Tag Archives: Thriller

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is one hellcat of a thriller, a nitrous injected highway nightmare scenario that doesn’t quit until the tanks empty, quite a few people are dead and Kurt Russell has burned off umpteen carbs running about the southwest searching for his missing wife (Kathleen Quinlan). In the tradition of great road pictures like Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, this one know ms to keep the speedometer revved for maximum effect, the best method for these types of films. Russell and Quinlan are your average American couple, driving from A to B along some forgotten stretch of freeway out there. After a brief stop, she vanished, he panics and so begins his breathless crusade for the truth. The local cops are useless, no one seems to have witnessed her vanish, and he’s pretty much on his own, not to mention hunted by some nefarious truck drivers who probably know more than they should. J.T. Walsh, king of businesslike scumbag roles, gives what may be his nastiest here as Red Barr, a long-haul semi driver who knows exactly where Russell’s wife has gone, and ain’t telling, no sir no how. Similarly, big old M.C. Gainey, another Hollywood thug, is in high evil gear as just one more backroad asshole Russell has to deal with, and the two have a crackling showcase of a high speed standoff, one in the driver’s and one in the passenger seat, playing close quarters mortal kombat to see who comes out on top, and who comes out dead. The Fast and The Furious has nothing on these types of films, for it’s less about bombarding an audience with a stunt a second, and more about rhythmic pacing, then knowing when to open up and let the ripcord fly. Taut, precise, unrelenting little flick.

-Nate Hill

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Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is one hellcat of a thriller, a nitrous injected highway nightmare scenario that doesn’t quit until the tanks empty, quite a few people are dead and Kurt Russell has burned off umpteen carbs running about the southwest searching for his missing wife (Kathleen Quinlan). In the tradition of great road pictures like Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, this one know ms to keep the speedometer revved for maximum effect, the best method for these types of films. Russell and Quinlan are your average American couple, driving from A to B along some forgotten stretch of freeway out there. After a brief stop, she vanished, he panics and so begins his breathless crusade for the truth. The local cops are useless, no one seems to have witnessed her vanish, and he’s pretty much on his own, not to mention hunted by some nefarious truck drivers who probably know more than they should. J.T. Walsh, king of businesslike scumbag roles, gives what may be his nastiest here as Red Barr, a long-haul semi driver who knows exactly where Russell’s wife has gone, and ain’t telling, no sir no how. Similarly, big old M.C. Gainey, another Hollywood thug, is in high evil gear as just one more backroad asshole Russell has to deal with, and the two have a crackling showcase of a high speed standoff, one in the driver’s and one in the passenger seat, playing close quarters mortal kombat to see who comes out on top, and who comes out dead. The Fast and The Furious has nothing on these types of films, for it’s less about bombarding an audience with a stunt a second, and more about rhythmic pacing, then knowing when to open up and let the ripcord fly. Taut, precise, unrelenting little flick.

-Nate Hill

Greg Harrison’s November 


Greg Harrison’s November is one of those frustratingly opaque, reality bending sketchy thrillers where a metaphysical shudder is sent through someone’s fabric of existence, in this case that of photography professor Courtney Cox. Driving home late one night, her husband (James LeGros) runs in to a Kwik-E-Mart to grab her a snack right at the same moment a burglar (Matthew Carey) brandishes a gun, and then open fires. After he’s killed, you feel like the film is in for a run of the mill grieving process as she visits a therapist (Nora Dunn). Events take a detour down Twilight Zone alley though when a spooky photograph shows up amongst one of her student’s portfolios, a snapshot of that very night at the store, apparently zoomed in on her husband. Who took it? Is the man actually dead? Will the film provide the concrete answers that some viewers so fervently salivate for in these types of films? Not really, as a heads up. As soon as things begin to get weird, they pretty much stay that way for the duration of the exceedingly short runtime (it clocks in under eighty minutes!). Cox’s character revisits that fateful night from many different angles and impressions, either reliving it, recreating it or simply stuck in some sort of alternate time loop chain. There’s a policeman played by Nick Offerman who offers little in the way of help, and she’s left more or less on her own through this fractured looking glass of garbled mystic confusion. The tone and aesthetic of it are quite something though, a jerky, stark Polaroid style mood-board that evokes ones like The Jacket and Memento, with an art house industrial touch to the deliberately closeup, disoriented visuals. It’s a bit maddening from the perspective of someone only looking for answers, and if that’s why you came, you’ll be left wringing your hands and losing sleep. If you enjoy the secrets left unravelled, and are a viewer who revels in unlocked mysteries left that way, recognizing the potent energies distilled from unexplained ambiguity, give it a go.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: Prisoner


