The world is currently obsessed, it seems, with 80’s throwback media, and as a die hard fan of the style, I say bring on as much of the delirious synth music, lurid body horror and deep cut, bleeding neon as possible. From Stranger Things and It Follows to The Void it’s been a heyday renaissance, and Adam Wingard’s The Guest is a bit more obscure but no less of a celebration of the genre. Working from a vague Terminator/bone smashing action vibe, it’s a neat reworking of the ‘invincible antihero thrown into quiet suburbia’ vibe, but that’s so specific that maybe it just invented a new sub-sub genre. Dan Stevens is a a steely eyed new talent who has shed his Downton Abbey pretty boy image like a snakeskin and emerged as a serpent of solid tough guy portrayals (check out his awesome bad/good guy work in A Walk Among The Tombstones), and he carries the whole flick here as the mysterious David, a strange and scary dude who shows up on the doorstep of an all American family, claiming to be the army buddy of their deceased son. There’s clearly more to the story, as the familiar formula sinks in and unwinds, but it’s terrific fun watching it all play out time and time again. He’s got a particular set of skills reminiscent of the super-soldiers of that era, impresses the family patriarch (Leland Orser) who shows simultaneous fascination and suspicion with this new dark stranger in their household. He also gets close with their daughter (It Follow’s Maika Monroe), until he’s heavily invested in her’s and the family’s life, but it’s also the one thing that’s putting them, and the whole damn neighbourhood, on a course for trouble. Death and danger seem to follow David, like when a shadowy Army spook (Lance Reddick subtly channels 80’s Danny Glover) shows up looking for answers, and despite his emerging best intentions for the family, at the end of the day he’s a volatile black ops asset that can barely control his own trajectory. It’s a slight film that breezes by and never hits too hard, but sits in the genre groove wonderfully, with all cast members giving good shout outs. Wingard made his debut years ago with an impressive little Troma-eque bizarro slasher flick called Home Sick, went on to collaborate on the famed VHS anthology series and has wowed yet again here, I hope he continues to be a wicked voice for horror. Composer Steve Moore lets the synths rip, roar and rumble for a score that’s right up my 80’s fanatic alley, and gilds the film neatly. Cool stuff.
Philip Noyce’s The Bone Collector augments it’s atmosphere in the obvious hopes of evoking memories of David Fincher’s Sev7n (It’s even got an actor who also appeared in that film) which for the most part it nicely does. Story wise, however, it’s got entirely it’s own thing going on and follows the ever popular path of the serial killer whodunit. In this almost audience interactive sub-genre, we are routinely presented with a host of different characters, some following archetype and others not so much. The identity of the killer could literally be anyone we see onscreen at any time, even down to a tiny character who maybe shows up in one small scene. Then it’s up to the viewer to race the protagonist towards a correct conclusion, a game which I’ve never been all that good at lol. This time it’s Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie who step up to the batters’s plate, hunting a very nasty individual who kidnaps people in locked taxi cabs and leaves them to die in various sadistic ways. Washington plays renowned criminal profiler and ex cop Lincoln Rhyme, left paralyzed from the neck down and bereft of any will to live following an accident. When his old cop buddy (Ed O Neil) shows up and pleads him to take a gander at the case files of the new killer, he reluctantly dusts off the old instincts and goes on the hunt. Problem is, he’s a turnip from the neck down and needs an avatar with whom he has a rapport with and can carry out the leg work, so to speak. He takes a shine to young patrol woman Amelia Donaghy (Jolie) who is showing early signs of the same forensic brilliance after she responds to the scene of one of the murders. She becomes an extension of him, and together they work to smoke out the killer and put a stop to his crimes, also bringing some kind of peace to Rhyme’s restless mind in the same stroke. They are hassled by the world’s most belligerent and obnoxious Police Captain (Michael Rooker in full on asshole mode) and helped by Rhyme’s kindly nurse assistant (a very good Queen Latifah). There’s also work from Bobby Cannavle, Leland Orser, Luis Guzman, Mike Mcglone and David Warshofsky too. Noyce is a solid and very slick director (he did wonderful work in the Jack Ryan franchise, as well as the very underrated The Saint), gamely shunting his aesthetic into the serial killer vs. Detective corner. It’s a decidedly grisly affair, despite the glossy sheen and big names, and almost veers into outright horror in places, but is always kept in line by the excellent chemistry and friendship between Jolie and Washington, who are both great on their own and as a team. Good stuff.
The Taken series has been done to death, memed out to glory and mined for market value a million times over since the first film came out way back in 2008, which has somewhat dimmed the charm of that original vehicle, at least for some of us. Like, how many times can Liam Neeson or his relatives be Taken before even they as characters realize that it couldn’t be happening and that they’re in a movie? Eventually the material unwittingly spoofs it’s origin in its need to repeat itself time and again. That’s not to say the first isn’t enjoyable on it’s own, in fact it’s quite the streamlined little dose of adrenaline that essentially coasts on some great pacing, neat choreography and the endlessly watchable Liam Neeson, whose career took a shot of nitrous to the heart after gamely stepping into the well worn shoes of the grizzled action hero. This was him nimbly ducking through the genre boundaries that his career was in up til that point, and the action thing fit him like a glove. The film is at its best when it follows Bryan Mills (Neeson) in action, which thankfully is most of the time. Mills is an ex CIA spook with some tactics that will seriously put a hurtin’ on you if you cross him in any way. A gaggle of moronic Bosnian human traffickers come under the receiving end of these tactics when they kidnap his vacationing daughter (Maggie Grace, looking suspiciously like she’s a decade older than her character is supposed to be) from Paris and auctioning her off to rich raghead perverts. This propels him into like an hour of non stop energetic ass kicking that is so fun to watch, as he shoots, stabs, sprains and splatters his way through hordes of eastern European cannon fodder, with not a second to spare for even the utterance of a any cheesy one liners. He’s assisted via Bluetooth by his three ex agency barbecue buddies (Jon Gries, Leland Orser and David Warshofsky) and has a few encounters with his jaded ex wife (Famke Janssen). And that’s about it, but Neeson sells the bare minimum as far as the genre goes with his effortless cool and stony, formidable stature that springs into startlingly spry motion every time he has to dispatch a new troupe of Slavic wise guys. If only they didn’t have to desecrate this little piece of lightning in a bottle with two sequels that dampen the momentum with cheap attempts at thrills, I may still feel strongly about this one as I did when it first came out. Hopefully they quit while they’re ahead, shirk the slimy dollar signs and let their first outing age in peace.