It takes a lot to make a truly effective horror film these days. Between fan desensitization, cynicism, employment of rampant jump scares and gore the genre often has a tendency to go off track. And then there are efforts like Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, which is not only an unbearably suspenseful, well drawn shocker with a stunning lead performance from Elizabeth Moss but a beautifully crafted, simplistic yet hard hitting piece of filmmaking. Moss is Cecilia, who makes a daring, hair raising escape from her evil, abusive husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson Cohen) in an atmospheric opening sequence that sets the tone nicely. Adrian later kills himself… or does he? Considering just how nuts this guy is and how far he was willing to go to control his wife, it isn’t a stretch to believe that he’d fake his death and start stalking her like the repulsive creep he is. It doesn’t help that he’s also a millionaire optics innovator with the skills and money to build a suit that renders him invisible. It’s a lean, mean concept that has endless potential for tense, highly uneasy scenes and that’s exactly what we get. Cecilia is in a tricky spot because everyone thinks he’s dead and only she knows him well enough to believe he’d go to those lengths to keep making life miserable for her. We feel her hopelessness as each scenario plays out and when she’s finally had enough and decides to fight back… boy do we ever feel that too. Moss is utterly fantastic, never playing up drama or going into scream queen territory but rather making Cecilia a resilient, believable tough cookie that we feel for and root for. The first half of the film is the most effective, when Adrian is subtly haunting her and playing cruel tricks from beyond her field of vision, despite being right there in the room with her. The original score from Benjamin Wallfisch is a terrifying, dread filled piece that mimics the sound of blood rushing in one’s ears when confronted with danger, anxiety or trauma bubbling up. Like I said it takes a lot in a horror film to truly get to me these days, but this one pulled it off. As I left the theatre and headed home I felt like someone or something unseen was watching me, and no film has had that effect of following me out of the cinema since… well since It Follows. One of the best horror films of the past decade or so.
Faster is an action film with an eerie aura and a darkly unnerving bite to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s action through and through, a genre effort right to its marrow. And yet, there’s something oddly esoteric about it, an obvious extra effort put in by the filmmakers, namely first time action director George Tillman, to give every character an off kilter, bizarre cadence to ensure we won’t forget them. There’s clichés, no doubt, but they’re eclipsed by the strange, full moon weirdness of the rogues running about the film’s story. Dwayne Johnson fires up a furious protagonist in his first action role after a long and ridiculous stint in insufferable family comedies. He plays a quiet, hulking dude known only as Driver, reluctantly released from prison by a watchful Warden (Tom Berenger). Upon exiting the gate, he runs. And runs. And runs. He arrives at a small town junkyard where he tears a tarp of a vintage Chevelle which seems to be left there for him like a care package. From there he launches a bloody crusade of revenge that knows neither mercy nor discretion, and whose reasons we are only slowly allowed to know. He’s a one man wrecking ball, the murders piling up before we really have any idea what this guy is about. He’s been greatly wronged in the past, the culprits of which should all be running scared, as he comes looking for them one by one and with the juggernaut pace of a boulder tumbling down a mountain. Pretty soon there’s two cops on his trail, intrepid Cicero (Carla Gugino) and mopey sleazeball ‘Cop’ (Billy Bob Thornton), a dilapidated piece of work who mainlines heroin and clearly has a murky past. Soon there’s one hell of a hitman (Oliver Jackson Cohen) skulking around looking for Driver, an extreme sports enthusiast who has ‘beaten yoga’ and is avidly looking for the next big thrill. Johnson jumps from one ultra violent encounter to the next with all the corrosive ferocity of the grim reaper, tallying up the corpses until we’re all but sure he’s an inhuman elimination machine. Then.. the film curveballs us and throws a glint of humanity into the mix with some late third act emotion that only goes to show the filmmakers set out with more than a one track mind. Driver has been unspeakably betrayed, and his rampage is undeniably justified, but there’s a complexity to his quest that he didn’t see coming, and neither did those of us who expected pure action without a moral conundrum in sight. I say good on it for grasping something besides the thrills. A terrific cast populates the almost Oliver Stone – esque proceedings, including Maggie Grace, Moon Bloodgood, Mike Epps, Jennifer Carpenter (always superb), Matt Gerald, Xander Berkeley, Buzz Belmondo, Courtney Gains and more. It’s got the depth of a well written graphic novel and a level of thought out characterization that heaps of stale action entries wish they possessed.