Prisoner is a rough, disturbing little psychological thriller about a potential prison film, or rather the lonely location scouting sessions of controversial, much disliked Hollywood auteur director Derek Plato (Julian McMahon). He’s an arrogant prick of a dude whose newest film has him scouring abandoned penitentiaries for that perfect location. He’s alone, curiously, until all of a sudden… he’s not. Out of nowhere appears the mysterious Jailor (Elias Koteas), a frightening man who forcefully imprisons Plato, mentally berates him and forces the man to look back upon his long and quite unpleasant past in both the film industry and his disaster of a personal life, prodding him with intimate questions and accusations. This is essentially a chamber piece with the two actors being the only ones who appear in the present timeline, which is punctuated by hazy flashbacks to his life before. McMahon carries himself nicely, handling a well worn arc with charisma and giving off an authentically unlikeable vibe early on. Koteas is a beast of an actor and could scare the pants off of real life convicts, as such he steals the show with a brutal, galvanizing performance. Now, these types of films usually head towards conclusions we’ve seen before, and I won’t spoil anything except to say that although I was satisfied with the way the ending did rise up to meet the rest of the film, some won’t be and may find it cliched, but hey, that’s life. Nevertheless, it’s a taut little mind game by way of a character study, clocking in well under ninety minutes, a sleek little piece that leaves the viewer no time to lag or lolly-gag as it trundles along through it’s intense story beats. Cool stuff. 

-Nate Hill

“I didn’t leave you.” The Hains Report Presents: A review of The Sixth Sense – by Josh Hains

You need not worry, I won’t spoil the ending.

I never knew what happens at the end of The Sixth Sense until either late 2005 or sometime in early 2006. I found out the ending of The Sixth Sense when I was reading an adaptation of the film that I’d found in my high school’s library when I was in my first year. I was 14, and more than a little foolish. I read the first 3 chapters of the book (perhaps a fourth, perhaps even more but I can’t recall), and was then hit with the idea that I had guessed the ending based on what I’d read. I flipped to the end of the book and read the ending, found my guess validated, then placed it back on the shelf and never looked back. Just last year I watched the film for the first time. Oddly enough, despite knowing the ending years prior, I somehow felt a sense of shock wash over me as I watched the scene unfold in front of my eyes. Watching it for a second time over this past weekend, the ending still held the same impact. Proof you can know the ending of a movie and still be surprised by it on more than one occasion.

I observed that The Sixth Sense isn’t much of a thriller it was pitched to audiences as being (not straight horror either), but rather a ghost story where good people fall prey to those who torment them from beyond the grave. The latest victim of ghosts is the young boy Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who claims one night to “see dead people”. Many believe that children are more susceptible to seeing ghostly apparitions than adults, and Cole is no exception, scribbling or screaming the ravings of ghosts he has terrifying eencounters with. I don’t know who’s more afraid, he of the ghosts, or his mother Lynn (Toni Collette) for his safety and mental well being.

Cole’s psychologist becomes Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who we first meet at the start of the film when a former patient shoots Malcolm, then himself. Malcolm seems defeated these days, tired and worn out from work and life in general. His wife Anna (Olivia Williams) doesn’t seem to notice he’s even around, barely utters a word or gives a look in his general direction. Maybe she’s having an affair. Perhaps the trauma from that night was too much to bear for her. Maybe Malcolm was never the same after.

Malcolm seems to approach Cole and his predicament with a “Sure, whatever you say kid” demeanor. It seems fair to me that Malcolm has this attitude, he probably doesn’t believe in ghosts and is just going along with whatever Cole says because he knows he needs guidance, without ever appearing condescending toward him. I doubt I’d believe the root of the issue is ghosts either, just a troubled soul in need of nurturing. Malcolm shares the same perspective, and is more than willing to help where he can. In turn, Cole helps Malcolm a little too, telling him to talk to his wife while she sleeps, because “That’s when she’ll hear you.” I don’t know who my heart bleeds for most.

Haley Joel Osment showed us 18 years ago that he was a force to be reckoned with even as a child. He wasn’t playing the typical child role where you just look cute, act silly for the camera and get your lines out with some amount of authenticity. No, here in the Sixth Sense, he actually has to act, and convincingly plays a good kid plagued by appearances of gruesomely murdered ghosts. When he’s afraid, we believe he is. When he’s sad, our hearts break. Neither he nor Willis overshadow each other, and the two have a chemistry that feels authentic and adds layers to the nature of their relationship.

