Tag Archives: Thriller

The Glimmer Man

Steven Seagal, eh. The guy has had one rocky road of a career ranging from great stuff to wilful self parody to full on lazy garbage, but The Glimmer Man has to be one of my favourites, and one that doesn’t get mentioned too often. A spooky urban buddy cop flick, it sees Seagal as an esoteric NYC detective and Keenan Ivory Wayans as his more traditionalist partner, the two of them hunting down a ruthless serial killer nicknamed The Family Man. After they arrest and gun down a disturbed suspect (Stephen Tobolowsky is creepy as fuck) who seems like a surefire culprit, the case goes deeper and they uncover a net of corruption, cover ups and further villains including Johnny Strong, Bob Gunton and a smarmy Brian Cox, naturally named Mr. Smith. The dynamic between Seagal and Wayans works well enough, but what I really like is that this is less centred on constant action as with many Seagal flicks, and rather has a slower, sort of horror/thriller pace instead, with a neat ‘big city thriller meets big time killer’ vibe like Seven. The atmosphere is dark, hellish and free of any heavy camp too, just focused on producing a twisted, gory tale. Love Seagal’s jacket by the way, looks like he stole drapes from an old age home and stitched them up for new threads.

-Nate Hill

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David R. Ellis’ Cellular

Remember when cell phones were just that, phones and not the pocket computers of today? Cellular remembers, and did a bang up job of crafting a thriller around the concept back in 2004 when the age of the smartphone had yet to enter and we still had those glorious Nokia flippers. Based on a story by B-Movie guru Larry Cohen, it’s a breakneck paced, Bourne-lite action flick that works surprisingly well and offers engaging work from a young Chris Evans, a frantic Kim Basinger, a lovably intrepid William H. Macy and an especially nasty Jason Statham. Basinger is a Santa Monica housewife kidnapped by Statham and his band of thugs for reasons slowly revealed. Keeping her in a locked attic, he makes a violent ceremony of busting up the landline phone with a baseball bat, so naturally when she tries to dial what’s left of it in a panic, there a ghost of a signal and she’s able to make one random call. Evans’ beach bum college kid picks up the other line and is caught up in the intrigue, staging an impromptu search and rescue for her with the help of Macy’s dogged detective. It works well thanks to taut pacing, convincing performances (especially Statham) and editing that jars yet keeps it fluid. The main quartet are supported by the likes of Eric Christian Olsen, Noah Emmerich, Richard Burgi, Al Sapienza, Lin Shaye and Jessica Biel, but I gotta give a shoutout to Suits’ Rick Hoffman in a precious cameo as the world’s most obnoxious lawyer, who finds himself at the wrong end of a carjacking on Evans’ part, fuck can that guy ever mug the camera and effortlessly play for laughs. Cohen also wrote the story that ended up being Joel Schumacher’s Phonebooth, intending it to be the antithesis of that single location premise, the two films work nicely as a double feature tied together by similar concepts. It’s nice to see Statham in a straight up, no nonsense villain role, his stoic glowering and brutal physicality goes a long way in drumming up palpable menace. Further personality is given by a slick remix of Nina Simone’s Sinner Man worked in over the credits, too. Fun stuff.

-Nate Hill

Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners

Dark. Rainy. Uneasy. Covered in a cloak of gloom, gruesome secrets and morally questionable actions. Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners is one of the premier kidnapping thrillers of recent years, and a mile marker in the still blossoming career of a man who will no doubt go on to be a legend. Many thrillers are lacking in some elements while excel in others, but here every base is covered with care and attention, from style to substance to pacing to realism to thematic material. When a couple’s daughter goes missing without a trace on a quiet suburban block, the distraught father (Hugh Jackman) tries to take matters into his own hands with disastrous and damaging results. When you factor in how long the case drags without clues, results or hope it’s kind of hard to blame him for taking action of his own volition, but when he abducts a mentally challenged man (Paul Dano) who was seen skulking around in a creepy RV the day of the incident, he crosses the line from righteous investigator to dangerous vigilante. Jake Gyllenhaal and his snazzy hairstyle are great as a rugged detective who just can’t seem to get a grasp on what happened but doesn’t quit anyway. Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Wayne Duvall, Viola Davis, Dylan Minette and more make vivid impressions, but it’s the consistently surprising and always dynamic Melissa Leo who steals the show and galvanizes the story with her chilling work. Roger Deakins is a prince among DoP’s and his rain streaked, utterly bleak visual mood-scape here is something to behold, the overcast weather seeps into the bones of these characters and brings out all the confusion and hopelessness of this grim, downbeat story. This is a detailed, difficult tale that does have an answer by the time the final act rolls around, and by that time we’re so so steeped in the quagmires of Jackman’s extreme actions that the further the trip goes into unpleasantness, the more eerily fitting it seems. It’s a dark, relentless trip but thanks to everyone involved and especially Villeneuve’s assured direction, it’s one worth taking.

