Carey Mulligan is a tornado of righteous fury and ruthless retribution in Emerald Fennel’s Promising Young Woman, an unconventional revenge thriller and icky glimpse into the world of men being horrible to women, and the often decades later snowball effect that can have on many lives. This is a crisply made, acid edged, cheerfully furious piece with a bubblegum pop-art visual and musical aesthetic that provides playful contrast to its very dark and fucked up subject matter and while I had a few major issues in the third act, I greatly enjoyed it overall. Mulligan is Cassie, a thirty year old girl working a humdrum barista job and living at home with her quaintly innocuous parents (Clancy Brown & Jennifer Coolidge). Many nights she gets all dolled up, hits the dive bars and takes guys home pretending to be too hammered to object to any advances, and then turns the tables on them in whip-smart fashion. Why does she do this? Well besides the surface level ‘teach shitheads a lesson’ aspect, there’s a much deeper and more personal reason for her actions that stems back to her days ten years earlier in med-school, where she has memories of a best friend who went through something terrible and isn’t around anymore. That’s all I’ll say about the languid and loose yet pointed and intricately structured narrative that is guarded about revealing backstory and let’s the expository nuggets land with devastating thunderclaps as they come. The soundtrack choices are all bangers that are fun yet have a menacing undercurrent, especially a choice like the unbearably eerie theme from the 1955 film Night Of The Hunter in which Robert Mitchum plays a terrifyingly misogynistic psycho disguised as a benign preacher. The supporting cast is meticulously peppered with an eclectic and multigenerational roster of names including Alison Brie, Adam Brody, that McLovin kid, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon and a very memorable Alfred Molina as a scumbag former defender attorney wracked with suicidal guilt. Mulligan herself seems to have been born for this role, or at least tailors her acting style quite a bit off her usual path to play Cass. She’s an actor who mostly finds herself in quiet, observant, introspectively wistful characterizations, full of long stares, sustained silences and expressions that constantly have you wondering what she’s thinking. Here she’s the antithesis of that, punishingly verbose, uncomfortably rambunctiousness and perpetually has her defences up like a cobra ready to strike. And strike she does, although I’m not sure I was quite okay with the script’s decision on her arc overall. Thats not to say I didn’t understand, appreciate and recognize the integral nature of such a turn of events and I can’t say much without spoiling it but I can say that as much as it’s a darkly poetic way for the film to go out, it didn’t quite run congruent with my aspirations for this horrific tale and left somewhat of a bad vibe in my soul. But I suppose in trying to make a story like this 100% effective and memorable, you’ve got to throw a few ‘shock and awe’ curveballs that shirk the usual limbo bar of predictable catharsis and aim to leave the viewer feeling pulverized, disoriented and unnerved to the maximum. In that aspiration, it has certainly succeeded. Great film, if one that left my mental/emotional equilibrium feeling considerably infringed upon. Mission accomplished, I suppose.
I’m not usually one for sex comedies, I’m more reserved about the subject matter overall, it’s just not my style and most of the ones they make these days are obnoxious as fuck and pretty terrible. However, having said that I caught Maggie Carey’s The To Do List the other night and I gotta say it was a great time for more reasons than just being hilarious, which it is. It’s probably about the best my experience will get in this sub genre and I think one of the main reasons why is Aubrey Plaza, who is so young here! I’ve seen her here and there mostly in supporting turns and cameos but never in dead on lead role, but she nails it here as Brandy, a terminally curious high school senior with no sexual experience and a burning desire to get some under her belt. As summer break starts she writes up a To Do List (or a Fuckit List, as one reviewer on IMDb so candidly put it) of experimentation ideas and sets out to check some boxes off, but her adorable naivety and unhinged overzealousness leads to some… fairly chaotic situational comedy. She encounters a brain dead jock douchebag named (I wish I was making this up) Rusty Waters and a sensitive good boy (Johnny Simmons), all while under the various influences of her hilariously repressed dad (Clark Gregg), secretly adventurous mom (Connie Britton) and spitfire sister (Rachel Bilson). The film is set over a portion of the summer in the 90’s, so not only is there a wonderful sheen of carefully curated nostalgia at play, she also works at an outdoor kids pool under the deranged mentorship of a hopelessly inebriated boss (Bill Hader) so the setting and atmosphere are lovely to hang out it. Plaza is such a terrific presence onscreen and this likely my favourite of her roles yet, she makes Brandy adorably clueless but also has this clumsy intuition where she stumbles into the most awkward sexual situations possible and then somehow manages to find her way out in ways that had me laughing a lot. It’s also nice to see a sex positive comedy from a girl’s perspective that does a nice job of blending the raunchier aspects with a really down to earth message woven into the narrative. Good stuff.
Nature fights back in Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter, a vaguely supernatural cautionary tale of of environmentalists and oil workers besieged by some unseen forces in the great north. Fessenden also brought us Wendigo back in the day, another snowbound chiller, and a keen sense of the eerie corners of the natural world and it’s unexplored areas comes built in with his skill set. Ron Perlman doggedly plays Ed, the headstrong leader of a research party scouting arctic land for Big Oil to plant an ice road and pipeline. Connie Britton is his second in command and former flame, now shacking up with wildlife journalist James Legros. When the dead, naked body of a team member is found near their camp, natural gas emissions from the ground are suspected (so logical, guys). Yet, people continue to die, and some ominous presence gathers in the night just outside the perimeter of the station, inciting rising dread and distrust among the team and claiming victims with gathering speed. It’s fun to watch Perlman slowly come unraveled, his grim sense of control slipping away as quickly as his rational explanations for what is happening. We never get a good look at whatever is out there, which is the smart way to go about your horror. The snow boils, strange sounds are heard and the natural world itself almost seems to be taking on angry life of it’s own. It’s obviously meant as a metaphor, but works just as well as a literal creature feature thanks to the sleek direction and well placed moments of chilly terror. Shades of The Thing, infused with this theme of the earth lashing out at the arrogance of human industrialization is a delicious flavour indeed.