Bruce Willis is a rare down to earth actor, always wearing his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t over play his hand here, he never gets wild or over the top. Again he’s down to earth, as well as honest and subtle. In my two viewings of the film, I have almost entirely forgotten at various points that the man on screen is in fact Bruce Willis, mostly because he’s not playing the typical Bruce Willis role. Gone is any sense of his star persona or real life personality. He is just Malcolm Crowe, and I believe it. Much of the best acting of Willis’ career can be found split between The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable (his second collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan after this film), and oddly enough the best acting I’ve seen from him comes in big reveals toward the end of each film. In the case of Unbreakable, it’s when David Dunn silently reveals to his son that he’s the lone saviour of two kids whose parents were murdered by a local psychopath.

Here in The Sixth Sense, it’s the sequence in which Malcolm comes to truth with some harsh realities, none of which I will spoil here. I’m sure you’re aware of what happens by now, and if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know the famous ending, I implore you to give it a look, you just might love it. Willis doesn’t dip into manic theatrics or parody when the truth is uncovered (though he easily could have), he remains truthful to the performance he had been giving beforehand and to the character of Malcolm, which helps to ground the movie in a believable reality.

As for that ending itself, it’s one of the few Hollywood twist endings that works, and works well enough 18 years later to be considered one of the true great twist endings in film history. Admittedly, when I read it in that book all those years ago, I was surprised by the boldness of such an ending. It’s not very often a movie ends on such a bold note, in a way that pulls the rug out from underneath you, yet invites you to come back for another visit and see things from a newfound perspective. Maybe you’ll see dead people too.

B Movie Glory: Francis Delia’s Freeway


In the vein of highway set psycho thrillers, stuff like Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher and Steven Spielberg’s Duel paved and pioneered the way, fertilizing the ground for countless other similar efforts, some terrific and others not so much. Freeway falls into the former category, an atmospheric little B movie that delivers more clammy thrills than it frankly has any right to. It’s not to be confused with the classic Reese Witherspoon trash-terpiece of the same name though, this is a different animal altogether. There’s a serial killer terrorizing the nocturnal arteries of the L.A. highway system in this, an unhinged whacko in a Lincoln of or some such automobile of equally austerity, firing off love rounds into people’s faces whilst bellowing out bible verses extremely out of context all over the overpass in the wee hours. He’s mostly heard and unseen, but he’s played by none other than Billy Drago when he does show that leering visage, and the man let’s it rip in a performance that should be legendary. He’s hunted by another cool-as-ice character actor, tough guy James Russo as a Detective of few words and tons of action, namely shooting anyone that won’t give answers or spur his leads. There’s a dark, dreamy nocturnal aura to this, love and care put into atmosphere, showing is that the filmmakers, despite working with a low budget, actually give a darn about quality in their work as opposed to a throwaway second tier genre mad dash where the lack of passion is evident. A low rent classic in the realm of homicidal vehicular themed exploitation. 

-Nate Hill

Peter Hyam’s Narrow Margin 


Peter Hyams Narrow Margin is a sleek thriller that attempts to blend courtroom intrigue with a single location white-knuckler, which it does.. mostly successfully. A better way to put it would be that it sandwiches a cat and mouse game set on a speeding train between an intro and epilogue both set in the decidedly more complicated realm of legal escapades. We open as an unfortunate lawyer (J.T. Walsh in a too brief cameo) is assassinated by the mobster scumbag (Harris Yulin, creepy as ever) he had shady ties too. A terrified Anne Archer hides in the shadows, witness to the murder, and therefore a valuable asset to the dogged prosecutor (Gene Hackman) who is trying to bring the kingpin down. The two of them are ambushed on a routine transport via helicopter and escape onto said train, and here’s where the narrative cops out just a little bit. Almost the entire rest of the film is spent on the train, an extended diversion of a set piece that steps in for what I thought would be a more cerebral battle of wills between these factions, in court and out. It’s not a huge deal, I was just expecting a little more, and the bits at either end of the film stand as my favourite sequences. Hackman plays stubborn like no other, having both literal and figurative tunnel vision here, the only one thing he cares about being the life of his witness. They’re harried at every turn by corrupt officials of many kinds, and pursued by a mystery woman (Susan Hogan, my acting mentor in college no less), while the train hurtles through the gorgeous Canadian wilderness, captured pristinely by Hyam’s lens as he dutifully does his own cinematography, the dynamo. It’s a thrilling little piece that benefits from Hackman’s spirited work, the photography and editing backing it up nicely.  

-Nate Hill