-Nate Hill

Joe Roth’s Freedomland j

Freedomland is a dark, strange drama about events spiraling out of control following the disappearance of a young boy, the distraught nature of his mother (Julianne Moore) and the subsequent search that takes two detectives (Samuel L. Jackson and William Forsythe) into a heated black community and the surrounding wilderness nearby. Moore’s character is a notoriously unstable woman and not the most reliable mother, her story just doesn’t seem to add up, especially when she claims she saw a black man take off with her car with her kid in it. Jackson’s charismatic cop knows the community well and does his best to ease mounting racial tension, while Moore is a basket case who can barely function, and the whole thing feels sort of meandering and purgatorial until a third act revelation that puts an entirely new spin on the film but also kind of thematically negates everything that came before. Is is a slightly political interpersonal drama? Somewhat. Is it a twisty abduction thriller? Not really me, but I feel like it wants to be. Is it a character study of a broken woman? Could have been with more development. It’s an odd mix that doesn’t really gel with much that it tries except when it focuses on Moore, who is fascinating damaged goods, but again more time should have been spent cultivating that angle. Jackson is fine in his authoritarian mediator role, normally boisterous Forsythe is pretty laid back as the trusty sidekick, Edie Falco plays a concerned activist looking to help out and Ron Eldard is terrific as Moore’s brother, an emotional firebrand who calls her right out on her ongoing bullshit. This film tries to be more than it ultimately ends up being, if that at all makes sense. Elements are in place for it to be great and some of them do in fact work, but the script needed some tweaks, especially in how the bulk of the film and the conflict there relate to and clash with that twist ending, which needed to be revealed way sooner to set up a moving, provocative final act. Not terrible for the effort that was made.

-Nate Hill

Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold The Dark

It’s easy to see why audiences are having sort of an icy reaction to Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold The Dark, an oblique, austere Alaska set thriller with esoteric undertones. On a platform as diverse yet decidedly commercial as Netflix, it will take some time for the riskier, more artistic and less accessible projects to gain traction, and for the casual viewers to warm up to varied aesthetics that they often lazily dismiss in a lump sum as ‘weird.’ They’ll come around. For us who are tuned in, however, we can appreciate that these risks are being taken and that money is being spent on challenging, anti Hollywood stuff. Although not as tightly wound or succinct as Saulnier’s first two efforts (Blue Ruin and Green Room), Hold The Dark is definitely my favourite as I have an affinity for snowy settings and dark, ambiguous mysteries. Jeffrey Wright is great here as as an outdoorsman and wolf expert hired by the mother (Riley Keogh) of a child supposedly snatched by wolves to find the beasts and kill them. I won’t say much more except that things are so far from what they seem at first that you’ll truly have no inkling of where the plot is going to take you next, which is a sign of great, inspired scriptwriting. There’s an eerie edge to the whole thing, but the film’s secrets aren’t divulged willingly or at all half the time. Alexander Skarsgard is implosive and lupine himself as the boy’s haunted father, on his own freaky quest for a goal shrouded in enigma like fog swells throughout the Alaskan mountains, actually Alberta here. James Badge Dale is great as the intense local sheriff, Julian Black Antelope is a standout talent as a shady local villager involved in the central mystery, and the cast includes fine work from Savonna Spracklin, Peter McRobbie, Macon Blair, Jonathan Whitesell and Tantoo Cardinal. Playing around with genre and tone, Saulnier and cinematographer Magnus Nordendorf Jønck deserve huge props for staging a fucking volcanic firefight scene that has to be up there with the best shootout scenes of all time, it goes on for something like ten minutes, more bullets are fired than in a Rambo movie and there’s some gnarly violence. There are some spooky, intangible ideas at play here and almost none of it is made obvious.. it may leave some in WTF mode, but clearly a stylistic language is being spoken here, with some deep, disturbing things to say about nature, humanity and the dark symbiosis held over them, particularly in lonely, desolate places such as this. This won’t be everyone’s thing, but it’s stayed with me all day since I saw it last night, I’m on board with it.

