a lot, his character is very well-executed. With that said, his side of the story shares the operational elements of The Squid Game of what the whole deal is. This element brings in a lot of twists and turns with a lot of unknown elements seeing as the guards and Front Man are all masked for the majority of the film. Having both the players and operations both being shown gives the audience more knowledge than the players to a certain extent and keeps the story balanced with not just death and survival but also mystery and suspense.

There is no doubt that the survival elements of the game is the most thrilling to watch especially with the use of Korean childhood games. Some of which are more familiar to the outside world and some which give it that Korean twist especially with the title game, The Squid Game which adds a cultural element. The sets are fantastically designed and every single one levels up from the previous both in how they creatively add in the danger element and incorporate the strategy while also revealing the characters for their true personality. The set-up is rather brutal to watch for the most part and is done incredibly well. As the games get worse and more unpredictable, the true purpose of The Squid Game is gradually revealed as the operations gets tracked down by the cop character which adds another layer to the story that leads right up to the ending that keeps it wide open for a second season with a lot of unanswered questions and many more possibilities. That ending though does leave a lot to think about whether about the whole plot, the clues that lead to the big reveal and ponder on trust and faith in humanity in general.