I think it’s safe to say there’s an over saturation of killer/haunted doll movies these days, I mean just ask Chucky, who has a lot of competition in this era as the top dog. It’s refreshing then to find an entry like The Boy, which on the surface appears to be another chomp at the evil doll bit but, without revealing too much, has more going on than one might think and although it doesn’t quite keep the viewer genuinely guessing or break the mould of predictability, certainly has more than a few moments of genuine suspense and chills. Lauren Cohan plays an American nanny hired by a plummy old British couple to watch their young son Brahms while they go on holidays. These two are apparently senile old goats though because Brahms turns out to be an especially creepy little porcelain doll who they literally treat like a human child, and expect their recently hired nanny to as well. Her amusement quickly sours into terror and paranoia when she’s left alone with Brahms and… weird shit starts to happen. Her only human contact is with the house handyman (Rupert Evans) and eventually her abusive maniac ex boyfriend (Ben Robson) who has followed her across the pond. I really can’t say much but you may end up guessing pretty quick what’s really happening in the house, and then again you may not because the answer, although evidently logical, isn’t exactly presented super obviously. The film has enough scares, atmosphere and suspense to be worth a solid viewing, but it’s not too original or noteworthy. The big reveal in the third act is done really well though and is the most effectively skin crawling moment in the film. Also, I gotta say that Cohan is a strikingly terrific actress with natural charisma, beauty and presence, I love seeing her in lead roles and I honestly hope she gets to give that tiresome Walking Dead crap the slip soon so she can focus on some more film roles.
Peter Berg’s Mile 22 is one of the weirder ones I’ve seen this year, in a good way I suppose, or rather just a… weird way. It’s a hardcore action flick and a lot pulpier than his past two efforts (the fantastic Deepwater Horizon and the so-so Patriot’s Day), with a cool cast of tough guys and gals involved in some really applause worthy set pieces and sequences of extreme violence. Mark Whalberg heads up a covert Bourne-esque unit called Overwatch, who take the assignments no one else will and are remote handled by a team of caffeinated techies headed up by John Malkovich, quirky as always. Joined by Lauren Cohan, Rhonda Rousey and others, he’s assigned to protect and transport an Indonesian ex-cop and defector (The Raid’s Iko Uwais) across town and fight off hordes of corrupt officials, terrorists and more. The fight scenes and car chases are brilliant, CGI bereft, next level brutality that should be proud, but here’s the thing: Berg goes off the rails in the script and characterization department of his direction. Whalberg’s character is a hyper annoying, verbally abusive loudmouth whose lengthy monologues berating both enemies and his own team (Malkovich even tells him to shut the fuck up over coms at one point) become really tiresome and grating really fast. I’m not sure what they were going for with his character, but it doesn’t quite work and resulted in me just wanting to bitch slap the guy. Also, as cool as the film’s whopper of a twist is, it doesn’t follow through with a proper ending and I couldn’t tell if they just forgot to wrap it up or if they’re trying to set it up for a sequel, which is a ballsy assumption on their part. Nevertheless it’s still a wicked sharp juggernaut of a flick, with the rest of the cast really giving ‘er. Cohan was my favourite, she’s dynamic and adds the most to her role, while Rousey, although great in her brief appearance, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Uwais is explosive as ever and gets the best action moments, especially a blood soaked, bone shattering close quarters ambush in an infirmary where he lays waste to his enemies using any medical instruments in his path. An interesting flick, but I feel like Berg overthinks his writing sometimes and throws around too much strained quirk and awkward flourish when he should be focusing on the task at hand, which in this case is making a solid action picture. He succeeds about two thirds of the way in that goal.
Death Race 2 is one of those sequels that is a little more colorful and off the wall than the first one, and less gloomy. Death Race tried a bit too hard to play it straight and serious, and while still a gnarly flick, I personally have to give the edge to this one simply for coming a little closer to the trashy mark that the genre begs for. Any franchise with a title like Death Race has just got to have a touch of camp, some balls out B-movie action and a good dose of pulp. This one is actually a prequel, now that I think about it, taking place in the same penitentiary that the first film did, a year or so before Jason Statham’s arrival. It follows the origin of Carl Lucas (Luke Goss), who would go on to be the masked driver known as Frankenstein in the original film. Lucas starts out as a getaway driver and thief for ruthless mobster Marcus Kane (Sean Bean). When a heist gone wrong lands him in Terminal Island prison, he’s introduced to ‘Death Match’, bloody gladiatorial fare instigated by a random prison fight caught on camera and broadcasted online. The prison warden Weyland (Ving Rhames) has his moral doubts, but in swoops opportunistic corporation head September Jones (Lauren Cohan) with a sociopathic agenda to turn simple combat events into all out vehicular warfare, with state of the art machines and artillery, all privately funded. Since this genre exists in a world without anyone, government or other, to protest, Death Race is born. The rules go that if you win a certain amount of races, you go free. Kane has his own plans on the outside though, making a pretty penny off of Lucas and his driving, cruelly trying to keep him inside. Bean is a cut and dry psycho as Kane, relishing in the kind of nasty arch villain skin that action films have to offer. Goss has always had a heart and level of gravitas along with his physical intensity (his villain in Blade 2 is still legendary), which he brings out in Lucas. Danny Trejo comes along for the ride as Goldberg, Lucas’s mechanic. The first Death Race was solid, but a bit monochrome in the personality department. This one lets its freak flag fly, getting down and dirty with the bone crunching violence, and thundering motor mayhem. It sinks a level below the first one, which is sometimes a great thing for a particular franchise. It knows how over the top it needs to be, and is all the better for it.