-Nate Hill

Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction

Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction left me both a uneasy and appalled. Billed as a sleek, sexy psychological thriller, it showcases Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in an ugly, disturbing cautionary tale regarding adultery and lies, and although well acted it came across as really misguided to me. Keep in mind I didn’t see it way back when, I only got around to it recently to see what all the fuss is about and because I like Lyne’s other work (check out Jacob’s Ladder for an *actual* psychological thriller), so I don’t have yesteryear nostalgia for it. Michael Douglas always seems to be at the whim of women scorned, be it the calculating femme fatale (Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct), the power tripping boss (Demi Moore in Disclosure), the scheming lover (Gwyneth Paltrow in A Perfect Murder), or the hag ex wife (Kathleen Turner in War Of The Roses). Here the female character is startlingly real as opposed to archetypical caricature, splendidly portrayed by Glenn Close but… she’s stuck in the wrong narrative, a lurid, nasty exercise in cheap scares and exploitation that isn’t remotely kind to either character and has no idea what tone or outlook it wants to take. Douglas has a one night stand with her, having no idea who she is or where she comes from, which is already ill advised. Worse? He’s married, to poor Anne Archer, and has both a kid and an adorable bunny rabbit, which obviously doesn’t last long the way the film is headed. Soon after he rejects her further advances, she gets clingy, unstable and downright scary, but here’s the thing: this is obviously a girl who is very sick, as he finds out later, and not just some thinly written psycho-sexual serpent like in many of these films. How does he react? Well, instead of calling authorities or getting help as soon as one, maybe two of those red flags go up, he aggressively spurns her a second time, and has no coherence or intuition to fix the situation, plus he’s a little bitch who wants to keep his indiscretion secret at all costs. I understand that thriller guidelines dictate logic right out the window, but Close’s performance is too realistic and fascinating to be quick-sanded in such a silly, insulting story. Not to mention the fact that once the final act has rolled around, she has devolved into a rabid slasher villain and the script has ceased to care about any semblance of character at all. If the pieces fit a little better with this one, it might have worked, but as is I found myself wishing the whole time that they would ditch the ridiculous storyline and do a serious spinoff of her character. A tasteless misfire.

-Nate Hill

Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP: Alien Vs. Predator

Here’s the thing: much of what is needed was in place to make an epic, badass Alien/Predator crossover flick. They had a solid premise, a director with a sure footing and visible background in horror, an able cast with a genre/franchise titan as a callback to earlier entries, and all the special effects they could want at their disposal. So how did AVP: Alien Vs. Predator end up being an oven roasted, inexcusable slice of shit? Well, script and execution I suppose, the whole thing just has a murky, suspiciously rushed feel to it and no trace of memorable pedigree at all. However, to me their first mistake and cardinal sin was to rate the thing PG-13. These are two intense, extremely graphic and gruesomely violent horror franchises, and as such any amalgamation should, of anything, step up the carnage, so whoever had final say as far as that goes should have a face-hugger attached to every orifice of their body. So what does work? Well, Lance Henriksen for one, but he has a history of being the best thing about many films he’s been in and it’s hard for him not to shine through any amount of muck. He plays the dying CEO of infamous Weyland Yutani corporation and gives all the grit and gravity he can amongst a flurry of inconsequential CGI. Recruiting a team of scientists and mercenaries, he plans to descend into an Antarctic pyramid where centuries ago, the mythic Yautjas and the primal Xenomorphs had a Royal Rumble. Star Sanaa Lathan is actually great as the ‘final girl’ of sorts in this slasher game, other team members include Ewan Bremmer, Raoul Bova and Tommy Flanagan, but most are lost in the confusion, poorly written or forgotten entirely. The battle scenes are haphazard and sloppy, the dialogue barely there and the colour scheme is this kind of shitty, subdued blue-hue nonsense with no personality it’s own, like an icy deodorant commercial that just happens to have monsters in it. Many people blame director Anderson, but who really knows. People forget that he’s responsible for the first Resident Evil film which is solid, gutsy horror and has the type of energy meant to be found here, as well as Event Horizon, one of the scariest, well wrought sci-fi/horror flicks of the century, so he was a reasonable candidate to helm this. In any case, it’s a big ol’ mess, a titanic wasted opportunity and a dark stain on both respective legacies. There’s a sequel which I haven’t seen, but it’s probably just as wretched.

-Nate Hill