James Wan’s Malignant

James Wan has some balls, I’ll say that much. He’s pioneered various chambers of the horror genre several times over in his career so far with game changers like Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring, quickly becoming a household name with the talent, innovation and passion to back it up. If his newest film Malignant is going to have any kind of the same ripple effect then buckle the fuck up because this is one wild, demented, bonkers, stir crazy oddity and the best time I’ve had with a horror this year. This will be one of those reviews where I will mention almost nothing plot related because it’s just too much tantalizing fun unwinding this ball of yarn for yourself with fresh eyes. The film focuses on a woman (Annabelle Wallis) who begins to have terrifying waking nightmares where she observes a shadowy figure committing heinous acts of murder. The rest I’ll leave be, just see this thing and experience its WTF, nonsensical yet balls-out wonderful third act that truly transcends the boundaries of coherency, decency and convention for something so weird you’ll laugh, cry and shit your pants in unison. Wan is clearly well versed and a fan of many sub-genres and in this we see sly, loving nods to many other artists, most notably Dario Argento and 70’s Italian horror, so if some of the acting comes across as campy or silly just know that was most assuredly his intention and simply bask in the nostalgia. Some of the gore is real and some is CGI and while CGI blood is never ideal in my books the melding is done pretty well here, and it’s understandable that given a story with this much movement, commotion and visual kinetic madness it would have been tough as hell to do all the effects in a practical fashion. To cement the retro vibes we also get a showstopper of an original score composed by Wan’s go to guy Joseph Bishara that’s resplendent with shrieks, howls and heart-pounding synth chords that, for me at least, heavily echoed Goblin’s iconic electronic work in Argento’s films. Wan has worked in PG-13 realms quite a bit and been incredibly successful at making effective horror within those constraints, but he’s gone full R rated here, about as far as you can go into R rated territory in fact, for a no holds barred, rip snortin, unbelievable gong show of blood, violence, mayhem, schlock and a third act twist that’s so beyond anything rational or sane that I’m not even sure it makes sense but I loved every minute of and deeply admire the sheer audacity of. One of my personal favourites of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

Joe Carnahan’s Boss Level

If I was mayor of FilmTown, I’d make the day a new Joe Carnahan film came out a national holiday. The guy is such a great storyteller and to me, each of his movies over the years is a solid gold classic, from the gritty Narc to the cult status Smokin Aces to the emotional masterpiece The Grey to the criminally overlooked Stretch. His new film Boss Level just dropped on Hulu and various other platforms for rental and let me tell you, it’s my favourite thing I’ve seen in awhile and most definitely of 2021 so far. The infusion of action and SciFi has always been a great love of mine and when done with wit, intelligence, inspiration and badassery it can be a truly special sub-genre. Frank Grillo stars as ex special forces soldier Roy Pulver, who finds himself in a curious metaphysical time loop on the day of his death: he wakes up, is immediately confronted with a host of eccentric and quite lethal contract killers, some of whom he is able to kill, and others not so much. The day is often a variation on the same template, but one thing remains unchanged: at some point, in some way, he always ends up dead. Who placed him in this purgatorial halo of mayhem? Does it have something to do with his ex girlfriend (Naomi Watts) who works at a mysterious physics research lab owned by a Machiavellian despot (Mel Gibson) hellbent on some nefarious agenda? Well of course it does but the fun is in seeing how, and how with each new day, or each new crack at the level as this thing is a terrific mirror board for video game concepts, he learns a little more, and gets a little closer to figuring out what’s happened, who has it in for him and why. Grillo is a great choice for an action hero because not only is he physically adept and imposing, he also has acting talent and charisma for days and just feels like someone you want to be around. He narrates the film in hilarious, touching and sardonic voiceover and makes Roy a terrific character creation. Gibson is in scenery chewing Bond villain mode, munching on a giant cigar and commanding hordes of minions like some dark god, while Watts is terrific as ever. Keep an eye out for Will Sasso, Michelle Yeoh, Annabelle Wallis, Quinton Rampage Jackson and Ken Jeong as a lippy bartender. This is a wonderful motion picture with balls to the wall ruthless gory action, absolutely hilarious and colourful dialogue (Carnahan has a way with words like no other), a SciFi concept that is just this side of silly yet still tantalizes the brain (the Osiris Spindle is such a cool idea) and feels intricate and trippy enough to keep us guessing and immerse us in the world. You know what really hit it home for me though? Roy is a real character with an arc who not only has to fix the dilemmas imposed upon him by an external antagonist, but fix his own heart and mend his own wayward tendencies, particularly in the relationship with his son (Rio Grillo, Frank’s real life kid) who he’s never seemed to find the time for, until now when all he has is one day, but a day that scintillates into eternity. There is real pathos in this story and for a 90 minute action film with this much destruction, mayhem, crazy characters, conceptual exposition and layered plotting it’s rare to find an emotional core emanating from it as well, but this one really has it all. Kinda like Source Code meets Groundhog Day with splashes of Bond and this exhilarating undercurrent of video game thematics, and also fiercely and singularly its own thing. Best film of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

The Silencing

You would think that an alcoholic Jaime Lannister searching for the serial killer who took his daughter years ago in the misty Ontario woods would be a great premise for a thriller, but I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing in The Silencing, a certain spark or personality that would have made it really memorable. Nikolaj Coster Waldau is good in the role but he’s always got a welcome presence, I feel like it’s story that suffers here, from too many threads, none of which are tied up well enough save for the central killer plot. He plays this guy who is an ex big game hunting guru, now lives on a wildlife preservation sanctuary, drinks about 50 2/6’s of Scotch a day and gets real riled up when a body is found in the woods near his place, as it stirs up memories of his daughter and kicks up a drive to catch this killer. This is a role that dudes like Rutger Hauer, Michael Biehn, Dolph Lundgren or Lance Henriksen would have rocked in their 80’s heyday and if the film focused more on this one guy way out in the woods stalking a whacked out killer, I would have enjoyed it more. But there’s all kinds of dumb shit involving the local sheriff (Annabelle Wallis), her wayward young brother (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), the chief of tribal police (Zahn McLarnon), a First Nations crime boss (Gregory Odjig) and more. Why all this second tier fanfare? It clutters what would have been a streamlined, hypnotic tale of man versus man in nature and tries to do this whole True Detective ensemble whodunit thing that is just clumsy and tedious. Some of the chases and confrontations are fun, the killer wears a scary Cabela’s style onesie and uses a *truly* unique weapon to hunt his prey, while wild eyed Waldau fires his hunting rifle madly all over the forest trying to nail the guy. There’s one priceless moment where a schoolteacher brings a bunch of kids by the sanctuary on a field trip on a morning where Waldau is particularly sloshed. “Are you intoxicated?” She asks him horror, to which he slurs back “Don’t worry, the kids won’t notice.” They notice, and it’s hilarious. There are great moments and set pieces scattered throughout the film, but it’s not enough to save it from the weight of so much needless plot filler that I didn’t give a solid gold shit about. Give me Jaime Lannister hunting a killer through the woods for two hours straight and not much else, or don’t waste my time.

-Nate Hill